Balancing Business & Motherhood with Ashley Freehan

Here's an abridged version of my conversation with Ashley Freehan!

Natalie: Why don't you tell folks a little bit about yourself and what you do at the purpose gathering and, and then we can talk a little bit about other stuff.

Ashley: I am the founder of the purpose gathering, which is an online community and education platform for mom photographers. And I also am a brand photographer recently transitioned from wedding photography.

So I actually did weddings for a good decade and then decided that, you know, I just kind of wanted a break and I wanted to do something a little bit more fun for me, which was diving in with other female entrepreneurs and getting them some amazing photos to up-level their brands. So that's been really fun. Yeah.

Natalie: That is, that's very similar to my journey in terms of weddings for over a decade. And I still, I still take a couple here and there if they're small, but I needed a break too. It can be one of those things.

Ashley: They're very, time-consuming take up a lot of the weekend and yeah, I was just ready for a change. Yeah.

Natalie: And I think they're an amazing way to get started and get really proficient at what you do and have to think on your feet. Like it's great for skill building. I mean, if you want a fast way to become a better photographer, shoot weddings.

Ashley: Yes, exactly. It teaches you all the skills you could possibly need. Right? You have like the lifestyle photography, you have the details, the family, everything in one, the landscapes, all the things.

Natalie: Yeah. And like good communication, all of that stuff plays into it. So for sure, but I can relate to that. So you started the purpose gathering recently or has it been going on for awhile?

Ashley: So I started the purpose gathering in 2019. So it's been a couple of years now and it started out as an in-person meetup community. And so I would host these in-person events where moms could come and network and get to know other business owners. So it wasn't specific to photographers at the time. And I loved that.

I did an in-person workshop. It was a lot of community building. It was sort of this community that I needed, which is why I built it, because I just felt so lonely as a business owner and a mom. And I didn't really feel like people understood both unless they did both. So I had friends who were moms, but didn't own a business. And then I had friends who were business owners. But they didn't have kids.

And I was like, nobody gets this really intense struggle that I have trying to be a good mom, but also, you know, grow business at the same time. So I started this, this community out of pure necessity and then COVID hit. And so things changed.

Yeah. Right. COVID blame it on COVID.

Ashley: No, but I feel like everything pivoted at nobody obviously could go out. So I tried to kind of take it online and it just. It didn't stick. I think people were just too, you know, concerned and worried about what was going on in the world. They were not interested in that community at that time.

So I pivoted everything. I, in 2020, I started a podcast. I created my first course and I launched a membership community, which ended up turning into the group coaching program I have today. So I would say 2020 was a very epic year for me.

Natalie: Having done a lot of, all of those things, myself, I, other than being a mom, I completely get it, but I have spoken to so many photographers about the balance that we have to strike with loneliness in this job, because, you know, unless you really make an effort to connect with other photographers, it's just you.

Ashley: exactly. It can feel really lonely.

Natalie: Yeah. So let's talk a little bit more like about the stuff that you are bringing to other photographers in terms of like, what's really the thing that you, that lights you up when you're like coaching other folks, or what's the thing that you feel like people need the most help with?

Ashley: Oh, this is great question. So I think when I look back on my journey and how long it's taken me to get to where I am today, I feel like I let a lot of things hold me back. One in particular is my kids. Like I always had this stigma or this mindset that I couldn't be as successful as I wanted to be because I had kids and I sort of let it hold me back and I let it drag me down in a way.

I was very resentful towards my kids about it because I just kept seeing this life that I wanted. I didn't feel like I could have. So really this journey that I've gone on in this coaching program that I've landed on is this idea of teaching moms that they can have both. It's really not about having more time. It's about how you spend your time.

And so I'm really passionate about helping moms get very specific. In regards to what are the areas in which they need to focus on for their business. That way they have more time to spend with their family, which is why they got started in the first place.

Natalie: So I have a feeling the word delegate probably comes into what you do a lot.

Oh, for sure. I think, well, and this is an interesting topic that we've covered a few times on this show, but whether it's delegating at home or in your business, I think that people, you brought up the word guilt, and I think people have a lot of guilt. Around those things. Let's just take like home life stuff, getting someone to come in once a month and clean your house like that.

For some people is really hard to stomach because it's like, oh, I'm not supposed to do that. I can do it myself. Like that's expensive, but can you speak a little about kind of that and the guilt and the delegation and how. How people might struggle with that?

Ashley: Yeah, for sure. That's definitely something that comes up a lot, this guilt and shame around not spending enough time with your kids or not spending enough time in your business. And it really is a juggling act. I don't feel like there's ever complete balance. I mean, obviously there can't be right there's times when your family is going to need more of you and your business will get less and vice versa.

And that is, what's really cool about being a business owner is that you get to have that flexibility. You're not working for someone else. And so when moms come to me, Filled with that guilt. I always kind of walk them through a process of, okay, let's talk about this guilt. Let's let's name, the guilt.

What is the guilt that you're feeling and then walk them through. Does the guilt really have merit? Is it true or is this just some sort of persona or this burden that you're putting on yourself that really doesn't need to be there? And then once we've identified it and decided, is it true? Yes or no, if it is true, well then what can you do to change that?

Like how can you fix it instead of just wallowing, which I think a lot of us do and our own guilt, we get stuck and we play this martyr mentality of like, “woe is me. Like, I can never move forward. I can never be someone else. I'm never going to be a morning person. I'm never going to be as good as so-and-so.”

You know what I mean? We put these labels on ourselves of this is who I am and that's just how it is. And until we can identify those labels and start to peel them away and start to just decide, “okay, well, who do I want to be?” and put those labels on us instead, you're going to be stuck in that guilt shame cycle forever until you figure out how to identify and step out.

So that's the first step I think, for the guilt.

Natalie: Well, and that's, I love that you touched on the idea of truth. That's something that I cover here and there and in my own coaching and courses, but asking yourself, is it true? Because so often we just, we're just telling stories and the stories come out of our imagination. I mean, for the most part, so really in all things, I mean, and I talk about alignment a lot and things like that, but, but really checking in like, “am I in truth here? Or is this just something I made up that I've started to believe about myself?” So I think that's really important.

I think that this idea. The stories we tell and how our personal self shows up in our business is really underrated. I think it's becoming more talked about, but I think people have this like weird division between like my personal life and my business life. And yet, the way we are as like a personal person is like those patterns, those stories, those lies are truths that we carry–they'll show up in your business. Like people think like they can put on the business hat. Do you find that as well with your clients?

Ashley: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah. I do feel like, especially like stemming from past trauma, which is something that I think a lot of people don't realize, but we all grow up with silent trauma stuff that, you know, was ingrained in our brain.

Or we were taught by or caught, you know, we, we caught it from our parents. Really. It wasn't taught, but it was just. We, it was kind of absorbed, right. So I think that definitely plays a role for sure, in how we project on our clients, on our families and on ourselves, as we are trying to juggle all the things, you know, trying to be a business owner in and of itself is hard and then throw raising a family into the mix.

Natalie: If someone's listening and they feel really stuck or they feel like that, maybe this idea of like, oh, am I, am I telling myself a bad story? Like, is there anything like in like quick, accessible, easy that you advice that you can offer folks that, that might be resonating with what you ultimately would teach?

Ashley: Yeah. So I think ultimately when you go back to kind of assessing that guilt, like..

For the longest time, I really just felt like I couldn't be a good mom if I was being a good business owner. And the other way around, like if I was killing it in business, then I was somehow letting my family down.

And so I think sort of the motivation that I would want to leave someone with, if they're feeling that same thing too, is there comes a point when you have to decide, like what's most important, right? There has to be some type of priority. You can't prioritize both your family and your business at the same level. And so what I would recommend is deciding like, is your family the top priority because you are the sole provider for them and your, and your business income, maybe it isn't necessary or it isn't like, you're not, you know, relying on your income, if that's the case, then yes, your family would come first and that's okay to prioritize that. But once you own that, I feel like things start to change.

And then on the flip side, if you do rely on your business for income to support your family, then that does have to be a priority. And that doesn't mean that you can't be a good mom, but that does mean that your schedule is going to look different. Right. Your kids are going to have to learn to adapt. There's going to have to be new boundaries put into place that tell your children like, “Hey, mom is home and I do have to take care of you. I'm your sole provider, but I also do have to work. This is what things are going to look like.”

I do go much deeper about that on my podcast too. So I do have a podcast where I talk a lot of. The balancing juggling act, you know, that's a great place for folks to start.

Natalie: I think just being able to measure, you know, how you're approaching these things. So that stays clear. I talk a lot about clarity. That's like the thing I'm passionate about is just how clarity kind of drives everything we do. And, and like, if you are clear then that like family is first. I mean, that's gonna really open things up for you.

So I'm curious, Ashley, what kind of, I guess, lessons or mistakes do you think got you to where you are in photography? You mentioned in part one of our interview that, uh, you did about 10 years of weddings and moved into branding just for a variety of reasons, but I'm curious what sorts of things you learned along the way that were useful and important to getting you where you were.

Ashley: Yes. Awesome. So the very first thing that I can think of that really was like the turning point from the beginning.

So I think everyone starts out hobbyist, right? We all pick up a camera at some point and have really no clue what we're doing. The big turning point for me there was to start investing in coaching.

And I did that fairly early on in my business, but then I stopped. So what I noticed was that the many years that I went without coaching where my hardest years. And so that's the first lesson that I really would suggest to any other photographer out there is invest in coaching and mentorship as soon as you can, because it's really going to save you a lot of the trial and error that a lot of us think.

You know, want to go through cause we're trying to save money or we're not sure if we're really into it or not. And so that would be the first thing. Once I started investing, I decided to specialize in weddings. That was kind of the first step was choosing a niche and I was shooting anything and everything at the beginning, but that was a turning point for me.

So once I started shooting weddings and that's all I showed, I started to gain a lot of traction in the wedding industry. I started networking with a lot of people, doing styled shoots, meeting other vendors who would refer me. And it was the greatest opportunity for me to transition into a new industry.

Natalie: Yeah, that makes sense. I think there's, there's a level of importance in the beginning of trying things so that, you know, what you like and what you don't like, but. There's a huge importance then in back to clarity, like deciding, like I'm going to do this for a year and see where it takes me. And I'm only going to show weddings on my socials and I'm only going to, you know, outwardly really focus on this.

Even if on the side, you're kind of like still learning and growing and experimenting in other areas. But like that, that niching down for your audience's sake can really propel you forward super fast. I think I was curious. Why do you think people don't invent. In education. I know you mentioned cause like they're not sure maybe they want to do it, but I feel like there's like a deeper thing happening there when people are like, I don't need it.

Ashely: Why do you think folks do that? So, so I can only speak for myself, but I think that there are a lot of people who can relate to what I'm about to say, but I think a lot of people get into photography to make money.

And they think like, well, why would I, why would I shell out a whole bunch of money when I'm not making any?

And so that was the biggest thing that held me back was I don't want to go into debt in a business that I'm not even sure if I'm going to do for very long, you know what I mean?

So I sort of had this hesitation of like, first of all, can I believe in myself, like, is this for real? And then secondly, why would I invest all this money when I'm not making it yet? And so kind of my idea, or kind of how I show people now when they are dealing with that objection of like, well, I just, I'm not making any money, is I talk to them about college.

Like when people go to college, they don't blink an eye going into debt for college and they go into debt a lot. Like it's not just like two or $3,000. It's like $50,000 to get your degree. And so people don't bat an eye on that, for sure. And so I'm like, think about college. Like there is a level of investment, or, I mean, even if you're just going to go start, let's say you want to start a photography studio.

You're going to have to rent studio space. You're going to have to take out a business loan. I mean, there is a level of debt that you go into when you start any business, like yeah. It's great idea to start all cash, if you can. But not many people can.

And so looking back at the beginning, like I wish someone would have said like, treat this like a real business, write out a business plan. What are you going to need in order to get from point A to point B the fastest.

And so that's kind of what I wish I was. Envisioned was okay. I am going to go into a small amount of debt, but here's the debt I'd rather go into than having a whole bunch of fancy cameras and lenses when I don't need all that. I really needed one camera, one lens and an amazing mentor.

And that's all I needed.

Natalie: Well, I think you nailed it on the head when you said get from point A to point B faster. I think with all coaching, what I find to be one of the bigger reasons people don't invest is because they're mostly thinking “oh, I can figure it out myself. I can Google it. I've got this.

I can, I'll figure it out.” And that's not necessarily untrue, but the A to B if you want to get moving along in your business quicker educators, Not only what they know, but all of their years of experience into little wonderfully bite-sized chunks so that you don't have to go like take the long road to get to where you're going.

And I think that's like the huge value and it's hard to necessarily always be able to measure that. But I think from what I've found, people really want to dig their heels in and lean on Google and, and just kind of do it themselves. I mean a good coach or a good program will get you from A to B, as you said, so much faster, which time is money.

Exactly. So that's what I feel like was the biggest turning point was okay. And it took me a long time. Like I said, I invested at the beginning and then I was like, I'm set. Like, I don't need anything else. And I should have continued to invest. I didn't. So it took me a very long time to realize like, why am I not investing anymore?

The turning point really started to happen when I created the purpose gathering and I wanted this community of like-minded moms who understood what it was like to have their own business. And so I really started investing in the online education space. So then I sort of sorta took a detour. So I still do my photography, but that's not going to be my main focus anymore.

It's the coaching. I love helping other entrepreneurs get to where they want to go faster. Fast-track that, you know, 10 year span that I had to do slow and steady and it was painful.

Natalie: Well, you answered my next question, which was sort of like, where are you headed? And you, you kind of eliminated on that, but let's, let's just wrap things up.

I like to take things down a more like chill route here in. What inspires you? Like what inspires you, particularly in photography, you know, to create that kind of art.

Ashley: So now transitioning out of wedding photography, into brand photography and really showcasing female entrepreneurs, what I love the most about it, and what inspires me is telling their story and like really being able to showcase “who are you in your business, but also outside of your business,” because I mean, this is a whole nother episode about branding and how you stand out among the crowd, but really the biggest differentiator between photographers is the photographer.

And so if you can showcase who you are outside of a photographer, And kind of have commonalities with your audience and your followers, they will latch onto that and stick around even if they don't need a photographer. A

nd so that's really what inspires me is being able to show that person and tell their stories so that everyone else around them can see the possibilities of not, not only working with them, but maybe what does it look like for me to be an entrepreneur one day?

Natalie: I love that. That's super cool. Um, and you're right. That is an entire episode, which I would love to have you back for some time.

Before we wrap up, what is something that you turn to for sort of strength, inspiration? It could be a quote. It could be like a daily practice. Just something that really kind of holds it all together for you or brings you back when you're having a moment of doubt or frustration. Maybe you can share something that comes to mind.

Ashley: Yeah. I love that. So my faith is very important to me. So I do have a daily practice of like journaling and studying the Bible and just reading scripture. But.

One quote that really sort of keeps me grounded is this quote that says, “if you're not content where you are, you won't be content where you're going.” It resonates on such a deep level.

I think I've only heard it one time and I literally will never forget it.

Natalie: That is really powerful, that says so much in such a short, short sentence.

Ashley: It does. And so literally anytime I'm just feeling like, oh, I can't wait until my kids XYZ or, oh, I can't wait for this. Or when I'm looking ahead, or even when I'm wallowing, right.

I can just be like, Hey, if you're not content where you are, you're not going to be content where you're going. And it just grounds me and makes me just stop and think and be like, okay, show gratitude for this moment right now.

Natalie: That's really powerful. And I think it sort of just inherently makes you want to assess, right?

Like, so if there's something that's a little off, it would, it would then kind of ask you to reflect, which is something that I think we forget to do in lieu of wanting to like get somewhere else.


Ashley Freehan is a multi-passionate mompreneur. She is a business and motherhood coach, brand photographer, podcaster, wife and homeschooling mama saved by grace. She is passionate about helping mom photographers grow their business without sacrificing their family or their sanity through her podcast and group coaching program, Side Hustler to CEO.   



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