Blogging & Business

THE ONE WHERE I TELL YOU ALL MY SECRETS + A FREE E-BOOK

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I started my college career knowing one thing, I would not become a teacher. I vividly remember standing in line at college orientation, it was that pivotal moment where you choose your major and without having any real plan… only the list of things I didn’t want to do spinning in my head, I looked over at the teacher line almost in defiance. It was a common thing to do in our town, become a teacher. But me, I would become an event planner… or a Public Relations Associate (whatever that means… though that is what my degree is in.) Or I would become a full time photographer, a dream not yet realized. There I was standing in the undeclared line, I had two years to decide, and I bunch of generals to take anyways. A degree in Communications ended up being the route I took. Honestly it just made sense to go in that direction, it was the thing that came naturally to me and Public Relations just seemed logical.


 

Learn from the experience of 9 different creative professionals. Grab your FREE E-Book and embrace your dream this year!

 

FLOUNDERING

I was on my way to earning a college degree, because well… that’s what you were supposed to do when I graduated high school. And I loved all my communication classes. I actually loved everything about them. I learned magazine layout while working on my college’s magazine, I spent time in our radio booth, I studied how different website’s communicate to their audience, and I took my first photography class. That photography class was my hook. That photography class inspired me to chase a dream. I spent my last year of college taking pictures of anyone that would step in front of my camera. I did my first photo sessions on film. I assisted at my first wedding.

During that first year out of college I lived in Florida and my first entrepreneur venture was unfolding. I was taking pictures, I was blogging about every picture I took, I was trying to figure out how to build a business, I was trying to create a client base, and all without progress. I was floundering. I was working full time as an office manager and trying to build a business on the side without having any real know how. What was I really doing? What was I going to do? This didn’t seem like a good plan… I wasn’t going anywhere. Then I thought, “well, maybe I’ll get my master’s and become a teacher…”

Not very long after that I moved back home and before diving in to a master’s degree I decided I would test the waters. I wasn’t wiling to sink anymore money into student loans without knowing if being a teacher was what I really wanted. So, I found a job as a paraprofessional (or teacher’s aid, or class room aid, whatever you want to call it.) I spent a little over a year working in a class room. Seeing all the ins-and-outs, the students, the teachers, the politics and a found out what I needed to know. I did not want to be a teacher.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Next thing you know I’m married, living in California and still unsure of what I want to be when I grow up. So I did what anyone would do, I found a job. For clarity and to make this long story not so long, I quit that job after 8 months. It wasn’t a good fit and I was dealing with anxiety (something I had never experienced before), so I decided to do something different. I didn’t know anyone and driving in LA wasn’t for me, so I knew I didn’t want to pursue portrait photography. Who would I take pictures of? And I would probably have an anxiety attach just driving to locations anyways. I had seen a few people selling handmade items on Etsy, so I decided I would give that a try. I handmade zip pouches and wallets. I was half way good at it, but overtime I learned that wasn’t for me either. Time to try something else… I moved on the creating digital goods; calendars, worksheets… I wasn’t very good at that.

At about that time we were moving again… that’s what we do… we move. But this move was a little different. Tyler had accepted a contract position for the next 5 months. We didn’t know what would be happening at the end of those 5 months, so I was kind of in limbo. I was out ideas for what to sell on Etsy. I was blogging, but without any real niche. After 5 months Tyler was offered a full time job, it was time to find a place to live and I decided it was time to find a job.


 

PRACTICAL STEPS FROM 9 different creative professionals. Grab your FREE E-Book and embrace your dream this year!

 

DREAMING AGAIN

I hadn’t given up on any of my dreams… I had always dreamed of having a small business, but we had student loans to payoff. I needed consistent income so we could plow through the mountains of student debt we had. (If you’re reading this, do not take out student loans. There are so many others ways to do it.) So I went to work and started to dream again about what kind of business I would pursue. I tried to blog consistently, it was fun and it kept me moving forward trying different things. For a hot second I considered portrait photography again, but I just didn’t feel that was my strength. Because I was blogging consistently I was getting half way good at product photographing and that’s when it hit me. I would be a product and stock photographer.

I took my first client in 2016 and I slowly started to grow a little business. In 2017 I launched a new shop full of stock images and in 2018 I launched my stock photo library. I was reading book after book trying to learn about business, I was listening to podcasts, I was watching webinars, I was trying to do what everyone successful was doing. I was producing new photos every month. I was trying new things creativity, pushing myself to succeed. If the business was going to work it had to be profitable. It had to match my current income. I had to keep going.

WHEN IT’S TIME TO TAKE A BREAK

But, the business wasn’t profitable. Now, I’m going to lay it all out there… and I’ve buried the lead, so get ready. I’m closing the shop and the member library (if you’ve made it this far, bravo!) To be honest, I could keep going with it, I could keep trying, because I believe the business could be profitable, but I’ve come to a place of burn-out and I’ve come to a place where I’m not in love with it… It’s not fun. And if I keep going, there is a far greater chance that I’ll really resent it. I also plan to retire the Elah Tree brand. I’m not giving up, I’m not throwing in the towel… it’s just time to take a break and it’s time to dream a new dream. It’s time to start fresh. It’s time to rebrand.

A NEW DREAM

At the end of last year I decided that this year would be a year that I step back and refresh. Tyler and I have something we’re working on together, but we’re not in any hurry and the Elah Tree brand will probably be around for the next few months as I plan to blog throughout this transition. I wish I could tell you more about what’s next, but that’s for another post… plus, I like keeping you in suspense. 😉


 

PRACTICAL STEPS FROM 9 different creative professionals. Grab your FREE E-Book and embrace your dream this year!

 

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE OR EARLY FOR YOUR DREAM

So, why did I tell you all of that before telling you about this E-Book? Because I wanted you know that it’s truly never too early or late for your dream. It’s never too late to change direction. It’s never too early to get started. It’s completely okay to try different things and not have things workout. It’s okay to to start one thing, figure out it’s not for you, and try something else. I’ve tried so many different things and changed directions so many times, but I’m always willing to keep going. I’m always ready to embrace a new dream.

I’ve come together with 8 other amazing women and we’re all sharing our journeys with you. Practical steps to help you get started and things that really made a difference for each of us. We’re here to inspire and lift you up, so grab your copy and embrace your journey this year!

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Learn from the experience of 9 different creative professionals. Grab your FREE E-Book and embrace your dream this year!

 

ITS NEVER TOO LATE TO START LIVING YOUR DREAM

LIST BUILDING 101 : GROW YOUR EMAIL LIST

List Building 101: A blueprint to grow your email list. Download your free cheat sheet!

Email lists are one of the most popular topics in which I get questions about. And for good reason, building an email list and creating a healthy system to manage that list is one of the best things you can do for your business. Don't just take my word for it. Think about some of your favorite brands; Gap, United by Blue, Magnolia, Letterfolk, West Elm, Anthropology. They work hard to build their email lists and they want you on their list too. They ask for your email almost every time you go through the register. Anytime you stop by their website they give you an opportunity to sign up too. And they do a great job at it. In trade for your email, they offer 10% off your first order or they offer you free shipping. If you give them your birth date they'll even offer you something special on your birthday, like a free drink.

An email list is a direct link between you and your customers. Between you and your audience. Whether you are a small business, a lifestyle blogger, or a service provider, you can grow your brand and create a lasting connection with your email list. Every time a brand shows up in your inbox, even if you don't open it, you are reminded of them. I get plenty of emails from West Elm and Anthropology that I don't open, but I never unsubscribe, because one-day they might send me the exact deal that I need. They know it and I know it.  

I know, the idea of emails and list building may be overwhelming, but they don't have to be. List building is all about creating a system and this type of system can be created in steps. And these steps can be built over time. Try not to get ahead of yourself. It's easy to get excited and want to do everything all at once. But if you do the work ahead of time and set up your system first, you will be in amazing shape, your list will be growing, you'll be connecting with your audience, and your system will be doing the work for you. 

MAKE LIST BUILDING EASY WITH THIS LIST BUILDING CHEAT SHEET

STEP ONE : CHOOSE HOW YOU'LL MANAGE YOUR LIST

Choose a provider to manage and build your list. There are plenty to choose from; MailChimp, Convertkit, Mad Mimi, Infusionsoft, and many more. When making your decision choose the one that is best for you and your current situation. I use MailChimp, which has been perfect for me and I can't recommend it enough, especially if you are just starting out. You can sign up for free and your account remains free up to 2,000 subscribers. I've also heard good things about Convertkit and I've heard a lot of businesses switch over once their managing multiple lists and revenue streams. 

STEP TWO : SET UP YOUR LIST

This is super easy. If your using MailChimp this is as easy as a few clicks. You'll name your list, set up your email, etc. MailChimp is extremely user-friendly and if you run into anything you're not sure about they almost always have an example or guide to get you through it.  

 
 

STEP THREE : CREATE YOUR WELCOME SEQUENCE

Create a welcome sequence or onboarding system. In MailChimp, this is an automated sequence of emails welcoming new subscribers. This is going to take the most legwork, but it's also going to do all of the work for you.  A welcome sequence can be a single email to a sequence of emails. The first welcome email often introduces you to your audience and also includes the download/freebie that they signed up for. If you want to create a sequence of emails, which I highly recommend, you'll want to set up a sequence of nurturing emails, followed by an offer email. Nurturing emails are meant to serve your audience, before selling anything to them. 

Let's use my on-boarding sequence as an example. I have 6 emails in my welcome sequence. The first 3 emails are all nurturing and the final 3 include an offer. My first welcome email introduces me to my new subscriber, includes a link to their free downloads and talks a little bit about the benefit of using styled stock photos. The second email is what I would consider a resource email. It outlines a variety of resources they can utilize on our website to help them do business better. The third email includes a link to a special download and includes a survey (which helps me serve them better.) My forth email includes a special offer only available to subscribers. My fifth email answers any questions they may have about the offer. And the sixth email lets them know that their offer is about to expire. 

MAKE LIST BUILDING EASY WITH THIS LIST BUILDING CHEAT SHEET

I'm going to be honest, it took me a long time to create my system and I continue to tweak it as I continue to learn. Your welcome sequence does not have to be as long as mine. You can start small, with a single email and add to it as you go. The important thing is to really think about how you will serve and communicate with your subscribers. They're on your list because you have something they need or want. If they unsubscribe, that's no reflection on you. That simply means your not a good fit for each other. They may come back later and that's cool. Don't sweat the unsubscribes, focus on those who really want what you have to offer. 

This step of setting up your welcome sequence does take a significant amount of work, but this is the part that will keep working for you as your list grows. Once you set up your welcome sequence, these emails will be taking care of your subscribers 24/7.

You might be thinking, "how am I supposed to make an email sequence about my freebie when I haven't even made one yet?" We're almost there, trust me. And I get it, it might seem odd to set up a welcome sequence without having created your freebie yet.  But your welcome sequence sets the tone for your relationship, so while your freebie hooks new subscribers, your welcome sequence is more important. Creating your welcome sequence first forces you to think about how you plan to communicate with your subscribers and how you'll bridge the gap between your subscribers and your product. While you work through this step you'll be brainstorming the perfect freebie to bridge that gap. Create your emails and remember to go back to update them with the freebies you create. 

 
 

STEP FOUR : OUTLINE YOUR CONTENT

I think one of the most overwhelming things about having an email list is figuring out how to serve them. Especially when you're just getting started. So the next step in your list building blueprint is to outline your content calendar to serve your subscribers. Outlining your content will give you confidence once your email list starts to grow and you'll be all set to serve them right off the bat. Now, let's brainstorm some content that you can serve up to your subscribers. 

  • A blog post round-up

  • Monthly freebies (example: I send out FREE stock photos every month)

  • A resource guide

  • E-course

  • Tutorials

  • Your favorite business apps

  • How-to videos

  • You favorite tips and tricks

Think about your business specifically. You want to bridge the gap between your customer and your product. Think of ways you can serve them that also brings them closer to making a purchase. Even if you're a lifestyle blogger, your email subscribers will drive traffic and sales to any affiliate links or sponsored posts your working on. Teach your subscribers creative ways to use your product. Teach them something and emphasize how using your product would make what you're teaching even easier. (example: building an email list is hard work, but promoting it can be made easy with styled stock photos. See what I did there. ;) 

Once you've brainstormed your content add it to a calendar. I use Google calendar for all my content and once a month I review upcoming content to make any changes. Because my content is outlined I'm never scrambling or feel rushed to wing-it. Do the work, plan ahead, and you'll be in great shape.

MAKE LIST BUILDING EASY WITH THIS LIST BUILDING CHEAT SHEET

STEP FIVE : CREATE YOUR FREEBIE

Okay, friend, this is where you create the freebie or download to hook new subscribers. We've already done a lot of work before even getting to this part. But that's okay, because the magic is in the prep work. The most important thing to remember when creating your freebie or download is to make sure it aligns your audience with your product or offering. You don't want to offer a freebie that doesn't connect your subscribers to your product. Otherwise, neither them or you will be a good fit. You want to do the work of creating something that is a perfect fit, that way your subscribers will be head-over-heels for your offer.

Let's work through some examples. One of the main freebies I offer is FREE styled stock photos, which is perfectly in-line with my product and customer needs. It gives customers an opportunity to test out the styled stock images and also gives me an opportunity to share how stock images can really make a difference in their business.

Let's say you sell a physical product, you could offer a discount on their first purchase or free shipping. You could even create a downloadable freebie that pairs with your products. Remember when Magnolia offered free decorative prints, which were perfectly aligned with their design style. I didn't think twice about downloading them.

Another example, I create a variety of downloads specific to business, like this Instagram calendar (which could be used with styled stock photos), or this Instagram Toolkit. Because I know my target audience is also feeling overwhelmed I created freebies to help with that exact thing, like this maintenance day checklist. 

This step might be easy to overthink, but just think about some of your favorite brands and think about what freebies they are offering. If your selling physical products think about what larger brands are doing, like Anthropologie and West Elm. At the top of the Anthropologie website, you can sign up for free shipping. At West Elm, you can save 15% off your entire order. Do you offer digital products? Is there anything that you can create to offer for free? Can you create an e-course? You can do this!

STEP SIX : BUILD YOUR OPT-IN

Now that you've created your freebie, a freebie that aligns perfectly with your customer, it's time to create a way to offer that freebie and collect emails. You can do this a few different ways, but in short, you want to create an opt-in. Most websites have opt-ins in multiple places, giving new visitors plenty of ways to subscribe to your list.

There are lots of different ways to add opt-ins to your site and Squarespace makes it so easy. You can use their announcement bar feature to direct subscribers to an opt-in page. You can use the promotion pop-up to offer your freebie and collect emails. You can create a blog post promoting your freebie and collect emails through an embedded form. You can create a separate opt-in page, like this too. If you're not sure how to create an opt-in page, check out this how-to.  You can add forms at the bottom of each blog post (scroll down and you'll see mine.) You can also add opt-in forms to your blog sidebar. There are multiple ways to collect emails, the great thing about that, is you can utilize almost all of them.

PROMOTIONAL POP-UP

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OFFER ABOVE THE FOLD + ANNOUNCEMENT BAR 

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SEPERATE OPT-IN PAGE

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Creating your opt-in forms can be even easier with stock photos too. You can use stock photos to create an opt-in page. And you can use stock photos to customize any promotional pop-ups you create. 

STEP SEVEN : PROMOTE YOUR FREEBIE

We're on to the fun part, woot! We're about to the cross the finish line! It's time to throw some confetti for all the work you've done! You've determined how to manage your list, you've set up your list to collect emails, you've created a welcome email sequence, you've outlined your content calendar, you've created your freebie, you've added all your opt-in forms, now it's time to promote your freebie!

The easiest ways to promote your freebie is through a blog post and you can use Pinterest, Instagram (plus Instagram stories,) and Facebook to funnel people to that blog post. Did that just sound like a lot? With a little bit of planning, it doesn't have to be a lot. You can create images and posts that all work together. Your focus during this promotion is to use all the platforms I mentioned to funnel new visitors to your opt-in forms. You definitely don't want to have done all that work to set up your list and then not be able to promote it well. 


WHAT I HAVE LEARNED AFTER 8 YEARS OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Two years ago I wrote a post, "What I've Learned after 6 years of photography." It's maybe one of my most popular posts. Seeing as it's been another two years (I can't believe it) I thought it might be a good time to revisit what I've learned and look back. 

2015 meets 2017 ... 

1  | GIVE YOURSELF GRACE

One thing I have learned over everything else that I think is most important is to give yourself grace. In 2015 I was struggling with my lack of growth. I felt like I should have covered so much more ground as a photographer. But I had failed to see everything I had gone through.

In 2015...I wondered why I hadn't grown more and then I looked back on my journey. I forgot about how much my life changed through my journey. I started photography, but then I moved to Florida, where I lived for a year. Then I moved back to Missouri, where I lived for a year and a half, then I moved to California, where I lived for two and a half years. And now I'm in New York. Moving around a lot requires a lot from a person and learning photography wasn't always a priority.

Grace upon grace in any journey is essential. Even now, after I feel that I have found my footing as a photographer. I can look back on this past year and see how much I've grown, but if I'm not careful I can fall into the comparison game and I start withholding grace. No matter where you are in your journey. No matter how short you feel it has been. No matter how long you feel it has been. Give yourself grace. 

2  | PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE 

We've all heard it. Practice, practice, practice. This was true for me eight years ago and it's still true for me today. As a photographer and an artist you can't stop and except to always have it. No matter where you are at in your journey, whether you are 6 month's in or 5 years in, practice will always be apart of the game. 

3  | EMBRACE YOUR FAILURES

It took me a long time to embrace my failures. But failure as a photographer is always an opportunity for growth. Failure simply means something your tried didn't work. Failure in photography simply means to try again, to keep going, to challenge yourself and to think outside of the box. The sooner you embrace failure and see it as a learning opportunity, the faster you will grow and the more knowledge your will gain. 

4  | VIEW COMPETITION AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SET YOURSELF APART

When most photographers get started in their industry, whether they are a portrait photographer, wedding photographer, commercial photographer, styled stock photographer or the like, they sometimes play it safe. They do what every other photographer is doing. It's not that they don't want to be unique, but they see that other photographers are being successful and sometimes they think, "I need to do it that way to be successful too." I've totally been there. I've played it safe and created images that we're "current" in my industry. 

The great thing about any journey is that we can continue to grow, find our rhythm as photographers and create things that we absolutely love, even if it's not what others in our industry are doing. That is what successful businesses are made of. They differentiate themselves.

Competition aside, you are unique, the way you do business is unique, the way you see and take photos is unique. Embrace that and your competition isn't really competition at all.

5  | SEEK OUT OTHER CREATIVES

When I first started out as a photographer I was petrified of other creatives. "What if they see right through me?" "What if they tell me I suck?" "I can't hangout with other creatives, I'm not as good as they are." This may not be a concern for everyone, but if it's something you are thinking, take a deep breath. Every creative I have ever met, whether it was another photographer, a lifestyle blogger, or a small business owner, they have all been kind, gracious and giving. 

What new photographers or new business owners don't know, is that regardless of how far we come in our journey, we'er all still learning. And most of the time we still feel like we don't know what we're doing, haha! 

6  | KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT

Your camera can do a lot. So can your flash, lenses, and every other piece of equipment you may have. Keep learning your equipment. After eight years I still have things I'm learning. We never stop learning. Keep going, keep trying. keep learning.

7  | IT GETS EASIER

I'm so glad to include this one. It does get easier, friend. I never thought it would and some days are still hard, but it does get easier. Things that used to be hard, start to make sense. The things that took you so long to learn become habit. It gets easier and sweeter. You'll find your groove. You'll find your sweet spot. You're clients and customers will find you and you'll love creating for them. It get's easier. 

xoxo. Samantha 


4 DIY PHOTO BACKDROPS ON THE CHEAP

4 photo backdrops on the cheap

Happy Independence Day, friends! I'm so grateful for this day and for the opportunity to celebrate with friends and family! I'm popping in super quick to share 4 DIY backdrops on the cheap. Guys, I love DIY photo backdrops, especially if they are on the cheap. These 4 DIY's are pretty simple and I still use the DIY backdrops we've created all the time! 

  • Are you a Fixer Upper fan? I mean who isn't, right? Try this faux shiplap backdrop. This is one of my most used backdrops and I love it!

  • Do you have any extra foam core boards laying around? Add variety to your foam core with this super, easy DIY.

  • Need a rustic style backdrop? Do you have any extra pallet wood? Try this repurposed wood backdrop.

  • Are you trying to figure out how to create photos with a seamless backdrop? Here's quick how-to on sweeps. A quick and easy backdrop with paper or fabric.

Happy creating! xoxo! Samantha