Back to Business Week 2017: Karilyn Sanders

Back to Business Week 2017: Karilyn Sanders

featured products: Design Aglow Packaging, glass USB, and the Hawthorne (formerly Bella) Frame in silver.

Hi Karilyn! Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into photography?

When I was in college, I had a friend who was a professional photographer. The first time I went to her home, I walked in to find stunning photographs of her children on the walls.

There was a huge canvas in their living room and a creative photo display in the main hallway. I remember being so moved by the beauty of those images, thinking to myself, “I want to create images like this!” I bought myself a DSLR as a graduation present, learned photography from online courses and started my photography business about a year later.

When and how did you make the decision to pursue a livelihood involving photography, not just as a hobby? What was your mission at the start?

Karilyn Sanders Photography

I was photographing anyone I could for practice, and soon started to get requests for shoots. I looked at what I was currently doing and decided that it wasn’t what I wanted to do long term. I knew that I wanted to do photography full time, so I just jumped right in! My mission was to create art for my clients. I wanted my photographs to be displayed in their homes for decades to come.

Can you share one of your business goals with us?  

Karilyn Sanders Photography

One of my short term goals for this year is to increase the number of sessions I do. I’ve had a great sales average the past few years, but I tend to let myself coast on the “small wins” a little too much. I need to keep hustling through the small successes to keep the momentum going. I also want to start a YouTube channel this year and be consistent about my video marketing. In general, my long term goal is EXPANSION.  

My goal setting process goes like this: write it down, declare it aloud, and take action immediately. Taking action is the most important part. It’s easy to write down goals, but it’s often difficult to take the first step in making it happen. The overall goal may seem impossible, but it just takes one step at a time. Then don’t give up until you get there.

How do you find that “work-life balance”? What keeps you motivated in both your personal and work life?

Karilyn Sanders PhotographyKarilyn Sanders Photography

Karilyn Sanders Photography

I go through phases with this. In some ways, I think “work-life balance” is a ridiculous concept. It’s all just life. As a freelance photographer, I have the privilege of doing a load of laundry when I need a break from editing photos. In general though, you just have to outsource whatever isn’t a good use of your time. Whether that means hiring a cleaning service a few times a month, bringing on an assistant to field your client inquiries, or getting a babysitter for a few hours every morning. I’ve come to realize that I can do ANYTHING I set my mind to. It just takes a little strategy.

Be picky with what you spend your time on, and always make time for yourself. Eat right, move more, and get some sleep. What keeps me motivated is learning from people who are where I want to be. I’m always taking courses, listening to audiobooks, doing research, trying new things. I’ve noticed that I get really lazy when I stop feeding myself with inspiration from others. When I know that someone out there is currently outworking me, it makes me want to get out there and push myself.

What are your 5 must-have business tools for running a successful business?
  1. A strong brand to operate from. This includes your point of view, knowing your audience, your logo/website, your overall tone. If you don’t know who you are, then your clients won’t either.
  2. Business management software. It’s imperative to have one place for your business leads, client information, orders, sales information, financial reports, product inventory, etc. Organization is everything.
  3. A good lab and/or product resource. I’ve really relied on my relationship with the companies I use to fulfill my client’s orders. They help me look good!
  4. Membership to a professional association and education websites. Always be seeking out more education. If you’re not continually striving to learn more, then there’s no point in being in business. Or in being an artist, for that matter.
  5. My own willingness to connect with people. Marketing is all about making connections. And yes, I mean in person. Getting out to networking events, business events, social events, and just getting together with people for coffee has been the BEST marketing for my business, even though I hated it at first. Once I realized what an impact it made to actually meet new people and offer them value, I got over my own fear of rejection and started making money.

Karilyn Sanders Photography

What’s your day-to-day workflow? How did you develop a system that worked for you?

Day-to-day is always different. Some days are focused on marketing, some are focused on client work. I recently switched from digital to film so after a shoot, I take my film to the lab to get developed. When it’s ready, I edit the scans, create a digital slideshow and create prints for the in-person sales session. I don’t currently have an assistant, so I do all of this myself.

When I start increasing my portrait sessions per week, I plan to hire some help for grunt work. After the sales session, I order the products, package them when they arrive and deliver them to the client. While waiting for their products to arrive, I post short videos of the shoot and some final images to social media. I usually wait until after the client has ordered to share anything online, besides short “behind the scenes” clips shot during the session.

I’m starting to blog again, so I’ll also create a blog post about the session. When I’m not working on client sessions, it’s all about finding ways to meet new people and speak to new audiences about what I do. Always looking for opportunities! Workflow was really about trial and error for me. I don’t shoot more than 2 clients a week at this point, so I don’t have to be too streamlined with it.

What’s your favorite thing about running your own business and being your own boss?

My favorite thing about being my own boss is deciding where and how I spend my time. It’s the ultimate freedom.

Karilyn Sanders Photography

What do you attribute to your success?

God. My only purpose in life is to show love to the people I come in contact with. In business, I do that by building relationships with people and doing what I can to serve them. For my clients, it’s creating a loving space for them to celebrate themselves and their relationships. When I do that, the world brings love back to me.  

Also, all the men and women that did this before me. I’ve learned from hundreds of photographers, authors, business owners and companies who have shared their knowledge and life lessons.

If someone was thinking about leaving their 9-5 desk job to pursue a life as a creative business owner, what advice would you give them?
  • Do your research, create a goal, and go for it.
  • Always keep seeking out education about your craft and your business.
  • Let go of your personal blocks and fears, they won’t help you succeed.

Once you move through those fears and embrace your own worth as a creative, then you can start to receive money.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Shoutout to the wonderful people at Design Aglow for creating awesome resources for photographers like me!


Karilyn Sanders PhotographyKarilyn Sanders is a portrait photographer based in Dallas, Texas and New York, New York. 

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