Liz was one of the other Innovator Speakers this past week at the What If Conference in Portland.
And she pretty much rocked my face off.
Liz was there to represent innovations in social entrepreneurship. This idea that with our businesses....we can change the world.
And that is, in every sense of the word, exactly what Liz is doing with her company Sseko Designs. It started with an impromptu trip to Africa right after she graduated college. Where she lived and worked among the Ugandan people. And saw first hand the extreme poverty that exists there. The hierarchy among men & women that usually means the only jobs left available to these women is the "job" of selling their bodies. At about the equivalent of twenty five cents a time. But given the choice between this and not eating, they chose to work. And that even though half of the best & brightest students in all of Uganda are women, usually none of them were able to go on to University for the simple fact that they couldn't get real work to raise the money. And so the cycle continued. As mothers watched their daughters being sold as well.
Enter Liz and an idea. A quirky pair of sandals she had made up one day when she was bored in college.
A pretty much killer pair of sandals that could change the world.
By creating an environment of dignity, honor, creativity and dedication, Sseko Designs provides the opportunity for women in East Africa to end the cycle of poverty and create a more equitable society.
We believe that every woman has a dream. When she is given the opportunity to pursue those dreams, we are collectively walking towards a brighter and more just and beautiful world.
We believe that our stuff has a story and that every dollar you spend is a vote for the way you think the world should work.
Every sandal has a story.
Now, this is where we come in. All of us. This model only works if people buy the sandals. And they are. Around 10,000 pairs have been sold this year so far. That's pretty good.
But What If it was 100,000 pairs instead?
How many more lives could be changed then? And how far would the ripple effect from that go?
I don't know about you guys, but when I see these shoes I feel like every woman I know should have a pair. Every bride, every friend, every family member. And maybe it's just me and how we're constantly thinking about weddings, but I kind of feel like they should be THE must have bridesmaid shoe this year, no? Because how many could we sell then?
And that's where you guys come in.
Because I know a LOT of brides. But together, we know so many more.
And I know a LOT of women. But together, we know so many more.
And together, maybe we could start a movement. A movement of women (and the men who love women!) using their spending power to change the lives of other women.
And maybe, just maybe, change the world in the process.
And I mean, let's face it... you get a cute pair of shoes in the process? I'd call that a Win-Win.
What If....every single person reading this got up off their butts, clicked off this page and bought a pair?
What If....every single person once they were over there on the site, bought a few extra pairs for the women they love too?
What If....every photographer reading this blogged about Sseko sandals and encouraged their brides to give them to their bridesmaids too?
What If....together, we made these the must have shoes of the year? Because buy a pair, give a pair is really good. But buy a pair, give someone a chance at a future is even better.
What If....we read this and didn't close the computer before we DID something about it?
And What If....we sold at least 100 pairs before the day is out? I think we can do it. No, scratch that. I KNOW we can. Let's just see how powerful we are together. If you're down to play, leave us a note in the comment box below of how many sandals you bought. I'm going to start by buying 3 pairs. Chime back in if you find out one of your friends bought some because you tweeted or facebooked about it. Let's keep a running tally. And come Monday, let's see if we can have made some stuff happen.
We need your help! Our good friend Nicole Benitez contacted us about a marine who very unexpectedly lost his little girl and now the family is having a very hard time paying for the services. So being the incredible person she is, Nicole whipped up a quick auction to help raise money for this family. We are donating two items to the auction: 1) a 90 minute mentoring session that can be done either over Skype or here in our home in CT and 2) a seat to Walk Through a Wedding. Both of these items are still live through tonight, and YOU can help make a major difference for this family (plus hopefully get some good help for your business at the same time) by clicking on this link and bidding on the auction. The link will take you to a gallery as pictured below and you just click on the image for what you want to bid on (ours are the two screen shots of our blog that you can see below) and then leave your bid in the comments section. Keep checking back until the auction ends tonight!
Life gives us these chances to reach out and help people we don't even know....let's see how big we can answer.
This month's "Ones to Watch" is none other than little Miss (ahem or should I say Missus now) Katelyn James! We first met Katelyn when she came to the DC stop on our Spread the Love tour last year. She wore these killer brown boots that I fully coveted and a kelly green cardigan. We talked J. Crew, the south, blogging. And then the talk got started.
It was "pin drop, Bell Atlantic, reach out and touch someone" quiet in there and I was fully convinced that we were going to bomb. Like A- Bomb bomb. So I do what I do when I'm so nervous my heart just might explode into a million pieces of confetti at any minute....I turn into the Hugh Grant, charming in that random bumbling sort of way, version of myself. Let's just say it was not going well. But every time I cracked some lame, nervous rambling, I can't believe I just said that joke... Katelyn would laugh out loud and her smile would just get bigger. And in that instant I fell in love with her. Not so much because she laughed at my jokes (ok, who am I kidding...it was TOTALLY because she laughed at my jokes)....but also because I could tell right then that Katelyn is the type of person that just makes others feel like everything is going to be ok. She invests in others. She builds other people up. And she shines like a light of love in this crazy world. And because of who she is, I know she is poised to set this world on fire. Just like that fiery red hair of hers! :)
**You've probably by now noticed a theme in our "Ones to Watch" series. They are all people who I believe to be people builders. People who are lifting others up. Who give way more than they ever take. Who aren't afraid to step up, but then also reach back to give a hand up. Because they know there is plenty to go around. They are genuine, they are honest, they are real. In short, I believe they are a new wave of leadership rising up in this industry, at a time when our industry is already so "me, me, me" focused. And I for one, can't wait to see it happen. Because I believe people like this change things. They take the rules and flip them on their heads. And they make you pay attention.
How did I start my business? That is a GREAT question! I wish I had a 3 step program as to how I launched my business but to be honest, it was really an accident. I owned a Canon Rebel Xti in college. I shot on "auto" for 3 years and thought I was so cool. Needless to say, I knew NOTHING about photography. During my junior year, I taught myself to shoot manually and a friend invited me to second shoot a wedding with her. I didn't completely hate it. It was hot, realllly hot but the bride was gorgeous and we had an awesome venue to work with. However, I wasn't in love with the idea of being responsible for someones WEDDING pictures! What a huge responsibility! I was convinced that this career wasn't for me. Well, later that summer I was asked to shoot a wedding for a close friend and I agreed to do it. I bought a Canon 5D with intentions of selling it after the wedding. Once again, I was very wrong. I ended up keeping the camera and booking 6 more weddings that fall......and that is how it began. I fell in love with capturing LOVE!!
2) What advice do you have for someone wanting to get a photography business started? What's the best first thing they could do?
Decide to never stop learning. Make a commitment to never stop learning about business management, using light, shooting manually, good communication skills, creating goals, maintaining great client relationships, design, social media marketing....etc....the list never ends. The biggest mistake a photographer can make is to stop learning. When you stop learning, you stop growing and if you never make a commitment to learn when you're launching your business, you're only heading for a dead end. Wow, that sounded so harsh! But I really believe that it's true. It's impossible to be an entrepreneur without a desire to constantly grow and push yourself. I've struggled with this during different phases of my small business journey and I've realized that it's something that I have to be constantly reminded of.
3) What are the three biggest mistakes you've made in your business?
Ooohhh this is a good one! 1. After year one, I started thinking that I had it all figured out...nothing else to learn and I became very critical of other photographers... bad bad bad. I just needed a good wake-up call and a big dose of humility. I quickly realized just how wrong I was and how much I needed to learn! 2. I signed up for a bridal show. I thought it was a great idea and that I would get TONS of bookings for 2011. However, I should have known that this isn't how my business works. I don't book brides from shaking their hand and handing them a flyer....my business is 100% relational and I book weddings through great word-of-mouth marketing from past clients and by forming friendships with my clients. I spent over $1,000 on this show and only booked one wedding. Looking back, it actually gave me a ton of confidence in the way I market my brand. I had the opportunity to really see what works and what doesn't. 3. I lost confidence in "My style". This mistake happens so often. Sometimes I view others photographer's work and I think to myself "I want my images to look more like that....their "look" is so better than mine" and I begin to spiral into a bad case of "Comparison-nism". That is most definitely NOT a word but it's a real problem that I think a TON of photographers deal with... at least I hope I'm not the only one! Comparison crumbles dreams and sucks the confidence out of every photographer. Falling into the "Comparison" trap is by far one of my biggest mistakes!
4) Who/what inspires you?
Oh! Inspiration! I love this question! I love OLD things. Anything vintage, rustic, falling apart, paint chipping off... I love it all. My husband and I recently returned from our honeymoon in Venice and I was so inspired by the old architecture of that city. It's a photographer's dream! Besides all things "old".... I am inspired by LOVE itself. Being in love with my NEW husband has to be my greatest inspiration. To know what it feels like to be loved is the greatest way to be inspired to capture the love of others. :)
5) What three words describe your photography? Your brand?
Clean. Classic. Creative.
6) Where do you want to be in your business/life in 5 years?
5 years.... wow. I want to be working less and loving on my family a lot more. Who knows what our family will look like in 5 years but I want my business to be so established that I am able to set aside 2 weekends a month for work and the rest goes to my family. I want to become a better blogger, I want to continue to think outside of the box and I want to be published in Martha Stewart Weddings.... hey, a girl can dream right?! :)
And we finished by asking Katelyn one question that she has for us:
My question for you guys would be now that I'm a married woman (no big deal!!!!!), I would love to know how in the world you balance your personal life and the business. The business is obviously a HUGE part of both of your lives... but how do you go out to eat and not just talk about business stuff the whole time?! And how do you force yourself to turn away from the imacs when you KNOW you could conquer 3 more "to-do's" if you just stayed on them a little while longer.....(I obviously struggle with this! So your input would be so great to hear!!)
The answer is that you're right: it can be SO hard. And it's something that we struggle with all the time. I think that's especially true if, like we did, you've already gotten into the habit of working fifteen hour days and still talking about the business when you go out to dinner. And for us, because that was the case, we literally had to (and still have to sometimes) retrain ourselves out of that very bad habit. And just like overcoming any bad habit, it's literally about catching yourself anytime you're doing it and forcing yourself to fix it right then.. So we would go out to dinner and everything would be going great and then inevitably one of us would bring up a print order or something like that. And without even realizing it, we'd get on a five or ten minute discussion about the business before we knew what was going on. But just like those kids on the Super Nanny we'd have to catch ourselves, bring ourselves back to our proverbial corner for a few minutes til we learned our lesson, and then start again. And having stuff that we're excited about outside of the business like movies that are coming out or how we're going to decorate for Christmas or upcoming trips we want to take really helps. Over time I do have to say that it gets easier. And I think that really boils down to the realization that as much as you love your business, you just stop worrying about it quite so much after a while and trust it to run on its own for a bit. Because there comes a point in the day where it really isn't going to matter in the grand scheme of things if you answer one more email or blog one more picture. It'll still be there tomorrow. But it is going to matter if you put that same amount of time dating your husband again. Into rubbing your dog's belly a little more. Into taking care of yourself. And the rest of the world will just have to wait and be ok with that.
We are back with another edition of our new series "Ones to Watch." And when it came time to pick our next one to watch, I knew instantly who I wanted it to be. None other than that ray of sunshine in our lives and so many others, Miss Meredith Perdue. I can't think of any better words to describe Meredith than what I wrote in this post, so I'm just going to post them again! :)
Miss Meredith Perdue of & Unlimited Photography is one of the sweetest people we've ever met. Umm..ever. We first met Meredith when she came to one of our workshops last July. She sat directly across from me smiling not stop and laughing at all of my jokes (even the really bad ones). Needless to say, it was love at first laugh. And it has been an absolute joy to call her a friend ever since. Meredith is just the kind of person that makes other people feel good. She's a people builder, she loves with her whole heart, and there isn't a selfish bone in her body. I wish everyone could have a friend like her. And we're just lucky enough to say we do.
Meredith's business has just been blowing up and her work is jaw-droppingly beautiful. That's why she's one to watch!
1) Did you go to school for photography? If so, how much have you been able to use it for weddings? If not, how did you learn photography?
While I didn't go to school for photography, I did take photography classes, both at Carolina and while I studied abroad in Italy. But really, my interest in photography started years before that when my grandmother gave me my first Minolta. It was then that I learned photography through trial and error, through taking pictures and seeing what worked & didn't work.
2) Who/What inspires you?
My dog, Orvis. No, seriously. He truly loves life and I think that that's something to be admired. Of course, there are plenty of people who also inspire me. The community of photographers that I've met over the past couple of years, who go out of their way to offer advice and share ideas with newer photographers such as myself, are probably some of the greatest sources of inspiration.
3) What is the best piece of advice you have for someone sitting in their cubicle right now reading this, wishing they could leave their 9 to 5 and go full time with photography or some other dream?
I was fortunate enough to start my business and open my studio a few months after graduating from college and moving to Maine, so I've never really known a 9-5 working lifestyle. However, I can honestly say that nothing has been more rewarding than doing what I truly love day in and day out. I cannot possibly imagine working somewhere where I was not as emotionally involved in the work that I am doing. So my advice would simply be, to take the leap and do what makes you the happiest.
4) Where do you see your business in five years?
In five years, to know that I'm producing strong, meaningful images, while challenging myself to be both a better photographer and person everyday, would be a wonderful achievement. Documenting life's connections will still be the foundation of my photography philosophy, and I hope that in five years people will come to me for that very reason. I'd also love to continue to grow my network of fellow photographers and industry professionals, so that we can work to continually challenge one another, learn from one another, and teach one another.
5) What is one question you have for us that you'd like some help with?
I've followed your business and blog for a year and a half now, and feel like every piece of advice you offer, I carefully consider. I still recall the marketing and business advice you shared with the group of us at your Chamard Vineyards workshop, the glimpses into your personalities that shine through on your blog, and the incredible work that you continually produce. Thank you for all of the help you have already given and continue to give. I'll keep paying attention, because I'm sure you'll answer my next question before I even have a chance to ask it!
Meredith, we LOVE you and we are so, SO proud of all that you are doing. You are a phenomenal photographer and an even more amazing person. Keep setting this world on fire....we need more people like you!
Pay It Forward: F-Stop Breast Cancer Mentoring Auction
I'll admit that I can be a bit of a hard girl to impress.
I demand a lot of myself and I expect the same of the people around me. Just ask Justin & Julia...I can be SO Meryl Streep about the situation sometimes. "STEAK, get me STEAK! Armani, get Armani on the phone. You're not going to Paris." Yea, they have it rough. Or at least they would have it rough if they didn't also have those same exacting, high standards for everything we do. But since we all happen to be over-achieving, type A crazy perfectionists we get along just swimmingly.
Not only was she putting this whole auction together, and for a really amazing cause at that, she was making a pledge of her own that when the auction raises at least $10,000 she will shave her own head. Her own HEAD, people!
Now I'd say that is demanding a lot of yourself. And it impressed me so much, that I knew we had to be involved. So I wrote back to her with a, "YES!! Absolutely! Of course! Without a doubt! Si! Oui! Ja! You know it! And HECK YEA!!"
And secretly, I kind of hoped that my ability to say yes ten different ways made up for my Meryl Streep tendencies. Even if I really do wish sometimes that I could get Armani on the phone.
The F-Stop Breast Cancer Mentoring Auction will open on Thursday, October 14th and run through Tuesday, October 19th. I will be blogging the link as soon as it's ready. Justin & I will be auctioning off a one hour mentoring session to be done with us either over the phone or in person at an upcoming conference (or you can swing by Casa Marantz), as well as a seat to our upcoming, multi-day Spread the Love Tour Event in 2011 (worth $1000!) in the city of your choice. OR if any of our amazing clients out there want to get in on this, it will be a one hour photo shoot along with a 10x10 leather bound album to either be used by you or given as a gift to the recipient of your choice. The holidays are right around the corner after all!
Now, we need your help. I'm a competitive sort (see there's that Meryl Streep thing again) and I would really love to see us be one of the top bids in the auction. So I'm asking for YOUR help in spreading the word, as well as actually bidding. Please blog, facebook and tweet the crap out of this thing (use hashtag #fstopbreastcancer to spread the word and go and follow @lydiashannon while you're at it!). Remember, separately we are just one. But together? Together there is NO limit to what we can do. And there is so much power in that. I love you all already and I know you're going to knock this out of the park without me saying a word. But go on.....