May 27, 2021
Today we’re talking straight to you, photographers! If you’ve ever felt stuck in your photography business and wondered how to continue to scale and grow or if you’re a photographer feeling overwhelmed or exhausted by all the behind-the-scenes business portions of the job and just wanting to go out and do what you love: SHOO! Today’s episode is a freaking goldmine of information. We’re chatting: Associate Photography Teams with the incredible Grace Troutman!!!
Now if you don’t know her, Grace is a Midwest-based destination wedding photographer and business educator, who’s traveled to Iceland, Ireland, Hawaii, Colorado, California, and Washington to shooting destination weddings. Over the years as she desired to scale her photography business, she slowly built a powerful team of associate photographers to shoot under her business Grace Troutman Photography. When she’s not out shooting with her team or teaching other creatives, she’s typically sipping sour beer with my husband or playing with her two-year-old daughter, Pfeiffer.
Grace is such a gem and on today’s show, she firehosed tips, tools, information, and ideas on how to scale a photography business by building an associate photography team. She covered how she got into associate photography in the first place, the mindset hurdles you have to overcome, where to find quality and trustworthy team members, what to look for in them, how to train them to match your client experience, and how to market them to potential clients in a way that adds value to your overall experience.
This is a JAM-PACKED episode, and we’re so excited for you to learn from the queen herself. So if you’ve ever wondered how to get out of the hamster wheel cycle of trading your time for money, we’re about to dive into how to build a team of photographers who shoot under your brand so you can serve even more clients while scaling your photography business.
While Grace lived in California for a couple of years, this was where she realized she didn’t want to do photography full-time and started working at a post-processing company for photographers. Photographers would send their images in and they would edit them and send them back. Once she started there she hated it and could not sit behind a desk from 9-5, with a commute that was 2.5-3 hours every day. It was terrible. She wanted to get out into the field and get her hands dirty. Looking at the images she was editing wishing they were hers. Grace wanted her photos to change someone’s life by giving them a moment in time.
Once she decided to go for it, she booked a couple of weddings her first year for friends and people she knew and were all destination weddings perchance. That was when she realized she loved destination weddings and that was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
Grace started booking weddings in the midwest and went from nine weddings her first year to thirty plus a year! She was getting burnt out. At first, you get excited when people want to book you and you want to take everything on. Then in the excitement, you get wrapped up in saying yes, but then means missing out on family events, moments with friends and become so exhausted.
She was hitting her ceiling in terms of what she could take on and just didn’t know what else to do other than taking on more work to make more money. Her schedule became so booked she didn’t know how to take on more work but didn’t know how to make more money since she wanted to scale her business. Around this time her husband, Kyle, and Grace wanted to start a family and with the workload she had, she couldn’t imagine having a baby as well. She also couldn’t imagine giving up weddings to take maternity leave, there was no way.
Stuck on how to scale her business, she had a conversation with her brother-in-law who tells her she needs employees. At that moment Grace just scoffed at him, thinking her couples want her and only her. She wasn’t at a point to offer education or digital products and kept coming back to that conversation with her brother-in-law about adding team members. The more and more she thought about it, the more it made sense to scale that way and still be able to serve incredible couples who wanted to work with her. Grace would still have her hand in the experience but wouldn’t necessarily be the one shooting all the time.
To grow your team, you have to let go of control just a little bit. As creatives, it is so hard to let go, but we just have to let go of that control just a tad. We have put our blood sweat and tears into our business so we are very protective of it and possessive. It is ours we built from the ground up, our babies. It’s hard for us to hand that over to someone else and give them the trust but once we do, you realize there is a world of possibilities out there where we can grow and expand. Once you let other people do things for you, that frees you up to dive into what you are most passionate about in your business.
Grace asked her first couple of associates to be on her team in 2018 and was before they got pregnant. They had gone to college with her at the University of Northern Iowa and had been in the same classes with her so she knew they had the technical skills. Grace wanted to shape them into how she shot and how she gives an incredible client experience. At first, she had asked a couple of other people in her area and got turned down because that is not where they wanted to go in their business. They wanted to continue to run their own and that is okay.
If you are searching for the right person you have to ask yourself if you trust them. If you go through a hiring process and have a really good feeling about them, they line up with your personality and values, and could see yourself being friends with them, then that might be your person. If you don’t get a good vibe right off the bat then don’t hire them. You have to understand that you are duplicating and replicating yourself and your clients want that experience from you, especially if they have fallen in love with you and your work. They have heard it from friends or reviews of how you show up on a wedding day so you want to replicate that in another person.
You have to find someone excited to shoot for your brand. If they just want to show up and shoot and make money, that is not the best fit. You want someone to be excited about giving the experience that you give to your clients and replicating that. If they are excited about working under you and representing you, that is who you want on your team.
All of Grace’s associates have their businesses and she thinks this is the best way to go since they want to learn from you as well as grow in their business, skills, and working on themselves. What better way to work than under a mentor?
You have to understand some associates might stay for a couple of seasons and make it to a point where they grow and are killing their businesses and they might leave. You might have a high turnover rate. That is the name of the game.
On Grace’s team, she has an associate that is so talented and she works a 9-5 and doesn’t want to stop, so she takes bookings for Grace, her own business, and works her full-time job. But then on the flip side, she has an associate who is a rockstar single mom who doesn’t have the time or energy to put into marketing and Instagram but is so talented and loves that connection with couples and shooting and getting out there and shooting under Grace’s company is perfect for her.
You have to find your people and know they might leave but they also might stick with you forever if they are at the point where they are comfortable. If you want to make them more permanent in your company you can hire them as employees and not contracted workers.
With her team, they know that she has the reach and gets a consistent flow of inquiries and some don’t want to put in the effort to market themselves or run their businesses. It is a win-win for us because they get to be creative, shoot, and get paid but then they hand over all of the rest of the busy work and editing. Then win-win for Grace who still gets to serve amazing couples and give them the Grace Troutman Photography experiences.
Be in your second or third year of business, have some experiment and then look into an associate team. Reach out to photographers, who you admire, maybe they already have a team, and let them know you would love to join their team, ask how to do you do that, or how you could work up to that? Even start with second shooting a ton, or assisting.
Starting a conversation by reaching out via DM or even email would be better. If you are serious about it email them your portfolio, galleries, and that if they ever need help or grow an associate’s team, to let you know because you’re interested.
It’s taking the first step and putting yourself out there. Send all of your information over and explain to that photographer why you would be stoked to shoot with or for them.
Grace has training days, where she puts together a styled shoot and they go over how she would see things on wedding days. She wants them to replicate her experience. They do flat lays, bridal portraits, groom portraits, and how she envisions things on wedding days. This helps to have her team see how she works and how her mind operates.
She’ll ask them to second shoot with her or tag along to a wedding day so they can see her work and come along one engagement session too. Since they will be shooting those as well. She’ll give them her posing guide so that they can always have that in their back pocket just in case.
On those styled shoot team days they also love to hang out and grab dinner afterward and have a team bonding experience.
This is the biggest part of having a team. It’s all about the way that you shape the experience that the couple is going to have. Be very transparent from the very beginning about who is available on their wedding day. They know immediately with that first email after they reach out, that yes Grace is available or no her associate is available. Grace will always get on a phone call with a potential couple after that first email and walk them through what they get when working with them and what the experience will be like. They are never questioning what it is going to be like, who is going to be there, who is editing the photos. All of those questions will be answered.
Grace does not. shape it as “you do not get me” because that gives off the vibe that she is better than her team and that is not the case. Her team is so talented and she makes sure that the couples know they are getting a two-for-one deal. They get a talented photographer showing up to shoot on their day and then they get Grace who is going to help plan all the backend stuff of their wedding day (timeline, outfits for an engagement session, etc.) and editing.
You want to make sure all of your associate’s work is shown on your website and Instagram. Make sure they know that this is the team’s work, not just Grace, she is not hiding anyone. Then she’ll let them know who is available and send galleries that team member has shot and make sure it will be a good fit.
Having changed this over the years depending on where Grace was at in her business. For the last year and a half, they are on the same level. Doesn’t matter who you get it’s the same price and same experience. Recently since she is scaling back for next year and not taking 20+ weddings anymore, she will raise her pricing so if you want her you have to pay a premium.
You can start with the associate team a little lower than you to just see if people will bite. After they saw people loved it they bumped it up and kept it at the same level for everybody because it is the same experience no matter who you are going to get.
Put them everywhere. You don’t want your clients to reach out and be like who is this? And not know who that is. Getting your couples and audience comfortable with you but you also have to include your team in that. If you have a team you have to warm your audience, clients, and followers, up to the idea that you have people working for you. That they are a part of your branding now. Give them snippets of their life, post their headshots, and talk about who is working for you.
A great way to include them is to have your associates do behind the scenes on wedding days and tag your company in it so you can repost. Showing that there is a team out there working and all on the same page.
Things that have worked very well for Grace:
They put together a little video asking her team a bunch of questions, do you like sunrise or sunset, salty or sweet? Fun little questions like that for a video and then they attach it to the first email that they send over to clients. The couples will watch this video and will get a little peek into their team and dynamics. It builds trust. If you have a team you need to start building trust from the moment people start thinking that they want to hire you.
You have to learn to unclench your grip and let go. Our creative process is ours, but you can train someone and trust them to give an incredible experience to your clients. The best decision you could ever make for your business will be scary because you have to let go of some control but it will only propel your business forward that much faster. Then if you keep going on your own. Learn to let go a little bit and you will flourish.
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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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