Does Your Business Have A Secret Recipe?

kat and gareth williamsby emma case

Do you ever wonder what it is that makes one blog memorable and recognisable and another seem like they’re going through an identity crisis every other week?  Do you ever look at a photograph and instantly know who took it? Or see a dress and immediately know who the designer was?

The reason for this is consistency. If you can look at something and without delving any deeper know who the creator was, then they have not only managed to hone a strong and identifiable brand, but have carved out a consistent formula, or secret recipe, for their work.

Having a secret recipe and being consistent isn’t about being boring, repetitious or uncreative. It’s about having some parameters in place in which you create your best, and most recognisable, work. Monet was known for his landscapes and impressionist style. You didn’t see him painting the Water Lilies one day and a fire-breathing dragon the next. Being consistent will help you to fortify and solidify your brand. That’s not to say that your style can’t naturally evolve over time though. In fact it most certainly should or you’ll end up getting bored and your work stagnant.

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What I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Business

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One of my first ever shoots for Rock n Roll Bride with Emma CaseMay 2010

I was lying in bed one Saturday night, mulling over everything I had to get done that coming week, and my thoughts suddenly shifted to how different my life was when I was just starting my blog and business. I pondered, if I knew then what I know now, would I have ever even registered my domain? Or would it have all just felt too big, too scary and too unattainable to even try? I didn’t really have a plan or any goals for my blog when I started out, I simply wanted to write about weddings, but if I did, would it have made a difference to how things panned out?

Then I wondered if some of my industry friends had thought about this too. So I woke up the next morning and decided to ask them! I wanted to know if they felt that their businesses had a ‘tipping point’ or if things just slowly started to happen. I wanted to hear if they’d made any mistakes but most of all I really wanted to know if there was anything they wish they’d known before starting their businesses.

Full disclosure: this article is huge (6000 words!) so you might want to grab a cup of tea before you dig in. Not only did almost every single person I asked reply, but they all did so at length and with a bucket load of incredible advice. What a bunch o’ babes.

Jasmine Star, photographer

jasmine star

There wasn’t a single tipping point for my business, but, rather, a series of tipping points pushing me closer to where I needed to be (learning how engage with clients, finding my blogging voice, learning how to file taxes, launching a branded website, etc).  I wish it was as easy as a single moment of success, but I think that exists only in Disney movies with talking animals.

Here’s a sample blog post from when I first started my business, in February 2006:

“Why am I such a chicken? I swear I should just lay an egg to complete this metamorphosis. I mean, the chicken and I both share entities like feet, breasts, and pointed breathing orifices, so if I sprouted feathers tonight I wouldn’t be surprised. 

I need–need–to be willing to go out on a limb and ask people if I could take their pictures. I mean, I know couples who are engaged, so why can’t I bring myself to ask them if I could snap their engagement photos? For crying out loud, I wouldn’t charge them, so what’s stopping me? My fear. Of rejection. Of incompetence. Of embarrassment.

I need to do this. Just need to.”

It took about three years to get my business to a place where I didn’t fear it was on the precipice of failure. Does that sound dramatic? Well, I’m sure it does, but small business owners live in fear of their dreams dying and we’re willing to fight for every last breath.

One thing I want to clarify though…as a wedding photographer, every year I have new clients. That means I’m, essentially, trying to run a new business every 12 months. The hustle, the worry, and the chutzpah doesn’t disappear, but you simply learn how to thrust and throttle when needed.

There were so many failures along the way, but I don’t look at them as missteps as much as I look at them as ways to help push my business where it needs to be.

Here are a few thing I wish I knew before starting my business:

It might sound terribly pessimistic, but expect the worst. If you can imagine just how bad things could be–and you’re okay with the outcome–then you know exactly what you’re risking. Knowing the worst, but hoping for the best tempered my emotions when I first started. The worst case scenario (for me) was: failing at photography, going back to law school, and owning a really nice DSLR camera. Once I realized what life looked like if I failed, I was ready to succeed.

Although you don’t want to make mistakes, they’ll happen. It’s part of the growing process, but it’s important to know not all mistakes are bad. A misstep that allows you to learn, correct, or grow is actually beneficial and the more you make in the beginning, the less you’ll make later. Instead of trying to avoid mistakes, embrace each challenge optimistically and know you’re learning along the way.

Go with your gut. I’d like to think I carefully weighed all the factors before starting my business (consciously), but actual decision making is made in primarily in an unconscious way. This doesn’t mean this is bad or faulty, there’s simply just too much to digest, too many unknowns (I had never started a business before, could I really compete in a saturated market?) Innately, we want to make educated decisions, but it’s important to know actual reasons are hardly enough to cover reality. Do as much research as you can, then take a jump!

When you start a business, you want to know all your options… at least I did. Little did I realize this would only lead to the inability to actually make a decision. The more you research, the more you’ll find. This may lead to a rabbit hole of choices (been there, done that), so try to set parameters before you dive too deep.

Finally, let’s be real for a second: the daily grind of what I do isn’t glamorous. I sit in yoga pants for hours in front of my computer…I sing for my dog…I occasionally wear mismatched socks around the house. I work a ton and I photograph (professionally) on good days. Before I built my business, I looked forward to working from home with positive emotions (probably because I had never done so), but once things got going, I realized it wasn’t all pixie dust and kazoos. The emotions I place leading to or at the conclusion of an event are often the strongest because they’re idealized…it was important for me to take my perfected ideas of being self-employed and juxtapose it with reality. I wish I had done so earlier because it would have lessened the blow of sitting in solitude for hours, not having a water cooler to congregate around, and only having a co-worker with four legs.

Emma Case, photographer

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I find it difficult to really talk about how or when we found ‘business success’ because for me, there are three very different strands to it. First there’s your success in building your business (in terms of your brand, your reputation, your product, your experience, your audience, your enquiry stream, your industry community etc) and then there’s financial success (supporting yourself and the business, and making it a viable living in the eyes of yourself, your family and your accountant). Then there’s the strand of how all of these things effect your overall happiness.

You could have a wonderfully successful business, financially, but you can still be unhappy. Or you could be working 24/7 to achieve success in terms of your reputation but again, this doesn’t guarantee happiness. We’ve had various points in the business where all three strands have flourished but now we realise that our goal is to simply be happy so we’re working on the balance we need in every part of our business to achieve that.

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Navigating Online Cliques

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Dear Kat
I’m a new blogger (hoping to launch my site soon) and I’m really struggling with getting my name out there… well, it’s not even that really, I’m struggling to get any kind of response from people. You see, I’ve emailed a bunch of people in the industry that I admire, sometimes to ask for a little advice, but mostly to just introduce myself and say hello… but no one is replying to me. I’m starting to feel invisible!

It’s so difficult to get a new blog or business off the ground as it is and I already feel like giving up. I feel like there are all these different cliques of people and I don’t fit in anywhere. I feel like everyone else is already in the club and I’m standing on the outside on my own. It just seems like they don’t want anyone else to join. What am I doing wrong?

I think this is something we all struggle with when we first start our businesses. We look up to people who we feel have ‘made it’ and desperately want to emulate what they’ve done or to ‘be in their gang’. It all feels very high school don’t you think?

Well, firstly, dear emailer, let me tell you one little known truth about said ‘cliques’: they’re really not doing what you think they’re doing. There is no secret society or special handshake or initiation you have to do to get in. Generally, they’re just groups of people who probably started their businesses around the same time and became friends. You might see them as some kind of powerhouse of popularity, but I guarantee it’s nothing like that from the inside.

The most likely story is that they found each other online, met in real life, liked each other and then either started working together or began mutually promoting what their friends were doing. Collaborations are powerful after all (as you’ve clearly observed).

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How to Increase Your Organic Reach on Facebook

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This gorgeous sneak peek reached 67,000 people when I posted it on my Facebook page

There has been a lot of talk recently from small business owners who are having trouble reaching all of their Facebook fans with their updates. While I’m not planning to get into a debate about why this might be, today I thought I’d share some ways in which you can make sure your posts reach as many of your fans as possible.

The fact of the matter is this: Even if your overall reach is down, you are still being seen by the people who really care about your content. And no, I didn’t really believe this either until I did some serious nerding out and research for myself!

If you’re reach is down, it is most likely that the people who aren’t seeing your updates any more are just not interested in you (harsh but true). If someone isn’t engaging with your posts, pictures and comments, Facebook shows them content from other places instead. The Facebook network is phenomenally complex, and to put it concisely, they have a much deeper understanding of what each of their users is likely to enjoy than you do.

So just how can you ensure that your posts are reaching those people that do care?

Post when your fans are online

Facebook’s new Insights are brilliant and can give you a much clearer idea of who your fans are. They can tell you things like where in the world they’re located, their ages and what other pages they like. However, for me, the most useful stat has been the graph that shows what time your fans are online. It may sound obvious, but if you post something when more people are on Facebook, more people are going to see it! And you might be quite surprised at the results.

As my social media is linked to my business, I am mostly on Facebook during office hours, when I’m working. I assumed my fans were the same. WRONG! The people that like my page are mostly on there between 8 and 9pm UK time. So, if I have an important update that I want seen by as many people as possible, I post it during this time.

facebook reach

Post frequently

The general consensus used to be that you should limit how many times you updated your page to avoid annoying your fans. However I don’t really think this is the case any more, especially as not everyone sees everything you post. You certainly should never post links to the same articles multiple times a day (that is spammy) but posting a few times throughout a 24 hour period is a good way to reach more people.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark is a Lot Like Blogging

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A little while back I discovered this making of documentary about Raiders of the Lost Ark. I studied film at University and one of all time favourite things is to see behind the scenes of movies that I’m obsessed with (random factoid: I actually wrote an essay about the sound used in this film!)

I devoured the hour long video despite it’s fuzzy visuals, hardly noticing the constant flickering screen and terrible sound quality. The film was clearly recorded on VHS when it was aired in 1981, left in a dusty box for 30 years and recently uploaded to YouTube, but I didn’t care one little bit.

I actually almost didn’t notice how terrible the quality was until Gareth turned around and said to me, “Ugh, how can you even bear to watch that?” because I was so enraptured with the story that it was telling.

Your blog should be the same.

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How to Host a Workshop or Live Event

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Last year I attended, spoke at and organised more live events than ever before. While hard work, they are also incredibly rewarding and so much fun to do. I’m thrilled that doing them is such a huge part of my business now. The Blogcademy, in particular, has changed my life so much!

The first live events I hosted were parties for blog readers and people in the wedding industry, I then moved on to doing small afternoon-long, in-person blogging workshops before launching The Blogcademy, with Gala and Shauna, in 2012. Needless to say I’ve learnt a lot of lessons about what does and does not work when putting on events.

You need an assistant

When we first started doing The Blogcademy we didn’t have assistants for every class, but oh boy I wish we did! Having someone to help you prep for the event, set up the space, break it down afterwards and make sure you get from A to B is so vital and makes the whole thing so much less stressful!

If, like us, you are hosting an event in a city you don’t live in it’s also great to have someone that knows the area who can drive you around and take delivery of and bring along any supplies (like goodie bags) with them.

Our assistant at the Melbourne class in November was a professional events organiser and she gave us some great advice. Since speaking to her we’ve created a document that we now email to our assistants before each class that lets them know what is expected from them. It also includes the timings of the day, our contact details and anything else they might need to know. Doing this makes all the pre-preparation and communication so much smoother and means we don’t have to repeat ourselves each time!

Blogcademy Day 01_012

Refunds and cancellations

Whatever your event, you need to have a solid refunds and cancellations policy. This must be clearly explained on your registration and FAQ pages. Include things like if you offer refunds, if there is any cancellation fee, by what date cancellations will be accepted and if tickets can be transferred. You should also include information about what happens if you need to cancel the event.

Over-communicate

I am a massive over-communicator and like to keep everyone in the loop at all times. As soon as someone signs up to your event, be sure to email them letting them know that you have received their payment and what, if anything, they have to do next. We have a document which we email to our Blogcademy sign ups with more information about the class and private forum.

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