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"You need to study how to price yourself accurately"- Melissa Henry

What is your backstory?

I was raised in Tucson, Arizona, the youngest of a family of 6 kids. My father was a hobbyist photographer and I remember getting into his equipment and playing monkeying around with it when I was young. He even did some darkroom work and had an enlarger and all the equipment necessary to develop prints at home. I think my fascination with photography started then, perhaps as a way to better connect with my father, but it grew into a passion that has stayed with me throughout my life. I guess it was just in my genes!

Even though my creative outlet was photography from a young age, I didn’t decide to be a professional photographer until later in life. Instead, I received my Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting at the University of Arizona, spent 2 years in Los Angeles and then landed in DC in my mid-20’s. My working life started as an Accountant and Auditor but I spend most of my corporate career as a consultant, leading team projects. For roughly the last 8 of those years, I’ve been growing my Newborn and Maternity photography studio as a side-hustle.

Here’s the thing about a side-hustle: if it’s something you really love, it starts to compete with the safe and well-paying day job, until pretty soon, you have to choose. Fortunately for me, that choice was made crystal clear. I found myself managing a very large and challenging team, and working 60+ hour weeks with no end in sight. I was stressed out, losing sleep, and missing out on spending time with my husband and my young daughter. 

So, I did the unthinkable for most people, I just quit. For me, it wasn’t too crazy of a decision, I already had a thriving side business but the scary part was the uncertainty of whether my side business would thrive as a full-time biz. Right around that time, I “discovered” the idea of focusing on Personal Brand photography through one of my mentors, Jamie Swanson. It totally clicked with me that this is the future of the photography industry and that I needed, and really wanted, to pivot my business to helping entrepreneurs with imagery so that they could connect with their target clients and grow their personal brands. 

What I realized was that because I spent years in the corporate and consulting worlds and running a portrait photography business, I have a very unique understanding of how powerful professional photography can be in telling stories and engaging people. Now, I know that I’m in the best place for me and my family. I am doing what I love, I’m able to truly be present for my family AND I get to help other business owners succeed too!

If someone would want to emulate your career, what would you suggest are the most important things to do?

First, develop your technical photography skills to ensure that you are comfortable handling various lighting situations. If you are strictly a studio lighting photographer, learn how to work in various natural light situations or how to work with off camera flash. If you only work with natural light, learn how to use strobes and off camera flash. Essentially, you want to have a firm handle on the basic skills to deal with whatever comes your way during a session – and you want to be able to do this on the fly without having to stop and spend too much time to figure things out. 

Also, you need to study how to price yourself accurately. There are lots of people out there teaching their philosophy on pricing but what it all comes down to are 3 things: how much do you want to make, how much do you have to spend and what is the maximum price that the market will bear. That last one is a little bit difficult because it is possible to price yourself at the very top of your market, you just need to know that your service will match that price AND you will want to figure out how to reach those clients who want and need that level of service. 

Figure out a rock-solid workflow. You want to make sure that you plan out every detail from start to finish for a client so that you can understand what areas you will need to fix and what areas are your strong suit. While creating your workflow, you can also figure out what can be outsourced and what can be automated. Once you have a strong system documented and you are following it, you will never forget a step and your clients will know you are really taking care of them.

What are the most exciting projects you are working on now?

I have a session coming up for a neuroscience who wants to help parents better develop their children’s brain function through music. I’m very excited for her because her ultimate goal is to bring this concept and practical skills to parents all over the world, regardless of their economic situation or limited resources. It’s a mission I love and I want to be a part of helping her reach her amazing goals. 

I am also putting together a panel discussion, in which I will participate, for a group of entrepreneurs in my area. We were asked to speak by the management at a local co-working space. After this event, I hope to take the event to other co-work spaces in the area as well.

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