This is a guest post by Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick, NYC based architect, interior designer, photographer AND mom! Alethea has her own business, nestingNYC (formerly alethea cheng fitzpatrick photography). Her first guest post here was “Please Don't Just Give Your Clients A CD or DVD!”
You know how many families want beautiful family portraits in their home but have a hard time getting through the entire process?
As an architect/interior designer and baby photographer, Alethea takes care of the whole thing from start to finish, meeting families in their homes and designing, creating, delivering and installing the perfect custom portrait wall gallery to complement their home and lifestyle.
My eighteen month old son is going through a very affectionate stage (well, apart from when he's screaming his head off in the stroller and looking up at me with teary eyes filled with betrayal because I won't carry him).
He comes up to me, pulls my arms around him and says “‘ug!”
Sometimes he says “mommy ‘ug!”
Yes, it is as heart melting as it sounds.
But it's also particularly meaningful because of an amazing piece of advice I recently received from Kristen Kalp, business and marketing genius at Brand Camp Blog and an incredible photographer in her own right at Essential Imagery.
“Coffee coffee coffee,” she said. “Take people out for lots and lots of coffee. And measure your success in hugs.”
This little piece of advice has changed everything for me – how I think not only about my business but also about my life.
I don't interpret this advice literally. It might not be coffee, it might be a two and a half hour lunch… with cocktails… on a weekday. And hey, I live in New York City, some people kiss and hug everyone … and some people don't really like to hug at all.
But what it means, to me, is that you should surround yourself by people you love, and who love you. It means business dates, not business meetings. It means connecting with people, asking them what their biggest challenges and dreams are, and finding out how you can help them.
It means believing that you have something amazing to offer – and offering it.
It means that all of a sudden something has clicked for me and I finally understand how to grow my business in a way that feels good.
It means that I have fallen in love with marketing.
I've never hated marketing, and as an architect, I probably was “into it” more than most. I started my own business after having my son as a) I went crazy taking photos of him and gained a new appreciation for the power, meaning and value of portrait photography and b) I wanted the flexibility so I could continue to be mostly at home with him. It's also true in retrospect that I've always wanted to have my own business, ever since I started one as part of an extra-curricular activity in high school, but I had become waylaid from that goal over the years.
Even with over ten years of experience as a creative professional with lots involvement on the business side, and even though small business owners are always talking about how surprised they are at how much time they have to spend marketing … well, there's no other way to say this. I was still surprised! I feel a little silly about it now but yes, I suppose I did somehow think that I could put up a website, tell all my friends, and run a few facebook and craigslist ads and I would be up and running in no time!
Well, needless to say it has taken a little more work than that. It's one thing to hear that running your own business involves a lot of marketing, but actually experiencing it is a whole different thing. I have been truly humbled by how much there is to learn, but it has also been thrilling to learn so much so quickly… and think of how much money I've saved by not going back to school to do it!
The good news is that the “hug” approach to marketing means that marketing and, ugh, the even more dreaded (to me) “networking” don't feel like marketing or networking – it feels like living your life. In other words, it feels very natural.
I do think that it means you have to be in the right place to begin with. You have to not only love what you do, but you have to love where you are and the people that you get to meet and work with. Where that is will change over the course of your life. It certainly did for me when I became a mother in a way that was completely unexpected to me – I wanted to be a mother all the time!
Now I know that to some, that may sound like a complete nightmare, and they enjoy their professional life where they get to exist outside of parenthood. I can totally understand that. But for me, that was the last thing I wanted to do, and it still is.
“Being a mother all the time” does not, for me, mean spending all my time with my son, at least not since he was a tiny baby. That would not be good for either of us. But it means building a professional life for myself that integrates well with being a mother not just practically in terms of hours and flexibility, but conceptually. It means building a professional life for myself based on who I am as a person. It means integrating the professional and the personal much more than I ever dared to do before.
Being a mother is part of what enables me to be the photographer, designer and business owner that I now am – it's one of my assets and I draw on it constantly. And it explains why returning to my old and formerly much loved professional life suddenly seemed and continues to seem so unfathomable. I don't want my professional and personal life to compete, I want them to complement one another and feed off one another.
I hear a lot of talk in the photography industry these days about shooting from the heart, following your passion, and doing what you love, and not just from crunchy granola types either. Again, these are easy words to say, but I'm starting to experience how true it is, not just from a creative perspective but from the business side too.
So simple, yet so powerful, it impacts everything – who you talk to at the next event and how, what your website looks like and says, what your offerings are, the relationships you establish with other businesses and vendors, and how you work with and follow up with clients.
I'll have to come back in a year to tell you the longer term impact, but so far, all signs indicate that it's going to be really great.
I love connecting with new people, telling them about my business and following up with them. Everyone has been so excited and supportive.
I really look forward to filling my monthly newsletter not with sales and marketing copy but with information that I hope will be valuable and interesting to new and expectant parents and families with young children. I feel good about forwarding it to people, rather than self-conscious that I am “marketing” to them.
I've had some fantastic business dates with people I have quickly come to love and I can't wait to see what those relationships bring. I know it will benefit them, their clients and my clients as well as my business – it's win/win/win/win! And honestly, I'm more excited about what I can do to help them than what they can do for me.
In the same way, I'm no longer afraid to ask for business, because I'm not asking for something, I'm offering something.
Finally, I get to create beauty out of joy and happiness every day… and people hug me for it. It doesn't get much better than that.
Who are you going to hug today? And who will hug you?
If you're looking for amazing insight into where you should be going with your photography business, check out Brand Camp Blog and talk to Kristen!