January 7, 2011

Ones to Watch: The McGowans

And now, for this month’s Ones to Watch……Chelsea & Mack McGowan!!

We first met these two when Spread the Love made its way through Texas, and I instantly fell in love with them. Not just because they are two of the nicest people you could *EVER* meet (and they are!), but also because I could just see a spark there. Somehow I just knew (and said to Justin that night), those two just get it. AND they’re the kind of people who are going to go out and do something about it. And I am incredibly proud to report….I was right!! :)

Chelsea & Mack just unveiled their brand new brand last night at their private launch party. It’s something that’s been a year in the making, but it was worth every second. Because what they’ve come up with is….them. Everywhere you look oozes the two of them and what they stand for. And when you look at….you just get it.

I know this is just the beginning for these two because they are just getting warmed up. And I for one can’t wait to see what’s next.

Ones to Watch: The McGowans

1) How did you decide to start your business?

As a journalist, I was trained on film cameras and had a good eye for composition. I shot portraits for friends and family as a hobby and enjoyed it! But after I shot my first wedding, for friends on a really tight budget, the interest in my work really skyrocketed. Mack wasn’t really into it at the time… he’d never taken an interest in photography. But all it took was a little time playing with the camera, and he was hooked, too.

So then, we had the basis. We knew we both enjoyed it. However, we were just starting on a new path of better financial stewardship, so we wanted to be very VERY cautious. We decided in the winter of 2008 that we’d start actively heading toward the goal of making photography my full time job, but that we wouldn’t even consider me leaving the newspaper until my income from photography matched that of my “real” job. We estimated that this goal would take about 3 years to reach, and we were happy with that.

We reached that goal in 6 months.

So, I quit my job at the newspaper in August 2009. We talked, and we prayed, and we decided that the next step would be for Mack to leave his position as graphic design director at the marketing firm where he worked. We estimated that this goal would take another 3 years to reach, and we were happy with that. We reached that goal this past fall, and now, we are both full time photographers and McGowan Images is our sole income.

Lots of things had to work together in order to make this happen so fast for us. First and foremost, God has been faithful. He is so good. We’ve also had incredible clients who really enjoy spreading the word about us, and that is worth its weight in something even better than gold. But beyond that, we live in a house we bought on the cheap and are restoring ourselves. We live near my parents and grandparents, who are constant (free) babysitting for our two kiddos. We enjoy traveling and working together. If any of these things weren’t true, we wouldn’t have been able to do this. Obviously, deciding to pursue photography was a big decision we made as a couple. But the confirmation of that decision from God and the market has been overwhelming, and it’s hard to see how we could have chosen any other path.

2) What advice do you have for a husband & wife team wanting to both go full time together in the business? Any tips for working together?

Make sure it’s something you both enjoy. Had Mack not discovered that he could translate his eye for design into photographic composition, and truly found joy in photography, I could never have convinced him to shoot with me. And if I did, it still wouldn’t have been a success, because there would have been no life in his images. He’d just be there to make me happy. As it stands, we both love what we do.

Also, give each other a break. We’ve had to learn to say we need time. For instance, I sometimes take a Tuesday morning and sit in the living room and watch the Law & Order marathon on the USA Network. Mack will sometimes spend a day doing home-renovation projects on his own. These kinds of days give our brains a break, and allow us to miss each other a little bit. More than anything, we’ve learned that spending this much time together will expose the cracks in your relationship. You make a choice to either love each other through that with a love so sticky sweet that it seals up the cracks, or allow those cracks to become ravines that divide you. We decided to stick together. We’re pretty pleased with that decision.

3) What are the three biggest mistakes you’ve made in your business?

The first big mistake was taking every job we were offered. I can say without hesitation that we’ve shot at least 3 weddings that we shouldn’t have taken. Not that the brides were horrid or anything… we just weren’t the right fit. Even if we’d stayed home with our kids those weekends and made nary a cent, it would have been better for our growth as photographers to have not invested our time into those situations. That said, we learned something from each situation. And because we’ve lived through it, we’re now confident when we have to tell a bride we think someone else can serve her needs better. It’s hard to say, but it’s worth it for everyone involved.

The second big mistake we made was listening to people who talked to us like we were kids with a hobby. We allowed people who don’t value photography to make us devalue ourselves. That’s hard on the spirit. We’ve corrected this initial mistake by surrounding ourselves with a group of friends who loves us, and appreciates what we do, and thinks we’re worth more than we charge. It’s not about ego… it’s about not having to constantly convince the world that you’re legit. We’ve got better things to do with our time.

Lastly, we asked God to send rain, but didn’t pack an umbrella. If you have big goals for yourself, then you have to expect them to be realized. If you don’t, then you’re thrown for a loop, and you’ll wear your legs out running to keep up. This last year would have gone much smoother for us if we had actually expected to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. At every turn, we were surprised when stuff went right, and we wasted a lot of energy just getting caught up.
Embrace positivity, and expect good things. That way, when good things happen, you’re prepared for them.

4) Who/what inspires you?

Is it cheating to say that we’re inspired by lots and lots of things? In life, we’re inspired by our children. Our son Jack is so compassionate, and so full of dreams. He truly believes that he can be and do anything in the world, and he believes that for others as well. He’s so quick to hug, and to say “I love you”. We learn from him every day. We’re likewise inspired by our baby daughter, Dorothy. She’s just so darn HAPPY. She can bump her head, and burst into tears, then see her favorite stuffed animal, and be happy again. She is a reminder to us that sometimes life sucks… sometimes you bump your head. But there’s always something close by worth smiling about again.

As business owners, we’re inspired by my dad. He’s a graphic designer that moved from San Diego to Texas, and built a successful freelance business on his own. He is talented and persistent, and smart, and responsible. He’s a good example for us.

As photographers, we’re inspired by different people. I’m inspired by Jasmine Star, for the way she captures her clients’ spirits. I’m inspired by you guys, because you make EVERYONE look like Hollywood royalty with your ease in posing and simple drama. I’m a Style Me Pretty junkie, and I’m always researching new ways to bring details to life in our weddings. Mack is inspired by photographers who push the envelope in lighting and style. He’s a techie geek, and I love him for it. We’re hoping to get to do more experimenting in this vein this year. He’s a particular fan of Tim Tedder, whose advertising portraits are pretty incredible. To hear someone say that we’ve inspired them is the highest honor we can receive, and we never take it lightly. That’s about the best thing anyone’s ever said to us!

5) You guys just did an AMAZING rebrand of your business….what is your best advice for someone wanting to hone their brand to feel most like them?

Thank you! We launched the new website with a big party last night, and ohemgee, it was so much fun! Since Mack was a graphic designer and marketing guru in his “former life”, we have the tools and knowledge at our disposal to do our own design work. That’s definitely helpful. But my best advice to anyone who’s looking to rebrand is this: “Sit on it.” Come up with an idea, and rest on it for a while. Don’t find something that you think will look good, and throw it up online. The internet is forever. Branding is worth taking time for. We came up with the design for our new look almost a year ago, and mulled it over, and made small changes, and really invested time in every facet of it. We feel like that helped it be a cohesive online representation of our business, and something we’re not going to have to change anytime soon.

If you’re looking to rebrand, find a designer who will really listen to you. Once you’ve got that person, take the time to come up with something that feels right, and then make sure it still feels right in a couple months. Then get excited. Because if your product has a brand new shiny face to show the world, you can bet the world is going to take notice.

6) Where do you want to be in your business/life in 5 years?
Further down the road.We have learned in the last few years not to make our plans too firm. We feel like we can best serve our clients when we shoot 25-30 weddings a year, so we want to continue in that range. We’d like to travel more, so we’d love to do more destination weddings, or weddings for people in other areas of the country. More than anything, we just want to keep enjoying what we’re doing. It’s so easy to suffer burnout in this industry. I want us to continue to protect our hearts from that hardness, and to continue to prioritize our relationship with each other, and with our children. In five years, McGowan Images could be more successful than I can even imagine right now. But it’s more important to me that we’re happy, healthy, and that we still enjoy the heck out what we’re doing.

  1. Tiffany Deming

    Congrats to the McGowans!! :) Such an inspirational post and I love the new website…makes us get excited for our new launch…coming soon (*crosses fingers*)! :)

  2. Chelsea McGowan

    This just tops it off. Only Wednesday, and this is the Best.Week.EVER. We love you guys to the bursting point, and we’re so honored to have you "watching" us! :) BIG THINGS!

  3. Lesley

    Beautiful, and great words of encouragement to sit on your rebrand. I’ve been doing this for about a year as well now and finally feel ready!

  4. Nicole

    The McGowans are awesome! I’ve been following their work for a while now (and booking sessions with them like crazy!). So great to see them on your blog (which I also follow!).

  5. Kristin H.

    "We asked God to send rain, but didn’t pack an umbrella." …LOVE that!!

  6. Jessie

    so glad to see that you are not only a married couple working together, but you have children too and you’re making it work! Right now, I’m the Fulltime photog, my hubby is PT photog/FT graphic designer and we’d love to both be FT photogs, but are scared to make the jump. What helped you overcome that fear of not being able to provide/support your family? thanks for keeping it real :)

  7. Christa

    I find these "Ones to Watch" posts so encouraging. Thanks for sharing and "wow" to the McGowans :)

  8. Chelsea McGowan

    @Jessie : It’s definitely scary. The good thing about wedding photography is that you tend to know your schedule at least 9 months to a year in advance. So we knew that we were going to be able to exceed my husband’s graphic design income. We’re also very strategic budgeters, so we always know what we need to stay comfortable. Once we saw that we would have at least a year with no dip in sight, we decided to take the plunge!
    There’s definitely a fear factor, but I feel comfortable knowing that if we’re ever going to have a slow period, we’ll have plenty of time to plan for it.
    Good luck!

  9. Girish

    Very inspiring post for someone who plans to is to begin on their own.

    Thanks for this Ones to watch series.

  10. Kristin Guynn

    Oh gosh!
    That was amazing! I never even thought of turning clients down. I had a wedding that was positively awful! I knew the girl didn’t like my style, but I didn’t know what to do. I never thought to say no! Thanks y’all!

  11. Sarah Heinle

    I always look forward to the "Ones to Watch" series. They are always inspiring. You guys are also ALWAYS inspiring. Thank you for posting.

  12. jackie g. photog

    awesome! i met chelsea and mack at STL in Dallas last year too….great couple!! :) hiya C, if you read this!

  13. kelsy mccartney

    how fun! we LOVE hearing about and meeting other husband & wife photog teams :) thanks for sharing!!

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