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Your Business Should Work For You | Interview with Elizabeth Taylor Frandsen

All images in this post are copyright Elizabeth Taylor Frandsen Photography.
Used with permission.

I met Liz back in New Haven, and watched out of the corner of my eye as she started her photography business.  Happily galloping along a different career path, I still couldn’t help but stand in amazement at what she was creating for herself.  Self-sufficient business?  Check.  Creatively satisfying?  Check.  Flexible enough to accommodate the rest of life?  Check.  It was the first of an important life lesson:  Pay attention to those whose lives you envy, not just those whose jobs  you envy.

And oh, her images!  Jaw-dropping, showstopping barn burners.  Every.  Time.  When it came time to hire my own wedding photographer, even though she lived in a different state, there was no browsing involved.  I booked her for my engagement photos before I was even officially engaged.

To my utter delight, Liz kindly agreed to answer some questions about life and the photography business.  I hope you settle in and soak up every word – it’s not every day you get to learn from someone who hand-carved an incredible, profitable business in one of the most competitive wedding markets anywhere.  Enjoy!

Q. Please introduce yourself!

My name is Elizabeth Taylor Frandsen. Once upon a time my middle name was Ann, but I couldn’t bear to part with the remembrance factor of “Elizabeth Taylor” [her maiden name] so I decided to keep that as my middle name and add on Frandsen when I got married, using all three names professionally.  The name of your business should say a lot about who you are and what you do.

I’ve tried to keep “the importance of a name” in mind in my life as well, especially as I’ve had the opportunity to name two beautiful daughters. Ella Noel, 4, (born an hour shy of Christmas Day) and Hazel Elizabeth, 1, are in reality, my full time job. And I’m happy about that. I do love being a mother. But I don’t consider myself a “mom with a camera” necessarily. My business did not spring from the love of shooting my children. In fact, they’re the hardest subjects I have. Give me a girl in a stunning gown who’ll do exactly what I say: that’s where my business started.

I have an affinity for dresses. I purchased both my prom dress and wedding dress before I’d locked in a date/husband. He seemed like the secondary concern. Or maybe I just somehow knew He would always be the one. I started dating Jordan as soon as I could date. He was my first kiss and I haven’t looked back. Marrying my best friend is the secret behind me. As cheesy as it sounds, I have always loved him. We’re a team with big goals, the largest being a happy, forever family. So all that I do, including how I run my business, is tied to where we are at in life, together. 

Q. What is the mission of ETF Photography, and how long have you been in business?

I officially started my business in 2007 (as in I got a business license, started paying taxes, etc.) while living in New Haven, Connecticut. Jordan was working on his BS at Yale University and we needed an income. I graduated with a BS in Mass Communication from the University of Utah, but quickly realized writing from home (where I ultimately wanted to work) wasn’t going to cut it. I found a nanny job, which I did for a school year upon arriving in CT. But I soon realized raising someone else’s kids was the last thing I wanted to do. We decided to start our own family that first year of marriage, so I saw the school year to its end, then told the family I worked for that it was time for me to focus on my own family. Ever since then I’ve been self-employed. However, the need to make money has always been low on my priority list.

I actually started my own little digital pdf magazine when working as a nanny because my job wasn’t providing the mental stimulation and creativity I desired. I’d email my magazine to any who’d read it for free. I still wanted to write, but also loved creating my own images to go with the stories, and then laying the whole thing out in Photoshop. I got a lot of positive feedback about the magazine, but more than anything, people were commenting about the photography. I would spend hours writing the content and only minutes illustrating it, so these comments were semi-frustrating. Though I still believe I’m a good writer, I really have to be in a writing “zone” to accomplish anything. Once I signed on to be a mother, I believe I signed away the ability to be in an any sort of zone whatsoever. It’s multitask or die. But once I started shooting (even back in the point and shoot days), I realized that I see “light” (the true substance of a photograph) wherever I go. No zone required. I have a innate camera that’s always at work, always thinking, always has a vision, and since I can’t turn it on or off, I am always prepped and ready to shoot when needed.

This innate camera loves to shoot all things, but what really excites me, and perhaps where my “mission” as a photographer lies, is when I’m shooting women. I strongly believe the images of the world have left us feeling deeply inadequate. We compare our poorly composed, badly lit, with the worst focal length possible used images of ourselves to the Photoshop faked images of the media and it’s simply not fair. For the time being, I am a wedding photographer. This puts me in touch with dresses that I love, girls who are about to discover womanhood, and the creative challenges and delights that a wedding brings. It also puts food on the table. But one day, once my income means little to my family (Jordan is still in school working on a PhD), I do hope to find a niche in the market that will allow me to interact with women of all ages, shapes and size, where I will be able to provide them with a true representation of themselves, one that enhances their natural beauty using a professional hair & makeup artist, lighting, proper posing, and the real emotions of womanhood straight out of my camera.

Q. Many new photographers look at established businesses like yours and feel intimidated or even paralyzed because they don’t have the ‘right’ gear/experience/clientele/branding, and feel they can’t move forward until they do. You are a prime example of someone who built a flourishing business from scratch. Did you experience that kind of thinking at all when you started? If so, how did you overcome it?

I have luckily always been a fairly self-confident person. I have always believed in myself, and in turn, others have believed in me. so I entered the playing field of photography knowing that I could accomplish what I wanted if I set my mind to it. With that said, there were and are still many days when I find myself comparing my life and business to others and leave feeling discouraged. But I know that is self-defeating thinking and won’t get me anywhere. I believe our minds limit us more than our gear ever can. I was able to take great SOC images with my little point and shoot. I still take great SOC images. But as I’ve upgraded my equipment, I’ve forced myself to push each camera to the limit.

During college I was able to take a semester and teach English is Russia. While there we toured Europe a bit. My mom gifted me a digital camera for the occasion. When I returned home, I found my travel images being used by others as screen savers, etc. It quickly became apparent that I had a natural gift for composition. At the time, I was shooting with a point and shoot. But pointing and shooting was the last thing I did. Instead, I’d have to trick the camera’s focus to do as I pleased. In the end, camera was limiting my creativity. This is when you know it’s time to upgrade. And that goes for any camera/lens/flash you have. You do not need to start with something fancy and expensive unless you’re somehow already trained on such equipment. Learn with your camera progression. Yes. Top of the line equipment opens doors, but if you can’t even find the doors it’s opening, it’s of no use to you. Also, such equipment is expensive. I do not advocate going into debt to but equipment. I’ve always paid cash for everything I own (except our house). If you don’t have the money for the upgrade, then your business probably isn’t where it needs to be anyway. So work on it first. If your branding isn’t bring in the kind of clients you need, start there.

I don’t feel as though I have a fancy brand that I’ve infused into everything (though I think this can be super important). But I do think I am consistent. I have a chosen color palette and fonts that I generally stick to when I do design things, website/blog included. And my work is consistent. I didn’t establish myself as a professional until I felt my work was deserving of such. I look back on the very first wedding I ever second shot and I can still proudly stand behind those images. My brand is the same. It’s always been simple, letting my work speak for itself. Behind a brand must be a rock solid reputation. You can start building that from day one. You already have a name. (Your parents took care of that for you). And even if you decide not to incorporate that into your official business name, your clients will often still refer you by your given name. From the very first session you do, your given name will be attached to your work. So be professional from day one. Arrive on time. Deliver what you promise. Build a reputation you can be proud to attach a brand to. When you act like a professional, you will start to believe in yourself as such. There is some truth behind fake it to make it. But I think it’s more like, move forward in the direction you want to end up, and one day you will arrive. That’s how I avoid negativity. I realize I’m on the path, so it doesn’t matter where I’m at currently, as long as I’m moving forward.

Q. Is there anything you wish someone had told you in the early years of your business?

It took me a while to realize that there isn’t just one successful way to run a business or one perfect package to offer your clients. Your business should work for you, not the other way around. I used to offer print credit with my packages, because that’s what everybody else did. But I make more money per hour now by pricing my time effectively, and not worrying about the follow up with prints or after wedding sales. (I used to be following up with brides for a year or two past their wedding trying to get them to order their prints, etc.) Now that is a very specific principal to my wedding market here. So I’m not advocating such a practice to the world. Rather I just want to illustrate the you need to find and price your time and products in a way that works for you, your life, and your market. 

Q. You juggle many responsibilities outside of photography. What have you learned about the process of getting everything done?

It’s all about priorities. First of all you need to know what your priorities are. Then you must consistently put them first in your life. This goes back to running your business in a way that works for YOU, not your neighbor. I value my time as a wife and mom. So I am committed to limiting the amount of photography work I take on. I’ve priced myself at a higher point in my market so that helps to naturally limit the amount of work I get. Though I’m getting more inquiries than ever before this year, so I do think my ability to say no is going to be tested in the near future. But I feel like that’s a good problem to have.

Q. You once moved your business across the country. Even though you were returning to your home state, do you have any advice for photographers who are facing a move with their business?

Be patient. Have another source of income for a while (either a second job, a spouse’s income, or money in the bank). As I just said, I’m only now getting enough inquiries that I may need to turn people away consistently. It does take some time to establish yourself in any one given area. Because I moved back to my home state, Utah, I generally already knew how the market here worked and didn’t work. If I move again, I’ll definitely do my homework so I know how to appeal to the newer market of brides. It’s also important to utilize the web as it’s everywhere you need to be. I’ve been consistent about keeping up a blog. I think this was crucial to my move because I already had “followers” in Utah so when I arrived the word was out. I’ve heard from several sources that networking, especially in the wedding industry, can be key to establishing yourself. I’ve relied primarily on word of mouth advertising, but joining forces with an already established, successful business could definitely do wonders if you played your cards right.

Q. What are some things you’ve learned that help people feel comfortable in front of your camera?

I just act normal around them. I make sure I infuse my personality and who I am as a person into my online presence, so I attract the kind of clients who’ll naturally enjoy being around me. I also think it’s important to act confident when shooting. Your clients don’t know what to do. So they need you to take control. Once they realize you’re not going to let them look bad, then they can just relax and be themselves. It’s easier for children to be candid because that’s their nature. But adults don’t just spontaneously run from your camera or peak from behind a tree at you. So candid moments need to be posed in a way when you’re working with adults or teenagers. When I’m shooting a bride, I understand that I’m creating family heirloom images and that she wants to look her absolute best for generations to come. So I take extra care when posing my wedding clients to make sure that their best face is forward. If I was shooting the interactions of a parent and child, I would have a different focus and different approach. But either way, communicating clearly what you expect your clients to do or not do is key.

Q. What are your thoughts on pricing your work profitably? Do you still find that some people have a hard time seeing the value of your photography, and if so, how do you handle that?

First, you must know your business expenses in and out. If you don’t know how much money you need to make from a given session/wedding, how can you ever determine a price? I strongly believe in a budget when it comes to personal finances. Budgets do not restrict you, rather they set you free to spend an allotted amount of money without feeling guilt. When I set my wedding prices I knew exactly how much money I needed to contribute to our family’s monthly budget. From there I factored in my monthly business expenses and taxes. I have my pricing set so that I need to book 12 weddings a year. And my lowest wedding day package is priced where even if all my brides were to book that one, I’d still be able to contribute as needed. Now I am not the sole provider in our family. If I was, I would need to either shoot more weddings or raise my prices. But again, your business should be built around your needs, not some other person’s prices.

With that said, it is important to consider the market you’re in and what others are charging. Not because they provide limitations to you, but because you’ll need to know where you’re going to find your brides/clients, or if they even exist. So say I get online, find a really awesome Orange County, CA photographer whose work I feel is of equal caliber to mine. They’re charging $10,000 for all day wedding coverage. Now because I’ve decided my work is equal to theirs, I could set my price equal to theirs. But I have to take into account my market. Are there Utah brides who will pay $10,000 for wedding coverage. Probably. But there’s a good chance they don’t live in Utah. They probably live in Orange County. So if they happen to be having a destination wedding in Park City [A Utah resort town], then perfect, there’s my client. But the way I’d market to a Orange County bride who’s having a lavish destination wedding, would be completely different from marketing to the average Utah bride. Know your client. And realize that not everyone can be that person. And that’s okay.

As far as others valuing your work goes, it’s important to let them know that you value your work (make sure that you DO in fact value your work) by pricing yourself accordingly. If your goal is to run a business, let it be a profitable one. If, at the end of the day, you aren’t actually making any money, don’t fool yourself and call it a business. Make the money you need (or want) to make. Know how much it is. Then market to the clients who can afford and/or value your photography enough to invest in it. Many of my brides spend a good portion of their entire budget on me. And I appreciate that. It lets me know how much they value what I do, and I in turn want to give them the best possible experience and images I possibly can. Also keep in mind that some people can’t tell the difference between a good photograph and a great one. That’s okay. They aren’t your client. I would never pay $100 for a pair of jeans. I just don’t value the quality or name behind such a pair of pants. But that’s okay. The world is filled with utter variety. Capitalize on that.

Q. Please leave us with a favorite quote or song lyric:

“It never hurts to ask.”

~

Thank you, Liz, for your wise words and knockout images!
You can see more from this fabulous lady here:

Website  |  etfphotography.com

Blog  |  etfphotography.com/blog/

Facebook  |  facebook.com/etfphotography

Formspring  |  formspring.me/etfphotography

All images in this post are copyright Elizabeth Taylor Frandsen Photography.
Used with permission.

Melissa - Such a wonderful interview!

I love Liz’s work and her advice is incredibly helpful, I’ll definitely be using some of it :)

“I value my time as a wife and mom. So I am committed to limiting the amount of photography work I take on. I’ve priced myself at a higher point in my market so that helps to naturally limit the amount of work I get.”

This is what I’m trying out this year, hopefully it works out :)

Thanks for the great interview and info!

Rayleigh Leavitt - very inspiring! Thanks!

Kristen Fickes - Absolutely stunning photos, and such great information! Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth and Jenika! Really, really, really! :)

Tyler Crump - I’ve known Liz since high school. Great words of advice. It has been a real treat to see her ability grow. Keep up the great work!

Kristi - Up & Away Photography - “Also keep in mind that some people can’t tell the difference between a good photograph and a great one. That’s okay. They aren’t your client. I would never pay $100 for a pair of jeans. I just don’t value the quality or name behind such a pair of pants. But that’s okay. The world is filled with utter variety. Capitalize on that.”

Love, love, love, LOVE this quote. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Love!
Kristi – Up & Away Photography recently posted..Valentine Mini-Sessions {Marietta, Kennesaw, Acworth, Woodstock, Roswell}My Profile

John - Great Work! Amazingly simple.

Kate - I’m coming into this discussion a bit late, but what worries me is the statement about not being profitable. When do you give up? My story is this – I have been doing photography off and on for a few years, and in February of this year (so two months ago) I decided to go for it full time. I’ve booked three weddings (no more than last year doing it freelance, or the year before) and seven sessions. It’s not really enough to live off of – luckily I have a second income from my spouse, but when do you say, okay, I’m not making money at this? It seems that others who go into business full time have far more success right out of the gate…

Jenika - Hi Kate – I read an interesting post on this recently (http://mattandkatieblog.com.au/wedding-photography/you-can-do-this/). My thoughts on this subject are varied and complex, but overall, I do think businesses can be profitable, but tend not to be in the first year (or sometimes longer), and a lot of times it takes a lot of tweaking to find what WILL be profitable. One main problem is that what we want to do doesn’t always match up with what the market wants – so we either have to educate the market (which takes time) or change what we do (which most photographers don’t want to do). I think people who have success out of the gate are those who have studied the market, mapped out their business and offerings accordingly, learned a lot about how to run a business (not just how to be a photographer) and networked. Lots of photographers (not necessarily you – I don’t know your situation) just put up a price sheet and want people to call, but that’s rarely enough. Of course, there are situations where the best choice is to close up, but there are a lot of reasons why one could “not be making money” and still have a viable business idea. All photographers have to work to get clients, even successful ones. Anyway – I don’t think you should give up just yet, but maybe step back and re-evaluate your business plan and your target market. I can’t offer more specific advice without knowing more about you! Feel free to book a one-on-one session if you’d like individual help. Thanks for your honest comment, Kate!

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