This week, we're talking about community. I know so many photographers who are lonely…who feel like they don't have support…or who feel like the photo world can be exclusive or dismissive. I've been there too. When I started my photo business 10 years ago, there wasn't nearly as much support, community and training for new photographers as there is now.
From having a shoulder to cry on to having a backup photographer if you can't make a shoot, community matters. Here is my conversation with Audrey of Audrey Nicole photography:
Natalie: I wanted to talk to you Audrey about community, because we've talked about this before. I remember you mentioning, like, especially in your early years, like your network that you had built up was over 50% of your revenue, which is like, hugely important. But aside from that also wanted to just get your thoughts on the value of community as a photographer slash small business owner.
Audrey: I did say that and I crunched numbers once. And I realized that half of my income from my photo business came from other photographers, whether it was them hiring me to do photos for them, referrals that I got from them associate work like subcontracting, all that kind of stuff.
But the more important thing when it comes to building a community is just the support that you get the emotional, moral support, because a lot of us are solopreneurs.
You know, we're like the only person in our business, or maybe we have like an assistant that helps or whatever, but for the most part, it's mostly us and that can feel lonely and terrifying. And I have just learned that like continuing to be a nice person, a good person, and a professional person in the photo community has done nothing but benefited me.
Natalie: When you first started shooting, when you first decided you wanted to do this, where did you find community.
Audrey: Well, I have a little bit of a different background. I went to school for photography, so I had some connections already made there, but I think one of the bigger places I found community was through Facebook groups going on there and posting questions.
I remember one time, I put out like a little ad and a picture of myself and I'm like, “hi, I'm Audrey. And if you need a second shooter…” I remember that like a bio. I got a lot of connections from that.
Natalie: That's a really great tip for folks listening that don't know what the hell to do. And I know a lot of us want to get away from Facebook and that's not like the only place to connect with people, but I think that just showing your face and having a little friendly blurb and saying like, like asking, like putting yourself out there, I think is scary, but super helpful. Cause there's photographers that are looking for people to work with, you know?
Audrey: That's one thing I learned big time over the years is that people are always looking for help in the photo community. So there's honestly an endless amount of areas that you can plug into and help other photographers and build your company.
I mean, it feels lonely. Cause it's like we get so focused on getting our own clients in and stuff like that. If you look outwards, there's a lot of other places you can use your photo skills with other photographers.
Natalie: Yeah, for sure. I was thinking about too, you and I met while I was teaching “escape the cubicle”, but then we started meeting up for coffee and then like shooting together. So now it's been like eight months or something that we've been meeting every other week for 90 minutes for our own little mini accountability mastermind kind of thing.
And I think that's another form of community that has been super valuable for me because, you know, finding someone that you meet at a meetup or online that you feel like you connect with, and having some continued conversation is so helpful because not all of our friends or family know what we're doing day to day.
If folks are like overwhelmed by like, how do I find a whole community?
I think start with someone that you connect with, whether they're in business, maybe not even photography, just that you can chat with once or twice a month and bounce ideas off of, and that's been really helpful for me.
Audrey: Because it's true, like nobody really knows what I do in my business all day. They know that I go off and take photos on the weekends or the evenings and a lot of the actual photo business stuff is just kind of, I don't know, it's kind of lonely sometimes. So connecting with you over the last year with our little chats have been really, really good.
And even on like Instagram, I have found that, like, I have like a handful of photographers who kind of always comment on my stuff or my stories. And I always comment on theirs and I can just tell they're there people that I jive with and I've had a couple of them reach out before and be like, would you meet up for coffees?
After busy season, we're planning like a coffee date with a handful of photographers in the area.
I mean, even just to know that there's somebody else out there that like gets your struggles and you can vent to about things, or especially now with COVID having a community having somebody to cover for you.
That was actually one of the biggest reasons why I actively reached out to people and started making a community. Cause I was so worried about like, if I'm going to get into weddings, I need to have people I can call on if something happens.
Natalie: Yeah. I would say that's most valuable when it comes to weddings.
Cause those are sort of the one gig that you can't, if you're hospitalized or something suddenly, no one's going to change the plans just for you.
Natalie: We do the clubhouse chat on Mondays. I've met folks through there, made friends. Facebook is still a great place, any active social app that you like, I think where you can privately connect with and decide to meet up or whatever.
Audrey: Social media can actually be for socialization and not just like arguing in comment sections.
Natalie: I remember we used to talk about like how cold the photo industry could be in a lot of ways. In the early days, I went to a few small conferences and just didn't feel very welcomed, I guess. You and I talked about that too. Do you think it's changing?
Audrey: I don't know if it's changing or if I am finding my people, so I don't see that as much. I have definitely met people that I've worked with that I will never work with again. And I will never recommend to somebody because they were not kind and kind of their loss, I think, cause they're missing out on, not just like my help, but the access to my world and my community and my people. I'm not going to work with them again.
I think when I first started out, I definitely felt that more.
Natalie: The way you feel, pay attention, paying attention to how you feel is huge. I just walk away from our chats feeling so good. And I think one of the things that was frustrating for me, or is still frustrating in life when people are like, “find your tribe, find your people” is like, there's no really measurable way to do that.
So for me, I've been in many different situations, whether it's with musicians or spiritual folks or like photographers and I'm like “are you my people?” You know, because there's no, like, it's not like a checklist or you're like, yeah, “they've got that. We got that in common, whatever.”
And I think if you're listening to this and feeling like you don't have people and you don't know how to find people, just pay attention to how you feel after asking that person out for coffee or after second shooting for that person or interacting in a DM or whatever. I mean, if someone is uplifting or supportive or whatever, I mean, that's obviously a great first sign and I think you and I just always felt great after we chatted.
Natalie: Is there anything else that you want to share about the importance of community in this business?
Audrey: Again, I think people write it off a little bit, how important and valuable it is.
I just want to emphasize that, it really has saved me many in many different ways. Like just emotionally, also being able to vent to people and like, or if I need help with something, editing a technical question, there's just so much value in being a nice person and like building a community.
Natalie: I think for me, just to add to that, is in order to start building that you do have to put yourself out there, whether it's asking a question in a group about something you don't know about, or you do have to put yourself out there a little bit. And if you've been shat on in the past, when you do put yourself out there, which happened to me in the very early days, I just, I would sometimes just not get responses from people or people were just very dismissive and I was so put off by that.
When that happens, like don't be discouraged by it because there are people that will give you time.
Audrey: You know, there's a lot of cool people out there that are going to be your people, like, and that's how you find them is by like sifting through. And if somebody is not your person, then you move away from them and you go towards, it just leads you closer to your people.