Recorded: Welcome to The ReWork with Allison Tyler Jones, a podcast dedicated to inspiring portrait photographers to uniquely brand, profitably price, and confidently sell their best work. Allison has been doing just that for the last 15 years, and she’s proven that it’s possible to create unforgettable art, and run a portrait business that supports your family and your dreams. All it takes is a little ReWork. Episodes will include interviews with experts from in and outside of the photo industry, many workshops, and behind-the-scenes secrets that Allison uses in her portrait studio every single day. She will challenge your thinking and inspire your confidence to create a profitable, sustainable portrait business you love through continually refining and reworking your business. Let’s do The ReWork.
Allison Tyler Jones: Hi friends, and welcome to The ReWork. Today’s episode is, sort of, a part two to my earlier conversation, episode number 73 with Mary Fisk-Taylor, “If I Was Starting Out Now”. But, this conversation is with my friend Kimberly Wylie of Kimberly Wylie Photography. She had to close her studio in 2020 due to a really traumatic health problem. She’s going to tell us a little bit about that, and then, she’s also going to talk about what she would do if she had to start over again in the portrait business, right now, in this economic climate, and with everything that’s going on. I think you’ll find this conversation very interesting. Somebody who has been in the business for 20 plus years has had to get out of it. What she would do if she was coming back in right now. Let’s do it. When you have really great friends in this world, and you’re too busy to actually have conversations on the phone, so now, what this looks like is just inviting your BFF onto the podcast so that you can actually have a conversation.
Kimberly Wylie: Hi.
Allison Tyler Jones: Kimberly Wylie is here today. I’m so happy that you’re here, and, you look amazing, even though nobody’s ever going to see this video.
Kimberly Wylie: Well, thank you. I have lots going on today.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yes.
Kimberly Wylie: We had to get dressed, put some makeup on.
Allison Tyler Jones: I love it. Well, I appreciate you being here, and, one of the things I wanted to talk about is, when we last talked you shared such great advice, and that was one of our most downloaded episodes. I wanted to update everybody on where Kimberly Wiley Photography’s at, and then, also just talk about what you would do if you were coming back into the industry right now. So, give us a little bit of backstory on that.
Kimberly Wylie: Meaning where we’re at? Meaning that we’re not actively working at this point?
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah, just kind of what…
Kimberly Wylie: So, I’ve never really publicly talked about this much, because it’s kind of an ongoing saga still. Close friends have been very intimately involved in my nightmare of a journey. But, in 2019… So, backstory, I was a very big runner. I love to run. That’s the way I decompress, that’s the way I process thoughts. All my best ideas either came when I was running, taking a shower or going to the bathroom. That’s where all brilliance comes from.
Allison Tyler Jones: When you’re not on your phone or a computer.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah, exactly. So, running was just such a great outlet for me. But, over time, I liked to run five, six, seven miles. Five, six, and seven started really hurting, and I was really struggling physically. And, on top of that, had a very bad shoulder that was affecting my shooting and my job every year, especially during Christmas season. So, running became my outlet. Swimming used to be my outlook before that. Long story short, I had double knee surgery in November of 2019, and, unfortunately, that surgery left me…
Kimberly Wylie: I was only supposed to be on crutches for three to five days, five to seven days, at the most. And, we had people flying in for Christmas sessions all that next month, and local people, and just packed calendar. And my surgeon guaranteed that I would be fine to be my job after a week. And I never got off crutches until my second surgery, which was February of 2020. There’s all kinds of things that just didn’t go right, to put it mildly. And so, at this point, I have my seventh surgery scheduled in a month, and then, my eighth surgery scheduled in January. And, it’s a very long story, but the bottom line is I couldn’t do my job anymore.
Kimberly Wylie: And, it was heartbreaking to have spent all my love, and all my blood, sweat and tears, and all of you who do this for living know that it’s so much more than a job. There’s passion involved, in not only the art, but the people you’re working with…
Allison Tyler Jones: The relationships.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah. And, my people, even at KWP that I worked with, my best friend Jessica, and everyone who worked there, their lives were affected by it. And so, the writing was on the wall. We knew what the problem was, and when this problem happens, a lot of times people have upwards of like five, six, seven, eight, 10, 15 surgeries sometimes trying to get it fixed. So, writing was on the wall that this wasn’t going to be a really short journey, and so, we decided in January that we were going to have to close because I still was on crutches, and it was heartbreaking.
Kimberly Wylie: We had to sell all of our cute little things we curated over time, and our beautiful studio, and all the things, and it was like I was selling part of my soul. It was just so… That sounds so dramatic when I say that, but it really felt that way. And, the ironic part of it is that this was February of 2020. We closed the door for the last time, February 23rd, I think it was, and I went to Connecticut for my second surgery. And, sweet Jessica, after my husband left, flew out to stay with me, and we’re watching the news, and we’re like, “Are we even going to get home? What is this whole thing that everyone, I mean the Corona…”
Allison Tyler Jones: “What is this COVID-19 thing?”
Kimberly Wylie: At that point… And, anyway, we came home, and two weeks later the world shut down. And, I’ll never forget sitting on my back patio in this huge knee brace just going, “God works in the craziest ways.” So, that’s, kind of, the story of why we closed very, very not the way we pictured that ending. Kind of an abrupt stop. We had always pictured, at a minimum, holding onto some of those clients that just loved to do anything and everything you said. And so, our next big thing was we were going to start doing shoots in Paris. That was our thing we were going to do in 2020. So, maybe someday we’ll still make that happen, but that’s where KWP is. So, it’s been an update there, but, my brain and my heart are still very involved, and loves talking about it, and would love to help anyone in any way I can.
Allison Tyler Jones: Well, and you’re a wealth of knowledge, and one of the best business brains I know, and also one of the most kind and giving, loving people that I know in my life.
Kimberly Wylie: I’m just going to come on these podcasts just because you fill me up these awesome compliments.
Allison Tyler Jones: It’s true. It’s absolutely true. Yeah, it’s absolutely true.
Kimberly Wylie: Well, right back at you.
Allison Tyler Jones: So, you’ve had this, nothing short of tragic health trauma. There’s no other way to put it. That… You’ve been pushing this boulder up a hill again and again and again that didn’t allow you to do what it is that you love for a living at this point anymore. But, I’m going to wave a magic wand, and say, “You’re now coming back into the industry in 2022, and January of 2023 you are going to have to open again. What would you do?” Because, I think that’s an interesting thought exercise when there are many of our listeners that are like, “Well, you’ve been in business for X number of years, of course you have this, that and the other.” Would you do anything different? What would you do the same? Let’s just discuss it. What do you think?
Kimberly Wylie: Okay. I think that’s kind of a funny little exercise, given that I have had time to pause, and do other things, and not be just inundated with all photography. 2022… I mean, 2023 you’re going to be… I would be starting a business in a very different climate. I think all the things that are going on in the world, with inflation, and all the boring things that we’re not going to get into, but that would affect things a little bit. I think the number one thing from what I learned going through the recession of 2008, 2009, is I remember very distinctly being terrified of that time period. Because, typically, that’s when luxury purchases go away, and people start holding onto their money tighter. I would think photography would be one of the things that they wouldn’t do.
Kimberly Wylie: And, I think that through that time period, what I learned is that being in the higher end of photography, having a product to sell that people could touch, and feel, and hold onto that being in that level of the market, as well as being in the higher end of it, just really helped us stay afloat. It was the middle market that struggled a lot more. People who didn’t really have a defined brand, or didn’t have specific products to really get people excited about, they’re the ones that struggle a lot more through that time period. And, I didn’t know we were making the right moves at the time, because it was, actually, super scary thinking that, “Okay, wait, we’re expensive. People are going to not want us.”
Allison Tyler Jones: Right?
Kimberly Wylie: When, in fact, I feel like it, kind of, was opposite of that, is that the people who have discretionary income, and it’s a very low level amount, because they’re not paycheck to paycheck, but they’re also not with a really large nest egg or even a medium sized nest egg, they’re the ones who are going to have to pull back more, whereas some of our clients were very lucky and blessed, and they had bigger nest eggs. And so, they were able to ride that storm without such big peaks and valleys, and their spending patterns didn’t change as dramatically, let’s say, as someone who had maybe a smaller nest egg. And so, I think I would want to make sure that I had very defined brand, and a defined product line that was something for me to get excited about, but also for others to get excited about. And, I think having those printed products, and the things they could really hold onto, especially during this time, would be one of the number one things I would be looking to focus on.
Allison Tyler Jones: Okay. So, a couple of things there that I want to just have you expand on. The idea of, not even a nest egg, but, expenditures as percentage of income. And so, for example, when Caroline, my sister, first, kind of, started into the interior design world, and she would talk about some of the things that they were putting in these houses, like a chandelier that was a 100,000 dollars or whatever, which is extreme, that’s not a normal thing, but, in that world it is normal. And so, I would be like, “You could feed an entire village for years of kids in Africa for that, and how can you possibly do that?” And, she’s like, “Well, you’re looking at a percentage of their expendable income. You, going and buying a $20 or a $50 lamp at Target, takes a higher percentage of your expendable income than that 100,000 dollar chandelier does of theirs.” And, those people are also funding huge philanthropic efforts, or whatever. So, it’s just get out of your middle class, or blue collar world mindset, which is where I totally was, and look. Take a bigger view.
Kimberly Wylie: For those of you that listened to that podcast you referenced at the beginning of this podcast, about jumping off the ledge. That was a huge part of that jump is to recognize, “Gosh, I can’t be doing business based on my own budget. I will never succeed.” And, it’s so hard to get out of your own head.
Allison Tyler Jones: And, your own fears, too. Your own fears about the economy.
Kimberly Wylie: “I’m not worth more than that. I wouldn’t pay more than that, so why would someone else pay more than that”, kind of feeling. But, I knew that I had to stop looking at this as a personal journey, but as a business decision, and not a personal reflection of what I’m worth, or what my work is worth, but what is my time worth? What am I willing to give up instead of all of that? And, it made it more cut and dry, made it more of a business decision in the end. And, when we did jump off that ledge, it was, kind of, jumping to the other side of the world saying, “You know what? I might not be able to afford my own work, but I know that there are people out there that can, and that value what I do. So, that’s the world I’m going to now live in from a work perspective.” And, we did, and it was one of the best decisions we ever did was to work. And, we had to take time to really…
Kimberly Wylie: If you think about really high-end companies, they don’t have just a ton of product choices. It’s a much more curated line of higher end offerings, and I always call it the cheese cloth. What words did we want our products to sieve through? And, it was high-end, classic, and timeless, but not always, necessarily, traditional. We wanted work that could be in a very traditional home, or a very contemporary home. And, in order to play in that world, we had to pare down our products to fit those words, but also to feel high-end, and to have the whole experience feel high-end, to get those clients to want to come to us, instead of other options. And, because of that, we were able to weather the financial storm in a very different way had we not made that leap. And so, I know if I were to start again, I would do whatever I had to do before I opened my doors to get my branding, and my product line, and the quality of my work at a level that I could comfortably be in the higher end market.
Allison Tyler Jones: So, was there anything specific that you feel like that you did because you were… Before you made that transition, did the transition from middle to higher end, did that just happen kind of organically, or by raising prices and changing your offerings? Or, was there a conscious decision one day we’re going high-end, and you changed it the next? What did that transition look like?
Kimberly Wylie: So, if you could pull out all the marketing materials that we’ve produced over our 21 year career, or whatever it was, and put them side by side, you would see a progression in marketing that answers your question right there, which you guys could visually see. When I first…
Allison Tyler Jones: From the Applebee’s menu to the…
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah, exactly. When we first started, it was… Let’s see here. I did black and white. I still, to this day, black and white is where my heart beats. But, we got into that colorizing, tinting, just the roses part. That’s how we started, because the photographer I originally started under and worked for, that was her style. So, our first marketing piece had that kind of feel on it. But, as lovely as that was for that photographer, that really wasn’t my personality. And so, that didn’t last long, and then the next one, and the next one, and over time, what you would see is there was a ton of color. It was like, “Let me just make sure everybody knows every little thing I could possibly do for them all on one postcard.”
Allison Tyler Jones: How many pictures on a postcard?
Kimberly Wylie: At that point, at least the one I’m picturing in my head, had six. Six little squares.
Allison Tyler Jones: Thumbnails, yeah.
Kimberly Wylie: Right. Making sure everyone knew I did maternity, and newborns, and toddlers between this age and this age, and the next stage…
Allison Tyler Jones: And, much, much more.
Kimberly Wylie: … and the family. And, if you could see our last pieces, they had a ton of white space. Our logo morphed, over time, into something much more higher end looking, much more elegant. We had a mark that could be used without my name. And, the marketing itself was extremely clean, very minimal, fonts that were more high-end, and just a much cleaner, refined look. I got rid of all the too much stuff. Jessica and I would sit there, and look at everything, and it was just… I don’t know. It would be funny. That would be a funny visual to put together.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. Well, I remember when I came and visited you in your studio, I think it was 2016, and you were like, “Okay, so look in here.” Because, I think it’s so helpful to have somebody that doesn’t work in your studio every day come in, and you did the same thing for me when you came to my studio. But, you’d say, “Okay, tell us what is too much stuff.”
Kimberly Wylie: “What needs to go?”
Allison Tyler Jones: “What needs to go?”, yeah. And so, anything I would say, “Well maybe that”. You’re like, “Throw it out. Throw it out.”
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah.
Allison Tyler Jones: You’re like, “We’re not keeping it. We’re not calling that client to see if they want it. It’s in the trash. Get it out of here right now.” So, even after then, by then, you had already had a high-end brand, but continual refining, continual curating.
Kimberly Wylie: Yes. The ReWork. That’s what The ReWork’s all about, right?
Allison Tyler Jones: Yes, exactly. Well, and just that you’re never through.
Kimberly Wylie: No.
Allison Tyler Jones: You’re never done evolving. You’re never done evolving.
Kimberly Wylie: Well, thank goodness, because otherwise it’d be so…
Allison Tyler Jones: Boring, I know, it’s so true.
Kimberly Wylie: I would never… I would have to come up with something new and different each year just so I would remain excited.
Allison Tyler Jones: Exactly.
Kimberly Wylie: You do it for that long, you got to do something to keep the magic there for yourself.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah.
Kimberly Wylie: That shows through everything. But, yes, I would say one thing too, that I know we were really good at is, both Jessica and I, thank goodness we have so many similar personality traits, but one that we shared that I think directly impacted our business is, we were quick to, once we saw what we needed to do, there was no hesitation. It was like, “Do it. How do we get there yesterday?”
Allison Tyler Jones: Executors.
Kimberly Wylie: Yes. Once we saw it, we were in. We didn’t have to hem-haw around it. It’s like, “A decision was clear, we’re done. Let’s do it, throw it out. What next?”
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah.
Kimberly Wylie: That’s a hard thing for a lot of people to do, because a lot of people will second guess and, “Oh, gosh, should I really do that? What if this happens?” All the fears, and all the scary things.
Allison Tyler Jones: Right. So, you’re talking about a process of reduction, really, is you go from being all things to all people. And, I think, for sure, when we all start out, you don’t really know what you’re going to like to do. You just are so happy to be. That somebody’s paying you to do something with a camera, and you’re having fun. And then, you realize, “Wait a minute, this is actually a lot of hard work, and people have opinions about that work, and they have opinions about how it turns out”, and all that. So, they have opinions about anything that you charge money for. And then, you start to reduce your product line, not just… When we say product line, we mean the physical product, but also the number of types of genres that you’re shooting. So, you got it down to where you’re doing… Because, high-end newborn was really your main thing, right?
Kimberly Wylie: No, I wouldn’t say that. But, I didn’t feel the need to put everything we did on every advertisement.
Allison Tyler Jones: For sure.
Kimberly Wylie: That would be the difference. So, the number one thing in branding is consistency, and it took us a minute to find that, because, again, if you look back, our logo even changed, over time. I would recommend making one big change and trying to stick with it as long as humanly possible, because the more you change your brand, the more confusing you are to all your people. But, again, once we knew we wanted to be more high-end, we had to change our brand. So, we did. We hired a professional to do it, and we spent the money into the brand to make it phenomenal. We had letter press cards and… I mean, it was very high-end. The paper we used, everything that you touched, saw, felt, smelt, experienced, had to fit within that brand, and I think a lot of people don’t realize how important that is to the luxury consumer when they’re shopping. So, it’s not just changing the prices, and getting rid of a few products, it’s really making sure that that permeates through the entire experience.
Allison Tyler Jones: Right. And so, if you’ve designed your own logo, and you’re not, in a past life were not a graphic designer, that’s probably a good reason to rebrand.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah. Yes, exactly. And, that was me. I had done all of our logos
Allison Tyler Jones: Same.
Kimberly Wylie: …and it just lacked the refinement. Looking at it, you can see I did it. It worked. It was fine. But, really, to play in that next level, we needed to treat it like a business, and invest in ourselves. And so, we did. We hired a very well-known company, here in Dallas, that helped us, and they did a phenomenal job. We loved our brand, and I never felt confused in it after that. It was very easy and clear to do.
Kimberly Wylie: So, we had an ad that ran in a high-end magazine, and every month the only thing that would change would be, mainly, the picture. Maybe the one line of text up above it, whether it was Mother’s Day or Christmas time, or whatever we were talking about in that moment. For instance, we would do a beautiful family picture in the mountains, and then we would put the dates of where we were traveling. Aspen, and here’s the dates, or whatever. It was a very simple ad, and so, over time, those readers would see that we did newborns, and families, and the things, but not all at one time.
Allison Tyler Jones: Right.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah. It’s not that we only became a newborn photographer. We did. We still did all those six buckets. We just didn’t advertise them all in one.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. Well, because, I think, when somebody wants to buy a large scale piece of art for their baby’s nursery, they want the specialist to create that for them. Somebody that they can see. So, when you’re looking at, if you can picture that there’s a grid or nine or 12 different pictures, the different photographs, nothing will have the impact as that single full bleed image, whether it’s on a card or whether it’s in a magazine or on a screen.
Kimberly Wylie: And, we didn’t even do full bleed. That, to me, was not high-end. I wanted the white space around it to create that more refined feeling.
Allison Tyler Jones: The gallery catalog or something.
Kimberly Wylie: Yes. But, it goes to even… So, back when we first started, we used to do something called a personalized series print, I think is what we called it. PSP. And, think Pottery Barn, 1980s, 1990s, 2000 with the frame with… I don’t know, how many holes, for however many pictures you wanted in that frame.
Allison Tyler Jones: Like a nine.
Kimberly Wylie: That’s, kind of, what we were trying to do is to create that opportunity for clients, but without the mat. And, it is the worst thing, because it just takes all those beautiful images, and smooshes them all into this one thing, and it was horrible. Well, that’s the version of the ad. Wouldn’t you rather have one drop dead gorgeous, drooling image that you could just drool over, rather than six all smashed together? So, that’s what we did with the ad, as well.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah, because it stops them in their tracks.
Kimberly Wylie: We got rid of all the albums that had that look to them. We got rid of all the products that had that look to them. We got rid of our advertising that looked like it. We just started focusing on large scale art.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah, I love that. Well, and that, it stops them in their tracks when they flip past that too.
Kimberly Wylie: Yes.
Allison Tyler Jones: But, I feel like that’s something that almost every photographer, portrait photographer in particular, has to transcend, if they want to go to the high-end, is this idea of a lot of little multiple images in a single frame. A lot of tiny, little five by seven, eight by 10. Just, this idea of a lot. I just want a lot. But, the idea of saying, “Okay, we’re going to commit to a single large image.” And, I think, how many times have you heard photographers interviewed where they’re saying, “Once I was standing in the dark room, and I saw that image come up in the tray, my life changed.” And then, I think the same thing can be said as the first time you have a 40 by 60 delivered to your studio, of one of your pieces, and you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea that it could be this good.”
Kimberly Wylie: I literally have chills right now, and I’m sitting in my kitchen, just thinking about it.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah.
Kimberly Wylie: You can see, even here on my Zoom call, those two of the kids. To this day, people walk into our house, and just freak out over the photography in here, because it’s not a lot of little, it’s very, very specific images.
Allison Tyler Jones: Intentional.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah, exactly. Intentional size to the space. And, it’s just, it’s so much better. I don’t have five by sevens anywhere around here. That’s not true. I do. But, most of them are us eating ice cream or…
Allison Tyler Jones: Those are your snapshots.
Kimberly Wylie: Right? Exactly.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. Yeah. Those are your snapshots. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And, I know when I made the transition from when I sold my scrapbooking store, and then came into photography, some of those customers that were scrapbookers followed me, and wanted me to photograph their family, and then they’re like, “Well, we need all the little ones for scrapbooking.” And I’m like, “No, no. These are not pictures for scrapbooking. These are not images for scrap. This is to go, to hold a wall and be like, ‘Whoa, this is your family.'” And so, I do feel like that is part of that same transition is, rather than doing every single combination, with every single session, and then clients see them all, they want them all. It’s being intentional about how we’re shooting, being intentional about what we’re providing. What are your thoughts about that? Your own transition.
Kimberly Wylie: Well, I’m just sitting here thinking. I’m sure you have a ton of listeners listening to this going, “What are they talking about? How on earth am I ever going to get there? I’m a shoot and burn. Or, I have products, but, I mean, my clients are going to give an uproar if I don’t offer five by sevens.” I can hear some of the mental stuff going on in some of the people probably listening to this right now. And, I think that all that is very normal to feel, because I felt it. I’m sure you felt it when you made this change. And, you asked a question earlier that I don’t know if I actually addressed, but it kind of will come back to answer these thoughts going through the head is, did I do this overnight? Was it real dramatic or was it kind of organic, over time?
Kimberly Wylie: And, I would say for us, it was a little bit of both. I think that, over time, I was trending, Jessica was trending in our sales room, to be more intentional. We knew. We kept finding the same roadblocks with every client, not depending on their budget. And, the problem was that, with that many different products, and that many choices, there’s an indecision that happens. Analysis paralysis comment. I think that, over time, we were starting to simplify out of need, and so, that part, I would say was organic. But then, the true decision, the jumping off the ledge moment, that podcast we did, that was very intentional. There was a little bit of leading us to the river, and then jumping in. So, to the people who have all those thoughts running through their head, the things I would say is, it’s not that we don’t offer five by sevens or eight by tens anymore. We just don’t make them a prominent part of our studio, or even the sales process, or even our language. That’s not in our language. Those are very much, obviously, gifts for family. Maybe, if you want one for your bedside table, that sort of thing. But that’s not where the focus was. The focus was on large scale art.
Kimberly Wylie: The next thing I can hear is like, “Well what about all my clients? I’m going to lose all my clients.” Yes, you will lose some of your clients. That’s, unfortunately, part of the goal. Some of my most favorite clients are clients that we lost, but we didn’t lose them forever. What they did was they saved their money for that one big beautiful piece, because they fell in love with that concept and that idea. And, we didn’t see them every year, we saw them every three years, and that was okay. They were still part of our lives. They understood what we were doing. They appreciated the value in it, and they saw it. They saw the vision, and they wanted it, and they saved for it. And, that was, probably, the biggest compliment I think we received in all of our business, was the clients that we thought we were going to lose, and we didn’t lose. They made it work, because they still loved what we did, even more to save for it.
Kimberly Wylie: And, I think it’s so scary to lose clients, especially when we’re talking about possibly heading into a recession right now. Like, “Oh my gosh, that’s terrifying.” But, dream this way. Think about your life being more simple. Everything you do in your business right now, simplified. Your shoots are more focused, which means your editing is more focused, and your sales process becomes more refined and focused. And, everything has a purpose behind it, so you’re not just wasting all this energy trying to swim uphill. And, the clients that you’re working with know who you are, because you have such a defined brand, and such a defined product line, and those things lead to your life becoming easier, more minimalist, simplified. You’re going to have more time with your family. It just really brought everything home. We just weren’t flailing like we were before. And so, to the people who think, “Oh, I can’t do this.” You can. You absolutely can, and it’s a little bit of that field of dreams thing, “Build it. They will come.” If you build a brand with beautiful imagery, you will find the right clients. It happens because they’ll see it, and they’ll want it.
Allison Tyler Jones: Well, and something that you just said made me think that we’ve heard a million times. How many times have we heard about branding, and defined brand, and recognizable, and clear, and consistent, and all of those things. But, I still find that, sometimes, that feels like an elusive, hard to pin down concept. And, just as you were talking, it made me think about how I feel like that my brand became more defined once I defined it, but once I defined it.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah.
Allison Tyler Jones: And so, part of that is, when you hire a design professional to design your logo or your brand, that is one step, because then, you, kind of, see how other people see you and see your work. And so, you’re like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And then, you’re looking at the work, and you’re deciding like, “Okay, actually I hate newborns.” I mean, I don’t hate newborns, but, “I hate photographing newborns. I love toddlers. I love kids. I love families.” So, you’re looking at, thinking about the things that you really don’t have your heart, that you’re never going to give them, it’s just due by photographing at weddings, whatever. And then, really leaning into the things that you do love. And, not just the product category, or the genre, but your unique vision, because you had such a unique vision of the newborn. You didn’t do a typical newborn in a bucket. You did newborn on a Harley, or whatever.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah, I did.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah, you sure did. You know, so, you did some really cool things.
Kimberly Wylie: I did one on a Ferrari, one time.
Allison Tyler Jones: I love that.
Kimberly Wylie: The shoot took longer than anticipated, because we had to wait for the car to cool down. Didn’t think about that. They drove the car to the studio, obviously, and then, we had to wait for it to cool down. We actually went to the park.
Kimberly Wylie: But, one thing I think is interesting, to the listeners there, is that you, ATJ, your brand, your experience, you got even more narrow, more defined and refined than I ever did, in terms of, you only do studio sessions, and you don’t do newborns. You know you have a very specific category of what you do, where I did newborns, toddlers, families, we did inside, we did outside. We had a much more broad sense of… We had 10 locations we loved and worked in. And so, you can be both of those versions, and still be refined. I think that’s important for people to understand. It’s not like you have to say, “Oh, I’m only going to be a newborn photographer now.” You can. You can become the world’s best newborn photographer, and really hone in on that. That’s great. But, you don’t have to do that to still be high-end and refined in what you do.
Allison Tyler Jones: I think it’s just a point of view, because when I think of your work, and your brand, it is timeless. It’s classic, but it’s also incredibly warm, and colorful. But, even your black and white? Warm. I just thought there’s always such a warmth in what you… The love is definitely there, and beautiful. So, it’s, I think, digging into what makes you, you. And, sometimes that requires you to go outside of yourself, and have colleagues look at your work, and, kind of, give you those words that can help you further refine that. And then, as you’re trying to evolve your brand, because we all want to stay relevant, we all want to stay being creative and moving forward, how are we evolving the brand? So, you might have a brand, but maybe it’s stale, maybe it’s time to refine that, and move that forward.
Kimberly Wylie: Yes, I would say, with the refinement part, it’s interesting, because Jessica gets so bored sometimes. She’s like, “Kim, let’s do something different.” Because, she’s in the sales room all day long, working with our imagery. And, I’m like, “Okay, I love that you’re bored, because that means we’re just hitting our stride.” Because, that is the perfect time to know that you are doing exactly what you should be doing, which is being consistent. And, it’s so hard. So, we would add in maybe a new something, but we never would just flip the switch, and do something completely different. We had to still stay within the brand, and, I think, that’s why I picked up painting, to be honest. Because, when you’re really successful in something like photography, and you’ve got a really good brand, and all that, there is some limitation to what you’re doing. You just can’t… I would never go put a bed in a field. That just wasn’t my style.
Allison Tyler Jones: Right.
Kimberly Wylie: That would’ve just been out of left field. Not that I couldn’t. I just wouldn’t advertise it, or whatever. But, it does confuse people. So, when I started painting, I was able to really do whatever the heck I wanted. Look at a blank canvas, and it could be colorful, it could be…
Allison Tyler Jones: And that’s your… That’s kind of like your personal development.
Kimberly Wylie: Right. That was my own, personal creative outlet while I did photography, because, yeah, sometimes you will find that you’ll get bored. But, that’s okay. You got to figure out ways to make it exciting, like we talked about.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah.
Kimberly Wylie: Because, there are so many things to having a defined brand that it’s consistency, so it can get boring to a creative person.
Allison Tyler Jones: Well, I think that I had so many friends, colleagues ask me when I decided to quit shooting the location, and only go studio, just like, “You’re going to get bored. Aren’t you bored? How are you going to get… People aren’t going to come back again and again for that.” But, I just found the core reason why I was doing what I was doing, and why I wanted to do the work the way that I did, is that I didn’t care about the environment. I really just cared about the people, their personalities, and that was something that was always changing, in my mind. And so, there was always a concept to be had. There’s always something going on this year, with this family, that we want to hit the note of for those kids, or whatever. And so, it was an exercise in, by reducing, that there’s no environment, something really great has to be happening between the photographer and that person.
Kimberly Wylie: You do make that magic happen.
Allison Tyler Jones: But, it’s setting a bar, and everybody has their own version of that. And so, I think, so often, because we’re just trying to make a living, we’re trying to sell what we’re creating. If we can take a minute, and have that creative time, not just to learn a new lighting setup, or buy a new chair, which all the things we love, new lens, whatever. But, think about why am I capturing these people the way that I am, and what do I really love about what I do? What do I not love? Maybe there’s something that you don’t love anymore that you need to reduce, or take away. And, what I’ve thought, too, is that if I don’t believe in what I’m doing, this is the most obvious thing in the world, how can I possibly convince my clients that they should do it? If I don’t believe that large scale art, or finished product, or larger images instead of a lot of little is the way to go, there’s no way that my clients are going to buy that, because I don’t believe it.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah, exactly. Well, lightning round kind of thoughts is, if I were to start my business from scratch, right now, I would definitely, number one, want to be high-end. Two, I would get a professional to help me with my branding. Three, I would make sure I stayed within my brand. Four, I would make sure I did in-person sales. I think that’s huge. I would make sure, five, my pricing was consistent with my costs. That’s a mistake I made for a long time. Trying of price to the market, not realizing that photographers aren’t notoriously known for being high financial-minded people. So, doing my own math, making sure I have that.
Allison Tyler Jones: Do your own math. This is the title of this podcast. Do your own math.
Kimberly Wylie: Oh, that’ll get a whole lot of viewers.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. No, we… Just kidding. But, okay. That is huge. So, another way of defining your brand, too, is don’t follow the crowd.
Kimberly Wylie: Right.
Allison Tyler Jones: Don’t just try to be a better version of somebody else.
Kimberly Wylie: No, and I did. That’s how I started. I came from finance, so I thought I knew nothing, but I did. I know me. I know me better than anybody, and I can only offer what I can offer, uniquely,, from my brain if I let that happen. And, once I did, that’s when everything completely changed. When I started to feel like a true photographer, and I owned it, that’s when I got the confidence to start making some of these decisions that were hard to make because it’s…
Allison Tyler Jones: How did you own it? What… Define that. That you just owned it. What does that mean?
Kimberly Wylie: I think, for a long time, because I came from a financial background, and it didn’t feel like I was a valid creative, that I would hide behind the marketing. I could make anything look good in a marketing, but the actual process was a little bit of a crap show, behind the scenes. And so, when I started owning that I was a real photographer, is when I, one, started investing to learn the things I was making mistakes in. Why does this keep happening? So, let’s see, let’s hire a lighting specialist. I probably worked with 10 lighting specialists before I really could control, and understand light, the way I wanted it. I would study movies, I would study other people who work, not to copy them, but to understand lighting patterns. That was, probably, my biggest technical challenge. And then, my biggest compliment is later in my career, people would say, “How do you do your lighting? I want to learn your lighting.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s really special that you just said that.”
Allison Tyler Jones: How hard you worked to…
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah. So, instead of just continually hiding, the way I owned it was I said, “All right, cool. What do I suck at, and how do I fix that? What can I do to get better at that? Why am I not making the money I want to be making, even though I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off? Okay, I can do this one on my own. I don’t need to hire anyone. Let’s, actually, put my degree to work, and look at the finances. Where am I going wrong?” And, I’ll never forget Julia Woods, we did that SMS. We were client, at one point, then we were mentors, eventually, but…
Allison Tyler Jones: Studio management services through PPA, back in the day when they used to do that. Yeah.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah, and Julia Woods was our mentor, and she was pacing outside of her own studio, and she’s like, “Okay, wait, do you guys understand how many five by sevens and eight by 10 you sell?” And, four by sixes, which just makes me cringe at the time. “If we raise your prices on those, this much, this is how much extra money you’re going to make without doing anything in your business.” And, it was like, “I’m smart enough, I should have been able to figure that out on my own.” But, I wasn’t thinking that way, I didn’t have that hat on. So, after that day I was like, “Duh. Let’s put that hat back on, and let’s look at every…”
Allison Tyler Jones: Get that spreadsheet out.
Kimberly Wylie: …single line item, and go through it with that brain. Where else can we change?” And, I think when you realize that the stuff you sell the most, the middle of your product line, not the low-end stuff, and not the super, super expensive stuff, but, that middle stuff, you have to price that for maximum profit, because it’s what you’re selling all day, every day. And, if you can, you’ll see your bottom line just grow without having to shoot more, without having to do a whole lot differently. But, that was how I owned it, I would say. It’s just recognizing what are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? How do we exploit the strengths, and how do we get stronger in those areas of weakness to be better at every part? And then, also genuinely recognizing I can’t do all of it. There’s a point in your business where, maybe you’re a solo person right now, and that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, if you’re growing your business, and you’re really wanting to put more volume to it, or more specialty to it, sometimes that’s when you realize, “Okay, wait, I can’t do this all on my own.”
Allison Tyler Jones: Right.
Kimberly Wylie: I used to have so many things. “Oh, no one can do that but me because it’s my…” BS. Absolutely, I call BS, because, by the end of my business I shot, and I did final review, and then I did our finance and marketing. That’s all I did. I used to do all the steps in between. “No one else can go through the images and pick them. No one else can edit them. No one else can do the product part.” Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Allison Tyler Jones: Wrong. Wrong. Yeah.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah. And, getting out of your own ego is part of all that.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah, for sure. Well, those are so many good things, and I love your brain, as always.
Kimberly Wylie: Yes, I know.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah.
Kimberly Wylie: I love your brain more. I love our brains together.
Allison Tyler Jones: I love our brains together. Our brains, together, are unstoppable. I love it.
Kimberly Wylie: Yeah. Well, I don’t love my brain, I just love business. I love photography. It’s such a fun way to… I don’t know, it’s just such a gift. And that’s the last thing to end on, real fast, is that, even though we’re headed into, possibly, a scary time, that doesn’t mean these families… This is what I had to learn. That doesn’t mean these families are going to not want to remember their kids at that age. It has nothing to do with it, and that’s the thing I was missing when I was so scared. And, even throughout the pandemic, like talking to you, and a lot of my other photography friends, the pandemic made people, in a lot of ways, want those images even more. They started recognizing how important slowing down in life was. So, don’t be too scared, because kids are still being born, and life is still moving.
Allison Tyler Jones: They’re still growing up, and losing teeth, and growing, and people want to capture that.
Kimberly Wylie: All these moments are still happening.
Allison Tyler Jones: So true. Well, you’re the best. I appreciate you taking the time today, and I hope you have a wonderful day.
Kimberly Wylie: Oh, thank you. And, same to all your people listening.
Allison Tyler Jones: Yeah. It’s good. It’s just good to hear from somebody who’s been there, and done it, and I just hope your knees get better, and that your surgery is a success.
Kimberly Wylie: I know. I hope so too. I have high hopes for these next things. The one in November’s very small, it’s just getting, I have four screws in my legs that are, kind of, coming out on their own, and they can’t get any images, because the artifacts from the metals. So, we’re taking them out so we can get a new CT, and then, surgery. The big surgery’s in January. So, it’ll be awesome. I know it.
Allison Tyler Jones: Praying for you. All right, love you so much.
Kimberly Wylie: Love you too. Bye.
Allison Tyler Jones: Alright. Thank you. Bye. I really appreciate Kimberly’s brain, her perspective, her just groundedness in knowing who she is, that financial background that is so grounded her business. But, it’s interesting how when she was starting out, she lost sight of the fact that she was creative, and then, even lost sight of the fact that she knew how to run a business. And, sometimes, we require mentors to help us to see things that are already there. So, I thought that was so interesting, how she brought that back around. The episode that we referenced during the podcast, her earlier episode, is number 31, “Stepping Off the Ledge”. And, that’s where we talked about the big huge change she made in her business from a higher volume, to literally taking half of her studio space, letting go some of her employees, and going to a more sane and sustainable business model. So, I think if you haven’t listened to that already, you’re going to find some really good value there.
Allison Tyler Jones: But, the takeaway from this episode is how big a role branding plays, in how you’re seen in the industry, how you’re seen in your community, but that really all starts with how you see yourself, how you see your work, how you see your clients, literally, how you see each session, and how you want to portray that client for them, how you show them to themselves, in a consistent way. So, I hope you found some value here in what Kimberly had to say. I know that I did. It’s made me rethink a couple of things just during that conversation. If you have a minute, and can go to our Instagram at do.the.rework, and send us a DM, and let us know what you liked about this episode, if there’s something that we could have done better, and any topics that you would like us to cover, we’d love it. Thanks for being here.
Allison Tyler Jones: In the United States, next week is Thanksgiving, so we are going to be taking a break from the podcast, and spending the day with our families, and I hope that you will too. So, I hope you have a great holiday, and we’ll see you on December 1st.
Recorded: You can find more great resources from Allison at dotherework.com, and on Instagram at do.the.rework.