Paired Up & Thriving
by Theano Nikitas
June 01, 2012 —
Working with a partner isn’t for everyone, but for some photographers, running a business with a spouse or good friend has proved to be ideal. On their own, would they have made it work? Possibly. But it’s unlikely they would have achieved the same level of success—and continued growth in business—that they’ve achieved together in a relatively short time.
We spoke with three sets of photographers about how—and why—their partnerships work so well. Each business model is unique in some ways, but their messages about communication, utilizing individual strengths and trusting each other are, in large part, the same.
Scott & Adina Hayne
Scott and Adina Hayne’s Virginia-based studio offers a versatile range of photography services (including weddings and portraits), but their innovative work with seniors first caught Rangefinder’s eye a couple of years ago. The husband and wife team have been married for 25 years, but only started Hayne Photographers in 2007, after Scott lost his job. Adina had left her job a couple of weeks earlier to start her own business but, Scott recalls, “I was doing it solo and thought I could run it by myself.” In less than three months, with the combination of being too busy and “not understanding social media and other business stuff,” Scott realized that he couldn’t handle it on his own. At that point, “I knew I needed Adina’s expertise. She’s managed a small business, had employees and managed payroll. I was in this creative never-never land,” Scott reminisces. He thought he would just pick up a camera, take pictures and money would flow in. That’s when Adina came on board.
Having a strong marital relationship is definitely an asset, particularly when starting a business and working together every day. “It’s teamwork,” says Scott; “And setting your ego aside,” adds Adina.
A large part of setting egos aside is recognizing one’s own strengths and weaknesses and defining each person’s responsibilities. “It’s really humbling to sit down and say that you’re not really good at something and then giving that part of the business up to your partner. You have to fully trust the other person so you don’t micromanage. I think that’s been a huge part of our success,” Adina explains.
Although each person’s role is defined, the two collaborate on certain aspects of the business. “We set goals for our business and we agree upon those goals, so there is collaborative work, but,” says Scott, at the same time, “we’re not so blind to say ‘it’s my way or the highway.’” They also collaborate and brainstorm about thematic shoot and posing ideas, among other things. But, overall, Adina handles all the business—marketing, social media, customer relations, working with seniors on styling, selling and album design, to name just a few. Scott does all the shooting (although Adina assists on shoots and can handle a camera with ease), editing, equipment purchase and financial management.
One example of how teaming up has helped them succeed is the combination of Scott’s photographic talents and Adina’s social media expertise, which she deftly uses to help grow their senior business. Without both of their skills, they probably would not have gone from shooting four seniors in their first year of business, to 40 in the next, then 70 in the year after and still growing.
The couple also teaches workshops, and last year, at the WPPI conference in Las Vegas, they presented a program that included their top 10 reasons for business success and one of those reasons was having a woman as part of the team.
“From a guy’s perspective,” says Scott,” having a woman in the studio is huge. Dealing with the parents, dealing with the seniors and the girls, it’s good to have a mom/wife around. Ours is a very family-oriented atmosphere—sometimes our kids are there, too [their son occasionally second shoots at weddings], so it’s relaxing for the parents and for the seniors.” Adina added that, “We’re selling to women. We can relate to women. Women are the ones signing our wedding contracts, writing the checks for senior sales. If you’re considering getting a business partner, get a strong woman. We’re in an industry that if you’re selling to women, you need a woman in your business.”
Partners at home, in the studio and on location, it’s obvious that the talents and personalities of both Scott and Adina have made their business such a resounding success in only five short years.
Tiffany and Marc Angeles
Tiffany and Marc Angeles’ story is, in some ways, similar to that of Scott and Adina. Married for nine years and in business together for about six of those years, these Los Angeles-based photographers moved into photography after deciding that they wanted to get out of the “rat race” of their corporate jobs and start a business together. Part-time at first, “We shot on weekends and retouched at night,” Tiffany recalls, the duo transitioned their business into a full-time endeavor after a couple of years.
Working together came easily for Tiffany and Marc. “It kind of worked out naturally,” says Marc while Tiffany adds that, “It goes back to the way we are in life and our personalities.”
What was clear from the start was that each person had his or her strengths and that, says Tiffany, helped them succeed. “We’re making more money in a partnership because we’re gifted at different things and are able to move the business forward.”
And that applies to the types of photography services they offer. Tiffany, who loves working with people, specializes in weddings, portraits and children’s photography, while the more technical and detail-oriented Marc concentrates on real estate and interior work. Despite their individual specialties, the couple shoots together as well. Tiffany may step in to help out on the real estate side when Marc is photographing an especially large mansion or is double-booked; Marc will second shoot with Tiffany at weddings. Although Tiffany loves natural light, Marc will help set up more complex lighting for some of Tiffany’s portrait sessions commenting that, “Having another person [in business] can give you a different perspective and open you up to other possibilities.” While Marc’s handling the lights, Tiffany—whose enthusiasm is contagious, even over the phone—engages clients and keeps them “laughing so we can get great expressions.” Working together, says Tiffany, “makes us better photographers.”
Realizing and utilizing their strengths also works effectively for more practical business matters. “No one person is good at everything,” says Marc, “so we know our strengths and know what works for us. If I had to do it all by myself, I don’t know if I would be growing the business without Tiffany’s [big picture] vision. On the other hand,” he quips, “I don’t think Tiffany would last very long without knowing how much money she has in the bank.” (Marc keeps her updated at least once a month on the financials with graphs, which appeal to Tiffany’s “big picture” style.)
Most of their business is generated via word-of-mouth, referrals and the couple’s expert networking skills (in person and via social media), although clients seem to be more comfortable booking Marc for real estate photography online. But, importantly, it’s their different strengths in photography that often present opportunities to grow their business by what the Angeles’ call “cross pollination.” Marc’s real estate clients, for example, might need a headshot or a family portrait, so it’s easy for him to refer them to Tiffany and convert them into portrait clients. It’s also easy for each to “sell” the other’s talents at parties. “Marc will say, ‘she’s an amazing children’s photographer’ and if I’m talking to a real estate agent, it’s easier for me to say, ‘he’s the best architectural photographer in Beverly Hills,’ ” Tiffany explains.
“I think we’ve done so well in business because we have opposite skill sets,” she continues. “Marc never would have started a business without me in his life and I wouldn’t be able to run a business without him in my life.” However, she points out, “We don’t have such a firm line in the sand that we can’t help each other out. It’s not like that’s your job and I’m not going to do it. It goes back to the way we are in life and our personalities. We’re both willing to give 110 percent.”
Magnolia Pair Britney Smith and Holly Everett
Britney Smith and Holly Everett met in high school and the two Louisiana-based photographers have been friends ever since. Although they attended college separately, they both ended up starting their own wedding photography business and always joked about owning a business together. But, says Holly, “I never really thought about how to make it work.”
Everything started to come together when they attended WPPI last year. After realizing that their businesses were headed in the same direction, they began brainstorming, came up with the name Magnolia Pair (perfect for their Louisiana-based business) and moved forward to make this partnership a reality. “It took about one and a half months of hashing out the details,” Holly recalls.
Prior to Magnolia Pair’s launch in April 2011, Holly had been in business just under two years, while Britney’s company had been around for about four years. Interestingly, the two had developed similar aesthetics and styles while working on their own. That alone has certainly helped contribute to the success of their partnership and the realization of their goal to work with clients who, Britney says, “really appreciate our creativity and artistry and who [are] creative in their approach to their wedding. We’re getting the same amount of business,” she adds, ”but the quality is better.” If they hadn’t partnered, Holly explains, “I think we would have worked harder and longer to get the clients we want. Now inquiries are [for] the type of weddings we want to shoot rather than just shooting a wedding.”
On the business and marketing side, work is divided according to each person’s “natural gifts,” says Britney. Before they created the partnership, they sorted through a list of all the tasks—taxes, e-mails, blog posts, etc.—to decide who would do what. And they’re very vocal about what’s working, what’s not and how to move toward a solution.
When it comes to shooting weddings, the pair decided on a 50/50 split to ensure an even workload. One is the lead photographer while the other is second shooter for one wedding, alternating so that both of them have the same workload over the course of a year. The lead photographer edits the images and because Holly and Britney live about five hours from each other, the editing is generally done solo, (although both look at the images before they are shared with clients). But that all goes back to why they contemplated joining forces in the first place—because their style is so similar. And importantly, they trust each other to maintain the quality and aesthetic of Magnolia Pair.
The workflow has paid off, and they’ve had great responses from clients. Britney points out that “We bring something as a pair that we didn’t individually.” In fact, Holly elaborates, “Our clients have noted that there are two of us. This past weekend they knew that Britney would be at the reception and the ceremony, while I was with the bride so they knew that everything was covered. And they know that our style is seamless, so that the images will be congruent throughout.”
As with any business, there have been challenges—like the fact that Britney had a baby in January and Holly is expecting in July. But not surprisingly, this talented duo is making it work. They wrote up a contract stating that each would have a month off for maternity leave and have already informed their July clients that they might have to bring in a different second shooter if Holly isn’t up to shooting that month—no problem. At the moment, they’re meeting another one of their goals by booking some weddings outside of Louisiana.
It’s no surprise that the pair was voted one of PDN’s Rising Stars of Wedding Photography in 2011, and judging from their current success, their partnership will continue to help them realize all of their goals in the future.
Theano Nikitas, a full-time freelance writer and photographer, has been writing about photography for the past 18 years. Her digital imaging reviews, features, “how to” articles and images have appeared in a wide variety of publications and on Web sites including American Photo, CNET.com, DigitalCameraReview.com, DPReview.com, Imaging-Resource.com, Macworld, PC World, Photo District News and Popular Photography/PopPhoto.com. Although she loves digital, Theano still has a darkroom and a fridge filled with film thanks to her long-time passion for alternative processes and toy cameras.
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