And now it’s time for this month’s “Ones to Watch”!! And even though that’s the title of this series, the truth is most of you have probably already been watching these two for a while now. They are the super talented & adorable Jeff & Erin Youngren . A force to be reckoned with from our sister Coast (west siiiiiide!) and two of the nicest people you could ever meet. Jeff & Erin have been rockin’ out, building people up and building up a crazy big following these past couple years. And with a brand new re-brand (which we were incredibly honored that J&E asked us to shoot the pictures for!) of their fantastic blog (seriously, go start reading it now if you haven’t yet!), I’d say the sky’s the limit for these two.
Which makes them most definitely, Ones to Watch.
Jeff & Erin, we LOVE you guys. Like love, love you guys. For-ehh-ver! :) And I can’t tell you how proud of you we are!
How did you know when you were ready to start your business?
As much as I’d like to sound all cool, the first year of our “business” was MADNESS – Jeff decided to try shooting a few weddings ‘on the side’ and everything kind of snowballed out of control from there. However, once we realized that we wanted to make a living by photographing weddings, we got our bootys in order and developed a three-year financial and business plan for both of us to leave our corporate jobs and become full-time photographers. I was able to leave my job a year into that plan, and we relied on Jeff’s lovely salary and uber corporate benefits until we could meet our financial goals, which included an 18 month emergency fund. We both went full-time two years into the plan, and we’ve been traveling and shooting ever since!
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?
Other than space heaters and a stock pile of coffee and tea?
First and foremost, make sure your finances are in check. Make sure that you will be able to support yourselves and know exactly how much income you need to make in order to pay your bills. That may mean reevaluating your lifestyle, or cutting back on some living expenses (do you really need cable TV?). Keep at least a 12 month emergency fund, if not more, since our paychecks are not as reliable as other professions.
As far as working together, map out your specific roles for the business and be clear on your job titles. Make an organizational chart and assign your names to each job. Who is the CEO? CMO? CFO? These need to be crystal clear as you begin your business together.
Jeff and I are also big proponents of closed systems. That means that our roles in the business are completely separate from each other and we don’t have to rely or wait on each other to get a job done. For example, my job is to manage the blog, which means that I do everything for the blog – writing, scheduling, image editing, etc. By the way, I had to learn how to edit images in order to do this, so don’t be afraid to learn new skills in order to close a system. We avoid tons of fights this way. Buh-leive me. I don’t have to wait on him, and he doesn’t have to wait on me. We just get stuff done.
What are the three biggest mistakes you’ve made in your business?
Outsource Sooner. We found ourselves thick in the middle of our busiest season a few years ago with nowhere to go with our editing but outsourcing, but trying to switch a major component of our business like that while working at full capacity was extremely difficult. If we could do it all over again, we would have dialed in our post processing outsourcing solution much sooner and during our slow season.
Focus Decisions using Mission Statements. As small business owners, we’re constantly faced with countless decisions about potential clients, vendor relationships, and even photographer relationships. Only recently have we crafted specific mission statements for the different areas of our business (not just our business as a whole) that help to serve as guiding lights for the decisions we have to make. This helps us to make decisions that make sense, not ones that just “feel good”
Don’t Compare. Early on in our business when we didn’t know up from down, we spent a lot of time comparing ourselves to our peers. We’d compare our business practices, images, personality, achievements – everything. And this is really easy to do with blogs and websites being so personal and open. The lesson we learned? Don’t compare. It’s one thing to take a temperature of the industry to make sure what you’re doing is in line with what is accepted / best practices, but another thing to play the comparison game. Don’t read blogs after 10pm. You’ll feel bad about yourself.
Who/what inspires you?
For photography, I love studying food photography in magazines like Martha Stewart living, and following current style trends in catalogs like Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, Free People, and Restoration Hardware since our target clients are devouring these catalogs the moment they receive them in the mail.
Jeff draws inspiration from commercial, journalistic, and editorial work, and I often see him sifting through the back catalog of Pulitzer Prize nominees & winners. Jeff always reminds me that he never wants to create something for a client that he couldn’t have created on film, so that’s why these areas focus him so much.
For writing, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirists: Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Stephanie Klein… But I also enjoy some good ‘ol classics: The (lovely) Brontes, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Austen.
Oh, and we also get a lot of our packaging concepts from places like World Market and Anthropologie. Love them!
You guys just did an AMAZING rebrand of your blog…. what is your best advice for someone wanting to hone their brand to feel most like them?
My best advice is that there is no advice. Seriously. It’s hard stuff and it’s taken us years to develop the brand we now own. We didn’t jump out of the gate with fabulous branding, so don’t get discouraged if it takes a while for everything to come together and feel right. Just keep plugging at it and don’t give up.
The only tidbit I can really say is that if you could put together a gift basket of five to ten things that totally describe you, what would they be? Would it have a box of chai tea? An empty Starbucks cup? Designer stilettos? A passport? What common theme brings these things together? What makes them you?
Don’t start with other brands or other photographers/blogs/designs/etc. Start with YOU, figure that out, and then you can derive inspiration from elsewhere. Our new blog design began when we started wrapping our client gifts in a way that we knew we’d love if we received a gift. And then it just went from there…
Where do you want to be in your business/life in 5 years?
We’ve definitely got some ideas up our sleeves… Our goal for our business is freedom. We want to be business owners, not business managers. So with every decision we make, we have to decide if it pulls us out of the day to day management of our business, or if it pulls us back in. In five years, I expect our business to be running independently of us so that we can choose how we spend our time, whether that be shooting, traveling, or just plain dreaming.