Episode 202 – Secrets from $100K Yay Award Winners 2023

Yay Award Winners 2023


Photography Business Institute
Photography Business Institute

2003 was an absolute game-changer for boutique photographers. We saw over 200 amazing students get recognized at the fifth Go Boutique Live with the community of award winners pulling in a whopping $8 million in sales. How incredible is that?

So in today’s episode, we’ve got some of the stars who not only hit the $100K mark last year, but absolutely crushed it. They’re here to spill the beans on what made 2023 shine for them and how you can also hit that six-figure mark in your portrait photography business. No matter if you’ve been in the game for ages or you’re just starting out, today’s episode is going to be super insightful. We’re hearing from folks who have made it big in cities of all sizes, sharing their top tips and personal breakthroughs. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this.

Hey, there. My name’s Sarah Petty and I went from a stressed-out, overworked mama with three babies to being named one of America’s most-profitable photographers without working my kids’ lives away. Now I’m the founder of the Photography Business Institute where we provide guided support from start to finish, whether you’re a beginner photographer dipping your toes in, or a more advanced photographer with big income goals. Each week on this podcast, I’ll show you how to find and serve photography clients in a world where we compete with free thanks to everyone having a digital camera in their pocket.

Take the first step to adding more joy and profit to your life by downloading your free photography business tools at photographybusinessinstitute.com.

Jean Lachat: Hi, this is Jean Lachat from Jean Lachat Photography in Chicago. I have a brand-new brick-and-mortar studio because I reached multiple six figures in sales last year, which I’m really proud of. I photograph mainly families, children, and seniors, and a bunch of professional headshots as well.

I’ve been in business since 2008 and I’ve been following Sarah since the early 2000s, so that’s coming up on 20 years, if not there already. And I’ve been in Peak Performers. I’m one of the OGs, so for six years. And last year, I feel like what really changed for me and my business was just growing confidence. I worked a lot with Jill Liebhaber on mindset and I think that helped me in how I speak to clients and what I say to them.

So I think that my sales went up because I was more confident in what I was doing. I did raise my prices last year, which helped raise my averages a bit, but it’s really in the way that I spoke to people as they called, and as I booked consultations, I was more intentional in the way that I spoke to them about the artwork and planning it before their session.

That’s probably the main thing that I can point out that changed for me last year. I have a great support system in place with my other Peak Performer friends, and we help each other a lot with brainstorming and planning and questions that we have and running things by each other to make sure it looks great before we put anything out in the world. And that has made a lot of difference too because it’s great having several people put their eyes on things that you’re doing and making sure that it looks great before it heads out.

So those are the two things that I think are most important in the last year, and I’m doing pretty well already this year, and I’m looking forward to a record-breaking year.

Kristin Gowan: Hi, my name is Kristin and I’m the owner of Kristin Gowan Photography. I’m located out of Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. I’ve been in business officially since 2016, but I first picked up a camera 10 years ago when my oldest daughter was born.

I would say my niche is children, mostly little girls since I have two of my own, and newborns and more recently, pets and family. So it’s really hard to pick that one as I do enjoy all of those. But yeah, I guess if I had to pick one, it would probably be children as in that’s kind of where it all started.

What moved the needle to help me achieve my six-figure mark this year? Yeah, I still can’t believe that I made over $100K this year. That was pretty exciting. Before this, I averaged between the $25 to $35K mark for many years, so it was nice to really jump up.

I would say what moved the needle is, well, obviously starting with Boutique Breakthrough in January last year and going off into Peak after that, just learning how to run my business in a new way that wasn’t digital files. That definitely was the big reason I was able to actually make a profitable income. Something that I am doing differently than past years as well, not doing digital file-only. So that’s one of the big ones.

I’d say in past years, I kind of just hoped that my creativity would just speak for itself and that people would just find me. I didn’t want to take the time to go out into the world and meet people. I am definitely an introvert, so talking was something that I’ve always struggled with, and if I had to spend more than just a couple minutes at the session getting to know someone, I would get overwhelmed. But just kind of moving past that fear and realizing that I do have a lot to offer and actually having all this quality time with every single client with the full boutique service is actually something that I’m enjoying now.

A favorite tip or two that I follow for growing a profitable business? Well, before, I was kind of a bit of a penny-pincher when it came to the business. I did not want to spend money if I didn’t have to. I just kind of thought that that would be fine. What I’ve learned is that you really do need to spend money to make money sometimes. I do a lot of couture sessions now that I will easily spend several thousand for every single event. I’ve probably spent up to $5,000 for a few of the events, but I do make that back easily with the orders. So I just feel that it’s worth it to invest in myself and my business now.

If you’re on the fence about signing up with Sarah, I would say honestly, it was probably one of the best decisions that I’ve made. My business is completely different in the last year. My confidence, having the support from everyone in the program has been incredible as I didn’t quite have a lot of support in my business at home and with family. Of course, things have changed in the last year. I definitely have support now from my husband, and the family part, well, there’s a few people that I love them dearly, but they’ll never sadly be what I need, but that’s why we got the front-pocket, back-pocket people, right, Sarah?

I know this year, I’m really planning ahead as much as possible, so I’ve got lots of new tricks up my sleeve over the next 12 months, and that’s another tip I would say. You don’t really want to put all your focus on one thing and then when it’s over, you’re suddenly like, “Oh, now what?” And then you don’t hear the inquiries and then you get into a state of panic. It’s better to just kind of plan at least three to six months ahead so that you always know what you have coming in next. You don’t want to be stuck with nothing.

Another tip would be back to the front-pocket, back-pocket people, I would say if there’s people in your life that are not the most supportive and they don’t fully understand why you would spend this kind of money on yourself and your business, don’t let that stop you. If I would’ve let that stop me last year, I would be making the same $25, $30K, feeling miserable with my business, and I wouldn’t have moved ahead at all. I would’ve let others drag me down, and instead, I proved them all wrong, and I did exactly what I wanted to do, and I made my business successful.

Kelli Gowdy: Hello, my name is Kelli Gowdy of Kelli Gowdy Photography. I have a home studio in High Point, North Carolina. I have been in business officially about 12.5 years, but started as a hobbyist way before that when my kiddos were babies.

I used to be the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none photographer, capturing everything from newborns to weddings. As my kids got busier with extracurriculars and sports, I quickly realized weddings and the lack of date flexibility with them was not for me. With most any other genre of portrait photography, you have date flexibility. If something happens on the scheduled date, like illness or personal emergencies, a championship soccer game, a zombie apocalypse, we’ve all been there, but whatever, most clients can be flexible and shift around a date. If you have a wedding, you can’t do that. A wedding’s on a Saturday or a Sunday, but that date’s been set for a really long time. I wanted to be present at my kids’ activities, and the wedding schedule just didn’t allow that for me.

That said, as my kids hit the teen years, I found I actually really loved hanging out with them and their friends, and I niched down to photographing high school seniors. Do I shoot other things? Of course. But I learned quickly to keep a consistent pricing structure across all genres, and I find I’m most profitable with my seniors.

I was asked what moved the needle this year to reach six figures. This is actually the second year I’ve done so. In 2021, I took Sarah’s Boutique Breakthrough and spent the year focusing on getting pricing right. If I could go back to my former self and tell her to take the leap and invest in education and coaching in order to help start the business right, move that needle faster, I would do so in a heartbeat. As we all know, some young, starting-out photographers don’t think they have the extra finances to do so. I should have invested in it a long time ago.

Then in 2022, I told my husband my goal was to reach six figures. While he looked at me like I had two heads, he was very supportive of my drive to succeed, and we both celebrated in December when I had met that goal. This past year, I increased my financial goal and actually surpassed it by $30,000.

I’m not sure there was one thing that I can pinpoint, but there are a few that seem to push that needle. The first of those, and probably the biggest, is mindset. If you’ve listened to Sarah’s podcast for a long time, you know that she preaches a lot on getting rid of head trash, and I can firmly say that is huge. You have to believe you are capable of doing hard things. You have to believe you are worth what you are charging. You have to be confident in your why. If God put this business on your heart than it is meant to be. I had to get out of my client’s pockets and know that the money in the hands of good people can do great things. It’s okay if we can’t afford us. I couldn’t afford me, but there’s a lot of clients that can.

Will there, are there hard days? Uh, yeah, all the time. But I also surround myself in a community of like-minded entrepreneurs who lift me up during the hard times and cheer me on during my successes. I don’t think I could do this business alone, and it is a huge thing to have them surrounding me.

I also stood my ground with pricing. When I first raised my prices in a big way after Boutique Breakthrough, I wanted to vomit. Seriously, like vomit lots. The thought of charging people what I couldn’t afford kept me up at night and made me seriously nauseous. But I couldn’t charge one client a higher price and a former client a cheap price, so that’s not fair to anyone. And I ran the numbers. I factored my cost of doing business and quickly realized that those numbers were backed up by my time, my talent, the cost of the heirloom albums and wall art that I was providing my clients, the priceless art they were purchasing. Numbers don’t lie. I embraced the nos and understood that a no meant a right client yes would fill that space.

And did I give back? Absolutely. I find when you have cushion and you have flexibility, you can afford to give back in big ways. As my business has grown, my desire to provide my clients with an exceptional experience has grown as well, but I needed systems to be put in place to make that happen. I was juggling everything on a spreadsheet originally or sticky notes or jotting it down in a random notebook. Then I moved to a visible whiteboard, but balls were getting dropped, so I knew something had to change.

I finally invested in a client management software, took the time to set it up, which is also hard. We can do hard things. I restructured my website and integrated everything with my Google Calendar, and now my clients can book consults without the back-and-forth emails or texts or DMs trying to find a date that works. We’ve all been there. “Susie, can you do this date?” “No, but I can do that,” and it just doesn’t work. So my clients get automated emails welcoming them as a client, reminders of their scheduled date, session tips, and all the things that I would’ve done manually in the past.

And those consults are huge too. Meet with your clients, talk to them, get to know them before your session. It makes the session go so much smoother. And when you have information about who they are and what makes them tick, you can bring out their best selves in their portraits.

The last thing I would say is that I am very consistent and present on social media. I post a lot. I make a fool of myself and I share some personal stuff. Social media is a great tool to begin to build that trust with future clients. They can see who you are, they can learn about you. And when I feature my work, my goal is always to empower, to uplift, and build confidence in all of my clients I have photographed, and I hope that the messages I share showcase that.

So I hope this helps. Go out and do the hard things, get nauseous, climb the mountain, move the needle, be the business owner you were meant to be, and I will be rooting you on with big virtual hugs.

Katie Redmond: Hi there. I’m Katie Redmond, owner of K. Redmond Photography. I am located in southwest Michigan near Kalamazoo, and I have been in business now for over 13 years.

I love to empower women through photography. That is my sweet spot. That is where I’m passionate, whether that’s a tween, a high school senior, a 40-something, a 60-something, my silver seniors, that is just where my heart soars. I love pouring into those women and helping them to see their beauty and their strength within. In addition to that, I also enjoy celebrating families. So that is another part of my business and it’s a branding as well. But definitely, definitely the sweet spot is empowering women.

This past year, what has moved the needle for me? I would say consistency and keeping things fresh. So I’ve been with Sarah now for… Oh my gosh, I’m in my fifth year with the Peak Performers program, and it has been a game-changer. Like I said, I’ve been in business for over 13 years and since being in this program, I mean, I’ve just seen growth every year in my business, and in myself. We have tools and knowledge and trainings that we’re learning all the time that help me to grow as a person, to grow my business, and learning that there are things I need to do consistently. Knowing what we need to go do is one thing, but actually going and doing it on a regular basis is where you really start to see some momentum.

And for me, I don’t have a studio space, so it is very easy to just be home. Because unless I’m out there photographing somebody in the world, I’m home, and that means I can do the majority of my work from home. At least that’s what I thought, until you really start to realize how much you need to be out in your community. Not having a brick and mortar, not having a sign that people get to drive by and remember that I exist, so it’s so easy to be forgotten if you’re not showing up.

So for me, that consistently going out there and building relationships, being in the community, being seen, having conversations, networking, just all those things, right? Notes of joy and, “What can I do to help you?” and, “Let’s partner on something,” and whatever that looks like, it comes in so many different forms, but that has been huge, and it can be hard for me to step outside my door. I don’t know why, but I am comfy at home, and once I’m out, I’m great, I’m happy, and I love chatting with people and getting to know people. It’s wonderful. But I have to kind of push myself out the door some days.

So doing that consistently, I know, has helped my business. Just forcing myself to get out there, whether that is… It’s scheduling it, maybe it’s an accountability person, it’s making sure somebody is expecting me to show up because I’m responsible and I’m not going to let them down. But if I don’t tell somebody I’m going, then it’s so easy to change my mind and not go. So that’s a whole nother issue, but it’s something that I need to work on in myself to help my business, and that is something I have worked on very hard the last couple of years.

And I see it. You see the results of doing that and building those relationships and being out there in the community, being seen as a community leader and somebody that cares, and it’s wonderful. And that definitely reflects in my business, whether that’s referrals, whether it’s a new partner, whatever that looks like, it’s just an opportunity waiting to happen, but you have to step outside the door.

The other part of that, keeping things fresh, for me, I don’t know that I did anything huge and drastically different last year than I had, say, the year before, but taking those things that I’m already doing and how can I just make it look new and fresh? How can I reach my senior audience and say, “Hey, let’s go do the senior experience”? It’s an experience. It’s something different. It’s new this year. It’s not the same experience I offered last year. This year, we’re tweaking it a little bit. There’s something there that’s going to be different, that’s going to be exciting, that’s going to draw them in.

I do a tween event. I love my tween event. That is a huge thing for me. And doing that empowering tween event changes every year. I mean, I do the event, but what it looks like, who I’m reaching out to, what I’m offering, everything gets tweaked and changed every year to keep it fresh so it’s not the same old event. And those are just huge.

I know when we did Go Boutique Live this year, something that really spoke to me was the experience, and how is it not just a field or just the park? I don’t want to just take my families to the park. How can I create this experience for them? And it’s not always going to look the same. We’re all about customizing in this program, so that’s going to look different for different people, for different niches, and all of that.

But I need to keep things fresh. Like I said, it’s not always the shiny, new thing. I’m not going to chase every new idea that’s out there, but we’re in this program with these Peaks that have all these amazing ideas, and I love learning what everybody else is doing and seeing what they’re doing. And it may or may not be something that I want to try, but it’s inspiring and it makes me look at what I’m doing and how can I freshen it up.

And sometimes it’s a little tweak and sometimes it’s a whole new thing. And that’s amazing. I mean, I love that. I think those are the things that just really help to push the needle. People see that you’re doing something a little different, something that the people around you aren’t doing. I mean, other photographers around me are not boutique and they’re not doing the wall art, but that’s really not something they see until they talk to me. But if I’m doing a new experience, if I’m offering something really unique in a location or the type of session, or like I said, my tween event, something like that, that they’re then hearing about from other people and they’re seeing, that is something really amazing and really helps to be seen in your surrounding, in your community.

So yeah, I guess that answers too though, what did I do different? I didn’t do anything hugely different last year. I’ll be honest. Last year looked a lot like the year before, but it was more consistent and things were just refreshed. And this year, I’m looking forward to trying something different and new, maybe a different type of session or something like that, but it’s not going to be so drastically different. It’s not reinventing the wheel. It’s tweaking it. It’s painting the wheel a different color this year. So that’s kind of where I’m at with that.

Tips, tips for growing a profitable business is, I mean, I can’t say this enough, obviously, but consistency, finding those things, finding the thing that you don’t really like to do, that you’re hiding from, and make yourself go and do it. That’s huge because there’s something, I think, most people have something that they don’t love doing in their business that they should be doing. And I know sometimes that’s something that you can hire somebody else to do or whatever, but chances are, for a lot of us and things that I hear a lot from other people, if it falls in that marketing realm, make yourself go and do it. Step outside the door, talk to the new person, do something different to be seen and to build those relationships. And I think that’s just huge for growing a profitable business, showing up, offering that experience, doing something different, but doing it well.

And if you’re not doing it well right now, practice and figure out what you can do to do it better so that you can get to that point where you’re doing it well and you’re doing it consistently. And people know when they come to you that they’re going to be taken care of, that you’re going to gush on them and serve them, and they’re going to feel that. People respond to that, I think. Being you, being authentic. Don’t try to be Sarah. We love Sarah, but you’re not Sarah. So what does your flavor look like? What does that look like for you in your business? And be that.

And just like that, we’re wrapping up this episode of the Worth Every Penny Joycast. A huge thank you to the phenomenal guests for sharing their journeys, wisdom, and those golden nuggets on hitting the $100K mark in their photography businesses. It’s been nothing short of inspiring.

Remember, whether you’re in a bustling city or cozy, small town, your unique vision can change the lives of the clients you serve. Today’s stories are proof that with your camera and the right strategies, the sky’s the limit.

If you loved today’s episode, make sure to subscribe and leave us a review. We love hearing your thoughts and what you’d like to learn more of.

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Episode 202 - Secrets from 0K Yay Award Winners 2023
Episode 221 – What #FamilyFirst Really Means

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