With the advent of the iPhone (and other smart phones now too), and thousands of convenient handheld DSLR cameras widely available for the consumer market, taking pictures has never been easier. I remember how many cheap compact and disposable cameras I went through as a kid and teen - but now with a decent quality lens and a never ending list of filters in hand, almost anyone can be a "photographer." Right?
Not quite. Although you can easily find a million pretty images on Instagram or Twitter (which may be clear in a tiny file size), there is still an art and skill to taking high quality pictures and to posing, staging, and capturing any perfect moment. And it isn't as simple as pushing a button.
Ashley DuChene is one of the leading ladies in photography in San Diego, and with 10+ years of experience in the business (and even more behind the camera), she was at the top of my list for an interview for the SBS series. She self-markets and depends on doing great business with her clients for a steady flow of referrals and repeat customers. Get to know her a little better here, on the 4th installment of Small Business Spotlight.
How did you turn your passion into a business?
My dad and I used to do photo projects together. He was a photographer, and had a darkroom in his house for developing photos. I've been playing with cameras since I was three years old. I always brought a camera to parties, etc. but I always thought of it as a man's career. So I went to school for psychology and emphasized in child development. Well, I won a few photo contests in college, and throughout my professional psychology career I was always the photographer for the office and finding new ways to incorporate photography into my job. Ha! Finally I realized I needed to be a photographer! So, I went back to school, obtained a degree in photography, and started my business "Ashley DuChene Photography" 10 years ago.
What is your emphasis now?
Family Portraits and Commercial photography specializing in Children, Animals, Health and Fitness. I love working with children, I feel that I can connect with them better than most photographers because of my background in child psychology. Parents love that too, that I'm able to get great photos of their kids and help them cooperate.
There are SO many photographers in San Diego, how do you keep up with the competition?
I prefer to view all of these other photographers as partners instead of competitors. We refer business to each other and help each other grow. I actually haven't felt the need to "keep up" because my photography appeals to a specific audience where there is an abundance of flow. At this point, after 10 years of being in business, I am at a place where my photography is in its own niche. I heard a quote once, that "criticism should be taken seriously, not personally", so I like to self-assess and continue to grow in my own portfolio by listening to client feedback and expanding on the positives. Business for me has been going really well, so I decided to take what I'm good at - and keep doing it! I love working with families, so I decided to focus on families, and not necessarily worry about running on the treadmill of photographing things that might be popular, but that I don't enjoy!
Talk to me a little bit about your marketing strategies.
Much of my business relies on referrals, so I make it really easy for people to show off the pictures that I've taken - I give my clients an app where they can open and view their pictures really easily and access them for social media, for sharing. I treat all of my clients really well, so they are comfortable and look forward to working with me in the future. I build a specific timeline for myself throughout the year - for example I book holiday photoshoots during the summer. Things like this - time management and developing really great relationships with my clients - is my best form of marketing for my business. I also do a lot of work with charity, donating photo sessions and printed pictures. The most beautiful photos often come with the donated sessions!
Things sound like they're working like clockwork now. Has it always been that way, or did you have any hurdles to overcome in the early years?
For me, success means having a career that allows me the flexibility to be with my daughter as much as possible while bringing in enough money to make it worth the time away. Streamlining my business was necessary to eliminate the time wasters. My on-going goal is to have a business that practically runs itself. My client management software is crucial for tracking my calendar, contracts, invoices, and emails. I can schedule emails and invoice-reminders to go out when I’m not even sitting at my computer. The majority of the emails that I send to new clients are pre-written, I just add 20 seconds of customization to make sure that it has a personal touch. I hear feedback from my clients that they appreciate how organized I am. If only they knew just how ridiculously un-organized I was when I was just getting started-I used to change my policies and pricing on a whim. Now I’m at a place where I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. So much less stress and so much more free time to pursue my marketing and networking. Also, delegating my image retouching to a professional retoucher has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Sure, it costs me but it also allows me to spend more time shooting and less time sitting at my desk obsessing about photo image details.
What is your #1 business goal for 2015?
For 2015, my goals are continuing to find ways to streamline my process, focusing on client retention, starting to do email marketing, and re-evaluating my product line.
Huge Thank you to Ashley!
To find out more information, visit her site here: Ashley DuChene Photography
For information on how to get your small business on the spotlight, please send me your business description and a short background on your marketing strategies.
UPDATE - Ashley has released a beautiful video showing her work style and family life here.