April 28, 2020
We’re doing something different today. It’s just me, Lindsey, doing a true solo show!
One of the most common questions we get asked is, “How did you start your business?” So many people ask that and while we’ve shared bits and pieces on other podcast interviews as well as on episode one on this podcast, we wanted to dedicate an episode to tell both of our stories from the very start of when we first picked up a camera. So, pull up a seat, grab some popcorn and a glass of wine, and let’s dive in!
To get the full picture of where I am today I need to back up and give you a little back story. Growing up I loved art and storytelling. I did theater throughout middle school, high school, and college. Photography was an interest of mine, but truly I just loved any art form. In high school I was the newspaper team photographer, but even then I did the bare minimum. I think I had a natural talent for it, but I didn’t know how to shoot in manual.
In college, I majored in theater and film with a business minor. I remember adding on the minor at the time because I thought it would be a nice slice of practicality in a sea of more “fluffy” majors. I studied abroad in England and also did the Disney College Program, or DCP, for 8 months my junior to senior year.
I fully intended to graduate and move out to LA to make it big as an actress. When I graduated, I knew I wasn’t quite ready to go off to LA. I knew if I was going to do that I needed to be intentional about it and swing for the fences. The season was not right for me at that time. I wanted to take that time to grow in my faith.
Instead, I did an internship with my church doing campus ministry after I graduated in December 2014. As I was doing the internship I wanted to practice and cultivate skills and talents. I had extra time and I was also on Tumblr a lot. I followed Chelsie Antos on Tumblr and was so inspired by her! She started a company with her mom and two friends. She and her husband were going on a road trip and doing meetups for their company, Trades of Hope, in different cities along the way.
I remember it was March 2, 2015 and Chelsie was doing a stop in Kansas City. I told Andrew, who was my boyfriend at the time, that we HAD to go to her meetup. We went and I remember being so inspired that day. I saw someone who I looked up to and had an entrepreneurial spirit and it lit the flame in me so much. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted my life to look like hers in some aspect.
I was so inspired to start creating and exploring passions that I knew I had but hadn’t fostered and stewarded yet. After that meetup I looked at my camera and asked myself why I had only been shooting in Auto. I didn’t know what any of the other settings or words on my camera were.
I pulled out the manual and started learning, for the pure sake of getting better at a skill I loved. There was no ulterior motive to start a photography business. I bought the nifty fifty (50mm 1.8) and started shooting EVERYTHING. I remember the day I became intentional about my photographer. I asked my roommate if she would let me practice and take portraits of her. I remember looking at those photos and thinking that they were really good. It opened the door for how cool this whole photography thing could be. I kept shooting everything including my roommates, friends who were dating, and families in my church.
I was still interning for my campus ministry so I started being asked to be the photographer for events we held. This gave me even more practice in all sorts of lighting scenarios and types of events. As I started to grow I realized all of my talents and things I was good at including storytelling, art, and my love for people all collided in photography. I decided to pursue it as a side hustle.
I created a business Facebook page called Lindsey Noel Photography. This was in April 2015. To this day, if you go to my Facebook and look at the album “Ruthie” you can still see all of these photos. Also take a look at “Timeline Photos” and scroll all the way down. This is my work from the very beginning and there are photos of muffins (HA!).
I quickly made a website/blog on Weebly. I love you enough to give you a glimpse of it. I recently found it and you can take a look. I started this on April 20, 2015 and wrote this:
I think there is some sort of bravery in writing something down and getting it out of your head. Whether it gets seen by a million people or none at all, I think it’s brave. I’ve always loved people who write things from their heart and share those things with the world. Secretly, I’ve always wished I could be one of those people, and I decided the only thing stopping me was myself. So I made this. A place to write my thoughts, my prayers, my struggles, my hopes, and my dreams. A place that maybe someone will happen upon one day and maybe, just maybe, it can brighten their day.
You see, we are all in this big world together. We rely on each other, build with each other, and love one another. I love having the opportunity to inspire hope, grace, and love in others, because I, myself, love getting inspiration from so many places in this world God has given us. So I hope by writing down my thoughts that I may inspire someone. To love. To hope. To believe. To bestow grace.
I never counted myself as a writer by trade, but I always kinda wanted to be. So here’s my attempt at that. Maybe you’ll stick around for the ride.. 🙂
I’m recording this show on April 22, 2020. 5 years and 2 days later from the day I started my blog and website (and basically business) officially. I’m blown away by looking back and seeing the journey that God took me on. It blows my mind.
I started sharing my heart and inspirational short blogs. I started doing this before I even had the thought to blog my photography. As I started growing my business I slowly started posting my work and making my “blog” my photography website. I didn’t start actually posting my client work on that site until literally over a year later.
The point is I started. I started not knowing what would be. I started not having information or skills. I just had what I knew and a heart to inspire people and that’s all I needed.
The rest of 2015 looked like this: practice, practice, practice. I photographed friends and family for either free or very cheap to work on my portfolio. I did exactly what I teach not to do. I compared my work to others and priced accordingly. Don’t do that.
I practiced on myself. I would take my tripod out to fields to get content photos of myself for my Instagram and blog. I took my first ever online course on Instagram from Hilary Rushford. I also took a photography marketing course from Jenna Kutcher back when it first launched. I learned that I needed to get strategic with my Instagram. If you scroll back on my feed all the way until May of 2015 you can see the shift.
My first wedding that I ever shot was on July 20, 2015. I second shot for one of my friends who wasn’t even a professional photographer. She was just good at photography and was shooting the wedding for her friend.
My second wedding was on August 2, 2015. The reason I got the gig was because they had already gotten married in Israel and this was their second reception for all of their Kansas City friends and I knew the groom’s sister. I rolled up with my Canon t3i and just a newly purchased flash. It was a Jewish wedding, and if you have been to one, you know they have fun! The whole day went great, but once we got to the reception I was using my flash and my batteries died. I didn’t bring any backup batteries. I took off the flash and I used my on camera flash on my wimpy Canon Rebel. It was all I had.
I continued interning for my church and working as a waitress at a brewery for extra cash. I also got engaged in October 2015!
That winter I shot a few more weddings of friends of mine or my husband’s.
In early 2016 I got fired from my waitress job which was a huge blow to the ego. I was still interning at my church and made the choice to not get another job. I decided to use the extra time to pursue photography.
I continued photographing seniors, families, engagements, and a few more weddings. All of these were for friends. Anything I could get booked for, I did. I would do shoots, take photos of me, my life, and my work, and combine those photos with words of things I was learning, life lessons, things God was teaching me, and just general encouragement. I posted these on my blog and used this encouragement to fuel my caption game on Instagram. I did this when nobody else was. They were just posting photos of their work and their captions lacked deeper meaning.
In May, I married the love of my life, Andrew. This was when I decided to go full time with photography. This lit the fuel under me to make it work.
More friends got engaged and I did their engagement photos. As I shot more I started falling in love with couples and weddings. I started to notice and pay attention to what lit me up the most and what I loved as well as what I didn’t love. I found that I was intrigued and attracted to a more intimate style of wedding and more adventurous elopements.
I am a fan of niching down a much as possible. I knew that summer where I wanted to go with my photography. I wanted to do more intimate weddings and destination work. Living in Kansas, this was pretty hard. I had to get crafty. That year, we were doing a family reunion and I knew it could be an opportunity to do a shoot in a state other than Kansas. I didn’t care if it was an ocean view, I just needed work in other states to showcase that I could travel and do destination work.
I did a giveaway for a photoshoot and the couple who won lived in Iowa. We road tripped from Kansas to Michigan and I did the shoot along the way. I figured I could do this again in other states.
That summer I continued to shoot a few weddings and engagement photos, some of which were free.
In August I did an engagement session for one of Andrew’s best friends at castle ruins in the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. I remember after I shot these thinking that this was where I thrived. I wanted to shoot couples in epic locations and make art out of it.
That September, Andrew and I were taking a birthday trip to Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. I kept thinking it would be an epic place to do a photoshoot. I posted a model call on Instagram and a friend from the Disney College Progam commented and tagged a couple from Denver. They drove with their pup and we shot in the sand dunes. My heart was on fire. I wanted to do THAT for the rest of eternity. I wanted to shoot in wild locations especially with couples that were ideal clients. This made me understand that when you actually work with ideal clients and you are thriving, you create your best work.
I posted the heck out of those photos online. I paired these with tips and tricks that I was learning, encouragement, and notes for people who wanted to book me. I got an inquiry for an engagement session in Baltimore and I was so excited! The client said they loved my photos but didn’t have a big budget so I told them I would do it for travel only. I was so stoked and in my mind I was officially a destination photographer.
In October, I got an Instagram message from Jade and Tanner Tolbert. Jade said that she saw my sand dunes photos and asked if she could book me for an in-home session. When Jade posted these I got a ton of followers.
In the fall of 2016, Andrew was still in school and I was growing my platform. I had a friend who worked at Disney Land and I took a trip out to California to visit her. I did another couple call for California and hardly got a response. I did get one response for a portrait session. She wanted a few portraits done in Joshua Tree. I also got one more bite for a family of lawyers in LA who wanted a family session. There was only one day to shoot. I was in Anaheim and they were in downtown LA. We decided to shoot their family session at 8 am at The Grove. My friends drove me to The Grove and we were an hour and a half late due to traffic. I also took some photos of my friend and her boyfriend in Joshua Tree.
All the while, I kept shooting more and more weddings back home in Kansas for friends.
In early 2017 I was planning on visiting my friends Luke and Caitlin in Denver. This was the couple that I shot in the sand dunes. Andrew was gone for about a month for training and they said I should hop on over to Denver to hang out. There was no other intention other than just hanging out with friends. About a month before I went, I got a message from Luke asking me to photograph him proposing to Caitlin. He knew we wanted to do it in the snow and we started to plan. We found a way to do it on a glacier. I told Caitlin that I wanted to do a shoot again and this time in the snow. She was down and we completely surprised her! She wore her red prom dress and it was magical.
Everything snowballs. As I look back on my story I realize that every opportunity built itself on the next.
Shortly after, my husband went to Northern California to train for his job. It happened to be one town over from one of my best friends. To be closer to him, I slept on her couch for a month. I wanted to maximize my time in Northern California. I shot everywhere that I could. I did this all very strategically and posted the photos of things that I wanted to book in the future.
During that month I redid my website and also got a new preset that really helped me hone in on a style that felt like mine. That month in Northern California allowed me to focus and hone in on my business.
After this I had miraculously booked an elopement in Horshoe Bend in Antelope Canyon, Arizona. I booked this from a past client who I had done their engagement session in Big Bend National Park. I flew a friend out to San Francisco and we both drove down to Arizona to shoot the elopement. I then drove back to Kansas to finish out the summer and shoot all of the Kansas weddings that I booked.
The day after the Horshoe Elopement we found out that Andrew’s job was moving us to Hawaii. Our Hawaii date was early July (just a few months away). Directly after finding out this news I made a blog post to go with an Instagram caption explaining our move and I changed everything online to say Hawaii based wedding photographer. I changed my website, my Facebook page, my Instagram, and my Pinterest. I strategically started to post photos from California or anything from Kansas that I could make look like Hawaii. Because I forward marketed like crazy I booked two engagement shoots in Hawaii before I ever stepped foot there.
Once we moved to Hawaii I hit the ground running. I second shot, used hashtags, and talked about Hawaii non stop. I continued to share posts on Instagram about my life, encouragement, and inspiration and paired this with the photos that I was getting from the shoots I was doing.
2017 was the year my business really started to thrive and find its footing. I found a style that felt MINE. I had my first wedding feature (the Horshoe Bend elopement). I consistently shot things that lit my soul on fire because I had strategically marketed and hustled to MAKE it that way.
In 2018 my business exploded. I kept photographing couples in Hawaii, blogging the sessions, marketing, giving out valuable info on social, and kept showing up personally online. This was all what I had done from the very beginning.
If you remember, I took a course from Jenna Kutcher back in the day. I knew she had her condo on Maui and because I was one of her first students, I knew she knew who I was. I sent her a message one day asking what the photography climate was in Hawaii and also told her I would love to do a shoot for her and Drew. I told her that her course changed my life and I would love to gift her with a session. I will never forget her response. She said yes and that she would love to do a trade. This happened in February 2018. I hit 10k followers on Instagram after that.
In December of 2017 I remembered seeing a story from Jordan Lee Dooley. She did a story really quickly about her and her husband going to Hawaii. I emailed her press email and said that I was a photographer in Hawaii and a fan of hers. I explained that I would love to do a free shoot for her and Matt when they came to Oahu. Because this was the day after Christmas, I got the autoresponder. Three hours later, I got a response from Jordan and she said absolutely and asked to get dinner afterward. Andrew and I made a weekend out of it and flew to Kauai. To this day she is one of my best friends. It’s amazing what reaching out to someone can lead to.
Around March, Jenna had me on her podcast and that got me a ton of exposure. Because of this interview, I got an email from Audrey Roloff who was coming to Maui with her husband, Jeremy.
Having these three shoots back to back was really great exposure all at once. I continued to do what I did. I continued to shoot, market, and serve people with inspiration and education.
The rest of 2018 skyrocketed. My business and online presence kept snowballing. I photographed over 40 elopements and weddings and easily over 100 couple sessions in 2018. It was absolutely insane.
In late 2018 I got pregnant so 2019 and onward have been intentionally slower. I learned the hard way that when you go so, so fast you are going to burn out. While I am so grateful for my fast growth and where it led me to today, I will say there was point in 2017-2018 where I was just trying to grow, grow, grow so much that I needed to learn how to breathe. Pregnancy and having a baby really brought this to fruition and forced me to understand my priorities. I had to decide how much I wanted to work, rest, and be with my family.
1. Cultivate your skills, passions, or interests NOW.
Don’t wait until you have more money, resources, or time. If you want to start cultivating a skill or passion start now. You don’t get to have moments like this of looking back at your story and where it started and how far you’ve come if you never take the first step. The first imperfect, messy, ugly step. You have to start now. Get over the fear and just start no matter how hard it looks or if you fail.
2. Don’t be afraid to put your work out there.
So many people are afraid to put their work out there, to do session giveaways, or to do couple calls. They are afraid to post their work because they don’t think they are enough. You are enough. You are enough to start posting your work right now as imperfect as it is. You can do this!
3. Invest in education from the get go.
Investing in courses from day one was LIFE CHANGING. Invest in yourself from day one. This doesn’t have to mean money, invest your time as well.
4. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Get out there and HUNT THEM DOWN.
The amount of times I traveled and made sessions happen in states that weren’t Kansas just so I would have a “destination” portfolio made my career. All of these stepping stones led me to the next step.
I wanted people to look at me and see “traveling photographer” and think they can book me anywhere for their elopement, not just the midwest.
5. SERVE & INSPIRE people from day one.
My story snowballed bit by bit. One gig led to the next which led to the next.
That sand dune session led to Jade and Tanner which led to more followers who followed me because I was serving people with positivity and inspiration. I was willing to drive 15 hours and give a couple an incredible experience in Big Bend National Park which led to them booking me in Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon for one of my favorite elopements I’ve ever shot. This led to so many other elopements.
None of this would have happened if from day one I didn’t continue to give my clients an incredible service, or serve the crap out of my people in person and online.
From day one I’ve always treated social media marketing as serving. If I get booked out of it, awesome. But my main goal is to serve my audience first. I started my blog before it was a photography website and my first posts on there and on my Instagram were intended to make people’s day better. I posted just to encourage and that resonated. It took me farther than anything else I could have ever done.
Here is a blog post I wrote on July 26, 2016:
Do you guys remember the cult classic that is A Cinderella Story with Hilary Duff? I probably binged watched that movie so much as a teenager it’s not even funny. It’s simply a rom-com classic. And today I’m telling you to go rewatch it. Why? Because there’s a scene in that movie that I think we all need to pay attention to. Specifically a quote.
“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
Now I want you to look at this quote and replace the words “striking out” with “failure.” It brings it to a whole other level am I right?! Today as I remember these words, it hit me, something my husband always tells me, but I didn’t understand until today.
It’s ok to fail. And even more than that, it’s encouraged.
You see, no one ever gets where they want to go perfectly. You are human, dear reader. You mess up. You take wrong turns. You fix your mistakes. And it’s time you stop chasing perfection and own the fact that you are probably going to fail before you succeed. And that’s OK! If we accomplished everything we set out to do perfectly the first time, I don’t think it would feel quite as satisfying, do you? There’s beauty in the struggle. There’s beauty in “I know where I want to be, and I’m trying really hard to get there.” Do you think if a baseball player won the World Series without striking out all season it would mean as much? No! Our successful breakthroughs are meaningful because they take so much work to get there.
Today I’m writing to encourage you, honestly because I need the same encouragement. Don’t live with the fear that you’re never going to matter. Don’t let that self doubt spiral into your heart and tell you you’re not enough. Don’t fear striking out before you even step up to the plate. Now my question for you is what’s your game? And I’m guessing it’s not baseball. 😉 What is that thing you are letting fear stop you from doing? Today I want you to look your fear in the eye and say, “You have no power over me.” Then run full force toward your game whatever that may be. And always remember that if you strike out 2 or 3 or 17 times, it’s OK because it’s growing you and molding you into the person you were meant to be.
It takes a long time. Your story will snowball step by step as you cultivate each step and move in the direction that God has called you to. I started encouraging and inspiring people before I was even a photographer. I started trying to post things that would make people’s days better after they read them. That was my intention and heart and I still do this to this day. I truly think that that has been ultimately the backbone of my success. It’s inviting people into my life, sharing my heart with them, and encouraging them along the way. That has been my secret to success and I hope that my story has struck a chord with you.
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WASSUP FRIENDS. We’re Evie + Lindsey, co-founders of this wild partayyy called The Heart University. Our goal is to empower entrepreneurs to kick freaking BUTT in their businesses, dive down into the heart of their why and how, and serve you with all possible tools you’ll need to up-level your business game and CRUSH those goals of yours.
Whether you’re coming to an in-person workshop, joining our online course, or soaking up all the strategies via this blog or our podcast, we’re STOKED you’re here + can’t wait to see you out there kicking butt.
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