We have a good one for you today. On today’s episode, I’m chatting with Lydia Stuemke about how she photographed her first birth with the goal of just paying off her camera but then decided to make it into a business, then transitioned her niche and is now full time without a huge audience on social media.
Lydia was a student inside Marketing School and is now a coach inside the group helping others achieve success too. Lydia is proof that following what is working in your business then doing more of that is the key to success!
We covered a lot in this episode but I think my favorite part was how Lydia uses 2 very strategic pieces of our marketing system to bring her the income she wants.
If you have a goal to make a full time income with photography, Marketing School for Photographers is opening for the last time in 2021 on September 20th so make sure to join the waitlist for all the info at www.thebeautyinbirth.net/waitlist
Ok, let’s get into the episode!
How to Go Full-Time with a Small Audience (with Lydia Stuemke)
Tavia: Okay. Hey, welcome to the show, Lydia. I’m so excited that you’re here.
Lydia: Thank you. I am excited to be here in my very fancy office/garage.
Tavia: Hey, I said we never would have noticed. It just looks kind of trendy.
Lydia: I figure I might as well just own it. You know, I’m just like, “You know what? You just do what works for you and your business, even if it looks a little unconventional.” And for me that looks like working in my garage!
Tavia: That’s so cool. That’s so funny. I love it. So I was thinking about when you and I first met, do you remember the story of how we first met?
Lydia: I do remember! Yes!
Tavia: I don’t even remember the guy’s name. Basically, we were on like a webinar but it was only like the presenter, me and Lydia, and I think that’s it. There was nobody else even on there. And he was talking about something to do with portrait photography and sales. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but Lydia and I were both birth photographers and I don’t even know how we figured out that the other was photographing birth, but we just started chatting in the chat and I’m sure the presenter was like so annoyed because we were like, “Oh, where are you?” We’re not talking about what he was presenting on at all. But I think, I don’t even know what happened after that, but we just became friends.
Lydia: I don’t think he was annoyed because actually I remember talking to him and he had a birth photographer for the birth of their children. So he was like, “Oh, cool!”
Tavia: That’s so funny. Okay, maybe I interpreted it incorrectly. I just remember us chatting and him talking about something totally different.
Lydia: Well, I think I talked to him after and it’s so funny. Because on these webinars, it feels like it’s like not a real person. And then you talk to them afterwards and it’s just like a person like you and me, you know?
Tavia: Right. Yes. So true. That’s so funny. So let’s, I don’t even remember what year that was. Was that like 2015?
Lydia: Yeah, probably about, yeah, because it was when I was just getting kind of just starting to get into business. So yeah, that sounds about right.
How Lydia started with her photography business
Tavia: So let’s talk about that. Like, what was that like for you? Like how did you get into photography and what was that phase of your life like?
Lydia: So I got my first camera when I was pregnant with my third which would have been in 2011 and I was like adamantly against having a business. Like this was just purely for a hobby. Like I just wanted to play and have fun. And I did that for a long time. So for like five years, probably four years. And I did that and had so much fun. And then I actually wanted to shoot my sister-in-law’s birth and I told my husband like, “Hey, if I’m going to shoot this birth, I really would like to upgrade cameras so that I can do it justice.” Because I was on an entry-level DSLR. And I was like, “You know, I’ve been using this camera for four years now. I want to make the jump to full frame before this birth.” And he was like, “Okay, that’s fine. But you need to like make enough money to pay off the camera.” And I was like, “Okay, I can just do like some $100 sessions, $50 sessions and pay it off. Yes, sure. Okay. I’ll do that.”
So I did, I started, I was like, “I’m just going to charge just to pay off my camera and then I’ll just move on with my life.” Well uhhh…that’s not quite how it went. I shot that birth and I loved it so much that I was ready to just like set up camp outside the hospital and like start talking to laboring moms and be like, “Hey do you need a birth photographer?”
So I was like hooked kind of from then on. And then one thing led to another and now I’ve had like 9,000 different cameras since then. But yeah, it’s been fun and exciting and I’m…just buying random things in the past. So we never in a million years would have imagined that this would have actually turned into something.
Tavia: That’s awesome. So you photographed your sister’s birth, right?
Lydia: My sister-in-law, yep.
Tavia: Your sister-in-law’s birth and then you were like hooked and you were like, “Okay, actually I want to do more than just the $100 sessions I want to actually like do this thing.”
Learning the Ropes
Tavia: Yeah. Okay, cool. So then what did you do after that moment of like figuring out, “actually I want to do more than this,” what were your next steps?
Lydia: So I think I joined maybe a Facebook group or something. So we were military at the time. There was a group for like the local military spouse photographers that were living in Hawaii. So I joined that and I think at some point through there, they led me to a podcast that like kind of taught business basics for photographers. And I am very much like I do things by the book. Like I love rules and structure and like tell me what to do and I’ll do it. So I just like ate up all this stuff. So very, very early in business that I was like, “Oh, I should have a CRM. Oh, I need a contract. Oh, I should mark it properly.” So luckily within like the first month of my business, I started just devouring all of this information. And there’s still a lot of trial and error even when you have information available to you.
But I feel like I got started on a decently strong note at the time I was thinking like, “Oh, a hundred dollars, sounds a lot.” I was charging $400 for a birth when I started, I was like, “This sounds like so much money! Great!” But then got into learning about cost of doing business and all of that stuff just through this podcast and realized, “Oh, $400 is not going to be profitable. Like at all,” after my cost of doing business, like I’ll be paying to go to these burrows. So yeah. Luckily found all those podcasts and all of the free education that was available to me at the time and just ate it all up and went from there.
Tavia: That’s awesome. Yeah. I remember the first time somebody paid me, I think it was like $115 for a family session and they wrote me a check. I very vividly remember it. And it was like, “Oh my gosh, I cannot believe someone just paid me $115 to take photos.” Like yeah, it’s the same exact thing.
Lydia: I was like a stay at home mom before with really no way to make money. So I was like, “Whoa! Like I can actually bring in money now.”
Tavia: Yeah, exactly. Exactly the same. So what were your goals for your business when you first started out? Like, did you have any goals for your business?
Lydia: Probably not.
Tavia: Even that you didn’t like necessarily put to paper?
Lydia: I do remember like looking at people that were successful in business and were like making full-time income and kind of feeling like I could never get there because I remember doing like all the math and thinking through my cost of doing business and all of this stuff and thinking like there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to charge enough to be sustainable and make full-time income off of this. Like that’s just not in my cards.
And I was just like, but I guess I’ll just, you know, keep on putting one foot in front of the other and kind of see where it goes and keep putting in the work and see what happens. And here we are now I’m full time. Like it’s just, I feel like all the little steps added up to something big and now I’m full-time so it didn’t happen overnight, of course.
Tavia: Yeah, of course. That’s really interesting though, that you said all the little steps added up to something big, because I think that sometimes when we’re like in it and we’re doing it day to day, it just feels like, “Oh, I’m not making progress,” but whenever we stop and look back and it’s like, “Actually a year ago I was charging this or I had this many booked.” You know, it’s just, it’s easy to keep looking forward at what other people are doing and not stop and acknowledge how far we’ve actually come. So I love that you said that.
Lydia: Yes. Yeah. It’s really cool to look back. I feel like I’ve just kind of recently had this moment where I’ve like, been like, “Wow, I’m actually, legitimately full-time income now. This is legitimate. This is my real life job.” And I still have moments where I can’t believe this is real life. Like I never would have guessed I would get here. In fact, if you had told me five years ago this is where I would be, I wouldn’t have believed you.
From Births to Weddings
Tavia: That’s so cool. So how did you get into birth photography or we already talked about birth photography, but like how did you transition from birth photography to what you’re doing now?
Lydia: Well, so now I’m doing weddings and I’ve always had a heart for birth. I was trained as a doula long before I even had a camera. So I’ve just always kind of been in that arena. But I turned out whenever I moved from Hawaii to Illinois being on call when you’re trapped on an island is a lot more fun than being on call when you’re trapped in Central Illinois. So I was like, “I don’t know if this is a great fit for our family in this current stage of life. So let’s maybe back off from this–” I was thinking it would potentially be a temporary back-off–“Let’s back off from this and just kind of decide like what we want to do and if this is a good fit for our family long-term.”
And so I backed off and had no intention of doing weddings. NONE. Like that was not on my radar. I was planning on doing family films because I still love families. So I was doing family films, kind of. I wasn’t working really hard in marketing for them, but I had some friends who I was second shooting photos for and I really enjoyed second shooting weddings. Like it was fun to go take photos of weddings and I enjoyed working with them and they were like, “Lydia, we hardly have any videographers in our area. And we especially don’t have female videographers in our area,” which is like, “We need you.” And I was like, “Nope! Bridezillas? That’s really high stress. I don’t want to give up my Saturdays. No, this is not for me. Weddings are not for me. No.” And they just kind of kept asking and asking and asking and I think probably a year went by of them being like, “Lydia, you really should just do weddings. You like second shooting them. Why would you not?” And I was like, “Okay, fine. I’ll try it.”
So these friends of mine who were very well established in our community already actually reached out for me to their clients and got me my first clients. I’ll come back to why I did it that way instead of just putting out, like blasting it on Facebook. So they went out to their clients and got them for me and I shot my first weddings and I had the same feelings that I did when I shot birth. Like that feeling of, “Wow, I want to do this every weekend. That was so fulfilling and so exciting.”
And I think kind of what changed it for me is when I got there, I pictured weddings as this big, stressful thing where I saw couples sometimes losing sight of why they were getting married and just getting lost in all the craziness of a wedding day.
But when I realized that what I was creating–maybe some of that was still happening on the wedding day–but what I was creating wasn’t focused on that. It was focused on why they were truly getting married and who this couple is, and this was truly going to outlast the florals, the invitations, the catering, all of that. And even outlast my couple and be passed on literally for generations.
That was when I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to do this. This is so exciting and cool. And now I love it.” And I never feel like I’m giving up a Saturday and I’ve yet to have a bridezilla. So I hope that keeps going. And it’s just been incredible. It has taken off. It was only two years ago that I shot my first wedding and I’m fully booked for 2021 and 2022.
Tavia: Wow. And not cheap prices.
Lydia: And not cheap prices, no.
Benefit of Having a Strong Marketing Foundation
Tavia: That’s so awesome. So what advice would you give to somebody who is maybe starting to see traction in what they’re doing to find clients, but they’re not as booked as they’d like? So I don’t know at what point in your journey you kind of felt that way? Like I’m starting to see some traction, but I’m not as booked as I’d like? Actually let’s go back even for like when you first started out, how many clients were you looking a month compared to now?
Lydia: That’s a good question. I mean, I feel like I haven’t had a normal year because I got started right before the pandemic? So…That’s kind of a weird one. As I got started in Spring of 2019 with what would have been my portfolio weddings that I would put out to start booking other couples for 2020. So I think I did like four in 2019, not very many. But it’s interesting because even with only four in my portfolio, I didn’t really have a hard time booking consistently on my 2020 couples because I had all of the other things in place that needed to be there.
Yes, I was new to weddings, but I wasn’t new to business. I had a solid understanding of marketing and had a solid website and knew how to network and knew all the things that lay a solid foundation for your business. And I think because of that, the weddings were able to grow quickly. When you have those foundations, it’s just so much easier to just build and not feel like you’re starting out from nothing.
The Power of Community and Consistency
Tavia: So what would you say to somebody who’s like starting to see some traction with their bookings, but they’re not as booked as they’d like, and they’re maybe starting to feel a little bit frustrated and wonder if they should even like keep going — what would your advice be to them?
Lydia: I mean, I think consistency is definitely important. And honestly for me, surrounding myself with people who will build me up and speak positive things into my life and say things like, you know, you’re doing great. Look what you’ve accomplished, because sometimes it’s hard to see that yourself. And I think it’s important to have people around you who are going to say, “but look at this when” or “look what you did here.” And like, “Stay strong and be consistent.” And not just say nice things, tell you what you really truly need to hear.
So if they recognize that what you’re saying is not true, it’s a limiting belief, that they can call you out on that, but not to surround yourself with people who don’t have any experience with business and don’t understand all of these things. If I listen to people and I’ve had people in my life who are nice people, but don’t understand how business works, say things like I’m too expensive and I’m like, that’s not true. And if I didn’t have people in my life that understood marketing and business and how all of that works, I probably would have believed that person.
So I think that’s really helpful is making sure you have a crew of people around you that are telling you what’s really true. I mean, you need to take advice from people who are doing what you want to do and successful in ways you want to be successful. Not from people who are just like, I mean, my mom’s really supportive, but for example, maybe your mom doesn’t know how business works and she’s saying like, “Wow, that’s a lot of money. Who’s going to pay that?” So I think that’s been a big deal for me. So the same photographers that helped me get my first clients have been just a tremendous amount of support for me because they are the high-end photographers in our area. So they understand the same market that I’m in and like have been able to really encourage me and refer me. Having relationships with other vendors who are the same tier as me has been huge for my business.
Tavia: Yes, that’s awesome. And I agree. That was significant for me. And that’s one of the things that students talk me about all the time was like, “Oh, well, how do I get in with these vendors? You know, like “I’m a brand new baby birth photographer or even newborn photographer. And I want to get in with these super established birth centers and midwives that are really hard to get into and by ‘get into’ I mean establish these relationships with.”
And of course there are ways that you can, but the easiest thing to do is to network with people who are your same level, who have your same experience and knowledge, because it’s just easier to make connections with those people. And that’s a hundred percent what I did and we grew together, you know what I mean? So I had these relationships and we’re all working together to grow our businesses and referring each other. And as one of us grows, the other grows as well.
And so I don’t want people to think that like, “Oh, I can just go out and network,” you know, in the wedding space or the birth space or baby or whatever, with these “big names” in our local industry, and feel discouraged when they don’t want to connect with you. It’s not you. It’s just, you know, imagine if you were really established and a new person came up to you and was like, “Hey, can you start referring me your clients?” And it’s like, “I don’t know who you are. No.” So building that relationship piece is so important.
Lydia: Yes. Relationship first. That is so, so important. So important. So yeah. I’d have to dig into my CRM, but I think I’m at like 80% vendor referral for bookings. So…Hi!
Tavia: Yeah, no, that’s significant. And that was how it was for us too. So whenever, I’m going to go back to something that you said earlier when I was asking about advice you’d give to somebody who’s frustrated with their bookings right now. And you said that consistency was like the first thing that came out of your mouth. Can you speak to that a little bit more?
Lydia: So I have always struggled with consistency in my own business. And I’ve recently worked on kind of creating systems to help myself with that because they don’t come easily. And I think in the past I was just, I would let it slide because it wasn’t easy for me. So it wouldn’t be fun to sit down and schedule out social media posts. I mean, at this point I was still terrible at that, but I want to focus on being consistent in like, say, showing up for my clients that I’ve already booked.
So I’ve created systems within HoneyBook to consistently show up for them and connect with them even once they’re already booked. I want to make sure that for me, they’re booking me 18 months or so out. I don’t want to not talk to them for 18 months.So I had to create systems to help myself show up for them because I’m not going to do that on own. Like I’m not just going to be like, I have so much free time today, my life is all in order. I have to have systems to make myself consistent.
So when I’m having a crazy week, like this week in particular is extra crazy, my clients aren’t bearing the brunt of that. They don’t know. So I just feel like the consistency for me is really important.
I want everyone who has booked me or even reached out to me and not booked me to have a consistent experience and a high, kind of a luxury experience, honestly. I’m not technically in the luxury market, but that’s kinda what the vibe is I want them to feel. So I don’t know.
Tavia: No, that makes sense.
Lydia: On social media, because I’m not consistent on social media, but not because I can’t be just because it’s not a priority to me at this stage in my business. So I wanted it to be a priority. I would create systems in that space too.
Tavia: Totally. You know where your clients come from and that’s so important to know where they’re coming from and where your time is best spent. And it sounds like those vendor relationships and client networking, or I guess client experience is like where they’re coming from.
Lydia: I do build relationships with vendors for sure. But I do feel like I spend a lot of time building relationship with my ideal clients as well. So I connect with them on Instagram and like talk to them like a normal human.
That’s part of my every day strategy. Talk to them like normal people. Not trying to sell to them, but I just show up in a friendly way on social media through DMs and just like reacting to things like when they get engaged saying congratulations and like, “Let me know if you need any referrals for things, if you need help finding a vendor or anything, and I’m happy to help with that.”
That’s part of my every day strategy. Talk to them like normal people. Not trying to sell to them, but I just show up in a friendly way on social media. And I’ve had clients who I haven’t been able to book either for availability or budget who are referring me to friends. And they didn’t even work with me because relationship, you know, like I am very consistent in showing up in that way on social media. I’ve seen it pay off and I enjoy it.
And I’ve had clients who I haven’t been able to book either for availability or budget and they have come back and said to me like, “Oh my gosh, you were so helpful.” And they’re still going to be referring me to friends. And they didn’t even work with me because relationship, you know, like I am very consistent in showing up in that way on social media. I’ve seen it pay off and I enjoy it.
Interact with Vendors and ICA in Social Media
Tavia: So my next question kind of goes then with what we were just talking about. So I was going to ask you where you find your ideal clients and it sounds like you find them through other vendors and client referrals. Is that accurate?
Lydia: Yep. Other vendors, client referrals, and social media, for sure. Like Instagram.
Tavia: Yeah. Okay, cool. So are there any like tips or strategies that you can share that have worked well in those arenas to finding those clients? Like I hear you saying relationships is really key in all of them, right? Like the vendors, the clients and the social media, like authentic relationships, which I hate that word being thrown around. But you know what I mean?
Lydia: I mean, it’s true though. I know it’s a buzzword, but it really, like, I really am showing up in an authentic way. I want people that I connect with to know that I really do care about their wedding experience even if I’m not their videographer. Like I care. I can’t book everybody in our area. I’m not everybody’s videographer, that’s fine. But I do care when they get excited or when they get engaged, I’m genuinely excited for them. So tell me again, the question, can I have I mentioned I was recently diagnosed with ABB?
Tavia: No, I think we’ve already answered it like in different ways. So I was just asking about like marketing tips or strategies for like specific ways that you’re finding your ideal clients.
Lydia: I’m really inconsistent with my posts. Like my feed posts. I haven’t really done a ton of reels. Like I’ve done a bit, but not the recommended amount, but I do show up regularly in stories and interact with the people that interact with me and I interact with other people’s stories. And like it’s just made for genuine relationships that have developed through Instagram in that way. So, I mean, I think that everybody that I haven’t booked through vendor referral has probably almost all of them have found me just connecting with me on Instagram.
Tavia: And that’s so cool because I think that a lot of times we get focused on like posting in the feed X number of times a week and posting on stories X number of time that we, or whatever. And I do think that there’s value in that, but at the same time, you can’t just be one-sided and you can’t just be posting, posting, posting, and expecting people to engage with you and your feed and all of that. If you’re not doing that with theirs. Like if you’re not showing out for them, why are they going to show up for you?
And so I think that’s a really important point with stories specifically, because I know you said that’s where you like post the most is like also then turning around and engaging with them and not in a like forced way, but in a I want to build a relationship with these people and I want to see what’s going on. And for me it’s great content ideas. Like if I’m engaging with their stories, I haven’t given birth in seven years. And I know that you have, it’s been a while for you too, yeah. And so it’s like, I don’t really know what’s going on in those spaces. And same for you with weddings too. Like, it’s been a hot minute since you’ve gotten married. So it’s like by interacting with their feed and their stories, it gives us content ideas and the understanding of what’s going on.
Lydia: I think that was originally my goal when I would follow them, I was really doing like ICA research. I was like, I just want to see what’s going through their heads. And then it ended up just kind of feeling natural to interact and talk to them because I’m not going to be just like this creepy lurker that followed a stranger and didn’t say anything, you know? And then it just ended up feeling like a normal, natural relationship. And like I follow people back when they follow me and talk to them and I think it’s fun. So yeah, it has worked really well. And I’m not, I don’t hesitate to even like, when they DM me, I’ll like voice reply back sometimes. And then they’ll voice reply back to me and it just feels like any other friendship. So, yeah.
Tavia: And that makes a big difference for people because I think right now there’s a lot of talk of like streamlining and outsourcing and all of that stuff. And it’s like, you can’t streamline and outsource DMs and voice messages specifically. And it’s so quickly and easily like almost accelerates that relationship process when they hear your voice or see your face. And so I totally agree. And it’s also a little laziness on my part. Like I would just rather talk in the DM sometimes than type, because it’s like voice inflection matters. You know what I mean? So just taking the time to connect with people like that, I think makes a significant difference.
Lydia: I completely, I completely agree. And I feel like too, like, we kind of talked about this with like webinars, but I feel like when people see business pages, sometimes they just think like, it’s like kind of not a real person there. You know what I mean? Like, it doesn’t feel super personal. And for me, I want my brand to feel super personal. So like I want to engage like that and be like, “Hey, real person here, not just, just a business, like real person that cares about you and like wants to talk.” So yeah.
Tavia: So good. Is there anything else that you want to share with listeners who want help going full-time in their business? Like that’s their dream come true is to go full-time.
Lydia: Hmmm…That is a really good question. I don’t feel like anything new, but I do feel like it is just so important to be surrounded by people who get it and people who are moving in the direction you want to go. That’s the kind of stuff you need to hear and be surrounded by. So find a crew that’s like that and spend time with them. For sure. Even if it’s online, if it’s in-person just make sure those are the voices that you’re hearing regularly.
Tavia: Yeah. We didn’t talk about that very much, but I totally agree. That’s really important because then you have the people like your mom who were saying you’re too expensive and you can confidently be like, actually, no, I know when I need to charge them, people will book me at this. Yeah. So good. Awesome.
Thank you so much for being here, Lydia. This was fun. I think that there’s a lot of solid nuggets of wisdom for people to take away from this episode. And I super appreciate your time.
Lydia: Good. It was fun. Thanks, Tavia!
Make sure to connect with Lydia on IG @lydiastuemkefilms
If you’re enjoying this podcast, please hit SUBSCRIBE wherever you’re listening and thank you so much for leaving the show a review on iTunes! I read each and every one and it helps this podcast reach more people so Thank you!
My friend, if you have a passion – it’s not an accident. Not everyone loves photography, or event planning, or real estate… whatever your passion is, it’s there for a REASON. What are you going to do with that passion? Get out there and make it happen! Have a great week y’all!