Episode 88: The 5 Phases of Growing a Photography Business That Fits Your Life – Part 2

5 Phases of Growing a Photography Business


Photography Business Institute
Photography Business Institute

Welcome back for part two of the 5 phases of growing a photography business that fits your life.

In part one, I shared what those early phases of a boutique photography business look like, especially when you have a growing family.

Now it’s time for part two where I’m an open book about how my business and life have shifted and what that can look like for your photography business, too. 

Phase 3: A Boutique Photographer with Middle Schoolers

Phase three of my family life was kids getting into middle school.

My goal when I started my business was to have it rocking by junior high, so that I could be at all their sports events and activities.

When they hit fourth grade and sports started they had to be there at 3:30 and I had to scurry to adjust my schedule.

I remember thinking that I don’t have this all figured out, and I’m still spinning a little.

But I’m here today, years later, and made it.

If you’re waiting to have kids until you have it all figured out, you’re doing it backwards.

Have the kids, and it will motivate you to figure it out.

The downside of this phase was managing trying to be at all my kids’ things and keeping my business rocking.

This phase is when all the maintenance on our house and our yard really stopped.

Honestly, looking back in that time, I didn’t even have time to put on lotion!

Everything I had in me went to those two important places: my family and my business.

Luckily, I got a lot of time with my hubby while driving to sports.

We would go early and would have dinner in different towns, and we got a lot of good quality time together.

If you’re there right now and you’re trying to find out how all of it balances, just know this is totally normal.

It’s a phase and it’s going to be okay.

Learn How To Use Tools That Grow Your Business

Looking back, I realized I wouldn’t do one thing differently.

It was more important to me to focus on developing those humans and developing my business.

The house and all the things I loved to do would go on the back burner.

I think the biggest success strategy in my business during this time was figuring out how to use online tools, like the online calendars.

We used to have a big calendar on the wall that we all shared and everybody looked at, but my team needed to be able to communicate, so having that shared calendar was huge.

My business, during this time, kept growing pretty steadily.

Every year it grew about $50,000 or more and I was loving growing my revenue, but I also started really focusing on the profit number.

I don’t care what the gross is.

It’s what the net is.

It’s what we keep, so I tightened my costs.

I learned to pay close attention to all of the decisions I needed to make, to be able to make more in less time by serving clients at a higher level.

Starting A New Business for Portrait Photographers

I did take work home because I like to work a lot.

That’s not a problem for me, because I like to get up on Saturday morning and get organized, but I still didn’t schedule client sessions during family time.

This phase also allowed me to start my company called Photography Business Institute.

There was a demand from so many photographers to teach them what I was doing at Sarah Petty Photography.

My studio ran like a well-oiled machine and I was able to create processes that help photographers learn what I do.

Being a marketing director at an ad agency, where I had to learn marketing from the inside out, I marketed all different kinds of companies.

I had to learn the foundation of marketing.

I created all these programs that nobody in the industry had heard of or seen before, and it’s what I love to do. 

My husband, Joe, and I started dreaming more seriously about our dream building.

We wanted to be together, so we bought land right off of Interstate 55 that goes from St. Louis to Chicago.

Joe’s an architect, and he really wanted that visibility from the interstate, which has been amazing now that we’re in it.

We have people come off the interstate and knock on our door and ask who designed our building. 

Phase 4: A Boutique Photographer with 3 High Schoolers

And this brings us to phase 4, an intense phase with three kids in high school.

My kids were involved in so many things like scouts, band, and sports.

At this point, we’ve had two kids who played competitive sports all these years, mostly volleyball, so I’ve lived in the gym watching them several nights a week.

The house and all of my projects continued to stay on hold and I loved it because I got a lot of windshield time with each kid.

For 6 years, I was able to do that with my girls.

Then my son, who didn’t do sports, went to 12 business conferences with me and just soaked it all in.

This time was super busy and super fun.

During this phase I did have to come in some nights and weekends to catch up, but through it all, I rarely scheduled nights or weekends for photography sessions.

This is when I started mentoring high school students that would come to my studio several days a month.

I would run a youth leadership program that helps them gain confidence in themselves and in their ability to think on their feet and become leaders. 

All three of my kids got to do this program, and I know that it’s changed them forever.

They had to start a business, write a business plan, and do really hard things as high school seniors.

As you know, I have a conference now, called Go Boutique Live and I really believe that we excelled at that because of all the work I’ve done with mentoring these students.

Breaking Ground On Our Dream

In my business, by now, the machine has been built and I felt confident enough to keep investing at a higher level.

Joe and I broke ground and built our dream building, which houses my studio with a north light camera room and Joe’s architectural firm is on the south end.

In the middle, we put a small volleyball court.

Our averages at the studio keep skyrocketing.

I can’t even believe how amazing that has been.

It makes it so easy, because all the studio bills can be paid with very few clients if we need it to be.

In the pandemic, we had to pivot.

We had to keep business going and our averages just took such great care of us.

Right before the pandemic is when I started a coaching program for portrait photographers.

My ideal client comes excited and ready to take action.

Then, once they just start doing what I teach, they get results.

It’s amazing.

People need to be held accountable, pushed and pulled, and they need their hand held.

When the pandemic hit, I had a voice.

I told my students that we’re going to get through this and it was amazing to see them making money, having their best year ever, and hitting six figures because they were paying attention.

Find a Business Coach That’s Where You Want To Be

The economy doesn’t scare me, because I have the confidence to know that we can make our own economy, no matter what.

During the pandemic, both of my businesses were thriving and I started to have money, but no time.

The pandemic was also hard on my team, because a lot of them have little kids and had to figure out how to balance working from home and child care.

We learned how to coach our students better, because we were going through it as a boutique photography business, too.

That’s why it’s important to have a business coach who’s doing what you want to do, because they’re having to pivot and learn how to solve these problems, too.

Learn to Be Intentional With Your Time and Decisions

I think the biggest success strategy for me in phase 4 was being intentional about my time and with my decisions.

With my kids in sports multiple nights a week, we planned dinners and sat together at the dinner table on off nights.

When I would find things out of balance, I would sit down and figure out a way to get back to neutral.

I like a fast-paced, chaotic-filled life, so for me, balance probably looks different than it does for some of you.

But there are a lot of great books and people who have found balance.

That’s why I’m always in a coaching program with a community, because I always have people in my life who could help me find that balance when I need it.

Revenue in this phase has been great in both companies.

It’s been super fun being in the studio and having this gorgeous, natural light camera room, and really just taking care of our clients at a high level.

The biggest success strategy that I implemented in stage 4 was serving.

Serving our students and our clients for whatever they needed.

I love that in business we don’t get to be comfortable.

There’s always a new challenge and this new challenge pushed us and helped us take care of people, both in the studio and at Joy of Marketing.

Serving our coaching students and helping them stay above water and profitable and bringing their best selves into their world was super fun for me.

Stage 5: A Boutique Photographer With An Empty Nest

I don’t know how this happened so fast, but what’s important to me at this next phase is really making sure my kids are still developed.

Over the years, I’ve watched a lot of married people with kids and have noticed, when that last kid goes to college, sometimes those relationships crumble.

People realize all they had in common was their kids, and the marriage falls apart.

While we don’t always have control over things, I’ve always been really conscious that I don’t want this to happen to me.

We’re in a really good place, and it’s cool, because we share this building.

I just feel like that’s where I’m putting my attention in my next phase.

We want to get back to remodeling the house that we love.

I want to make it homey, cute and a fun place for our kids when they come home.

Time will allow that to happen, but that’s the next focus, because I do love a well-run home with a fire in the fireplace and fun colors and artwork all over.

We have kids all over.

It doesn’t matter that the birds have all taken off, because the family first filter is about continuing to invest in my family.

That’s my marriage, my kids, keeping everyone connected, and keeping them working toward building a life that they love.

In this phase, both businesses run like well-oiled machines.

The studio’s profitable and we have averages in sales over $10k and $20k often, which is cool because we get to decorate people’s homes in a way that just has so much impact.

I’m not in a wealthy area, but it’s what people value and people have money to invest.

I love being able to really spoil them. 

Having A Mentor Has Proven to Be My Biggest Success Strategy

At Joy of Marketing, we’re making so much progress and making a difference in people’s lives.

Our students in my advanced program come here twice a year and they get to hang out at my studio.

My dream was to have this place to host community events and to be able to bring students here.

I think the biggest success strategy in this phase is having a coach.

It took me a couple years of having the wrong coach or thinking I could figure it out on my own, before I found my mentor.

That’s my community of people that I rely on and I put them in my budget first.

I know that when I need something or I’m stuck, I have a network of people who can help me, and I spend a lot of time helping them, too.

It’s the coolest thing, as an entrepreneur, to be able to do that.

Surrounding myself with like-minded people, who have big goals, who want to play big, who want to dream big, and who also value what I value.

Has any of this been easy?

Heck, no.

Do I have it all figured out for the next phases?

Heck, no, but I was fortunate enough to have entrepreneurial parents who I got to watch juggle these things.

And I’m motivated to share anything I’ve learned to help anyone here listening. 

It’s hard, but living a life without being inspired and not making a difference in the world and not putting your family first is also hard.

As entrepreneurs, we know that we’re different, and we can do anything we want.

This is your time.

If you’ve been telling yourself that you need to wait until “X” to build your business, I challenge you to erase the word “until”.

There is never going to be a perfect time in life when you have all the time and money you want.

So, you have to make the choice now that the way to time and money freedom is by growing a profitable business.

I hope my phases of business growth, my family changes, my chaos, and even a sense of the unknown that lies ahead of me has inspired you to also go for your dreams.

This year, I hope you keep listening and keep hanging around others who have these same dreams.

Before you know it, those dreams will be normal to you, too, no matter what phase you are in.

Episode 88: The 5 Phases of Growing a Photography Business That Fits Your Life - Part 2
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