Back to Business Week 2017: Renee Walston

Back to Business Week 2017: Renee Walston

Hi! Tell us a little bit about yourself. What was your road like to becoming a photographer?

Hello! I am a portrait photographer based south of Boston, MA. My passion is capturing mothers and their growing families. Maternity and newborn portraits are the foundation of my business, and I also capture baby milestones, children, and families. Fun fact: I returned the diamond earrings my husband bought me for our first Christmas as a married couple to buy a digital camera.

After the birth of my second son, I left my corporate job and opened a newborn prop shop. This was my “soft entry” into the photography world, and I officially opened my business in April 2013. I moved from my dining room to our finished basement to a commercial space.  

How did you make the decision to pursue a livelihood involving photography, not just as a hobby?

Renee Walston Photography

Renee Walston Photography

Our family went through a tough time in 2012 that included the loss of a dear family member and an ongoing infertility struggle. My husband encouraged me to take the leap of faith to start my business. A few weeks later, I found out we were expecting our sweet girl. Funny how things work sometimes, right? My goal was to learn as much as possible through in person mentoring, reading, and lots of practice. I also wanted to make sure I could make a profit my first year - a goal I was able to obtain through careful money management and appropriate price increases as my skill level developed.

How do you go about accomplishing goals you’ve set out for yourself and your business?

Simply put - I want to be able to continue to produce beautiful images that allow me to support my family. With every decision I make, I think about whether or not it will help my business thrive without causing me to overextend myself.

I have also taken the time to outline what my ideal client looks like. I have a list of where they shop, how they decorate their home, what is important to them, etc. Before making any changes, I refer back to this “ideal client” to ensure that the plan will stay in line with my overall marketing strategy.

Renee Walston Photography

Renee Walston Photography

What keeps you motivated (in both your personal and work life)?

Work-life balance is always difficult when you are self-employed. Last year, I finally felt like I was able to achieve pretty close to my ideal working situation. I made the decision to enroll my kids in preschool a few days a week so I could have focused time for work. In addition, I shored up my pricing structure so the number of sessions I needed to take in to achieve my financial goals would not be overwhelming. I also blocked off my weekends for my family. This was life-changing for me! I jokingly refer to myself as an introverted extrovert; I need “me time” during the weekend to be recharged and focused for my clients during the week.

What are your 5 must-have business tools for running a successful photography business? Why?

1.  Client Management Software: I have been using IrisWorks for a little over a year now and it has been life changing! My workflows are automated, and the “To Do” tab helps keep me on track.


2.  Welcome Packets: I spend a significant amount of time on the phone with clients to help build connection before the session. My welcome packet is sent out after each booking so they also have a written record of everything we discuss. The Design Aglow folders are the perfect size!


3.  Online Accounting Software: I think it is extremely important to be able to access your business’ financial information anytime and anywhere. I have been using GoDaddy’s accounting software since I began my business. It allows you to sync your business accounts and categorize everything easily both on the computer and mobile device. Their reporting is easy to understand, and it makes tax time a breeze

Renee Walston Photography

Renee Walston Photography

4.  Product Samples: Clients purchase what they can touch and see. I have samples of every product I sell to make purchasing decisions easy. I do carry both Design Aglow frames and albums. Their marketing kits for these products are a great investment. My clients also love the ProSelect templates for the frames that allow me to drag and drop their photos into the frames on my computer so they can see the arrangement before they buy.


5.  A Good Paper Planner: Some of my friends laugh at me when they see my paper planners in addition to my online software. I remember things better when I write them down! My first Big Picture Planner arrived last month, and I have enjoyed many of the features it has in addition to the calendar.

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

    I primarily work Monday - Friday, 9AM to 4PM. I start my day with a quick glance at my social media accounts and emails. Sessions typically run from 10-1. I spend the remainder of the day ordering products, answering emails, scheduling social media posts, and cleaning. When you’re a newborn photographer you do LOTS of laundry!

    Renee Walston Photography

    After my kids are in bed, I will pop on to check my accounts quickly one more time to make sure there is nothing pressing that needs to be addressed. I do try to arrange my schedule to complete certain tasks on each day. For example, Mondays are a heavy admin day allowing me to catch up on correspondence that came in over the weekend. I do much of my product ordering on Monday, and packaging and client pickups on Friday.

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

    I love having flexibility in my work life to work as little or much as needed, the option to create products and sessions that best fit my ideal client, and the choice to say no when I don’t feel comfortable with a certain request. Although it can be a lot of stress and hard work, I appreciate the luxury of being able to make every decision myself.

    What do you attribute to your success?

    Lots and lots of hard work - especially in the first two years. I wanted to create a studio with a foundation of exceptional customer service. It is crucial to be thinking of ways to surprise and delight your clients all the time in addition to producing beautiful images. I follow through on my promises and apologize if I ever fall short of someone’s expectations.

    If someone was thinking about leaving their 9-to-5 desk job to pursue a life as a creative business owner, what advice would you give them?
    • Form a solid business plan before you open your doors. You need to have a budget and the funds saved to purchase key items without putting yourself into debt.
    • Take the time to mentor with another photographer in-person.
    • Learn how to price yourself for profit. You need to know your expenses before you set your pricing to ensure you are covering your costs AND paying yourself. Close to 70% of my day is business related rather than actually taking pictures. Insurance, taxes, and the like may be boring but are critical parts of a successful business venture.
    Anything else you’d like to add?

    I want to stress again how important it is to manage your spending. I do my best to keep my props and supplies organized to ensure I do not buy duplicates.

    Client experience was key to me, so my public spaces are beautifully decorated with items I sourced mostly at HomeGoods. They look great and cost a fraction of buying from more expensive retailers. My private spaces are more function over form. For example, I looked into having my husband build custom shelving. It would be several hundred dollars to build one shelf as opposed to less than $50 for a pre-made from Home Depot and plastic bins from the dollar store. While they may not be Pinterest perfect, they still hold all my supplies.

    Invest your extra dollars into product samples or other revenue generating marketing tools. Remember, every dollar counts - especially when you are first starting out!

    Renee Walston PhotographyRenee Walston Photography is a boutique portrait studio located in Plymouth, Massachusetts that specializes in capturing all aspects of family and motherhood. I work closely with my clients to create timeless maternity, newborn, baby, child, and family portraits featuring soft tones and vintage inspired elements. I love nothing more turning your memories into tangible pieces artwork that may be displayed in your home and cherished for years to come.

     




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