This week on the pod, I talked with Kate Simpson, who is a relatively new photographer. We dug into her journey and some of the challenges of starting her new photo biz. This is with the intention of connecting with those of you that are at the earlier part of your journey. Hopefully you find something in this interview that is helpful and inspiring.
Here is an abridged transcript of my conversation with Kate.
Natalie: Before we dig in, let folks know a little bit about what style photography you're doing.
Kate: I do maternity, newborn, and family lifestyle photography based out of Minneapolis. I try to get a little bit of the documentary shots in with everyone. I'm always trying to take a step back and look around the room and see what else is going on that I can capture. Setting them up to capture moments that might not have otherwise happened with me there.
My brand statement is that I capture the story of your families right now. So whatever is going on, doesn't have to be perfect. As moms, we always feel like we need to lose that last 10 pounds before we set up pictures.
My goal is to just kind of show people that their family is beautiful and perfect just as they are, and we can capture those moments now.
Natalie: You're relatively new to this. How new actually?
Kate: So like brand spanking new. I mean, I just, I started building my portfolio. I started doing those shoots like back in February and I did a pretty extensive portfolio build. My goal was to do 10 different sessions and each one of the three categories that I'm in.
I've got three kids and I've been a stay-at-home mom for the last seven years. So it was a slow process to get through that, which I had some people tell me I really needed to speed it up and maybe do mini sessions. But I'm actually kind of glad I did it that way, even though it took so long, because it gave me the opportunity to really see like where my sticking points were. Long story short, I finally wrapped all that up and got my website built and launched like a month ago.
Natalie: Well, it's a beautiful website and the portfolio that you've put together is beautiful. For a relatively new photographer, you have nailed it in terms of your niche and your brand messaging. You know what you're shooting. You have kind of like a tagline. I mean, it's big for someone that's just starting out. I think that all of these things can really help eliminate some of the like early years' hustle and grind. I'm confident that you're going to build your audience a lot faster that way.
Kate: Okay, good.
It was super busy getting all these sessions out of the way and building the website and now it's like, “okay, when somebody's going to contact me?”
Which I kind of anticipated, and I know I need to hit marketing. One of my big challenges right now is kind of figuring out how to get those people in.
Natalie: Yeah, the flip side of that coin. So you do a lot of preparation and you have a lot of pieces in place, but there is that patience and that sort of like, “oh, this is, this is going to take a little while”.
And for those of you listening, who know me well, you know what I'm going to say. Definitely come up with a regular blogging schedule 'cause that's going to help you a lot.
People are still on Google big time. The blogging and so many of those SEO efforts are not overnight. It's just setting the building blocks for the long game.
Natalie: What was the inspiration behind, “I'm going to do this” ?
Kate: I always had a little bit of an interest in photography, like way back. I was one of the girls that always had a camera in high school. I was drawn to the photography section anytime I was in a bookstore as a slightly older kid, but then I just never did anything with it.
Never took a photography class, never got a real camera. And then fast forward to 2014, like we mentioned when I had a kid. And it was like, “oh, I really need to figure this out and start actually taking some decent pictures of my kid.” So I asked for a camera for my birthday or Christmas. I got like a little point and shoot type deal, which again, I still never actually took the time to use because life is crazy with kids.
And then a couple of years ago, I finally decided that I just wanted to dive in and do it. I was just shocked by the amount of education that's out there right now. I spent the COVID year just taking 50 million online classes and practicing on my kids.
And then I had a neighbor that asked me to take some maternity and newborn pictures for her. I had always kind of had it at the back of my mind, but you're scared to admit to people that you're even thinking down that path.
I'm just inspired by like the emotion and the connection between people. My goal with what I'm trying to give people is not really photographs. Like, that's always what we're delivering in the end to a client, but I want to make them feel something when they get their images. To remind them of the love and the connection that their family has and what their purpose is as parents. Because I think in like the day-to-day grind of life, you just forget about that. But then you get that one picture and like, it's this beautiful moment of everybody interacting and that's what you remember.
Natalie: Well, and good for you for just putting yourself out there. That it is a vulnerable thing to be like, “I'm doing this thing.” I think that folks that are listening to this, thinking, you know, they're six months to a year behind you where they're like, “yeah, I want to learn how to use a camera.” I hope it gives them the confidence to do it.
Natalie: I'm curious, what are some of the bigger challenges that you've run into as a new photographer?
Kate: I think without a doubt, number one is that imposter syndrome.
Especially with me going from just getting my first camera just a couple years ago and then suddenly being like, “oh, here I am. I'm going to call myself a photographer now and go charge people money.”
It's a tough mindset to wrap your head around. I think that's where part of the pause came from, and just like admitting to people that I even wanted to start this business because it's like, “what are they going to think of me just suddenly calling myself a photographer?”
And that's part of the reason I did such an extensive build and wanted to have so much experience behind me. I guess partially to prove to myself that I had what it took to charge the money I wanted to charge.
Natalie: Well, I'm curious about how you did build the portfolio that you launched with. So you had this strategy of going into it, getting experience, building a portfolio in the three categories: newborn, maternity, family. How did you go about [it]?
Kate: Yeah. So I made the decision to do totally free sessions. And I know there's a lot of different ways people go about it. They'll do a model call where they give away like one or five images and then upsell the rest. But I felt like since I was so new coming in and I wanted to have a little bit more control over everything, I opted to do it totally [free].
I'm at a stage in life where I know plenty of friends and neighbors that are good model family candidates. Finding the maternity and the newborn clients was a little bit more challenging…So I actually ended up reaching out to a doula acquaintance. And she got me set up with most of the maternity and newborn people that I use for my portfolio. And of course, [for] most people COVID presented a little bit of a challenge.
Natalie: I really am interested in this approach because I certainly think that prior to launching, you kind of had a very intentional launch date. You built up this portfolio by offering free services. And I think that that approach is useful….useful to you and it's useful to the industry. I think what happens is folks get really frustrated because…they're so excited to launch and they're so excited to put themselves out there. It's an exciting time. You want to see what will happen next.
But I think what can damage the industry and what gets people upset is when folks don't have any experience and they're charging money, but they don't feel like they can charge a lot because you said, you're still just figuring your stuff out.
This approach of like, “let me just privately build up this portfolio and learn some of the things I need to learn. And just not have the pressure of charging people.” Now you can cross that line where you're like “I'm in the industry. I feel good about asking for money now.” But you're not cutting down the sort of industry standard.
It's a fine line, because in the position I'm in, I want to encourage everyone that's interested in doing this to not only try it, but to know that they can do it. I just really think that the way you went about it is a productive, useful sort of approach to it for everyone. For you and for the industry.
Kate: I just felt like, I dunno, I didn't think that I could really call myself a professional to myself or anybody until I had done so much of that stuff. And I don't know, I can't even imagine like the webpage, I would have been able to build after just doing two or three sessions. I know a lot of people do start out that way and maybe get a webpage a little bit farther down the road and just rely on their Facebook account.
But I just felt like if I did it that way, [I was] never going to really take myself seriously. And it was just going to be a much longer game.
So I felt like if I was going to do it, I wanted to like really put the investment in upfront. Yeah, it's more of an investment, but it just felt like the right way to do it, especially with the prices that I wanted to charge.
Natalie: Absolutely. And I'm a huge proponent of foundational work first. So, you know, you're able to be in a space now where you've figured out your brand messaging, you figured out like the logistics, you figured out workflows. You've figured out how to use your hands. Now you can focus some energy on learning the business of marketing your business and stuff like that. I'm a huge fan of having a strong foundation to build upon. Because when you do start to get busier, if you don't have these systems in place, you're like, “did they pay me? Do they have a contract?”
Kate: I think being ready to be in business is something that I really respect about the process. It feels like it just feels messier and less professional when people are all over the place in the beginning. And then on the flip side, I mean, I am … a perfectionist, for sure. So I had to be careful that I wasn't like building building blocks for three years. Like that's an extreme example obviously.
You know, what's that saying…”Perfect. Is the enemy of done?” At some point you just have to pull the trigger and do it and go back and modify and improve and learn as you go.
Natalie: Like if you do have the pieces in place, recognize that it's going to constantly be an evolution, there's going to be new apps that come out. There's going to be new things that are invented. There's going to be new approaches. Rolling with that and always improving your business…that's also important to recognize that you do have to just jump in at a certain point when you've got all the pieces.
Kate: And I had to make a shift too from like, feeling like I could just take 60 more classes on editing and composition, everything related to actually taking the picture. And kind of take a break with that and figure out the business part of it. Because I felt like I could have kept doing that forever. You have to remind yourself that's the constant evolution and improvement and it's not going to end.
Natalie: The other piece of jumping in is, you could practice getting very good at creating beautiful images in your home with your kiddos.
[But] another part of being a solid business owner and being a brand that people can trust and being an excellent service, is to recognize that there's a whole other side to being a professional photographer that has nothing to do with taking the photos. How you interact with your clients, how you handle stress or how you help move things along when you're the one in control of the session.
Kate: I think back and had I done just mini sessions at the park, I would've missed out on all that. I would have never gotten to the point where I like did feel confident that yes, I can deliver a good gallery of pictures and not just like that one or two.
Natalie: And since you're so close to it still, I'm curious, what did that first session feel like to you where you were walking in?
Kate: I'm still so nervous, every time. I can sleep at night the night before, so that's an improvement, but yeah.
It helped that they were free sessions that take some of the pressure off. Because if you totally bomb it, then you're not charging anybody money.
Natalie: And being clear about that too. In my early days, there really wasn't much of a dividing line. Like all of this was 10, 12 years ago, it was evolving and lifestyle was very new then. I think in the early days it was really hard to come across like solid education and solid examples.
Kate: I don't even know if you remember this shot. It may not mean as much to you as it does to me. But I believe it was a maternity session that you were at our new house for, that we live in now. And you had said, “all right, I'm leaving. We got everything. This is great.”
You're kind of packed up and walking out the door. Nick and Austin were sitting there at the table and he was like, feeding him graham crackers or something. It was just like that split second shot that I feel like most photographers just would have been like, “oh no, I did everything that we're supposed to do. I'm packed up. I'm leaving.” But that was one of my favorite ones ever.
Natalie: Oh, that's awesome to hear. Yeah. Just as a tip for anyone listening, don't put your camera away until you're in your car. Just don't because there's always going to be something. Maybe end like a few minutes early knowing you're not officially ending.
Do you have any advice for folks listening either about this journey that you're on?
Kate: Just do it.
Take advantage of all that stuff that you didn't have when you were first starting out, because it is the golden age of photography education.
Put your foundation in place, but then just do it. Overcome that fear and put yourself out there. It's never as bad as soon as you're done.
Everybody had a really good response that I told that I was going into it. Like all these things that you envision in your head just don't really actually happen in reality. So you've just got to get out of your own head.
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