On this week’s episode of Focus & Facets, we talk with my sister, Jenny Mason of Jenny Mason Photography.
Jenny has been in business for 15 years in Southern California, photographing newborns, families, babies, you name it. She does on-location and studio work and has grown her business from out of her garage into a multi six-figure empire that wows each and every one of her clients.
We talk about websites, what’s important in regards to your website, we talk about getting started in business, and how she moved from her home studio into her retail space that she currently resides in now.
We discuss how to pivot when times get tough. Having lived through the recession of 2008, Jenny knows what it’s like to be in tough times and how to get through it. Plus, we focus on mindset and finding your entrepreneurial enigma, that friend, that girlfriend, or guy, friend who’s there and understands the business and can help walk you through troubling clients, issues with pricing, your marketing campaigns and is just a friend to be there when you need them most.
Let’s dive into this week’s episode and talk to my amazing sister!
Welcome to Focus & Facets! Big sister Jenny is in the house! I am so glad you’re here, Jen. You are my best friend, my confidant, and honestly, I don’t think my business could not have run without you.
Jenny: Thank you! I’m so excited to be here. I’m honored to be here with you. I feel special being on your podcast and so excited because both of us together, we couldn’t do without each other – let’s face it.
Julia: I know it’s so true, but you know what? You are pretty dang special in my book. We’ve been best friends, probably since what? You went to college? Because before that we fought like cats and dogs.
Jenny: Yeah, I would say our twenties before we were best friends.
Julia: I’ll never forget the time that I wrote “I hate you” on the door block underneath your door because you used to take that wood wedge and shove it under the door so I couldn’t come into your room and borrow your crap.
Jenny: We were locked in our rooms. I don’t know what. I don’t know why. Maybe I just locked you out of my room and then you took the doorstop and you went and took a ballpoint pen on there, “I hate you.”
Julia: Right? It’s really love right there.
Jenny: They all do it. We all do it.
Julia: Borrowing your stuff and never returning. It looks on your face, man, they were priceless.
Jenny: I could find whatever I needed in your room because it was in there.
Julia: But today, we both run pretty successful businesses. You were actually first in this journey and you encouraged me to get going into photography. We got into photography because of our dad. Our dad was a hobbyist, landscape guy and he got you a camera too? I remember he got me a camera, what, when I was 15? Did you get one? You got one.
Jenny: I was probably right around 13, 14 when he got me my first camera and we spent many, many hours – I took photography in high school – and we spent many hours. We converted the den into a dark room and we had it all sealed off with a red light and everything. We spent many, many hours there together developing black and white photos. It’s some of my best memories with my dad.
Julia: Oh my gosh, that’s so amazing. It’s cute because he’s so Papa Proud of us because we’re doing the catharsis of his dream. I think he’s so cute.
Jenny: Totally, because any hobby we had or wanted to do, he was just all in and he would just get all the things and foster our passions and creativity. He was definitely the thing, the one that started this all, I think.
Julia: Speaking of ‘starts’, talk to me, because I remember you got laid off from your corporate job didn’t you?
Julia: You took a year to think about things and figure out what life had in store for you. So, tell me your journey.
Jenny: I had been working for a big healthcare corporation in marketing for probably, I think 12 to 13 years, in my twenties into my thirties. The company went through some changes and my position wasn’t needed anymore and I got laid off, which was devastating to me because-
Julia: I remember those phone calls, man.
Jenny: Oh, I loved my job and I honestly was young and I just took it so personally, and it was really upsetting. What happened was, they ended up hiring me back as a consultant. I consulted for them for a good year and a half, but I just knew that my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I had studied photography in high school and I majored in it in college, so photography was always my background, but it was film.
When I was off just consulting, digital had just started coming out. It was 2004 or 2005. Digital cameras were just making their debut. I thought, “I really want to try this digital thing and see if I like it,” because I always liked Photoshop and design and all that. I got a camera and played around and loved it. My sister-in-law was having a baby and I actually had found online some information on how to start a photography business. I was that little green photographer. I don’t know if anyone remembers back in the day–
Julia: — I remember!
Jenny: But I learned so much from those women. They were amazing and to this day, I am really so grateful that I found that group because that’s really what helped me think that I could actually do this as a business.
Julia: You introduced me to them too. And it was amazing. We were both sponges.
Jenny: Oh totally, I mean, I’d be on there all hours of the night and just learning everything I could. My sister in law was having a baby and I decided to spend $600 on a studio light and the background and everything that I needed to shoot my nephew who was just born because the newborn photography was really, honestly just starting at that time.
I did it and I loved it. I loved using a studio light. It just made me so happy, the light I could get out of those lights. From there it just kind of took off. I would start offering my friends, because all my friends were in their early thirties. They were all having babies and I would ask, “Oh, can I photograph your baby? I want to learn.” I was just offering to do it for free for everyone so that I could learn. It just really took off and I started doing it in my garage.
Julia: You devoted your entire garage, basically, to shooting and the work you were producing out of there was so good. Now, you’re heads and shoulders above where you were, but we all grow. I remember thinking about your images and going “that’s so pretty!” People would traipse through your house too, right through your kitchen?
Jenny: Right through my kitchen, into my garage, through my laundry room – it wasn’t pretty! But we redid the garage and made it all nice. We took all the cars out, all that, and it was just all my studio. This was all great and I had a few clients here and there, and I was doing consulting, but the turning point was when a girlfriend of mine started a clothing line and she was going around to all the local baby boutiques to get her clothing line in the baby boutique.
She knew that I was a photographer and she was so sweet. She walked into a boutique and they had had a photographer in there before who had left. They were looking for a new photographer and she says, “I know a photographer,” and she gave them my name. She called and told me, she said, “You need to go down there.” I was so scared. They were doing photography in their boutique. They had like a little extra room and they did little mini- session things in that.
Julia: This was Hush Baby?
Jenny: This was Hush Baby, yeah.
Julia: Explain what Hush Baby was at the time.
Jenny: Hush Baby was – I live in Orange County, California, which is a really high end expensive area.
Julia: It’s shi-shi. It’s a pretty shi-shi area.
Jenny: It’s pretty shi-shi. A shi-shi area and this boutique was in one of the nicest shopping centers in my area. It was a high-end baby boutique for sure. They had all kinds of dressy clothes for girls and boys and babies and all the hair bows and all the things. It was definitely a very nice boutique.
Julia: Oh yeah, like Paris Hilton on steroids for babies.
Jenny: Totally, it was. At that time, that’s how you found baby things. Let’s be real, now it’s online, but there was nothing like that online before. Their boutique was where you went to buy baby gifts and whatever, and in this really nice area. I got myself together and I put together a little packet and I was scared to death, but I just felt like I needed to do it. I went down and asked to talk to the manager and I gave her a little packet I’d put together, what I could do and some of my portfolio, and she was like, “Great. When can you start?” I thought, “What!?”
Julia: What did I just open up? What can of worms?
Jenny: I know! That was the turning point from trying to make it to launching me into the stratosphere of what I can do with my business. I started doing mini-sessions in their shop and every other Saturday I was in there. I’d shoot on a Saturday and then I’d come back the following Saturday and do sales appointments.
Julia: Okay, like IPS – in person sales.
Jenny: Yeah, exactly! I started IPS there. They had like a TV set up, like it was a little playroom for the kids where they could play while mom was shopping. It had a big screen TV in there and I would just plug my laptop into there, set up a little table, and do sales there and it went great. It went great!
Julia: Yeah, I remember you would have $10-15,000 weekends, didn’t you?
Jenny: Oh yeah. Oh, easy. Then what happened was they started franchising. They opened up four shops within probably a 30 mile radius.
Julia: OMG, hello dollar signs!
Jenny: They wanted me to do mini-sessions in those stores too because it had become part of their brand. That’s where you get your child’s picture taken.
Jenny: I started doing every other weekend, basically I was working every weekend. Then I would shoot, sell, shoot, sell all the different shops. I was going around and I was killing it. Killing it. I was making so much money. I could have $15,000 I think was probably my highest weekend, but that would be for two weeks of work. One week shoot, one week sell and it was amazing.
I put my cards in there and I wasn’t doing newborns in there. I was doing milestone sessions. Kids, siblings or whatever. But the newborns, I insisted that they come to my home studio to do that. I wasn’t going to do a newborn there.
Julia: That was so smart. That was so smart.
Jenny: Yeah. People were still coming to my house to do the newborn sessions and that took off because I had a portfolio, like an album there with all my newborn work.
Julia: That’s brilliant. Then, people from the mini-sessions who maybe were having a baby or pregnant, whatever, and then push them using that album. Did you have a marketing strategy at some point there?
Jenny: I think, at that point, I was shooting from the hip, Jules. I really don’t know what to do, but I’m putting my stuff in your head. I had postcards and I had the albums. The one thing that was really, really good, and I don’t know if this is a marketing strategy or not, but the owner and the people who worked in the shop were super, super motivated to sell me.
One girl, her name was Ashley and she ran the front desk and the shop, she’s the sales person. She would say when they were checking out, “Oh, have you seen our photographer? She’s so great.” And then she would hand them like a postcard and put it in their things. She really did a good job at selling, I have to admit.
Julia: That’s huge.
Jenny: Yeah, she really, really did. We even got to a point where I was giving her $10 for a conversion. If someone would book with the card that she had given them, she would get a $10 bonus and that really worked too.
Julia: Oh, hello! Motivation.
Jenny: That worked too. For her, it was great. So, that was awesome. That’s how it started. Then, it got to be too much at the house. I have four kids and keeping in my house that clean was killing me.
Julia: And you keep your house clean.
Jenny: I do.
Julia: Compared to me, let’s just face it here. Black and white.
Julia: You are white, fresh, clean. I am dust bunnies everywhere.
Jenny: You are creative. You have to have a creative mess around you. For me, everything has to be organized and neat before I can start working.
Julia: That’s so funny. You come over to my house and I can see the expression on your face. It’s like, “Hmm, this place is disgusting.”
Jenny: I think, “How does she work in this? How does she live like this?”
Julia: And I come over to your house and I think, “It’s so pretty. It’s so nice, how the hell do you work like this?” To each his own.
Jenny: Right To each his own.
Julia: You got a studio space and it’s still the same space that you are in now, right?
Jenny: Yeah! I decided I wanted to start looking for a studio. I got really lucky. I looked on Craigslist and there was this spot that I have now. She was trying to get out of her lease, she was trying to turn the lease over to someone. My husband and I ran over and checked it out and we thought, “This is going to work.” It was really cheap. In Orange County, there is not cheap space. Let’s just be real.
Julia: You scored in that department.
Jenny: I mean, Hush Baby at the time was paying $10,000 a month in rent.
Julia: How big was their space? A thousand feet?
Jenny: A 1200 square feet maybe. Then I got this place for, you know, less than that. It was great, but we had to do a lot of remodeling because it was a warehouse shop. It was a shell and a cement floor. I had been making a lot of money, so we probably dumped about $30,000 into this place, fixing it up into what I wanted it to be. That was February of 2008 when I signed my lease.
Jenny: We spent the whole spring and summer remodeling.
Julia: Yeah, in 2008?
Jenny: Then 2008, hit.
Julia: And you got a studio basically six months before the entire market fell out from under you?
Jenny: Yep. It hit hard. People here have really expensive houses and they had double mortgages.
Julia: They were lien-ed to the hilt. Yes.
Jenny: They had second mortgages. It did hit here pretty hard. It hit pretty hard everywhere, for sure, and I was freaked out.
Julia: I remember those phone calls, too!
Jenny: I was crying and hysterical. “We just dumped $30,000. I’m in a three year lease. What am I going to do?”
Julia: And then Hush Baby. Oh.
Jenny: Then Hush Baby folded.
Julia: That was the kicker. Those phone calls I do remember very well.
Jenny: So scary. They folded and all the franchises folded and I was pretty much on my own.
Julia: I think this is such a good lesson for everyone, Jenny, because so many people — especially right now with COVID going on. There’s a lot of fear out there and a lot of people are seeing their businesses take this really steep, dramatic turn. It’s scary.
Jenny: It’s so scary.
Julia: It really is. If you could give advice to anyone out there who’s dealing with this, “Wow, what the heck do I do right now?”, you were in the throes of it and you were in the emotional drama of it. If you had to give advice to your old self now about that time period, what would you say to yourself? What advice would you give to someone who’s struggling emotionally with, “Holy crap. Am I going to have to close my business?”
Jenny: I’ve had to do that for myself in the last three or four months. I’ve had to be that person for myself and I think what I would tell myself is to just keep powering on with what you know that you want to do and have faith that your hard work is going to give you the ideas, the endurance to power through. I do think it’s really, really important to be in a financial situation that can carry you through this, which sucks to hear. Nobody wants to do that, let’s be real. We want to buy stuff.
Julia: Credit card debt is a real thing.
Jenny: Right and I’ve had my issues with that too. I think that if you have a nice padded savings account — let’s face it, I’ve been in business now for 15 years. This is my 15th year in business and there’s been ups and downs. There’ve been really good years and there’ve been not so good years. I think any business owner, that’s the one of the risks we take with this awesome career that we get to have and run our own show and be the master of our own destination. One of the hard things we take with it is that we have to also be prepared. We have to make sure that we are. No one is going to save us if it gets bad and we need to make sure that we are disciplined enough to do that.
I think I would just tell myself don’t worry. Just keep on doing what you do. Carry on and make sure that you, every month, put money in the bank so that when these things do happen, you can be a little bit relaxed through it and be like, “Oh, ups and downs. This is a down. We’re good. We can tighten the belt a little bit and we’ll make it through.”
Julia: Tell me what you think. When you are in that position and you have some freedom to have financial security, when you are in a situation like this, it frees you to open your mind to other possibilities. It keeps you from really getting to that place where you’re in this fight or flight mode where your anxiety is so high, that you just need to fight it and fight it and fight it. Then it makes it worse. If you’re in a bit of a secure financial position, your mind can open up and you can think about how you can pivot.
Where’s the market going in the future? Where are people going to be and what are they going to desire? How can I pivot my business to make myself in demand based on those changing parameters in the marketplace? You know what I mean? It allows your mind to be open, I think is what my point was.
Jenny: Pivoting, let’s face it, it’s hard. It’s hard to pivot, but I think what you’re saying, just having your mind clear of the worries. For me, the biggest worry I ever have is financial. Honestly, that’s my thing. My trigger that gets me scared and stressed. I’ve had to learn that I need to have that savings, but I think if you have that open mind, you really can think about pivoting and not be afraid of it.
Julia: Totally, totally. And, you know, I always tell my students, you know, take the 40,000 foot view and people who are really successful in business are those people. They can step back, look at the market and go, “Oh, things are changing. I need to change with it and I can still keep what I’m doing, but I need to be aware of what’s happening so I can be the first in the ring when things do actually pivot and change. I can win the battle.” If that makes sense.
You struggled a lot at that point. How did you come out of it? One thing you did that I remember very well is with Hush Baby, you were so good about getting people’s email.
Jenny: I was going to say that. The thing that saved me was my email list. I had from the very beginning been communicating with my clients through email. And I was really good about keeping them online. I think I had constant contact back then or something, but I’d had them all in an email list. And that really saved me because I was able to market to those people. After they were gone from Hush Baby, I didn’t have Hush Baby’s list. They couldn’t give me their list. But I had my own list of everyone that I had been communicating with and I was able to market to them. I started marketing mini sessions to them. I just took that Hush Baby model and marketed it as mini sessions for me.
Julia: How many mini sessions were you doing a year? Events?
Jenny: I don’t honestly remember. I always did a Winter Santa event and then I was doing Easter baby chicks.
Julia: That’s so cute.
Jenny: I did a Valentine’s event here and there. I never really did mini sessions for families outside. That just went against, like everything I wanted.
Julia: It would have been the kiss of death for your business.
Jenny: Yeah, that’s a high-end thing for me. That’s a full experience. You’re going to pay the money for that because I’m invested in that. But my theme to mini sessions, I probably did for a year at my studio three or four a year. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t like I was doing Hush Baby, but I did retain a lot of those people, the mini-sessions at Hush Baby. They were having babies still and I had a really good higher end clientele. I’ve always been on the more expensive end of pricing. They fortunately avoided the whole recession.
They were, I don’t wanna say ‘recession proof’, but they stayed above it. They were fine to just still keep coming to me. I still kept doing babies and I look back and it was a miracle that I made it through that. Sometimes I’m just like, “I don’t really know how I did it.” I just look back and go, “Lucky, I made it through that one.” But I think you said this to me one time and it made me think. You said, “I think your clients really like you.” I thought maybe they do. Maybe I’m likeable.
It’s funny because I just had a lady call last week. She has twins that are 12 and a half and a daughter that’s 10 and she has not seen me since Hush Baby. She’s coming, she’s on my email list, so she gets my emails every few months. She wants to do a full studio, black and white. She wants black and white headshots of each of her kids for the playroom. She wants a giant black and white print of the family for the other room. Those people are golden. Golden. You don’t want to lose those people.
Julia: Just because they did an inexpensive mini –well, your mini sessions were still relatively high, but still it was reduced in your full experience.
Jenny: I think my average packages were between $300 and $900 at Hush Baby and that was 15 years ago. So they were pretty expensive still.
Julia: Yes, but now your average is $2000-$2,500, right?
Jenny: Yeah, definitely. Definitely right around there.
Julia: This client who worked with you at that time and now she’s coming back to you 10 years later, and is a full experience client. It would have been much harder to get her as a new client. I see what you’re saying; it’s all about marketing to people who’ve been with you in the past and know, like, and trust you. I think that’s the biggest thing.
Julia: Right, know, like, and trust. I literally have that written on a post-it.
They have to know you, they have to like you and they have to trust that you’re going to deliver what you say you’re going to deliver it.
Julia: I have a sisterly question.
Julia: How many post-its are stuck to your computer right now?
Jenny: This computer? None.
Julia: None? Yes, that’s Jenny’s organization and cleanliness. I’m so proud of you.
Jenny: I don’t do messy. My one at home has post-its underneath it in a pile, but this one doesn’t have any. I’m at the office right now. My desk is right where I shoot and I don’t want people to see my messy.
Julia: How many are piled up in a pile on your desk at home?
Jenny: Probably like six or seven.
Julia: Oh, that’s not too bad. There were points where I’ve had like 20 on my computer.
Jenny: I saw your posted ad and I was dying. I was laughing so hard.
Julia: Hey man, that’s a real problem that us disorganized people have.
Jenny: I get it, but you also have so much creativity in that brain. I get it. Do what you have to do.
Julia: It makes me go back to Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and I think, “Why can’t I say that invented post-its? Wouldn’t that be fabulous?
Jenny: That would be pretty cool.
Julia: I love you. So, what made you decide that you were ready to go from a home studio to a real one? I know there’s a lot of listeners out there who that’s a big question. With my students that’s a huge question. When are we ready to do that?
Jenny: Since I’ve been in my business, that was the goal. I wanted to have a full studio. Because I’ve always been one that wanted to sell products. I always wanted to sell products and I wanted to be able to display them. I wanted to be professional enough that people, when they came to me, felt secure and comfortable that I was professional, that I could put something in their house and it would look beautiful.
I always wanted that. I think what got me there was, I started doing too much volume for my home. I had a nice padded savings account so that I could spend the money to make it what I wanted. I didn’t want a cheap studio. That wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted a nice studio. I had the money in the bank account. I was getting pushed to the edge with, you know, my kids at home and people coming to the house. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t really do the IPS I wanted to at my house because I was doing it in my family room and just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel it was what I wanted it to be to get the sales I wanted to get.
Julia: Yes, I agree.
Jenny: I think those are all factors and I was busy. I was busy enough to warrant it.
Julia: What happened when you did move to a studio space? Did you feel a difference? Did your clients think differently of you? What was the overall impression that you got as a business owner?
Jenny: It’s hard to tell. I feel like a lot of them have been seeing me Hush Baby. Okay. It wasn’t too different from them. The ones who came to my home were the newborns, but they didn’t come back that soon. I feel like they expected it, but then they were pleasantly surprised when they got here. Do you know what I mean? They didn’t know what to expect, but they thought, “Well, she was at Hush Baby. You can’t be that bad.” And so they would come and I do feel like they were more apt to buy wall art and albums, because I had the frames and I had the wall art on the walls. It just looked like, “Oh wow, she can do this. She knows what she’s doing.”
Julia: I will never forget the time you and I were students at Imaging USA. Do you remember this? And we took Allison Rodger’s class on building products for your studio.
Jenny: Yeah, we went back to the hotel room and sat there, planning it all out.
Julia: Yeah! She opened our eyes on how you have to have branded, showable, tangible products in your space in order for the client to buy them. I mean the whole ‘show what you want to sell’ thing really hit both of us like a ton of bricks.
Jenny: It did, it did 100%.
Julia: We were both looking at each other going, “Oh my gosh, we need to blow a couple thousand dollars on samples.”
Julia: I think I blew like 3000 at that time. I don’t know how much you did, but that was a pivoting point in our business.
Jenny: Oh, it really was. I attribute my product, the products I offer with Allison all the way.
Julia: Thanks Allison!
Jenny: I see her posts come up in my feed and I’m like, “Oh, Allison!”
Julia: Right?! There’s a few people and mentors in your life who just did something for you and you just are forever grateful and she is one of them. Same with Allison Tyler Jones. She’s amazing too!
Jenny: Oh yeah, love her!
Julia: I know. And it’s a few people in your life and I think that it’s so important, not only to have mentors, but also to have — we have an incredible relationship and I actually got started in photography because of you. I copied you.
Jenny: I know. I have to admit at first I was bugged.
Julia: I was the annoying little sister?
Jenny: Julia is the kind of sister that’s like, anything you can do, I can do better. I was like, “Oh no.”
Julia: Yeah, I definitely took the reins and ran with it, didn’t I? But of course I’m forever grateful and you continue to inspire me daily. I seriously could not live without our pretty much almost daily conversation. Whether it be for down-in-the-dumps and we need a little lifting up or it’s a crazy client that we’re trying to get over or we just need help with the marketing projects or how to price something or whatever it may be, product changes. We trade so many things all the time. We steal each other’s collateral and wording, and I love it. Obviously with permission, but what do you think?
I mean, entrepreneurship is such a lonely, lonely place, and I know that I’ve been blessed with having you in a couple of other amazing people in my life who are my circle, you know, like my circle of people. There’s a lot of other photographers out there who don’t have that. We can talk all day long about how amazing it is to have somebody like that, but if you were, again, to go back to your 15 year back self — Jenny Mason photography first starting out — what advice would you give to her in terms of finding someone? If you didn’t have me?
Jenny: If I didn’t have you. I think I’ve gotten older and a little wiser and a little bit more like I don’t care so much what people think. But when I was 35, I was afraid to put myself out there. In this day and age, I think these online things like 5CC, that kind of thing is where you can go in there, you can post, you can make friends, you can talk offline, you can develop these online friendships that are so valuable.
When we were in Little Green Photographers, I was shy and I never posted, I never reached out. I never shared my own things. I think if I could tell my younger self, I probably would tell myself to just put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to put your work out there. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and really start to get interactions with online people to make friends. Because then you can meet up at a convention and hang out together and really develop that friendship and have people that are like-minded.
Julia: Because, I’m sorry, as much as I love my husband, he just doesn’t get it.
Jenny: No, he doesn’t get it all. Mine doesn’t either, at all. He does get construction so he’s built anything I needed.
Julia: Anything that I need to be built is there, but when I talk to him about pricing or branding or whatever, the eyes just glaze over and he starts to wander off.
Jenny: He tunes out. Totally, tunes out. Bless his heart, bless his heart. The one thing about him is he’s so supportive. He wants me to succeed and do all the things, but he doesn’t want me to talk to him about the nitty gritty.
Julia: Like, “Honey no, I can’t. Call your sister.”
Jenny: Yeah, exactly
Julia: And I think that’s hard because as women, we want to talk to our spouses and our friends and whoever. They look at us and they’re like, “No one would ever spend that much on photography.” Every other business owner you know in the rest of the country is charging that much. And you sit here and go, “But wait, so and so in California, so and so in Utah, so and so in Alabama’s doing it. Why can’t I do it?” And yet your family, those people you love the most, are sometimes cutting you down. Not intentionally, not in a bad way. They just want to protect you.
Jenny: Be realistic.
Julia: Yeah and they want to protect you and they love you and they don’t want to see you fail, but at the same time, that tends to drag you down. You need to find people who will lift you up. People who will support you and you can call at the drop of a hat when you’re feeling down or when you don’t know what to do with a client. You and I are still having conversations about clients.
Jenny: Seriously. Clients are always the thing.
Julia: We had, lately, even just this week, several conversations about some of your clients. We won’t talk about it but you know what I’m saying. There’s nothing like being able to call you up and say, “Jen, I have this client.”
Jenny: And know that that person’s going to listen and actually like —
Julia: — give you sound advice.
Jenny: Or empathize! Totally. Totally.
Julia: So find someone, and sometimes that’s in a mentor, sometimes it’s in a workshop, sometimes it’s in an online group, like 5 Carat Collective, as Jenny was saying. Sometimes it’s in a forum or in a Facebook group. Facebook to me — I have such a love-hate relationship with Facebook.
Jenny: Everyone does.
Julia: Everyone does. It’s one of those places where there’s a lot of people talking behind the veil because they’re protected by the internet and people give advice when it’s not necessarily warranted or not qualified. And that’s a tough one too. So Facebook groups, while they can be amazing because they give us this ability to connect, I would just take the advice with a grain of salt and be, be open to all opinions and then make your own because so many people have so many different opinions.
So what about pricing? I think this is a big topic and I kind of want to wrap up with pricing and brand because you’re so good at it. You have a degree in two dimensional design and you’ve taught me so much about graphic design. You’re not self-taught, but I am. You’ve taught me a lot about branding and graphic design and incorporating that into a high end business. What do you see people making in terms of mistakes when it comes to designing their own collateral, their brands, their logos, that kind of thing?
Jenny: I think for me, the number one thing that I see is consistency. The consistency in a lot of different areas. Consistency in actual design, keeping your design elements and your fonts and all those things consistent is really important. If you don’t know it, go learn it. It’s easy to learn, but just go figure it out.
Julia: Why is that so important?
Jenny: It communicates to your client that they’re subliminally seeing the same message from the same place. We in our brains notice that fonts are different, fonts are off, things are different. I think just having that consistency, it adds a level of professionalism and it adds a level of — I don’t want to say calm — but just reassurance to the client that you are the same thing as what you’re saying you are.
Julia: And that the services and products you provide are going to be consistent too.
Jenny: Yeah. Little details like that. Even down to the spelling. My brain goes, “Oh gosh, she can’t even spell, can she really do that?” It might not be nice, but that’s what I think. They didn’t even proofread their thing. Are they gonna miss something on the image? I think that’s really important, but I think also not just that, but I think consistency across your brand. Your look, your logo, the way you talk to clients, the way you interact with them, the way you dress, the products that you offer, the way you run the session, your personality. All of those things are communicating subliminally to your clients who you are and what you represent.
I was teasing before saying my clients like me, but I always try to come across as happy, motivated, positive, friendly and that’s part of my brand. I really have been fortunate to have a client base that comes back to me year after year after year after year.
Julia: They really do. Sometimes I cannot believe your consistency. I used to be jealous of it. Because your clients would just over and over and over again, no matter what you did, no matter how you raise your prices, they were loyal.
Jenny: They are so, so loyal to me and I think that is a direct result of my overall overarching, I’m talking about personality, everything brand. They feel like they know me. They like me. They know, like, and trust. They know exactly what I’m going to deliver every single time.
Jenny: I deliver. That’s the other thing too, with your brand. I deliver excellent portraits every single time and I do what it takes to do that.
Julia: A lot of photographers think, “Oh, I need to make this shoot different than the last one.” No.
Jenny: No. I mean, some things are different. The clothing, the kids have aged, maybe we switched from the field to the beach, whatever. But the images they can count on. They know what they’re getting from me and they know if they hire Jenny, she’s a little bit more expensive, but she’s going to get it done. I don’t want to take the risk with a cheaper photographer because I’m just not sure. I might get one or two images, but with Jenny, I’m going to get a full gallery of 50 great images in focus.
Julia: They can rely on it.
Jenny: Right. Exactly. Exactly. So really it is an important part of our brand. We may not think of that as part of our brand, but it really is.
Julia: It’s huge. And everybody thinks branding is this visual thing and that’s part of it, but it’s a tiny fraction of the entire thing. Let’s talk about brand matching price. Oh, that’s a whole other topic and we’ll wrap up with that.
Jenny: That’s a whole other podcast.
Julia: We could do an entire five episode series on this baby. But I find so often people want to charge for their work, which they should. Every artist I think, deserves to be paid a living wage, doing what they love, but their brand has to suit that price. And what I find more often than not is so many photographers copy other people’s brands. Which I understand in the beginning, when you’re learning branding, you don’t understand it. You need to get yourself out there and you’re like, “So, and so’s doing really well. I’m going to echo their feelings because I know they’re doing really well and that’ll get me started.”
Okay, fine, but now you look like “so and so” down the street. Then Suzy Q photographer is going to copy you guys and so is Johnny Jumpup and Sally Sue over there. Now you’ve got six or seven photographers who are all looking the same and what happens?
Jenny: They go for the cheapest one.
Julia: Exactly. Then of course we don’t want to rebuild our website because it’s too much trouble. You and I have been on that ship sailed. But you have to change. You have to be different.
Jenny: Oh my gosh. For 15 years in the business and you too, you have to keep up with the trends and the times in this business. I’m not saying you have to be trendy because I am not, I am classic. I brand myself as classic and timeless, but you have to stick with the trends.What you’re saying with my website and the brand, I did a brand pivot like six months ago. I decided I really liked this all white clean, clean look. I got really tired of having to buy props, having to change up props. I felt like it started to look a little juvenile with all the prompts and it wasn’t me. It’s fine. It could totally be someone else, but I didn’t feel like that’s the place where I was. I pivoted to this all white, more natural style of newborn photography.
Julia: I’m going to interrupt you for a second. Go to jennymasonphotography.com.
Seriously, the pivot you did, my jaw hit the floor. Get a mop and wipe up my drool. It was so different and yet, so much more you. When I saw it I thought this website is finally Jenny, 15 years later.
Jenny: I know after 15 years. I just got tired of looking like everyone else. Everyone was buying the same props.
Julia: That’s just what people do.
Jenny: And you do have to do that with your brand. And it’s so hard. It was hard for me too. I was like, “I have to be different. How can I be? What’s my USP? How can I differentiate?” But it–
Julia: It took a lot of courage.
Jenny: It took a lot of time, but it fell into place for me and it just fit. I became my own style and look. I know a lot of people have other people do white. It’s fine. I think with your brand, you need to refresh and you need to keep constant with the trends.
Julia: Yes. And what’s interesting is you were debating this for a long time. This has been a career-long process.
Jenny: We can go into the whole, I hem and haw and you jump all over the place.
Julia: Oh, you hemmed and hawed. We can go into all kinds of analogies there. My point is that when you found it, the courage that came out of you was explosive. You had no doubt and you just went for it and it was awesome. Now the site looks amazing and I’m actually kind of jealous.
Jenny: Oh, you’re so cute. Your site’s amazing. I copied half of your stuff on there, what are you talking about?
Julia: We’re such sisters, oh my gosh. Now I look at your brand and yes, it matched the price before, but now it really matches the price. When we go to your site, especially in your market. You are so unique in your market now, and I can look at your site and go, “Oh, okay. I understand why she’s way more expensive than Peggy Pam, down the street.
Jenny: Seriously. My inquiries too Jules. I haven’t even told you this, they have gone through the roof.
Jenny: And I keep thinking, “Oh, it’s just a COVID backfire. Like people couldn’t do it.” Now I’m getting two to three a day. I have one spot left for Fall for families and I probably have six newborn spots.
Julia: Share your secret sauce. What’s this all about? Do you really think it’s your website?
Jenny: I think my website and I think my marketing. We can talk about this another time, but how I market for the Fall and how I pre-book in July with my past clients and I market to my list. That does a good portion of it but people are just coming out of the woodwork.
Julia: That is so fascinating. It’s amazing. Can you just guesstimate? What’s your conversion rate? Or do you have that?
Jenny: You know what, I knew you were going to ask me that. Toni and I are working on that. She’s pulling together all the leads and we’re working on it. I don’t have it right now. I’d love to know it.
Julia: You feel it’s higher? I mean, you know. You’ve been in business long enough to know.
Jenny: Oh it’s way higher. I’m not surprised to get at least two or three a day and I was literally like two or three a month at one point. It was kind of bad. We all have ups and downs. It’s just amazing because I really was successfully working off my list and I can book people pretty much all year long for my list, but these are new. These are new people.These are new inquiries.
Julia: Let’s, let’s wrap up on this positive note because I know a lot of people are — COVID is real and it sucks. It’s changed all our lives, it’s added a lot of stress to those of us who are in business, but at the same time, you’re such a glowing example that, you know what, new people can come in.
Your website is literally your storefront window. Do you have different feelings now about your website than you did five years ago?
Jenny: Oh, totally. My website was a strategy for me. I am not active on social media.
Julia: I know you aren’t.
Jenny: It’s terrible. I can’t spread myself super thin. I’m not the type of person that can do that. I decided I have really good SEO. I’ve been in the business a long time, always one, two, three, four, and top ranking in Google. I decided I’m going to put my eggs in that basket. I should be getting more inquiries for all these people looking at my site.
I decided that I’m going to put everything in my website and I think you can do that. I think you can do a website, Google ads, and do all Google stuff. I think that’s one strategy. I think social media is a different strategy. They can work together, but I think like some people do only social media and I go look at their websites and they’ve let their website go. It doesn’t even exist anymore. They’re only doing social media. It’s not the only way to do it. For me, it was the right way to do it.
Julia: Well, I agree with you because social media is so — you’re a grasshopper in a huge crowd of grass. It’s so hard to be seen on social media, unless you’ve built this following. But with websites, people are looking for you in SEO. When I’m looking for a new business, where do I go? I don’t go to social media. I don’t search for plumbers on Facebook. I go to Google and I go “plumbers in Bend, Oregon.” That’s how I find somebody that I need. Google is my go-to place. I really do feel like my ideal client and I know yours is too, is doing that same thing.
I remember, before you changed your website, you were saying to me, “Jules, I have all these hits on my website and I’m getting so few inquiries. What’s wrong?” I always say that. And we said that in another episode, your website should inspire someone to inquire. If you go back to FOCUS & FACETS episode three, we talk about that. But seriously, it is. It’s to inspire people to inquire, and I know you feel the same way.
Jenny: Yeah. I was just going to say lead them down that path from the very first thing you say on your website and Julia helped me so, so much with this. But lead them down the path, get into their psyche and lead them down that path to inquire in the website. That’s what your website needs to do and it needs to do it pretty quickly on the first page or whatever. That’s the key to website success.
Julia: I’m going to interrupt you. What do you mean by path? Lead them down what path?
Jenny: Okay, so I grab them in the beginning with my brand and what I want to accomplish and what they’re going to get from me. Not what I want to do. I said that wrong, what they can expect to get from me and hook them with that. Through there, I just led them down. Here, I am. Here’s my beautiful studio. One of the major assets that I have is my studio so it’s right there on my front page. Leading them through the steps.
“Okay, now I want to know more. Oh, I like that. I want to know more. I like that. I want to know more.” The next thing is click this button to get pricing information or contact information.
Julia: What I love about your path is that you get so much in their head. You really tackle each ideal client’s objections and pain points. What are they worried about with the session? What do they need? You know what your client needs.
Julia: Exactly what they need. You know exactly what they’re thinking. And you use your words and your copy and your images and your visual and your design. Not just a bunch of texts on the page but designed text to get them enticed to follow that path. That to me is a goldmine. To hear that your inquiry rates have doubled and tripled, it’s the best news ever.
Jenny: I’m thrilled, thrilled.
Julia: We need to have a Zoom cocktail together.
Jenny: Now I’m in the stress mode of, “Oh my gosh, I have too many clients.” So I can’t win.
Julia: I’m not going to feel sorry for you on that.
Jenny: You’re stressed if you don’t have clients and then a different kind of stress comes in when you have too many, it’s just part of the business.
Julia: It is. Oh, Jenny, you are so amazing. You’re such an open book and you’re so sweet. You just share and wear your heart on your sleeve.
Jenny: This is so fun.
Julia: It is fun! You and I both love helping other photographers in our own different ways.
Jenny: I could do this all day. I love talking about it and love what we have balanced with each other and what we’ve brought to the table for each other. I love it. I could talk about this all day.
Julia: I know we truly are peas in a pod, and I love that you and I have gotten to the point in our careers where we can now project that outward to others. It’s truly a gift and I can’t tell you what a gift you have been in my life.
Jenny: Aw, I love you.
Julia: No seriously, I could not have started this without you.I would have never been brave enough and you’re the one who blazed the trail. You’re the one who took the path and I just followed. Yeah, I’ve gone my own direction too but, I followed you down that road and I will forever ever, ever be so grateful. I just adore you so much.
Jenny: Oh, well the feeling’s mutual, seriously. I couldn’t have done it without you either. We really balance each other out.
Julia: We do. There’ve been days when you’ve been in the gutter and there’ve been days when I have. There’s been days when we’re both celebrating and cheering when we have a huge sale, go out the door and we squeal and call each other. I love it.
Jenny: I love those texts.
Julia: Oh Jenny, you’re so amazing. If you guys want to find Jenny, go to JennyMasonPhotography.com or you can find her on Instagram @jennymasonphotography. She’s there as well as on Facebook.
Jenny, thank you. Thank you so much for all your insight and encouragement and just your positive mindset and your loving and giving heart.
Jenny: Thank you!
Julia: That’s all for today, everyone. Thank you so much for taking the time to hang out with me. Let’s #dothework and keep that conversation going.
If you’d like to chat more, join me over on Instagram @juliakelleher and on Facebook via 5caratcollective.
Join me next Tuesday for another episode, have an amazing week!
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