Episode 127: How a Digital File Photographer Reinvented Herself as Boutique in a New Community

Episode 127: How a Digital File Photographer Reinvented Herself as Boutique in a New Community


Photography Business Institute
Photography Business Institute

One of my favorite things to do is share stories about what my students have overcome to inspire you to keep going. 

Today, you’re going to meet Carolyn Slavenas, who started out as a mall portrait photographer, and eventually ended up trying to sell digital files. 

But in May, she decided to go all in on the boutique model!! 

Within a few WEEKS, Carolyn had gotten over $9,650 in orders.

On top of that, she was new in town!

Her story is incredible and I am so excited for you to hear it. 

Sarah Petty: 

Welcome, Carolyn.

I am so stoked that you are here! 

Let’s talk about where you were before.

You were a mall portrait photographer.

And then what made you think you could create a business?

Carolyn Slavenas:

I was a mall portrait photographer for about a year or so, and I learned a lot.

I actually have my marketing degree, and I love marketing and all things creative. 

One of my friends who worked at a mall offered for me to come work with her part-time and I did it and fell in love with it.

I love meeting people, so it was right up my alley. 

Then I left there and went back into marketing and was miserable.

I loved buying the advertising, but I didn’t like selling it. 

My grandma noticed I was upset all the time and asked if I could do anything, what would I do?

I immediately said I wanted to have my own photography studio. 

My grandma encouraged me to quit my job and she even bought me my first camera, light, and backdrop!

That was 16 years ago.

I was in my thirties and had two kids.

Now I have five!

Sarah Petty:

So you started offering high-resolution, digital files for a fee?

How did that go for you?

Carolyn Slavenas:

Yes. It didn’t “go”.

I ended up being a part-time hobbyist. 

It was never a legit business because it was never making enough to call it an actual business.

And I tried everything and nothing worked.

Sarah Petty:

What else did you try?

Did you do mini sessions?

Carolyn Slavenas:

Yes, and mini sessions were killing me. 

I was offering $50 sessions and by the end of the day, I was exhausted.

I had left the kids for 2-3 days and I had no idea what I was doing.

It was just a little hobby for me for a long time, and then I moved from Illinois to Georgia.

Sarah Petty:

Were you confident in yourself as a photographer and believed you could do this?

Carolyn Slavenas:

I had major imposter syndrome and was not confident at all. 

When I moved to Georgia, I sold everything but my camera.

I thought, if I couldn’t build my business in a place where I had lived for years, there was no way I could build a business in a new place. 

Then I met the dance studio owner. 

She came up to me and asked if I knew of anyone that could do headshots for the company girls at the studio.

I had this moment of deciding on whether I should even tell her that  I take photos…

And that was the moment where I decided I was either going to speak up now and go all in on myself or I was going to tell her I didn’t know anyone. 

I decided to take a chance on myself and told her I could do it and that’s how everything started. 

What she paid me basically paid for the lights and a new backdrop and backdrop stand.

Then she started asking me to take her kids’ homecoming and senior photos and her daughter had a baby and asked me to take the newborn photos.

And then they would tell people about me. 

The next thing you know, I found Sarah Petty.

Sarah Petty:

And you have a marketing degree, all this experience, and you have the most outgoing personality.

Since your Grandma bought you the equipment, were you profitable at that point?

Carolyn Slavenas:

No, because you can talk to a million people, but if you’re doing it wrong, you’re not going to make any money.

Sarah Petty:

So you came across a challenge that we were having…

You came in and what were the biggest “ahas” you had? 

Carolyn Slavenas:

I didn’t know anything.

I realized right away that I did not have a system. 

So when I found you, I realized that you have a system in place, and if I wanted to have a business, then I needed to take the fast road to do it. 

I knew who my target audience was, so I knew who to target, but I was doing it all wrong.

And I was like, I can keep doing this for another 14 years and it can be a hobby and I can make Christmas money in the fall.

Or I can really find a system that works and I can bet on myself and stop looking at my competitors and just go all in for me. 

That was really it.

So I had to pick myself and believe in myself.

Sarah Petty:

I love that.

So you were sitting there with the opportunity to make a significant investment in yourself with the opportunity to build a career.

How did you justify the investment?

Carolyn Slavenas:

Well, I really came up with the fact that my kids are going to have a hero.

So why not have it be me? 

They can see me making a decision, admitting what I’m doing wrong, going for it, and putting my effort into myself.

I want to be my kids’ hero. 

Sarah Petty:

That is so powerful.

Our kids don’t always listen to us, but they watch what we do. 

I really want to walk through all the things you did in your business as you were becoming boutique.

First thing we did was we got your business legal.

We scrubbed through your brand and got you crystal clear there.

How did that feel for you?

Carolyn Slavenas:

I think part of it was that I had to take that step back and realize that I obviously am not doing everything right, and I need help. 

So I had to be open to the critiques and be open to being wrong.

The thing that I found so powerful was that no one really put you down.

It was just like, here we are and this is where we want you to go. 

I think clearing my own head of all the head trash that I had was the hardest part for me.

Because if what I was doing was working, I wouldn’t need the system.

But clearly, I needed it, so bring it on.

Sarah Petty:

How would you describe your photography skills going through this process?

Are you a trained photographer? 

Carolyn Slavenas:

When I worked at the portrait studio at the mall, I learned a little bit. 

But I would say, a good chunk of what I learned, I learned probably at the studio and then just on my own.

I’ve grown so much.

Sarah Petty:

And when we showed you the things that are selling and that clients are buying, was it more simple than what you thought?

Getting into products and prices?

Carolyn Slavenas:

Oh my gosh, it’s a system.

And I think that’s super important. 

I was terrified for my first sale, but it was incredible.

It was everything that I had heard that should happen.

If you follow the system, it works.

Sarah Petty:

One of the things we talk about and teach is your “what” and your “why” and how that fits into when you’re talking to a client. 

So once you learn how to charge profitable prices, the next thing is figuring out how to talk about those prices.

How was that for you?

Carolyn Slavenas:

That was huge for me because, really, I have two “whats” and two “whys”. 

So, for me, it just depends on who I’m talking to, which one I’m really going to focus on.

But writing that down, reading it, and putting it up and seeing that every day is so motivating.

It was a game changer.

Sarah Petty:

Yeah, for sure.

So you’re learning how to talk to people and you’re starting more conversations.

You start doing marketing activities.

Did you have any life things happening during this? 

Carolyn Slavenas:

Three weeks out of the eight-week program, I was out of the game. 

My daughter was graduating from high school and she stayed back in Illinois to finish at her school when we moved to Georgia.

So I had to drive across the country to see her and I was there for a week. 

Then my mom, who I hadn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic, came out for a week and a half.

I was gone for about three weeks, but that’s okay, because the system is there and in place. 

So I knew when I was out that it would still be there when I got back.

The support and the lessons were there and it was amazing.

Sarah Petty:


Isn’t it interesting to have that mindset of family first?

My goal is to always have family first.

But then it’s like, but I can’t look away from my business or it’ll be gone.

Carolyn Slavenas:

I’m looking away from it Wednesday, Thursday, and today. 

This is my kids’ fall break and I’m not doing anything.

And that’s okay because my kids are at home.

These three days are about them, and going apple picking and fun things like that!!

Sarah Petty:

Yeah, we shouldn’t have to pick.

I just believe that so strongly.

So let’s talk about marketing, going out, and getting clients.

Did you get a client right away?

Carolyn Slavenas:

I did one of the marketing activities, and it was actually overwhelming how many people I had responded to it.

So I came up with something just kind of general to narrow it down.

And out of that, I got my Julie.

Sarah Petty:

So you got a client and set up the appointment.

Were you still nervous about your pricing?

Carolyn Slavenas:

No, I wasn’t because I covered it on the phone call.

And I even covered it in the message that I sent out to everybody.

So it kind of weeded out the freeple, cheaple people right away. 

Then I was stuck with people who could be my ideal clients.

Follow the system and it works!!

Sarah Petty:

So, you’re having this session, you do the pre-planning meeting where you’re showing them big wall art and making sure that they are crystal clear on everything. 

You did the session and then you sat down with them and you presented their images to them.

What was that like?

Carolyn Slavenas:

I had a 35-minute drive to their house and the entire time I was just talking myself up.

So when I presented them with their total, they were so happy and ready to invest.

It was amazing and I served them. 

It was the first time that I had done a session and walked away and felt so good about it.

I didn’t feel bad about taking anybody’s money.

I was like, yeah, I made this because I served them and I gave them what they needed!! 

Sarah Petty:

So tell us, how much was the order? 

Because a “Julie” is a client that invests $1k or more with you.

In our community, we celebrate that first order that’s over a thousand dollars.

So was it like $1,001? 

Carolyn Slavenas:

It was $4,147.

It was amazing.

Sarah Petty:

Oh my gosh!!!

Had you ever tried selling prints before you learned our system?

Carolyn Slavenas:

I had tried and made some money, but I didn’t have a system in place and I wasn’t doing it the right way. 

I was really cutting myself short. 

I realized when doing Boutique Breakthrough that I could serve my clients so much better and at a much higher level if I just follow the system.

And my clients get more out of it too. It’s a win-win.


I never feel like I’m pushing anybody, ever. 

Sarah Petty:

What would you say to your past self who was out there grinding, feeling bad about yourself, and having imposter syndrome?

Carolyn Slavenas:

Just believe in yourself and do it.

I am so grateful for the Boutique Breakthrough opportunity.

I just wish I had done it like a year or two earlier because where would I have been? 

My biggest regret is not believing in myself and going all out two years ago.

Sarah Petty:

You had to pick yourself instead of waiting for the world to pick you!

Carolyn, thank you so much for being here and sharing your story with everybody.

Download the Episode Transcript Here

Episode 127: How a Digital File Photographer Reinvented Herself as Boutique in a New Community
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