Lessons learnt from 10 years as a wedding photographer

Show notes:

Today I’m chatting with one of my wedding pro members – Sam Gavins. Sam has been a wedding photographer for the last ten years, and today we dive deep into her story. We discuss Sam’s journey from nursing to photography, her initial struggles with the business aspect of the industry, and how the Wedding Pro Members Club helped her overcome these challenges. Sam also shares her experiences in getting on recommended supplier lists and building relationships with wedding event coordinators. Listen to hear more about Sam and the lessons learnt from 10 years as a wedding photographer.

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Time stamps:

The start of the business side (00:00:21) Discussion about the challenges and hurdles of the business side of being a wedding photographer.

Getting into photography and early experiences (00:01:48) Sam’s love for photography from a young age, her experience with photography in school, and receiving her first proper camera.

Transition from nurse to photographer (00:03:44) Sam’s decision to pursue photography as a business after having children and encouragement from others, overcoming imposter syndrome.

The struggle of affording equipment (00:09:41) Sam discusses the challenge of not having enough money to buy her own camera equipment and having to borrow lenses from a friend’s film business.

The importance of investing in education and community (00:10:56) Becca and Sam discuss the significance of continuously learning and stretching oneself in the wedding photography industry.

Building relationships with venues to get on recommended supply lists (00:13:38) Sam shares her strategy of offering help and building relationships with venues to get on their recommended supply lists.

The Future of Sam’s Business (00:19:43) Sam discusses her plans and aspirations for the future of her photography business, including a desire to go to Las Vegas and continue doing what she loves.

The Challenges of Next Year (00:20:39) Becca encourages listeners not to lose hope for the upcoming year, despite the challenges many are facing. She advises against dropping prices and emphasizes the potential for big budget weddings in the future.

The Importance of Support and Asking for Help (00:21:26) Sam highlights the value of joining a business group for support and knowledge, as well as the importance of asking for help and not being afraid of rejection. Becca reinforces the idea of asking for opportunities and collaborating with others in the industry.

Transcript:

Sam: I’m still learning. And that’s where the Wedding Pro Members Club has been absolutely invaluable because all the information that you give out to us, I just absorb like a sponge. So that’s, that’s been really, the business side was quite a big hurdle, definitely.

Becca: I’m Becca Pountney, wedding business, marketing expert, speaker, and blogger, and you’re listening to the wedding pros who are ready to grow podcast.

I’m here to share with you actionable tips, strategies, and real life examples to help you take your wedding business to the next level. If you are an ambitious wedding business owner that wants to take your passion and use it to build a profitable, sustainable business, doing what you love, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s get going with today’s episode. Today I’m chatting with Winchester based wedding photographer Sam Gavins. I’ve been working with Sam over the last few years and I’ve loved watching her and her business bloom and grow over that time. Sam describes herself as a fitness lover and coffee connoisseur and she really values documenting moments and memories through her photos.

She’s a fab photographer and she even captured some images of me on stage recently which I’m super thankful for. Sam, welcome to the podcast!

Sam: Hi Becca, how are you?

Becca: I’m very good. I’m so excited to have you on. I absolutely love more than anything chatting to my members on the podcast because I think that’s what people really like hearing the real stories behind the real people and the real businesses.

So thank you for agreeing to do this. Pleasure. Okay, let’s get started then with going right to the start because I think often people’s journeys. best when we understand where you’ve come from. So just let me know, how did you get into photography in the first place? Is it something you’ve always done or did you work in other areas first?

Sam: Yeah,

it’s sort of one of those cliches really. I’ve always, always loved photography. I remember having my first camera when I was about eight years old, having a little Instamatic and then I did O level, that shows how old I am, but I did O level photography at school and we had a darkroom.

Which was great. So I would be able to experience photographing and then developing, which was wonderful. And then when I finished my O Levels, my, I remember going up to my bedroom thinking, Oh, it’s all over. It’s great. That’s wonderful. And it was on my bed. I saw this box and it was an SLR camera. So that was the first proper camera that I had.

And that was from my parents and they didn’t have a lot of money. They worked really, really hard just to pay the bills. And that was such a special thing to have. This camera on my bed and it went from there, really, it was a really, really lovely hobby, a passion that’s just grown into my business. So

Becca: I love that.

I love it when people really know what they love really early on. And it sounds like all along you’ve loved taking photos at that point though. Did you ever think that it could be something that could turn into a career, something you can make money from, or did you just think it would always be a hobby?

Sam: I don’t think I really looked further ahead than it being a hobby. I mean, I was. I trained as a nurse, so I definitely didn’t think about training as, or being a photographer, or doing any, any further education with photography. It was just something that I really enjoyed doing. So yeah, no, it was, it was later on that.

way later on that that happened.

Becca: Okay, so let’s talk then about that way later on. So you’ve just said you trained as a nurse, very different to photography. So how did you end up going from being a nurse to being a photographer, which you are now?

Sam: Well, I had a bit of a gap. I had four children and then I I remember thinking, At that point, I was photographing friends parties, doing loads of photographs of my children, and just loved documenting everything that was going on in our lives at the time.

And I think somebody just said to me, because I always had my camera at parties, and they, somebody said to me, well, you should do this as a business. And at that point, I just, I think I doubted myself. I, I didn’t really think that I could. charge people money. I mean, that was for something that I loved doing.

You know, I had real imposter syndrome problems at that point, but yeah, I just thought about it a bit more. I did certain things to make it happen and. And ten years later, here I am. So it’s great.

Becca: I think that’s a really common theme actually, people feeling like just because you enjoy something, that you shouldn’t charge for it.

It doesn’t feel like work, so therefore I shouldn’t charge for it. Obviously at some point you made a decision that it was okay to charge for something. Do you remember getting your first paying client, your first paying wedding?

Sam: Yeah, I do. And I remember talking to the clients and saying, I’ve second shot at weddings.

before, not very many, to be honest, and she, she was so, they were so lovely. They just said, well, somebody has to start somewhere, sorry, everyone has to start somewhere. And I just charged her very bare minimum, but it was like, well, it’s amazing. I 200 pounds or something. And I remember being so nervous, being awake most of the night, going over everything I had to do.

Actually, it all went perfectly well, and they were, they were such a lovely couple. And I, I’ll always remember them and be really thankful to them for that.

Becca: And so how did they find you? Were they friends of a friend? Where did they, that first client come from? I think I put,

Sam: I put a mess, I put a post on Facebook asking if anybody was getting married, saying I was new, and she came back to me.

So that was really lovely. She’s, she’s from Winchester. I bump into her sometimes and she realizes she still follows me on Instagram.

Becca: I love that and everyone has to start somewhere, right? But she got an absolute bargain because I assume that you are, and I hope the answer is no, you are no longer only charging 200 for wedding photography.

Sam: No, no. I’m not.

Becca: Good. So you did that first wedding, you got a bit of confidence. So then what? Did you start taking it more seriously? Did you up your prices? What was the next phase of that journey?

Sam: Well, I really felt that I needed some, some formal education, although I’d done O level photography, I hadn’t been to uni to do it, I didn’t do a photography degree.

I did an online course which was a diploma and that was sort of something that I could pick up and drop when I, when I, when I needed to because of time factors and family factors. And I, I did that over a year. And also just the amount of YouTube videos, workshops that I did, I just did as much as possible to try and get myself up to the level that I needed to be confident, I think.

I mean, I might have always had the, the eye and the artistic side of it, but it was, again, I wanted to be able to say to people, I’ve, I can do this and this is what I’m charging you. It was about that imposter syndrome again. I don’t have that anymore. It’s okay. That’s gone.

Becca: Good. I’m glad that you don’t have that anymore.

So let’s go right up to present day then. Where would you say now, when you look over the years, where do you think most of your couples come from at this point?

Sam: Definitely word of mouth. I have a lovely couple that I’m still friends with. They’ve just had a baby recently actually. And for example, they had a big group of friends and over the last few years, I’ve just been photographing the whole group of friends.

It’s been great fun. So I see everybody again at another wedding. And I also did, this year I did her sister’s wedding. So people just refer me, which is really nice. Yeah.

Becca: And that’s a good confidence boost as well, right? Because if they, they must like the photos from their friend’s wedding, otherwise they wouldn’t trust you to do it again.

Sam: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And I do, I do get really nice feedback from just people saying, Oh, we liked having you there. You were calming influence. You didn’t get flustered. Those sort of things, which is, which is nice to hear. I’m just being me, right? You know, I’m just, I don’t really try to be like that.

It’s just how I am.

Becca: Well, that’s all that we can be is just be ourselves and the right people will find us. So I think it’s interesting in the wedding industry, because a lot of times people say it’s a difficult industry because we can’t get repeat business because often people only get married once.

And even if they get married twice, they’re not going to use the same people. But actually, when we are a good person, and we do do a good job, we do get repeat business, but from the friends and family at the weddings, that’s a common story, which is why it’s important for everyone listening to remember, like.

Just go out there, be nice to everyone in the wedding party because you don’t know who’s getting married next and as we know in life, often, as you’ve just experienced, groups of friends get married over and over again between each other over the next kind of 2, years and there’s lots of work out there for the taking.

So when you look back over your 10 years of photography, what do you think have been some of the biggest struggles along the way?

Sam: Well, my initial huge struggle was having kit that I could afford. And I remember a really good friend of mine runs a film business and they had the same lenses. So I’d bought the bodies, which I had to sort of Use from savings or buy from savings.

And every time I needed to do a shoot, I, they lent me these, the lenses, which was amazing. The only drawback that became was that obviously they needed them. So I couldn’t really plan far ahead. So I just had to. keep plugging away until I’d raised enough money to buy, to buy them

myself. So that was the first hurdle.

I think that the biggest hurdle for me having no business background was the business side of it, you know, which I’m still learning. And that’s where the Wedding Pro Members Club has, has been absolutely invaluable because all the information that you give out to us. I just absorbed like a sponge. So that’s that’s been really The business side was quite a big hurdle.

Becca: I think that’s true for a lot of people. I mean, it’s why I’m so passionate about doing what I do and why it keeps me going, because actually, you know, there are a lot of people out there who are incredible at what they do, taking photos, making flower arrangements, making cakes. I’m terrible at all of those things, but.

You know, they’re not, they’re not necessarily business owners. And when you go into this world of self employment, you think, yeah, that’s, that’s easy. I could just take photos and I’m good at taking photos, but actually we forget all of the other things that are involved, like from the marketing to the finance, to the insurance, like it is an absolute minefield.

I also love what you said about not having the money at the start, because I think that’s a real, real struggle that people have, because at the end of the day, business, we do have to invest into our businesses. Before in order for them to grow, but that can be difficult. So I love that you were borrowing equipment.

I love that you’ve been really honest about that. And often I see people doing things like they’ll, you know, they get their booking in and then they’ll buy the next piece of equipment because that’s how we have to live. At the start. So thank you for your honesty in that. Now you mentioned the Wedding Pro Members Lounge.

One of the questions I wanted to ask you really was why you think it’s important to keep on investing in your own education, in your own learning, in your own community and what benefits those things have bought your business?

Sam: Yeah, I think it’s really, it can be really easy to become complacent and just carry on doing exactly the same thing.

As you’ve always done, and one of the things you always advocate is to, for us to go out of our comfort zones, which is what I’m doing now. This is just so out of my comfort zone. And when I saw you last, I had had a glass of wine, but only one. And I said, yeah, yeah, okay, I’ll do a podcast. But I think if you hadn’t have encouraged that, I wouldn’t, I would just.

I’d be doing what I normally, I’d be sitting here editing now, I wouldn’t be doing a podcast with you, so. And I think, yeah, that’s quite important to stretch yourself, however many bookings you have or however good you’ve become, you know, it’s just to keep stretching yourself and do things out of your comfort zone, definitely.

Becca: I’m glad that you’ve agreed to do this and you’re stretching out of your comfort zone. And it’s true, we need someone in our corner sometimes just encouraging us and saying, yeah, you can do this. Just, just don’t hide away. Get out there, meet people, get in front of venues, all of those things and come on the podcast, Sam, because you won’t regret it.

I promise. I promise you won’t regret it. It’s great to have you here. And I’m glad you’re here sharing your story with us. Now, I just mentioned about venues, so let’s, let’s stick with that because again, one of the things that I know we’ve talked about over the last few years is, you know, how do you get on these recommended supplier lists?

How do you get in front of venues? How do these things happen? And I know because we’ve talked about it over the last couple of years, you have got on some of those lists. So as a photographer, it’s difficult to do that. What do you think has helped you in order to get on the list that you have?

Sam: A couple have been really easy and some haven’t.

So the ones that haven’t. I think what I’ve done is, is to offer them something. So, chatted to them about them and got to know the, the wedding events coordinators when I’ve done weddings there. And just, even just do things, or even say when you’re there, is there anything I can do to help? I’ve got a bit of a lull here.

You know, is there anything that I can do to to help you today. I’ve offered to photograph the venues as well if they need anything for marketing. One of the venues, I actually photographed a baby shower for one of their It was actually one of their staff, so and I didn’t charge, so that was sort of my gift to them.

And I think it’s been really just helping them, just so it’s a two way thing, really.

Becca: Absolutely. Perseverance and Offering to do something for them. Two things that I talk a lot about, and I’m glad that that’s the way you’ve been going and it does work, but it does take time. It does take time, but also it’s surprising how few people do actually have that approach to think, you know, I will go and I’ll offer to do something to help them, but it does work and I’m glad that it’s working for you.

And I know that that’s. That’s been a successful strategy for you. So keep going with that. Keep going with that. And if you’re listening to this and you’re feeling disheartened, listen to what Sam’s just said. It’s about perseverance, keeping going, not giving up, and just keep being a good person and keep offering.

See what you can do to help them. And those things will come back in kind. They always do eventually. Now, Sam, we know that Running a business can be an emotional rollercoaster. Every single one of us has moments where we love our business. Every single one of us has moments when we hate our business and want to quit.

Every one of us has moments where we feel like we’re really successful than other days where we feel like no one wants to book us. So through that journey over the last 10 years, what things have kept you going and kept you in the world of wedding photography?

Sam: Gosh, that’s a really difficult question.

Because it’s, for me, not at one point have I felt like I wanted to give up, which is a really lucky thing to feel, I think. I mean, when, probably earlier on, I used to feel, Oh, maybe I’m not, you know, maybe I’m not good enough. I’d have, I’d have doubts, but I just really enjoyed what I did. And I think I really enjoy being with people.

So that was always a good thing to have. Can you repeat the question, please?

Becca: So through your business, things have been up, things have been down, sometimes we find things easy, sometimes we find things difficult. What things have kept you going and kept you in wedding photography over the last few years?

Sam: So it’s, it’s knowing, for me, one of the things is knowing other wedding professionals and having the support from other people that know what you’re going through, which is really important, which is why the Wedding Pro Members Lounge is really important. Although I don’t see many, many of them face to face every, every Monday morning is, you know, it’s, it’s really nice to hear people from the, who are going through the same thing.

I’ve also got, made quite a few friends locally. I’ve got a really good friend who’s a cake maker. We share a lot of, yeah, ideas and, and problems together. So having people that know what you’re going through is really important.

Becca: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. I think it’s, it’s can sometimes feel lonely, right?

We’re in our own businesses in our own worlds. And as much as our friends and family love us, they don’t really understand what it is like to be in the wedding industry. So I think it’s really important to surround ourselves with like minded people who can go, yeah, actually we’re going through that too.

This is what we’re doing to make it better. Maybe you can help them and they can help you. And we all grow together, which is why I’m a big believer in community over competition, because even other photographers, you’ve got a lot that you can help each other with and definitely helps your businesses to grow.

Now, Sam, there might be people listening to this who are newer to the wedding industry. Maybe they’re where you were 10 years ago when you felt like you didn’t know if you’re good enough and you’re only charging 200 pounds for your wedding photography. So if there are people listening who are wanting to get.

What tips or advice would you give them if they’re aspiring to be in that place?

Sam: Don’t take everything or try not to take anything personally. There will be always people, other people, that are better or worse than you, it’s just life. I think, try not to always compete with other people, other, other, so, I, I do follow other photographers, but I don’t get hung up about whether I think their photography’s better, or whether they’re getting more bookings, you can only do what you can do.

And obviously you can learn from them, but you can only do what you can do. I would definitely have joined a business group earlier on if I’d known about it. I think that would have helped my business side of things hugely. So that, I think that would be definitely my number one piece of advice.

Becca: Really helpful. Thank you for sharing. So what’s next for you, Sam? What, what are you looking forward to for the future? Where do you see your business going? Have you got any big dreams or aspirations for 2024?

Sam: Oh, well, I need to come to Las Vegas with you next year if I can.

Becca: Yes, please. Let’s do it.

Sam: It’s all a bit slow actually for next year, to be honest, but I’m not too worried about it at the moment.

It’s this time last year I had lots more bookings. But every year is different, so I’m trying not to worry about it too much. Yeah, so I’m, I’m just gonna, I just really enjoy what I do, so I’m gonna continue doing what I do.

Becca: Absolutely, continue going out there, getting braver, bigger, better all of the time and Sam, I think you’re incredible.

I love that you’ve been brave enough to come on the podcast today to share your story. And I think you’re on a huge journey and I think there’s still further to go. And as for next year, because I know people listening will be feeling the same. Next year is a funny year. Lots of people are saying it.

However, as I always say to each and every one of them. The bigger the budget, the less time they take to plan. So don’t lose hope for next year because there’s still some big budget weddings that they’ll get engaged this Christmas and they will get married next summer. So there is still work out there for each and every one of you.

So hold your nerve. Don’t drop your prices because that’s what it will feel tempting to do. It’s a discount if you haven’t got much work for next year, but actually you want to have the opposite mentality. Hold strong because the bigger budgets haven’t even got engaged yet. Now, Sam, I always end my podcast with the same question, which I’m Which is what’s one thing you personally wish you’d known sooner in your business?

Sam: Well, I think I’ve just covered that really. I’m sorry if I’m repeating myself, but again, joining a business group and having the knowledge to help with my business, but also the support from other people, I think also to ask, I mean, I did I did ask cause those friends lent me the lenses, which, but to ask more people can only say no, if they don’t want to help you.

Yeah. So I think join some support group with knowledge to help you with your business. And also to ask.

Becca: Yes, I love that. Ask, ask, ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Just like all those venues you were talking about earlier. If you didn’t ask them what they needed help with or if you could do something for them, then they’d have just ignored you and you wouldn’t be working with them in the way you are now.

Sam, it has been such a pleasure. I hope it wasn’t too painful for you stepping out of your comfort zone. Thank you for being honest, vulnerable and sharing your story and I’ll speak with you soon.

Sam: Thank you very much, Becca.

Becca: I loved chatting with Sam and she’s so brave coming on here because I know it was out of her comfort zone.

But as I said at the start, I love interviewing my members, chatting with them and finding out their stories because you listening at home, you’re in the same kind of places and actually you don’t always need to hear from the big names and the big educators. Sometimes it’s much more helpful to hear the raw honest truth from people in the business just like you.

I’ll see you next time.

​

Becca xo

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