In Asheville, we’re fortunate to live in a caring community, one whose members trend toward being proactive citizens. Ashevillians care about the well-being of their environment and fellow citizens, and make an effort to support locally owned businesses and causes.
As a local business owner, I don’t take this culture of caring for granted, and neither should you. Being an engaged, responsible small business owner is just part of the job. In order to create relevant and meaningful relationships with our customers, we as business owners must show our community that we care, just like they do. Here are a few fulfilling ways to put your values into action...
1. Choose causes aligned with your values or company mission. Let’s pretend that you're a graphic designer who consumes a fair amount of printed paper products. Maybe you align with Dogwood Alliance and become more environmentally friendly!
You may need to tap into your personal journey to find the perfect cause. For example, if you’re a clothes designer who started your own company because you could never fit into commonly offered sizes, you might support organizations that boost confidence and self esteem in young ladies.
2. Go out on the front lines for your cause. There are many ways, beyond monetarily, to show up for your chosen cause. Donate time, skills, and energy. Most, if not all, of the nonprofit organizations in Western North Carolina are in need of volunteers to fulfill their missions and to offer critical services. Volunteering comes in many forms. You might walk dogs or clean kennels for a local animal rescue group. Perhaps you can become a coach or mentor with the local YWCA’s youth programs, work in the gardens at Green Opportunities, or clean the French Broad with RiverLink.
3. Make your partnership visible.
Talk it up on your website, shout about it on social media, start a fundraiser or donations-drive, have a money box on your checkout counter or option to donate during checkout, and put a sticker in your window! Let your customers know what you care about and what you’re doing about it! You’ll give them a reason to ask why and get involved. Promoting your support and community partnership surely benefits your cause. A secondary but super positive effect of your philanthropy is the trust and admiration you will cultivate in your customers.
Most business owners and consumers in Asheville think beyond bottom lines and profit margins. It’s common practice and has come to be expected for local businesses to invest in their community in meaningful ways. While helping others is a deeply fulfilling and leads to personal betterment, it’s also a critical way to showcase your company’s values and commitments.
So, go spread the love and find a cause to promote. You’ll be glad you did.
Since you're hanging out on this blog, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that you love small businesses, you want to shop local and you enjoy supporting entrepreneurs + artists. Me too, friend!
I also wouldn't be surprised to learn that it's not always an easy option to do so. Pricing may be higher, supplies may be limited, custom orders may take a moment longer. Small businesses are multifaceted powerhouses in a small package with, yes, some limitations compared to Wal-Mart.
So how can you show love when you're not ready to click "Confirm" on that online shopping cart?
Leave a review for any place you've shopped or any service you've received in the recent past. Maybe you splurged on a tarot reading session this summer and you know you won’t be able to get another session for a while. For now, leave them a review on Facebook, Google or spread the word on Instagram about them. Word-of-mouth is everything. I just left a review for my dentist because the service was so great!
Maybe you can’t afford to buy that $300 dress a local artist handmade but maybe your best friend can + when she’s looking for a new outfit, you can send her to that maker. Friends love referrals, it takes away all that time Googling things, you're giving them a shortcut - yessss.
Follow + engage!
Just because you’re not a current customer doesn’t mean that you haven’t been or that you won’t be in the future. Encouragement and support can fuel someone to keep working, keep improving and keep providing their best work. Your support goes a long way to a small business owner.
If you inquire with someone about their services and you find that they’re simply out of your price range or the scheduling won't work, don’t be afraid to let them know that. I’m not saying that they owe you a discount or that they'll be able to open their schedule but all feedback is helpful to small business owners. Maybe they'll let you know that a sale is coming up, maybe they'll let you know about a local discount or maybe they'll collect that feedback and realize a pattern they can fix. If done with care and good intention, all feedback is useful, don't be shy!
Cheers to buying, browsing, reviewing and supporting small businesses no matter what!
Ever journey through the interwebs in search of something specific, only to land on a company’s website with images of awkwardly posed models who are very clearly not the employees of said company? Perhaps you’ve come across a perfectly captured high five between (fake) colleagues or hell, even a bemused professional carrying a handful of balloons and a briefcase, enjoying the breeze.
Of course, not all generic stock images are as bewildering as the ones above.
In fact, most are bland.
Entrepreneurs and business owners who choose to use generic stock photography in their online marketing are playing a game of “what fits best,” rather than acting intentionally and strategically to form relationships with their intended audiences. It’s hard to evoke curiosity or loyalty in potential customers using cold and corny images that are likely replicated all over the internet. So, what’s the answer?
Custom stock photography. Sounds like an oxymoron, right?
Why Are Brands Using “Custom Stock Photography”?
Custom stock photography tends to have the opposite effect of generic stock photography. Brand-specific, custom stock photos differentiate businesses from their competitors. When used consistently, custom stock photos will convey a brand’s personality and values, enhancing a brand’s ability to genuinely connect with their customers. Custom stock images bring clarity to a company’s expertise, services, and the intended customer experience.
Capturing Images with Intention
A typical custom stock photography shoot may include environmental shots (your office or workspace), product shots, and shots of the company's team engaging with others, serving clients, and generally doing the things they do best.
Let’s dive into the benefits of custom stock photography, using my lovely client Caroline Sanney as an example.
Using her own home office as the setting of this shoot, Caroline conveyed competence, organization, and expertise without saying a word. She has the necessary tools for the job, a functional pragmatism, and a clean aesthetic. The information conveyed in these images builds a relationship with her potential clients before she’s even approached by them.
Actually showing Caroline immersed in her work and smiling warmly creates a genuine first impression; rather than randomly styled models pretending to have the best business meeting of their lives, she offers her own face, furthering the notion that she is a real professional and that she can back up the claims she makes about the services she offers. Her personality shines through in her decor and the way she carries herself. It’s clear that she's calm, intelligent, and careful in her work - keywords to describe her brand.
Ultimately, investing in custom stock photography is about harnessing the power of intentional imagery and cashing in on your authenticity. It’s about being crystal clear in your communications to customers and future clients.
And, it’s about standing out and being memorable in a sea of cheesy handshakes.
Let’s start by throwing away the trigger phrases "finding balance" and "we can have it all."
Perhaps you can do these things, but honestly, that needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. When it comes to your self-employed hustle in Asheville, the same answer does not hold true for everyone. That being said, I would love to share some of my experience and tips with you on how to make your small business your full-time livelihood (if you want that!) and stay sane as a creative, maker, or artist in a town that we all love ...but that certainly has its own unique set of challenges.
1. Protect yourself from the “working 24/7” burnout.
I put my phone away after dinner 90% of the time to allow my brain to clear. Since my phone connects me to Instagram, Facebook, and email, the lines are blurred between work and play/relaxation.
Accepting that Instagram (for example) is equal parts work and play for me, I decide to stay away from it altogether when I need a work break, because the boundary is too blurry (because, for instance, I could be scrolling for fun and then get 2 DMs about potential sessions).
Personally, I’ve tried to accept only 2 shoots per week. As a self-employed photographer, I have found that understanding my working capacity affects everything else in my life in a positive way. It also gives me structure and familiarity.
By giving myself this work rhythm, I know there are days every week when I can focus on admin tasks or editing or having a full day off. It’s when I overcommit myself and agree to 3, 4 or 5 shoots in a week that everything else starts to fall behind, and I feel really overwhelmed. What boundaries can you create that will have a positive domino effect elsewhere?
3. Earning money, supporting yourself and feeling secure financially is important.
Don’t be ashamed of that, and don’t force yourself to let go of part time work before you or your business is ready. Release yourself from judgment about working on your art OR having a side gig. Both are important, and both are fueling your future. Accept the situation you’re in, and embrace it for all it is. I worked a second job up until 2 years ago, and I firmly believe it’s the only reason I got to where I am today.
4. Being discerning and knowing your bandwidth.
Unfortunately, sometimes you have to say no to some things in order to say yes to others. Are you talented and wanted, but refuse to turn down offers for fear of missing out or disappointing? In saying yes too much, do you overextend or sabotage yourself? If this sounds like you, my best recommendation is to read Essentialism by Greg McKeown - a recent fave business-yet-lifestyle book.
Here’s an example of mitigating your self-employed hustle: There’s a high expectation for you to make homemade cookies for your daughter‘s elementary school bake sale, and you would love to do it. It sounds fun and you wish you had a free afternoon to really enjoy that activity... but the only afternoon you have available this week really needed to be devoted to your work on a commissioned piece of art. So, maybe you decide to focus on the commissioned work, because you have a deadline and someone is paying you. Then, you can buy premade cookies from Whole Foods, Short Street, or Ingles. It’s about making that decision and letting yourself be OK with whatever decision you make.
5. Know your rhythms.
I know a few people who light up right around 9 PM and start having all kinds of inspirational ideas and energy to really work on their side gig/art/whatever. Some of us feel that jolt in the morning. Understand how your rhythms and natural energy works, then do your best to build around that. Of course, that’s not always possible and we have to be flexible, so that we can tend to other responsibilities as professionals, parents, or community members. Simply start by observing your natural tendencies and trying to make yourself available to them.
There’s no secret to becoming a self-employed hustler, but giving yourself the routines and habits to induce creative productivity will go a long way. And once you’re productive, it’ll show up in your experience. You’ll build a portfolio and/or track record of success. Then, with a little focused effort in self care and setting boundaries, you’ll build a sustainable foundation and hopefully, you’ll avoid the dreaded “burn out,” too. Eventually, you will find yourself in a place where you are doing the thing that is so close to your heart, and getting paid to do it, with only yourself as your boss. And that, my friends, is fulfillment.
You’ve just received that highly anticipated link to your new photo gallery! Your adrenaline is pumping and you cannot wait to level up your brand’s visual identity game. You open the gallery, and…..YES! You love your photos.
But now what?
Well, now it’s time to start curating stories with intention. Photo is one huge piece of the puzzle, but what you do with these photos and the content you generate to support your storytelling is what gives the photos LIFE.
For most of my clients, photos serve as one part of their marketing strategy, and specifically their social media plans. Visual storytelling is an integral part of social media, and resonant photos are the key to winning hearts and minds on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Here, I’m offering a few of my favorite social media best practices to give your photos excellent mileage, from one entrepreneur to another:
-Once you receive your online gallery, follow the download instructions. These are very important because you need the image to be formatted to fit your intended use, otherwise it could come out pixelated.
-Next, backup your images. Friendly reminder: USBs and computers don't last forever, and sometimes they get lost or stolen- yikes. Using a cloud-based storage service is going to give you flexibility and peace of mind!
A personal fave of mine is Dropbox, which can be used to transfer images from computer to phone using the app. A basic Dropbox account is free, as is the app. This could be your convenient backup source!
As an added bonus, you can download your photos from the Dropbox app on your phone straight to your to Instagram or Facebook app when you’re ready to share your photos with the world!
-Once your photos are backed up and you’ve uploaded them to your social media platform, it’s time to tag, tag, tag!
If there are featured products, services, or contextual information related to other vendors or organizations in your photos, do tag them! Maybe you're using an East Fork plate, or maybe you’re featuring your products in a national park. Tagging those associated with your brand’s photos is social media courtesy and networking, plus they may reshare!
Feel free to tag Chelsea Lane Photography. I certainly appreciate the help in spreading the word about my services, but I definitely don't require it if you prefer to keep some mystery alive.
-Use all the hashtags! Seriously, use 'em! It's my understanding you can use up to 30 and there's no reason not to max that out. Take a lazy evening at home (bottle of wine...Netflix on in background...who knew hashtagging could be so romantic?).
Find the tags that are right for you by doing some research. Think of the type of images you share, then do some digging from brands you admire. Think of what your ideal customer may search. You can perform a search on that hashtag to gauge how active and popular it is. Pick active tags, and consider using a tag that no one is using, so that you can begin to dominate it with your own branded posts and user-generated content from brand loyalists!
Once you’ve got your bevy of selected tags, save the list in your phone notes so that you can easily copy and paste the list each time you post! I use my Notes app for this. Notes has become a living document on my phone for Instagram caption drafts and hashtag groupings.
-Use Instagram stories! This feature has blown up and people LOVE it! You can get creative with it- share images, videos, live stream, and ask your audience questions! Use this informal way of communicating however you feel comfortable. Make it personal and fun, or keep it strictly business. It’s all fair game on Instagram Stories!
-Engage. The biggest "secret" to success on social media is liking + commenting on others’ posts. It helps with the dreaded algorithm and creates community with your followers, peers, and those you admire.
-Show up as you. We're all camera shy, but nothing creates more connection with your followers than simply showing yourself. I'd say we all pretty much expect it now. I find it strange when I happen upon a biz account with zero trace of the owners. A portrait, a candid moment, a TBT memory, you playing around with your kids on IG Stories... however you want to do it, people will love it!
-Be sure to answer your Direct Messages as they come in. You’ll be generating buzz with your visually stunning and content-savvy posts, so expect some great leads to come in the form of DMs! Timely responses increase your chance of true connection with potential new customers. Pop in to your inbox regularly because you won't be notified if someone who you don't follow messages you.
-Post relatively consistently. Establishing a loose rhythm to roll out your new photos and tell your brand’s story is key. A daily post or every other day is a healthy social media post rate for most businesses and organizations to get some momentum.
-Encourage interaction and user-generated content! Showing off a gorgeous shot of your product? Offer a branded hashtag and ask your audience to post a photo enjoying the product, too! Then, routinely check the hashtag, and engage with your brand loyalists by liking and commenting on their branded photos.
-Follow these pros for the best advice that's always up to date: Tyler J. McCall, Jenna Kutcher, Jasmine Star
Cheers to you for understanding that visual identity is critical to social media success. I hope you’re jazzed about your photos, and that you’re ready to conquer the world with your social game!
Before I sign off, here’s a little ode to all of my fellow business owners:
You’re doing the damn thing, and although it is impossible to be an expert in all facets of your business, that’s what is somehow required and expected of you in order to thrive in a bustling, noisy market landscape. Luckily, with great content, you’ll go a long way in your marketing goals! Stay focused, embrace your creativity, and enjoy the ride.
It really is quite a treat to be drawn into a photo that seems to tell a full story. I love an invitation to ponder the clues and details of a scene, or imagine the dynamic of a couple. Visual storytelling is enticing, and that’s exactly why lifestyle photography is such an engaging tool to be used in professional settings (like selling your products and services), or personally (for instance, in milestones like your wedding).
Lifestyle photography can be defined as a style of photography that aims to capture real-life events in an artistic way. For business owners, this means that your products, services, and brand experiences are grounded in a setting that conceptualizes how wonderful it might be for your potential customers to have you in their own lives. It invites the viewers to imagine what it’s like to actually engage with your brand.
There are a number of national and local brands doing away with the white backdrop and perfectly styled products in favor of real, raw, and less stylized images of their offerings in application. And that’s because sterility and perfection are hard to relate to, and don’t do much to give your viewers’ imaginations the fuel they need to invoke the other senses.
And how about these images? Are they enticing you, inspiring you to imagine the smells, the taste, and the feeling of a warm mug of herbal tea in your hand? Do you begin to envision the sunshine on your back as you read a book and pour yourself a second cup of earthy black tea infused with the floral sweetness of calendula flowers? Are you starting to crave a lingering chat with your best friend, and the sound of birds chirping serenely as the mug rests in your palm?
It’s pretty clear that the second set of photos accomplish so much more than the first, because it offers a pretty excellent experience along with the featured product.
Similarly, using lifestyle photography in your personal shoots to document your wedding, engagement, or other personal milestones provides intimate context, sparks memories, and becomes much less about the aesthetics and so much more about the personal connections.
Today I'm chatting with local graphic designer Katie of Rotanz Design about all things Branding + Logos + Website design for the small business people out there! We're in a different situation than the big guys, we're not rolling around in money so we make tough decisions about our investments, especially in the beginning.
Let's get her profesh opinion to help guide you through your choices!
Katie! Give us a quick run-down of what you do + who you are!
Hello! I’m Katie Rotanz, Owner/Graphic Designer of Rotanz Design in Asheville. I help small businesses, creatives and entrepreneurs stand out in the market with beautiful, modern, minimal designs. I design logos, websites and print pieces such as brochures, catalogs, rack cards, business cards and labels. I strive for simplicity and clarity in all my work and enjoy the challenge of finding the best solution both visually and functionally.
I moved to Asheville about 6 years ago and worked as a waitress until I was able to land my first design job. I’ve since worked for two agencies in town and have been working for myself full-time for a little over a year now. I’m super excited to be moving into a shared office space with some other freelancers in the River Arts District!
What do you enjoy the most about your work?
One of my favorite parts about this job is the relationships I’ve made with my clients. There’s something really special about working with other local business owners and creatives that are passionate about what they do. The energy that surrounds them is contagious and it’s so fun to be part of their business journey. I have to say my favorite moments are seeing my logos and designs out in the wild on t-shirts, hats and cars… I have to hold back from fist pumping in public!
What's the value in a branded identity that includes a logo and custom website? What are ways a website can make or break your small biz?
Having a strong brand can improve recognition in the marketplace as well as build trust amongst your target audience. If people see that your brand is consistent across all platforms, there’s a sense of quality and professionalism that not only helps your reputation and referral network, but it helps you stand out from your competition.
A website is such an important tool for your business! Think about how often people are on their phones and computers, Googling and researching exactly what they are looking for. I think the best thing you can do for your website is be authentic and provide as much information about your business and services as possible. It’s also important to make sure your site is mobile-friendly, easy to navigate and is up-to-date. If visitors struggle to find information or can’t easily understand where to go on your site, they’re going to bounce right off and find another website.
What advice do you have for small biz on a budget? They have the same goals but maybe lack funds this year.
While it’s ideal to have a logo, website and all the things when you get started, I can totally relate to the financial anxiety of starting a business and prioritizing your funds. If you have to pick one thing first, I would suggest building a website. A website is an incredible tool to hold all the information about your business and can work for you 24/7. If you can’t afford a web designer then I would recommend starting a Squarespace site on your own. Squarespace has a wonderful library of video tutorials and guides that can help you get started. When you’ve saved up some money, you can hire a designer to begin the logo/branding process and then take your website to the next level.
Another important piece is a business card. I have those things on me all. the. time. You never know who you are going to run into in a coffee shop, bar or networking event who may need your services or products. I’ve worked with people to design a card before they dive into a full brand design and can charge for an hour or two to put together a nice “interim” card before they begin the branding process. You can also design cards on Vistaprint or other online services if necessary (although some of the designs can be quite cheesy).
The goal here is to have something to hand out to people AND have a place for them to go to learn more about you and your business. These two items are great first steps.
What if a small biz has no ideas on branding and needs help from all angles, what should they nail down before working with you?
While you don’t have to have a business plan, a marketing strategy or a mission statement to get started, I do I prefer to work with people who can quickly and easily tell me what their services are and who they do it for. In order for me to create effective design, it’s important to focus on who we’re targeting so I can design accordingly. It’s difficult for me to work with clients that are indecisive about their business goals because if their mind changes after finishing a brand, they may need to start over depending on the new direction of the business.
I also don’t specialize in business naming, taglines or trademarking so my clients will definitely need to have their business name figured out and legally checked prior to working with me.
*Side note: I highly recommend taking classes at Mountain Bizworks if you’re just starting off. I took a class called Foundations and it really helped me figure out the direction I wanted to go with my business.
On the flip side, if a business already has a website but they want to hire you and switch to a new host based on your recommendation, do you help with the transfer over?
Absolutely! I only work in Squarespace, but if a client has a website in Wordpress, Wix or another platform, all I need to do is point their domain (url) to the new website I’ve built. I’ll then give them instructions on how to cancel their old hosting. If someone already has a Squarespace site then all they’ll need to do is invite me as a contributor and I can hop onto their site and make specific changes or find a new template and redesign it completely.
What advice do you have for someone worried they'll change their style + branding within the next year or so? They're still figuring it out!
I think the most important thing to do is be consistent.* Oftentimes businesses will change their mind on design direction and branding and will make little changes here and there which causes brand confusion. My advice is to own your brand, stick with your color scheme, fonts and style and if/when the time comes to rebrand, then you can make that decision and go for it intentionally.
If you’re new to your business and not quite sure which direction you are going to take, then it’s okay to be patient and wait to invest in branding when you have a better idea of where you want to go.
*Chelsea note: Check out this video from Marie Forleo all about consistency - it's SO important when developing an audience!
Do you have a certain style you like to stick with when it comes to design or do you love a variety?
I definitely prefer simplicity in design. I find that minimal design catches my eye and stands out against the noise of the streets, screens and magazines. My logos are especially minimal, but that’s to ensure they work across all platforms from large billboards down to a tiny Instagram profile picture. The more complex the logo, the harder it is to be effective in really small applications – and harder to be remembered! I work with lots of different types of businesses and can still accomplish a very different look and feel for each, but I certainly have a modern style and always make sure potential clients have checked out my logo portfolio to make sure my aesthetic is what they’re going for.
My websites also have a minimal look to them and while that’s clearly my preference, functionality and usability is always what I focus on first. You can land on a beautiful website, but if you have no idea how to navigate it, then it’s not doing the job.
Who's your dream client?
My dream client is a small business owner, entrepreneur, or creative in the Asheville area. My favorite clients have gone through my logo and website process and then check back any time they need other branded materials such as signage, brochures, stickers or other print pieces. I love that aha moment that I see in my clients when everything starts taking shape. There’s a real sense of pride and excitement when they can SEE it coming together.
Where people can find ya to keep following along your work, journey and tips?
Thank you for including me on your blog, Chelsea! I’m honored to be featured and hope these answers can help new or existing business owners understand the world of branding and web design a little better.
If anyone has additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out! My email address is email@example.com and you can check out my website at rotanzdesign.com and find me @rotanzdesign on Instagram!
Hi all! I'm excited to introduce a new addition to the CLP blog - guest posts!
I love working with other creatives / makers / entrepreneurs and now I'm tapping into their expertise and advice to share with you.
First up is my friend Kathryn of Evergreen Era Films located here in Asheville. Her films are thoughtfully produced and add such a warmth to your wedding or business. Yep, she offers her services to the same crowd I do - weddings and small businesses! Woo hoo! She's always who I recommend when clients are looking for film of their wedding day or to promote their brand via video.
She's sharing with us 3 reasons video improves your website presence. Be sure to check out her work with small businesses once you've read the post! Take it away Kathryn...
I'm Kathryn - founder, editor, and main videographer at Evergreen Era Films.
I'm an old soul with a soft spot for raw and honest connection. With each interaction I have, my main goal is to create a space where people can feel worthy and heard. This deep rooted passion for connected and compassionate living is what fuels my belief in equality, protecting mother nature, and living life in balance. With time I have also learned to find strength in vulnerability. This is a core foundation for all my films, focusing on the authentic, honest, and heartfelt reasons that people created their business. After all, story and connection is what makes shopping small so special, right?
"With online video quickly becoming a key means for people to satisfy their information and entertainment needs, small businesses that fail to include it in their internet marketing strategies will do so at their peril."
1) People are more drawn to video than text
"It is naturally engaging and, in an age of information overload, it's vital for small businesses to offer content that is easy to digest; if not, consumers will simply move on. Video does this very well."
- The Guardian
Videos grab attention in a way that text just doesn't anymore. We are drawn to quick and visual stimulation. Attention spans are shorter than they used to be for younger generations (unfortunately), but it is one of those facts of life that we must use to our advantage as we move forward. The positive of this phenomenon is that it encourages us to discover new ways of getting our point across and interacting with our world. Therefore, video can connect you with your clients more easily in this technological age.
2) People want to connect, relate, and feel emotions
"No matter how hard you try, some people will never feel like they know the “real” you until they see you on video."
One of the most powerful aspects of a small business is the story behind it. What is your why? It is personal, relatable, and it encourages people to want to support your work because it has a purpose that resonates with them.
If you have a website to sell your products or services, this is most likely one of the first interactions your clients will have with you, especially if they aren't local to you. Therefore, you want that interaction to inspire them and allow them to relate to who you are as the creator. Having a summary film of either your business or who you are is a powerful tool to connect with people on a human "face to face" level. People connect to natural human interactions that include body language, voice, tone, etc and the best way to provide that is through video.
3) Create a more interactive webpage & social media presence
"Videos are good for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and Google loves them!"
As simple as it may seem, using all different types of media will make your website more dynamic and interesting, but it will also help you rank higher in search engines. Utilizing photos, text, and video will give your viewer more chances to learn about you and your product while experiencing it differently each time. This allows them to move through your page and feel more and more aware of your brand than with each interaction. The longer a client stays on your page, the better it is for your SEO.
"The number one reason for using video in your content marketing plan?
Video converts more customers. Simple, right? Recent research shows that 71% of marketers say video conversion rates outperform other marketing content."
“Will you Photoshop this out?”
A common phrase we hear often.
Cultural standards on appearance have skyrocketed with social media. We all sit around thinking others look perfect and put-together all the time (no way, not true!). We get down on ourselves for being human and real. This is a problem I have to address and contemplate a lot as a photographer.
I think it’s time to draw boundaries when it comes to how we edit and the impossible standards of Photoshopping + Instagram filters + weird apps that alter your face in a photo (WHAT?!).
Let’s get to it and break down the most common scenarios:
Well I edit out your freckles? No.
Will I edit out that blemish that’ll be gone in a week? Yes.
Will I edit out scars? Not unless you asked me to.
Will I edit out grey hairs? Sometimes! If it's clear you're going for your natural hair color then no and if it's clear that you color your hair to cover up the grey then yes.
Will I edit out wrinkles in clothing? As much as I can without making your clothing appear plastic!
Will I edit out that t-shirt stain that appeared after lunch? Yes.
Will I edit out the flyaway hairs? If they're distracting. If they're showing the wind blowing through beautifully, then no.
Will I edit out that piece of trash or water bottle near your feet? Yes.
Will I edit out that distracting tree branch, bugs flying by, stranger in the background? Yes. I have no problem editing out environmental distractions to an otherwise lovely photo.
Will I "fix" your stomach or arms? Only if it's my fault because I captured an unflattering angle or didn't direct you quick enough. Overall, I never plan to flatten a tummy or remove a bump in the nose in every single image I will deliver though. More below...
I will guide you into flattering poses under beautiful lighting. I will give clothing tips and recommend you only wear something that makes you feel HOT. That being said, not every image gets set up for flattering angles.
If your spouse makes you laugh out loud or if he/she says something so sweet that your cheeks flush, I’m not worried about you looking like a model. I'll make tweaks in editing to create the most flattering final result and I’ll be sending that pic your way because of that special moment.
How do I make those decisions and why does it matter?
1. I would have to charge twice as much to accommodate editing time for extensive and timely Photoshop requests. I'm not interested in offering that service but there are many out there that do!
2. I don’t want to perpetuate impossible beauty standards by making you look like anything other than you. We need to collectively work towards highlighting the beauty of all people, not highlighting the beauty of over-Photoshopped skin or mimicking celeb Insty posts. A light touch-up here and there is as far as I go.
It’s hard to define your role in this as a photographer because it’s my goal that you enjoy your experience and the results.
When you're 80 years old and showing your wedding photos to grandkids, I want you to recognize your beautiful self from so many years ago. I want you to be reminded of exactly how you felt that day. I don't want you to look back on a plastic figure.
Tips for a photo session you'll feel great about:
One final thought: You're great just the way you are, I promise.
All this worry about Instagram's organic reach is exhausting.
So what are we gonna do about it ?
1. Take action.
Find resources (sooo many are free) online to learn about approaches to social media that feel good to YOU! There are many folks out there who make a living off teaching about this one platform! Tyler J. McCall comes to mind :)
Be social! You gotta get out there (on Insty that is) and support others just as much as you're hoping to be supported. Like, comment, share, tag/credit on posts and in stories. Take the extra 5-10 minutes a day to comment on other's posts, totally worth it.
2. Improve your mindset.
Embrace social media for what it is, LEARN, use it in ways that make you feel good and forget the rest. You don't HAVE to post a Story daily. You don't HAVE to follow other photographers or writers or jewelry makers who unintentionally make you feel bad. You don't HAVE to post daily. You don't HAVE to only post 1 type of content. You don't HAVE to get too personal... or not personal enough!
Running a small business is an evolution, be flexible and open up to how your marketing evolves too. Everyone HATED IG Stories when it first arrived, why though? What a strange thing to spend your energy hating. Instead stay open, learn about it and have fun with it - your audience will enjoy it.
A certain feed always make you feel inferior? Unfollow. Boom. I'm constantly asked if I follow some local photographer and I rarely say yes. I follow a handful of photogs who are friends or my mega inspirations.
4. Unplug + replace.
Let's say you've tried all the above ideas and you're still not feeling a resolution. It's time to try unplugging and enjoy missing out.
Log out of IG on your phone. I know that extra step would make me think twice about typing in my pw to mindlessly scroll.
Replace an old habit with a new productive habit like:
-reading an edu article on a website about running a business
-meet other entrepreneurs in person for a coffee to connect
-save + organize inspo somewhere other than IG
What do all these lead to? Less comparison, less stress about the IG algorithm and you're still doing important work to move your business forward.
5. Consider alternatives.
When I started to see the worst effects of the IG algorithm, I began looking for new avenues of marketing. IG has been great for driving business but I can't rely on old tactics forever. I invested in other marketing techniques including sprucing up my website and SEO.
Looking for a free alternative? Network your butt off. Doesn't have to be cheesy after hour gatherings...
You can plan a gathering for your favorite local vendors for an activity you love:
-invite everyone over for happy hour on your porch
-get a group to go hiking together with your dogs
-go to a local art show together for inspiration
-co-work in a coffee shop
-attend a community event together
Networking is about connecting and being a trusted + friendly face in town.
Don't let Insty get you down, enjoy it for what it is and find other parts of your business to focus on!
Why? Tim is a self-made entrepreneur with a pretty cool backstory. He interviews successful people from all fields and finds out what habits + ideals make them who they are. So much to learn and be influenced by. Listen to the stories of others to be inspired and entertained.
Start with one of these episodes:
How to Design a Life with Debbie Millman
How to Have, Do and Be All You Want with Terry Crews
Catherine Hoke - The Master of Second Chances
Oprah Super Soul Sunday
Why? You can't take care of your business + clients if you're not taking care of yourself. Keep learning and growing as a human, it'll translate into your success as an entrepreneur. Oprah as been a guiding light for many trying to "live their best life" and now she involves guests that bring it to a whole new level.
Start with one of these episodes:
Cheryl Strayed: Brave Enough
Dr. Maya Angelou, Part 1: 9 Words that Changed her Life
Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling: Brave New Worlds
Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield
Why? Amy offers some of the best "social" marketing advice. Facebook ads, Facebook groups, online videos and collaborations are all up her alley. She's built quite the empire through free resources, online education and online memberships with her audience. Amy is also open and honest about her behind-the-scenes which I've found valuable and refreshing!
Start with one of these episodes:
#180: 7 Ways I've Collaborated with Friends & Influencers to Increase Profits
#192: Are you Embracing the "Visionary Role" in your Business?
#197: How to 10x your Results in 2018 (and Beyond) with 3 Dead Simple Strategies with Marie Forleo
Bright Planning (disclaimer: Chelsea Lane Photography + Bright Planning regularly work together)
Why? Catherine is a local marketing expert who doles out practical advice via her podcast, newsletter and social media. Her audience is made up of small/medium size businesses and I appreciate this because we operate differently than the biggies. Her advice is tailored, well thought out and actionable.
Start with one of these episodes:
Episode #53: How to Market your Small Business for $100 per Month
Episode #59: 10 Marketing Tactics you can do in Less than an Hour
Episode #71 4 Questions you have to Answer to be Successful
And lastly, an honorable mentions from my favorite email buddies:
Skimm'd From The Couch by The Skimm creators (my favorite morning email news dose). I'm new to this podcast but can already tell it's going to be one of my faves for hearing the stories, experiences and inspiration of badass female creators!
The Marie Forleo Podcast - I get my weekly dose from her online TV show but she also offers the same info via podcast. This is best podcast for people in the beginning stages of their business, she'll be your biggest cheerleader!
Akimbo a podcast by Seth Godin is another brand new podcast so I'm still getting started with it. I read his blog daily and it's easy to see his insight is incredibly valuable, unique and will make you press pause to think twice about what he just said.
When you scroll through Instagram checking out the cozy photos of a trendy home with a cute girl lounging on her sofa with coffee on the Anthropologie feed, you think "that's what I want!" I love these lifestyle images, they give such warmth to brands that traditional product photography cannot.
So what does it take to create a seemingly simple photo to promote their new couch + robe + mug + candle?
Many many people came together to craft these photos shoots. I've been on these sets and seen the amount of people, time, planning and money that goes into a photo shoot for 1 blog post. One blog post! That's it!
An example of a shoot for a larger company:
1 creative director
1 person handling manual labor (that cute couch? may have been moved 3 times for the photo)
1 studio setting or a real home that's been scouted + pre-styled
20 hours of prep time
8 hour photo session
Plenty of post processing time to edit images (I don't know the exact amount of hours for this specific shoot)
Result: 5-7 final images for the client
So when you're a small business owner and you're working with a one-woman-team photographer, how can you bridge the gap to get the results you want without all of those resources and that big ol' budget?
I've got some ideas.
1. Know where you stand. - Are you in the beginning stages and need help developing your brand? Do you need guidance with this or just some time to gather your thoughts? Let your photographer know this when you inquire about their services.
2. Maybe you have the basics of your brand in mind (the mood + feel). - Now you're ready to gather inspo pics and make sense of it all. Please don't expect your photographer to recreate other's work but sharing inspo pics is very helpful! Visual aids help when words aren't cutting it, Pinterest is great for organizing this on "secret boards".
3. And perhaps you know exactly what you want and you have a very strong vision. - My advice here is to meet with potential photographers to discuss and see if you're a good fit based on their input. My other advice for this is to still be flexible, you're hiring another creative to bring your vision to life and they will breathe in new air to a project, let them!
Bonus: Always know your budget. Know what range you're comfortable with and don't be afraid to tell your photographer! They are likely just as excited to work with you and may be willing to negotiate.
Next, what are the expectations of the shoot?
Visit this post for what factors may or may not be needed for your shoot, very helpful for preparation!
Now that you've read that past post, here are a few tips to make the most of a smaller budget:
-Model for yourself! You're likely the face of your business so hopping in front of the camera saves you money + time and gives you a chance to connect with your audience! Photos of you do SO well on social sites.
-If you're struggling to find a good location, chat with your photographer for their recommendations. Your own home may work just fine which saves on a rental fee.
-Find a photographer who is comfortable styling products if that's necessary for the subject. Their rate may be a little higher than others but you saved money on not hiring a stylist without putting that job on yourself.
-Go with the flow of natural light. If you work with a photographer who shoots natural light, you are somewhat at mercy to the weather gods. A good photographer anticipates and prepares for that with equipment (including artificial light just in case!) and approach. Trust your photographer to guide that process and make lighting recommendations.
-When tallying up the number of products you want photographed, narrow it down. If you ask a photographer for 20 styled shots, they'll need to charge for the time it'll take to make that happen. Choose wisely!
-And, lastly, communicate! When planning a photo shoot, respond to questions from your photographer in a timely manner so they have time to prepare. If they're to set up a shoot, help book models, buy props, prepare backdrops and be ready creatively - help 'em out and give them the appropriate time to do the work.
I hope this helped as you consider professional photography that's still within your budget. You're always welcome to email me with questions about your situation!
How long does a small shoot last?
To be honest, I struggle creating packages that will fit all small business needs. You are each so unique!
Let's break down what elements of a shoot that determine the time needed then get into package options.
-number of models
-model experience / efficiency
-number of outfit changes
-hair & makeup needs
-change of location + driving time
-the public (waiting on passersby or a truck to move along)
-availability of the location (public spaces may have limited hours)
I shoot mostly natural light so time of day and weather conditions are an important part of my approach. When shooting outdoors, I'll always push for early mornings or later evening just before sunset and those hours are fleeting in the mountains!
Products // Styling
-number of products you need photographed
-number of ways you need the product photographed
-styling props to set the scene (the amount of props we're working with + the time to style them)
I rarely have small business clients ask about the amount of images they'll receive because they're not shopping for bulk.
A good reason for that? Your products and services will continue to evolve, so your photography needs will too. It's not necessary to have 10 photos of 1 product from slightly different angles. It's better to have less images, each of stellar quality.
Narrowing down your needs for the photo shoot greatly helps your photographer provide an accurate time frame + quote for the session. Not everyone knows the answers to these questions from the start but that's what I'm here for! I'm happy to help brainstorm the session visually and logistically.
I offer a standard small business session that often suits most client needs but I'm also happy to modify it. I work with small businesses because I enjoy being flexible and working together for the best results.
Looking for ongoing photos that evolve with you and your goals? I offer monthly and seasonal packages as well as my standard small business session!
I really enjoy putting together this lil list because I put a lot of thought and care into it. I look around for inspirational creators that may rock your world, even in the smallest way, of course ;)
One of the hardest parts is not including any current clients of mine in this list because I love them and what they offer oh-so-much. But at least you know it's not bias!
I hope this helps narrow down your holiday shopping and I'm sending lots of cheer to you this December!
There you have it, 4 killer gift ideas for the season. And I just noticed the top 3 are ALL women-run. Hell yes.
Wishing you all the best for the holidays this year!
The holidays are here. Officially.
Small businesses have to strike a balance between taking time off to enjoy (yay, you're your own boss!) and making the best sales during the shopping season (oh ya, gotta earn $$).
My best advice? Prepare ahead of time.
Next year, let's get those holiday photos done in October so you have them to use throughout November and December. Photos to promote new product, the holiday spirit, promotions and events.
Find yourself needing to change things up regularly?
I offer monthly packages for a quick photo shoot every month to fill up your Instagram. I also offer seasonal packages if you want to highlight the changes in weather, product, styling and use of your product or service!
This is a portrait session I did with Christa Briana for her to create a new website (coming soon!). She is a local illustrator who's work is similar to mine so we enjoyed created hauntingly beautiful images together in the woods of Asheville, NC.
Portraits of Asheville artist Christa Briana
Makeup by Serenity + Scott
Clothes are vintage
Props belong to Christa
What is a lifestyle shoot when it comes to your small business?
Product photos on a plain white backdrop are great for selling an item online. Potential customers can see the item clearly and make an informed purchase.
But, is that enough?
What about that initial feeling when they first visit your website or open up your Instagram? That can't be under estimated! It's the excitement and enthusiasm that drives sales.
What about the way you caption your photos and the words that describe your company's values? You're building an emotional connection with people that creates lifelong customers.
Lifestyle images connect you. They show a sweater wrapping you up by a cozy fire. They show your glasses when you set them down to enjoy breakfast after reading the paper. They show you on date night, escaping the kids. They show you in your earth-friendly t-shirt on your favorite hike.
What story connects you and your clients?
How will they use your signature product in their daily life? Or do they invest in it for special occassions?
Dig deep. Put yourself in your customers shoes and then show them with photos.
You'd be surprised how little prep you need to do for an in-home session. Catherine and I picked 2 spaces to create images. First up is the office. We created 3 different looks inside one small space!
We wanted some fun and colorful photos with match her previously created office flat lays. These all go together to support her marketing company, Bright Planning.
Bright Planning has a vintage flair with a cool logo and uses strong primary colors like blue and red. We moved a desk in front of her favorite bookshelf and created a beautiful mess with other beloved books from around the house. As you may have guessed, Catherine is also a writer outside of her marketing career. She and her partner, Brandon, are literary souls with many many books floating around their home.
The vintage typewriter is a nice touch too!
For the next look, we cleared the desk, changed shirts to create simple workspace portraits. Less styled images for Catherine's portrait.
Next we simply changed direction for images (in the same room!) of Catherine on her chaise just enjoying the quiet space. The hat beside her holds family memories so its a nice touch to personalize the portraits.
That's 3 different looks in one small room!
We wrapped up with a relaxed, lifestyle portrait on her screened in porch. We shot in just one corner so we didn't have to move a thing for these photos in preparation.
In-home sessions are some of my favorites because they reflect you, your favorite things and often where you work!
We all know how sophisticated the iPhone camera is getting. The images I can take using that phone blow my mind.
At first, that was a real bummer for me and fellow photographers. We've worked really hard to run a business that Apple could seemingly wipe out by the time we hit iPhone 10.
Is the really the case though?
Probably not. Photographers & all of our crazy equipment serve a purpose and can bring something to the table that iPhone (or Samsung, etc.) cannot. Let's get into it.
Understanding how light hits your subject cannot be "guessed" by an iPhone. The way light affects your subject from behind, the side and head on. The way light changes from room to room or sunrise to sunset. The different colors of light and how to edit appropriately... We plan shoots around the time of day, we choose locations based on how the lighting will affect that location, we know when to use artificial lighting, we're ready for all circumstances!
1. Styling food. Hot food, cold food, whole food, cooked food. It all acts differently and not everyone is equipped to manage it (melting ice cream? boring filet mignon with no interesting shape? how to incorporate ingredients into final dish image?).
2. Styling products. Some products are MADE to be photographed! They look good from every angle, they are simple in design and size. The colors are so perfect with this backdrop! How about those fidgety products that are wrinkly or super flat or boring colors, how do we bring those to life? Styling learned from trial & error plays a big role in successful photos.
3. Posing people. Creating flattering angles, accommodating for shyness, group photos with everyone smiling + eyes open. Creating those company portraits is no easy feat and we work to make them uniform, approachable and flattering.
There are soo many great programs and apps to edit out there, you can really do a lot from your phone or computer with little investment. What about when something completely unexpected happens? Someone in the group shot blinks so much that you never find a photo with everyone's eyes open. No phone app can fix that. Glare on sunglasses... in 780 images? Yikes. Professional editing software to the rescue!
Building a relationship with a photographer after 1-2 sessions is priceless. We hear your requests, your concerns and we adjust for them with every shot. We note your brand colors, the style of your company, the feel of your Instagram feed + Facebook page + website, the energy you put out into the world and the relationship with your clients. Believe it or not, that's all part of our preparation for a shoot and it produces results.
Under beautiful lighting with the perfect backdrop, the iPhone is your BFF. It will do all the work and you can create magic. And I hope you do! Photos are an important part of life so keep snapping' pics! But. What about when the only time you can shoot is just before dusk and you don't have enough light to use the new Depth Effect? Or at noon when everyone has shadows under their eyes?
Someone once asked me how did I know that I was ready to take on paying clients and I said it was when I knew I could produce good images in the crummiest setting. Unfortunately, we don't always have control over locations, timelines, models, products, props and that's when it's important to have the equipment and know-how to still produce results.
The strange obstacles we come across in every session and are unpredictable. Ruthless reflections on products, unprepared collaborators, delays in must-have-shot-lists, equipment failure, chaotic environments, strict timelines, boring products that need oomph, crazy prop requests, creativity slumps. With experience tackling all of these hurdles, we become more and more prepared for the next one!
An iPhone isn't a problem solver, a photographer is.
I'm not trying to convince you to hire me, I'm trying to convince you that investing in a professional when you're ready will be worth it because they're prepared and can't be replaced... just yet ;)
Equally important is that all these images are cohesive. Even though there are two distinct concepts, there is still one brand for one business. My shooting and editing approach ensured that she'd get the best of both worlds and the collection would still blend.
For this small business shoot, we had a lifestyle approach (natural setting, candid feeling / not traditional headshots in a studio). We incorporated wardrobe changes, portraits, product shots, lifestyle shots and some environmental shots so she had a well rounded selection to build her website.
I can't wait to work with Sarah again (fingers crossed) as she continues to grow her business and services. Photography should grow with you and your business needs!
We live in a time where it's impossible to have no stance on important issues. That may sound harsh to those of us who live in the grey, hate drama and prefer to avoid yelling matches via Facebook but I really believe that the political climate and a generation of brave souls calling out authority has created a movement. I get it, I'm not plastering my opinions all over social media because I'm not interested in debates throughout my day either. And I do believe some things are private. But let me try to convince you of how this can work for you.
You don't have to be loud, you don't have to start arguments, you can ease into your stance in ways that make YOU feel good. These are the ways that will make your CUSTOMERS feel good too. Embrace the world of 2017 and let's look at some examples of those who are speaking out in their own way.
My hubby works in food & beverage. He works within the hotel industry which is not known for "green" practices. However, he puts a lot of energy into promoting and supporting local farmers and sustainable food options because he believes in that. He's able to marry his current job with his beliefs and stay involved in the community. He's been hired because of this involvement, his bosses love it. He's able to order from local farms and give them a seat at the table. Can you tell I'm proud?
I have a great friend who is a social media consultant. He is incredibly engaged on social media platforms and within the community, a well-known guy. He also has a strong liberal stance that he doesn't shy away from, continuously standing up for minorities on some platforms yet keeping it more subtle on other platforms. He chooses when and how to use his voice to speak his mind and (hopefully) educate others.
Fox and Fir Design creates fun graphic tees and stickers. Each design benefits a cause, often environmental. Proceeds are donated accordingly. They believe in small + consistent steps to fight climate change, their whole brand is built around it. You better believe they're attracting the right folks as customers.
The Cartorialist is a lovely artist/illustrator who's work is often inspired by high fashion and it-girls. She recently created a limited print of artsy boobs (you read that right) to support Planned Parenthood. These are tumultuous times for PP and she wants to speak out + raise money on their behalf. Her entire brand isn't built around it but she used a one-off opportunity to do what feels right.
Those are just 4 examples and there are many more. You'll start noticing it as you keep an eye out for it. Smalls businesses + entrepreneurs are being heard. They're attracting the right customers and repelling the wrong ones because of it (a Jasmine Star-ism).
Baby step into it or scream it from the rooftops, either way just go for it! Be silly with it (my IG stories for example) or write a thoughtful post on your Facebook page or keep it only on your blog. Grow your business because you're a unique individual with somethin' to say and, trust me, there's someone out there who agrees with you and will applaud your bravery.
(Photos from a dreamy event designed & hosted by Lucky Penny Creative)
Rust and concrete. Industrial style colors inspired by vintage dishes and one of my favorite backdrops.
I rarely hear people chat about the color rust but it's everywhere and is such a rich, one-of-a-kind color. I wouldn't consider it to paint my bedroom but in smaller doses it can be magical! There's hints of the color rust in food (cinnamon and spices), in nature (the last moments of a fire or a fox) and in actually rusting items such as an old ship. Rust is a strong, warm tone that isn't easy to pair with.
Concrete. I use that term instead of grey because there are many shades of grey plus concrete implies texture. Now, I'm not suggesting stripes of rust and grey but you can see how they complement one another. A black or white backdrop would be too harsh against the rust but the concrete contrasts just enough to not strip away the warmth. Concrete is popping up in plenty of home designs such as counter tops, shelving and flooring. The industrial look mixed with cozy tones is very popular for this decade of design.
If you're interested in more of this color combo, visit these beautiful IG accounts:
Want to explore similar themes? Consider these combos:
Concrete & gold
Slate & rust
Concrete & mustard yellow
As February fades away and the days turn a bit warmer (consistently), we anticipate the sights of spring. Trees are blooming and we're building less fires. Maybe I'll put some greenery in front of that fireplace? Hmmm...
I look forward to some spring cleaning around my house. For my business though? That sounds a bit daunting.
A quick-n-easy list to feel like you've accomplished something:
Cheers to getting some ish done! Finish day with booze of choice as a thank you to yourself.
When you're putting together a brand, what all are you supposed to think about?
Branding is a bit vague and a trendy word that's thrown around a lot these days.
A quick and easy list of what you'll be thinking about:
Or should I say, you need more.
Hiring a photographer is not just about (finally!) getting photos of that thing you sell. Photography is about selling your brand. Everything includes photos, even Twitter posts!
Photos step in when your words fall short. Photos represent you at your best even if you're having a lazy day. Photos sell your stuff.
Here is what you need in your photography package if you're running a small biz...
How will photos tell your story?