I am a voracious reader. Especially when it comes to books that can make me better. Although I am totally guilty of reading a book about three-quarters of the way and being like "ok, I get it!" and moving on! :) Does anybody else out there do this?? But there are a few that I just haven't been able to put down and have read cover to cover a few times now.
As entrepreneurs, there isn't assigned homework for getting better at running a business. No one is going to check up on us with a progress report to see how we're doing. It's all in our hands how much we educate ourselves. It's up to us how much time we dedicate to become better business owners. And that can be kind of scary, can't it? Because it's tough to know where to even start.
So that's why Justin & I wanted to put together a list of our top business book recommendations for people to read (or re-read!) to kick off 2015 right! These are the books that we come back to time after time. The books that have taught us SO much about marketing, systems, money and so much more. If we were teaching our own college course on running a business (how fun would that be? I would totally wear a tweed jacket with elbow patches. And carry around a pipe!), this would be the required reading...the books you would have to go to the bookstore for. We would have tons & tons of "supplemental reading" that we would recommend, but this would be required! So if you are looking for a good, core place to start, then look no further than just a scroll down! Read on to see what our top 2015 picks are!
*E Myth: We think this is a MUST read for every small business entrepreneur out there! In the book Gerber argues that the number one reason 80% of businesses fail in the first five years is actually not because of money but because of burnout. He says entrepreneurs start a business thinking they will get to do only this thing that they love. But pretty soon they find themselves wearing a ton of other hats: doing the books, creating the marketing plan, sweeping the proverbial floors. And it's in all of that mundane stuff- the too much work & not enough time- that people start to hate what they once loved. This book has the solution!
*Purple Cow : this is an oldie, but a goodie and one of our all time favorite business books. It's basic premise is this: in a sea of 10,000 brown cows, you stop paying attention when you see yet another new brown cow. But see a purple one on the side of the road? You're going to pull the car over, take a picture, and tell all your friends about it. In every industry, the tendency is to just follow what all the brown cows are doing (what am I supposed to do? what is everyone else doing?), but in doing so we seal our fate to be ordinary. The basic summary of this book could come down to two words: be remarkable. In other words, don't just do what's been done before....do something WORTH remarking about.
*Selling the Invisible: this book is just phenomenal! I don't know if I've ever underlined so many passages before! It's basically all about this idea of how do you sell something that you can't see (like service based businesses for example!) There are so many gems all through out this book and Beckwith's understanding of how people buy and the thought process they go through will change your perspective forever. One of my favorite quotes: "Don't give them what they need, don't give them what they want, give them what they would LOVE to have but don't even know is possible yet."
*Talent is Never Enough: John Maxwell is one of my all time favorite authors and Talent is Never Enough is one of my all time favorite books from him. This book is so powerful for beating the "talent trap" We have heard something similar from countless people that we've mentored. They'll all say something along the lines of "I just don't get it. This person is newer than I am and their work just isn't as good...and yet they're killing it!" That's the talent trap. That's the belief that the way businesses succeed and the way people buy is based on talent alone (Beckwith dispels this myth a lot in Selling the Invisible too). Now please don't get me wrong, talent is HUGE. Commitment to the craft should be a number one priority. But the premise of this book (and it has proven true so much in our lives and in the lives of our friends) is that talent alone is not enough. To become truly successful you have to have a BUNCH of other qualities (Maxwell identifies 13 in fact) that if they are missing, they will hold even the most talented people back. Talent is the starting place. But talent alone is never enough.
*Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover: This of course isn't a business book per se, it's a personal money book. But it has everything to do with running a successful business. This book has rocked our world and it's all about living debt free, building up financial momentum, and leaving a legacy of true wealth and radical giving. And if that stuff isn't in place, the business will be poisoned every time. So they go hand in hand! I think everybody should read this book!
*And finally, The Guide. Now I know that this is totally biased because we wrote The Guide. :) But the truth is that this ebook contains everything that it took us 8 long years to learn the hard way. Everything that it took us reading all these books and many, many, MANY others, and being out there in the trenches to figure out. And it all right there in those pages for you to shortcut through. I truly believe that sitting down for a day and reading through the Guide could save you months (maybe years) of setbacks and standing still, and thousands of dollars spent on the wrong stuff trying to market yourself. We hear from so many people how these pages have rocked their businesses (and their bookings!) right away. And sometimes all you need is someone who has been there to point you in the right direction and steer you away from the pitfalls. That's the heart of The Guide right there, and we would love for every single person reading this to be able to get a copy.
**So that's why we're doing a New Years's special of 50% off! Just click on the button below and you can grab your own copy of The Guide for half off! (reg. $150) Here's to making 2015 the year that changes everything!
As always, we hope these recommendations helped & that you're able to pick up some of these books! So tell us, what is YOUR favorite business book of all time?
We are currently snuggled up in the mountains of Virginia wrapping up the final work on our brand new website (we can't WAIT to show you!!) with our insanely talented designer & friend Jennifer Olmstead! It has been so incredible to watch her work and the genius that she can come up with on the spot over and over again, and it's been amazing to watch the whole thing come together right before our eyes. We are so so so SO grateful to have found her!!
All of this talk of branding combined with a really good question we got asked the other day- what do you recommend for people who are just getting started, who might not know what they want their style & brand to be yet?- got us thinking about the top 5 things we wish we would have known to think about when we were first getting started with our business and needed to put together our first polished brand. Read on to find out what they are! :)
1. A good brand is a matter of trust. I think a lot of times, people feel like a good brand is a splurge or a luxury thing that they will do "someday." That it's not a requirement for right now. But you have to keep in mind that the website/blog is often the first experience a client is having with you. And if what they see when they get there is out of date work or a very amateur looking logo, then there is a very good chance that they will start to worry that your work will be amateur/not established too. And whether or not they can TRUST you to do a good job! A good, polished brand says to the world we're here to stay & we're taking this seriously.
2. Get a bird's eye view. When you're trying to figure out what would even feel like you for a brand, it is very easy to be inspired by what other photographers are doing in the same industry. Instead, try to get a step removed. Flip through magazines and books that inspire you & put sticky tabs on things that speak to you. Don't think about it, just go on gut reactions. Now do the same thing by doing a "scavenger hunt" on Pinterest. Let one thing lead you to another and another and just pin anything that speaks to you. Now give it a few days to walk away from it. When you come back, ask yourself what do all of these things have in common? What am I naturally drawn to without even thinking too hard about it? Chances are that's going to give you a really good place to start.
3. Go your own way, but don't go it alone Don't be afraid to do something different from everything else that's out there at the time. Stay away from questions like "what am I supposed to do? what's everyone else doing?" Because if they've already done it, then it's already been done! And the last thing you want is to box yourself in just looking like everyone else. Be willing to be the purple cow in a sea of brown ones. It's scary to be different. It's scary to step out. But there are rewards for those who are willing to do just that! At the same time, bring along people who are really good at making you look better. Just like we all say that just because a friend has a camera and can shoot your wedding, it doesn't mean they should! Well in the same way, just because you can use photo shop & make a logo, it doesn't mean you should! Be willing to go with people who are especially gifted in the area of design. If you don't have the budget to hire someone to do a custom design just yet, there are still some really GREAT resources out there of customizable website designs that will get you most the way there with beautiful design and functionality. But then you can still really make them your own with the customization abilities! One of our favorite resources for that, that we tell EVERYONE about, is the Tonic Site Shop (started by Jen & our other good friend Jeff Shipley) that has all of these incredible, editorial, luxury styles, so that you could really have a beautiful brand up and running in just a few days. If there's any chance at all that you are losing inquiries because of the first impression your current brand & website are making, then there is NO time to wait on this. After all, the inquiries you are getting (or not getting!) now will shape what your bookings & calendar are for all of next year!
4. Don't be defined by past mistakes I think a lot of times we see photographers who started with one name or brand, and because they have already invested time & money in it they have a hard time changing it or moving forward if it's simply not working. Let go of that! Be willing to trim the fat of what's not working & move forward in 2015 lean & mean! When we first started, we chose the name "Imagine Imaging" and it was kind of a disaster! :) We got everything from "Images Imaging, Imaging Imaging.....and my personal favorite, Imagine Imagining (that's really deep when you think about it....just imagine imagining!) Even though we got off to a rough start, when we realized it wasn't working we were willing to change it. Even though we had already invested in it, even though some people already knew us as that, we decided instead to let our mistakes just be these steps on the way to success. Not something that had to define us. So if you don't love your name, logo, colors, website design business cards...whatever it is, be willing to just change it and not miss a step. While you keep sprinting toward your dream for what this business could one day be!
5. Go with a platform that will allow your brand to grow with you. When we were first getting started, things like customizable websites didn't exist. So every time we wanted to change something, we had to hire a designer and start from scratch. And the second that the website was done, we were locked into it until the next time we hired a designer again. I can't tell you how THANKFUL we are to now live in a world where something like Showit exists (I've said this before, but I think it always bears repeating....we don't get ANYTHING for mentioning Showit & we still pay for our subscriptions just like everyone else! We just love them as a product!) And what we love the most about them is that as we grow with our brand, it can grow with us. So if you're first getting started and you end up choosing something that doesn't ultimately fit where you're going, there's nothing lost if you have a platform that can be changed and updated and made to go live in an instant. Trust me, it's a HUGE blessing!
At a recent wedding this Fall, we were shooting the getting ready at a beautiful old colonial right on the coast of Maine. It was gorgeous! And it was packed full of beautiful, pristine, clean bedrooms where everything was neat & tidy and we could have shot everything.
The only problem was that those rooms weren't getting the best light in the house. Either they were in darker corners of the property or they were on the side of the house and facing green trees which was making all the light coming in have a green tint to it as well. It just wasn't working. And so we went in search of the room in the house with the best light, which turned out to be this front room where all of the floral prep had taken place that morning. Not only was the light streaming in beautifully & directionally from the left, but it was also the part of the house that was facing the shore so we had a nice neutral white balance coming in. Score!
But the only problem with that of course was that now we had positioned ourselves in a room that had a LOT of extra stuff in it. So the challenge now became: can we shoot all of the details in this room & never give away just how cluttered it actually was?
As photographers, we find ourselves in cluttered rooms ALL of the time! Sometimes that's where the best light is, sometimes there's only one hotel room to begin with. But it happens a lot! So shooting in tight situations & making it feel like there was nothing else in the world going on in that room has become a challenge that we've had to get good at fast! Over time, we've come up with a few go to tips & we wanted to share our 5 favorite ones with you today!
1. Choose light, then location. If the light is really beautiful, then you don't need to see a lot of the rest of the room to make an image pop. And conversely, even the most beautiful background will fall flat if the quality of light is lacking. So in any situation, we are choosing our light (direction, intensity, neutral white balance) first and then our location. Even if that means we end up in a room that would seem pretty surprising to anyone else!
2. When in doubt, go closer and use a wide open lens The magic of a photograph is not pointing a camera at a situation and just pushing the button so you see everything. Anyone can do that. The real magic is looking at a situation, seeing it for what it is, and then seeing it for what it could be through your lens. Of how you can change it, and thus how the world sees it, if you just go a little closer, take a step to the right, or see a little less of the background. Right outside the frame, the rest of the room (and the world) might be chaos. But you as the photographer are the only one who will ever know that. You get to decide what makes it in & what doesn't. You get to decide what you focus on and what you don't. You get to be the one to tell the story. And sometimes just a step closer and a stop more wide open is all you need to make the difference between a story of chaos and a story of calm.
3. Use the elements of the room that are working. What I really liked about this room in particular, besides the light, was this one rustic wood chair and this very cool distressed blue floor. So I made the decision pretty quickly that I was going to shoot all the details (besides the dress) on those two surfaces, making sure to pull elements of blue into every shot so that they all tied together in the end. So in the image above you see just a little bit of blue floor peeking through the slats of the chair (same thing is true with the picture of the blue pitcher), and in the image below, I pulled some blue dishes from the house to style with the invitation suite. So now we're highlighting the elements that we like and making sure the whole detail set flows together nicely!
4. Don't be afraid to claim just one corner You don't really need the entire room to be cleaned out to make it feel like the whole thing is. Sometimes just claiming one corner and taking a few extra minutes to restore order is all you need for the whole getting ready space to feel peaceful. We already wear a LOT of hats as photographers on a wedding day (planner, friend, emergency seamstress)...don't be afraid or above adding cleaning crew to the list as well!
5. Have a vision for what you want the space to say. In this case, I decided I wanted the vibe of the getting ready photos to be rustic Maine farmhouse. So I used the rough wood chair and the scraped floors for my surfaces. And I pulled in the blue pitcher and plates to emphasize that theme. If I had instead decided to go more preppy or clean with the details, I might have used that white striped chair you see in the picture above. Or if the vibe was meant to be more elegant, I might have pulled in the velvet chair I saw in another room. The point is to choose the message that you want to send, keep it consistent, and then crop everything else that would confuse that message out of the picture. Having that clear vision means that it will all feel effortless, flow seamlessly, and make sure that no one would ever guess what kind of room you were actually working in!
I think there is this thing that happens when you own your own business and become your own boss.
You go into it because you can set your own schedule and work from home and never get out of your yoga pants if you want to! Put your sensible corporate black heels on the top shelf of your closet....it's Uggs all the way for you, baby! :)
And in SO many ways, working for yourself is one of the greatest, most satisfying, exciting things you can ever do. Justin & I are SO grateful that we get to work together and travel together and build things together and go on this adventure together every single day.
But owning your own business can also take its toll. Spending too many days in a row in yoga pants can take its toll. Having work hours that blur into one another and countless hours at a computer- your desk covered with empty coffee mugs and Lara bar wrappers- can take. its. toll.
Not having a regular grocery routine. Not spending our Saturdays like normal people do. Not having a regular pay check that gets deposited every Friday like clockwork.
And the fact is, somewhere around your fourth day in a row in yoga pants and your 117th episode of the Law & Order SVU marathon you've been putting on while you catch up on editing.....you can start to feel not so human anymore.
And that's the catch 22. We started this business because we want freedom and adventure and to break the rules of normalcy. And all of that is amazing.
But somewhere in there, I think at our most basic human level, we crave some structure & routine & to feel normal too.
We've been learning this slowly but surely, and over time we've figured out a few things that we can do every day to give us back some of that normalcy but still allow us to be the great adventurers we want to be too! Here are a few of our favorite ones, in no particular order.
1. Make your bed every day. It sounds silly and small, I know. But a few things happen when you start out the day this way. First, you feel like you've accomplished something right off the bat. And that productivity is contagious....it's a small win that spurs you on to get even more stuff done. Second, it brings order to the room. And that order is calming. Which is a great way to head into the day. And finally, I just find that I sleep better at night when I'm crawling into a bed that has been made rather than a tangle of sheets and pillows. And that sets me up for a good day the following day.
2. Clear the clutter. Speaking of order creating calm, if I ever find myself feeling anxious & distracted, 9 times out of 10 it's because our work area/house is a mess. And it's a mess because we're actually here 24 hours a day, unlike people who go off to a day job. If I will just take 30-45 minutes to go through the house & do a quick straighten up before I try to tackle any work, then suddenly I feel like a) I've accomplished another thing and b) we are people who actually have it together and now I can accomplish anything. Even better: try doing this quick clean at night before you eat dinner/take off for the night. It will make dinner more relaxing & you can wake up to a clean house/work space rather than having this on your list first thing.
3. Have a morning routine One that doesn't involve email! Before I ever delve into email or the work of the day, I like to start my mornings for me. I wake up around 7am and put coffee on (this in itself is such a relaxing ritual for me with grinding the beans & prepping the coffee maker). I cozy up with a blanket, sip my coffee, do a little bible reading, put on some good music, and start my day slow. When you start the day in email, you start the day with a million people pulling you in every direction before you've even had the chance to wake up. And that sense of being spread too thin carries throughout the day. Starting the day for yourself, fills up the tank so you can be more for other people. This morning routine is a relatively new change for me & I can tell you that it's making a TON of difference!
4. Write your "Win the Day" list the night before. The "Win the Day" list is something I've been using for years now that is basically the 3-5 things you want to accomplish in a day (as opposed to a super long to do list that no one ever finishes). And even if nothing else gets done, if you can finish those three to five things, then you can call that day a win. But something that I've been realizing as I do this, is that if I will sit down and write out tomorrow's list the night before it does two things: 1) first I know exactly what I need to work on when I sit down at my desk the next morning and 2) it helps to calm my brain as I should be turning off for the night. Writing it down gets it out of my head!
5. Take breaks throughout the day. Go on a walk with your dog, drink your afternoon coffee in quiet rather than on the go, sit somewhere and close your eyes and breathe. Study after study after STUDY has shown that regular breaks throughout the day make you so much more productive. And it helps you to feel like you're not chained to your computer.
6. Shower & get ready. When we were at the Pursuit 31 Conference this year, I had a bit of an a-ha moment: I was getting up & getting showered AND getting ready every day. And I felt a million times better. When I work from home on the other hand, I'm (usually) showering but then I'm skipping the getting ready part because I'm just going to be working from home. So why put in the effort? And that has meant a LOT of days in yoga pants and buns on top of my head. And I realized that even though that sounds amazing, it was actually taking a toll on me. I just started to feel blah all the time and that's how I was approaching every day. When we ran out to grab lunch or run to the bank, that's how I was approaching other people too. When I shower & actually get ready, I feel better and more productive. And then I act that way too.
7. Download. On a very regular basis, sit down and write out everything that's swirling around your brain. Keep it somewhere safe like a notebook dedicated to just this. This way your brain will know that it's somewhere safe and it won't try to keep track of everything, which keeps it constantly racing.
8. Have designated days Have set days when you do your grocery shopping & run errands. Have set days when you do all of your meetings. Have days when you sit home & edit uninterrupted. This will foster focus in your life. And help eliminate those days where you feel like you just ran one place to another and never really got anything done.
9. Keep a notebook with you I pretty much always have a notebook with me in my purse. It never fails that as we're going somewhere or running to pick up something or grabbing lunch, suddenly my brain starts spinning with a hundred things I need to do. Having the notebook means I can write it down & then forget about it for the time being rather than trying to remember it all.
10. Shut down for the night. We like to have a couple of rituals, if you will, to signal to our brains that we're shutting down for the night. I'll shut my office door or Justin will turn out the light in his, I'll light candles, I'll turn on music for us to cook to, we'll have a plan for what movie we're going to watch that night or where we're going to go. Having that ritual & that reward to look forward to makes us work harder when we should be to get everything done & then it helps our brains to shut down for the night and actually feel rested when it's time to turn off.
We hope this helps if even in some small way!! Here's to chasing the adventure...AND feeling like you have a life!
** So tell us, which one of these 10 are YOU going to try this week?? Here's to finding the balance!
On Tuesday, Justin & I were SO lucky to be invited as two of the featured guest speakers at the Two Bright Lights workshop that is going around the country right now! We have been using TBL for years now as a way to streamline our submissions workflow to magazines & blogs and have everything in one place and we absolutely LOVE it!
So we were super honored when they invited us in to speak not only to the photographer's point of view on getting published more & what shots to go for, but also from the publications side of things now that we are also editors with our own two wedding blogs The Black Tie Bride & The Well Groomed Groom. Those two blogs have just exploded in ways we could have never imagined this year, and they are becoming a bigger & bigger part of who we are now! The other day I was introduced first as the Editor in Chief of The Black Tie Bride, and that was SO crazy since for so long I've been introduced as a wedding photographer first! It is definitely an exciting season for us & we are SO excited to see where it all goes from here! We're just super grateful for all of it and I think it's crazy the places that life takes you!
But anyway, back to the event! :) I think it was such a cool place to be in, to be able to see both sides of things at once. Both to know the shots that we, as editors, are looking for, but also to know as photographers all the challenges that go in to getting those shots. For example, some of the other editors who were speaking (there were some AMAZING other folks there that night including Bridget Clegg from The Knot, Kunbi Odubogun from Aisle Perfect, Maggie Lord from Rustic Wedding Chic, and Ragan Kensington from Two Bright Lights ) had mentioned that they love room shots before the guests get in there & pictures of the escort cards before any of them are taken! We totally agree! And we also understand, as photographers, how tough those shots can be to get if the room isn't finished until a minute before guests are let in or the escort card table is left visible to guests before the ceremony (what IS it with guests wanting to grab those cards up as soon as possible?!)
So it was really fun to both speak to what editors are looking for & also to give some practical tips from the photography side of things on how to get them! I've included 5 of my favorite things we went over below & we hope it helps both in approaching the day AND getting you featured more! And if you haven't been submitting to publications yet because you feel like you just don't have the time, definitely check out Two Bright Lights as a way to streamline everything!
1. Match your Messenger Rather than tying yourself in knots and pretending that you & your work are something that they aren't just to get published somewhere, instead figure out who you are and what you want your work to stand for and then submit to wedding publications that fall in line with THAT! Remember that one of the best advantages of getting published is that it will send brides your way, but if you are constantly trying to get published somewhere that doesn't really stand for what you want your work to stand for, then they aren't going to be sending you YOUR kind of brides. List three words you want your work to be known for & then seek out the wedding publications where you would use those same three words to describe them!
2. Think of your submission as an overall collective first. I can tell you from the editor's point of view that I am ALWAYS getting my first impression of a submission by looking at the overall gallery as a collective (kind of like a pinterest board) in thumbnail view. That means that even if you have a couple of killer individual images in there, it's still most likely not going to get accepted unless I feel like overall this is a really strong submission. So what makes a strong overall collective? a) make sure you tell an overarching story of the day and give me extra coverage of emotional/candid moments, details, and portraits of the couple. b) make sure that the images as a collective are processed in the same, clean way. We see it all the time where none of the black & whites match because a slightly different action was used on each one or where the color balance is all over the place. Consistency is key. And c) don't water down your submission with sub-par images just to show more. Curate your work & show your best stuff! More is not always better and in fact if, as I glance through that overall collective, I see too many images that are a no then it waters down that whole submission and makes it very unlikely that it will be accepted.
3. Remove Visual Noise. Bridget in particular did a GREAT job of talking about this and showing examples of how a clean background makes for a much stronger image! Remember that magazines in particular & sometimes blogs are looking for images with clean negative space so that they have the potential of adding copy (text) to them. Also we're just more attracted to clean, simple images because they aren't as confusing or distracting. So that means having the time to get in there and take out distracting elements like the salt & pepper shakers, butter, or waiter trays in the background. In general, try to shoot straight across the details so that the background falls off even more with shallow depth of field. And don't forget to shoot both collectives of the details (i.e. an entire table top), but also clean, individual shots of details such as an individual shot of the centerpiece without the table number, an individual shot of the table number, an individual shot of the menu. That's because the editor might love everything about the table except for one component & having those individual options will still allow them to be able to feature the whole wedding!
4. Make time to shoot & style the details. But as a photographer, I know what you're thinking! "I usually get five minutes to shoot the details, when am I going to have time to do all that?" The answer is Justin & I have learned to make time by educating our brides early and letting them know that we need about 45 minutes to shoot the details and that if getting published is a priority for them, this is a must! And then we also work to educate them about keeping guests out of the reception until cocktail hour is over. We even have a place on our "info sheet" where we ask "Will the reception area be closed off to guests during cocktail hour" and then in parentheses (so we can get great shots of all those details before they come in!) Just this one simple change has made a WORLD of difference in us getting time to shoot the details the way we want to! You can find our info sheet by clicking HERE & feel free to use it for your own couples too!
5. Avoid stiff or cheesy posing. Finally, as I was writing this talk I had sort of an "a-ha" moment about something that influences editors that they might not even be aware of and that is stiff, cheesy posing. For us at The Black Tie Bride, this is definitely something we filter out because we are photographers ourselves and one of our guiding words is "authentic." But I think across the board, editors are paying more attention to the posing than anyone would think because they've come to realize that the really good photographers out there (who are getting & submitting the really good weddings they want to be featuring) tend to have the much or authentic, organic posing going for them. There have been a number of weddings that we have turned down at the BTB because even though the wedding was a very elegant day at an iconic venue, the whole day felt cheesy because of how the posing was handled. It makes a HUGE difference! So when in doubt go for more authentic, natural looking poses and the best way to do that is to add MOVEMENT into what you're asking them to do.
As always, we hope that helped! Feel free to leave any questions (or just say HI) in the comments below!