The Dead Pixels Society podcast

Building a luxury portrait business in the wake of COVID 19, with Jenna Noelle, photographer

April 01, 2022 Gary Pageau/Jenna Noelle Season 3 Episode 71
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Building a luxury portrait business in the wake of COVID 19, with Jenna Noelle, photographer
Show Notes Transcript

Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society talks with Denver photographer Jenna Noelle of Jenna Noelle Creative. In this interview, Noelle describes her career path as a new photographer gaining skills in the portrait business before launching her own wedding portrait venture. She shares her business philosophy and strategy for getting through the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the shift in her market emphasis to luxury weddings. She has also launched a consulting business, Endless Summer Collective

Mediaclip
Mediaclip strives to continuously enhance the user experience while dramatically increasing revenue.

Buzzsprout - Let's get your podcast launched!
Start for FREE

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

Support the show

Sign up for the Dead Pixels Society newsletter at http://bit.ly/DeadPixelsSignUp.

Visit our LinkedIn group, Photo/Digital Imaging Network, and our Facebook group, The Dead Pixels Society.

Interested in being a guest? Click here for details.

Erin Manning  
Welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, Gary Pageau.

Gary Pageau  
The Dead Pixels Society podcast is brought to you by Mediaclip, Photo Finale and Advertek Printing. Hello again and welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. I'm your host, Gary Pageau. And today we're joined by photographer and entrepreneur Jenna Noel. She comes to us from Denver, Colorado. Hi, Jenna, how are you today?

Jenna Noelle  
I'm well how are you?

Gary Pageau  
Good. So Jenna, tell me how you got into the crazy photography business. What drew you to it? You said you've been in the business for 15 years.

Jenna Noelle  
I have Yeah. So I always had it as a hobby. Back when I started, it was still film cameras only which ages me but I remember getting my boyfriend in college bought me like one of the first DSLRs that was starting to come out. Like they just started and I was playing with it. And at the time I was taking a photography elective, it was not in my mind at all, that I could make this a career. I was going to school to be a vet, a veterinarian, actually. And my photography instructor was like, you should try to do this for a living. And I was like why? You know, like, it just had never occurred to me to take something that I love doing and make it a career. And then I graduated and kind of had that post graduation existential crisis because I had decided not to be a vet. And I thought I would just throw some feelers out there. And some some brave soul hired me and taught me how to do weddings specifically. And I ended up really liking it and sticking to it

Gary Pageau  
to be a vet is a long slog. I mean, after undergrad, you've got one another eight or 10 years, I think before you actually become a full that it's a long road.

Jenna Noelle  
So it's more competitive to get into the medical school because there's fewer of them. And then you get out of it and you make a fraction of the money. And I think in my mind when I started I was thought I was going to be like saving animals and stuff. But it's really mostly like neutering, spaying shots, antibiotics, it didn't have this fantasy and that I had in my mind.

Gary Pageau  
So instead, you, you know, hitch up with a photographer, so you found a mentor, which is a great, great thing to do. How long did you work with this other photographer.

Jenna Noelle  
So that was a different time that was back when there weren't a ton of like solo photographers, it was more like companies that were housing five to 10. And so I got on board is like the low man on the ladder with one of those companies. And I started just assisting kind of interning working for free, then I did second shooting with them. And then they started to give me lead assignments, that whole trajectory was about a year and a half. And then from there I went on to freelance for probably longer than most I wasn't, I didn't come out of the gate with a website, I really wanted to spend a lot of time learning before I launched my myself as a brand.

Gary Pageau  
Do you have a style that you that you kind of made your own as you were growing as an early photographer? And is that? Is that what you're still doing?

Jenna Noelle  
Yeah, I identified really early on that my strong suit is candid emotional content content. And by that I don't mean to the exclusion of the ability to pose. But you know, this first company I've ever worked for, they told me from the outset, they said, Oh, you're really good at getting people don't look natural. So it's not that I don't pose them, it's just good that I can I can get them to kind of relax and unposed them a little bit too. So my approach is definitely very photojournalistic in a lot of ways. And I really want the pictures to make you feel something, you know, instead of just looking kind of plug and play.

Gary Pageau  
And then from there, you went to starting your own your own creative agency, correct?

Jenna Noelle  
Yeah, I went full time, about almost a decade ago. And yeah, just my own assignments. And I didn't I I've always only wanted to be a one woman show. I've never wanted to having spent time in the business model of having multiple photographers working for you. I know that that is not the route for me,

Gary Pageau  
but it's exhausting. Because because you're right.

Jenna Noelle  
It is but I feel like I really want my clients specifically I want them to have a personal experience with me from beginning to end. And I don't really want to be juggling multiple people's responsibility for multiple people in a day. I really want to give a more personalized experience,

Gary Pageau  
right? Things are going swimmingly sounds like your business is growing and everything and then COVID happens. How did you how did that I mean obviously it impacted a lot of wedding photographers business. So What was it you learned early on from COVID?

Jenna Noelle  
Oh, I mean, it was so unprecedented. You could ask everyone around you how to do it and what they were doing. And everyone was just like, I don't know, we're figuring it out as we go along. The first thing I did, you know, it started with the stay at home order. So obviously, that was no weddings could happen. So with those, it was talking about postponement right away. And then as it went on longer and longer and longer restrictions got really intense. Then it was started to talk about postponements into the following year and cancellations and your normal retainer and cancellation policy is a little in flux because nobody had contracts to address a situation like this because it hasn't happened since the Spanish flu. So it really took a lot of thinking and getting feedback from people and just being in it to figure out what was going to work best. And eventually I landed on, you know, you have, if you need to postpone during a pandemic or war time, it's called a force majeure. Something that's out of everyone's hands, you have 90 days to make a decision about when you're going to postpone to, here's a new payment structure, you can postpone within this amount of time frame you can't postpone to two years from now, you know, and then also a policy that if you booked me, in the middle of the pandemic, so it was a known circumstance is gonna default to normal contract terms. But and coming up with those policies. I mean, there was a lot of difficult conversations, because none of us really knew what the right thing to do or when this was going to be over.

Gary Pageau  
Sure. And what were the resources you relied on for that information? Where did you go I mean, for for finding this, you know, finding out about force majeure and things like that,

Jenna Noelle  
I lawyer, my lawyer, colleagues, my insurance, there was a lot of online communities that sent out sample for us measure language, but even those things that were getting sent out early on for free, were not, they were very like, vague force majeure language, where with weddings, you really need to be so specific. And so it took me a time to really hone that down and make it a very solid gameplan. Sure, and not just took trial and error. If I'm being honest,

Gary Pageau  
what were you doing to make up the revenue during that time? Could you do anything?

Jenna Noelle  
While some people stayed on board and just scale down their weddings? I gave people a very wide range of dates they could postpone to without any fees. But I couldn't let every single person postpone to a 2021. Saturday, or then I'd be going two years without income, you know? Yeah. So I, so I had to create some structure around if it was a peak season date, then you would have to pay, you know, depending on what day of the week you wanted to move to, you would have to pay some postponement fees, because which was so hard to tell people because it's not their fault. But at the same time, I can't go two years without income. So these were very difficult conversations where everybody's right, you know, and you just have to find, hopefully, have be working with people who are willing to reach creative solutions for you. But, you know, fortunately, we I had a lot of money in savings, because I've always been a pretty smart saver. blew through a pretty quickly with having to give people a lot of refunds. But thank God, I had that. And then I took advantage of government support. Sure. At that time, I wasn't gonna turn that down. So.

Gary Pageau  
But I mean, fortunately for you, you had an established business, right, and you had a business process you could rely on to talk to people and all that. I mean, I just wonder about newer photographers, right? Who didn't have 10 years in the bank of experience, and reputation and everything else? Because, yeah, with someone like your reputation, you could say, I'm not gonna be available now, because of COVID. But you know, booking eight months, and I'll be there, and you'll get this wonderful work, right. And I was just feeling for a lot of the newer photographers in that space, right? Who are who didn't have that advantage?

Jenna Noelle  
Yes. And no, because there were some people that wanted me to postpone to a peak season Saturday and not charging fees and or postpone two years out, and I had to tell them, I want to be consistent across all my clients and be fair, and if I let everyone do this, my business won't be around for me to shoot your wedding. You know, so I had to literally it's up towards the middle such end of that I had to be really frank with people that I can't I can't take 100% of the fall from this. I want to I'll work with them, but I can't take 100% of the fall or I won't have cameras to shoot on, you know,

Gary Pageau  
right. Well, the other thing is is you know, the venues are doing something very similar, right? Because they had to deal with move dates and things and people holding dates and they have to do many of the same things. So it's not like the couples, the bride and the groom. We're hearing this just from you. They're hearing it from everybody.

Jenna Noelle  
Yes and no, because like a lot of people get married in restaurants or hotels. And when they postpone, or, yeah, when they postpone that venue, unless it's specifically a wedding venue, does have another way to make income. Yeah, they could just keep their restaurant open that day, or they still have room sir booking out. So companies like that were able to offer a little bit more flexible policies than like a one woman business or like even planners and florists who have staff and can do multiple weddings a day. Yeah, they were able to be a little bit more flexible. But I'm just one woman. And if I blacked out that day, that's it, you know, or if you cancel your wedding that day, that's it. So it was difficult for me to explain to people why they were hearing different things from different vendors. But it's because you know, every business has a different structure. And we can't all offer the same things.

Gary Pageau  
So part of the COVID process is you've had to kind of reevaluate what part of the market you want to approach. Right. So talk a little bit about that. But you, you've chosen to kind of address a different part of the market to the exclusion of others. So I've kind of been at all

Jenna Noelle  
levels of the market, you know, starting out right in the beginning as an intern up until now. And what I really learned, I had already had plans to kind of scale back on quantity, fewer weddings for a higher price, in 2019. But in 2020, when I had 26, which was at that point, the least amount of couples I'd taken on in years, I was doing like 3545 and previous years, when I realized I was responsible for 26 couples and I had emails coming from all those people and I had not charged them my worth to be honest, what someone at my experience level and with the expense level of my equipment should be charging them, I really realized that I had backed myself into a corner. And so it really kind of put a fire under my ass honestly, to reconfigure how to move up in the market to more of a luxury. You know, like, the review base was there, the portfolio's there the talent and experience was there, but I wasn't I hadn't been asking for the price that was reasonable. And I deserve to be paid at that juncture of my life. And so I decided to really up my prices, but I think that when you up your prices, you should also re reconsider your offerings. So I thought, you know, how can I make this more luxury experience and if I'm shooter feeding fewer weddings, I have more time on my hands to do that, you know, it's hard to deliver world class services when you're just taking on like, an unbelievable quantity. So part of it was for me, and part of it is I want to genuinely give a better experience to my clients.

Gary Pageau  
Sure. Because that's good. I mean, that is a challenge that I think a lot of creatives who are in the business world are wrestle with, right? What is the value of what I do, right? There's your time, there's your equipment, there's your materials that you may use or burn through. But then there's also like you said, the experience that creativity and all those things, those are kind of the intangible things, how can you put a price value on that? So how do you do that? What is your thought process to say I'm getting I was getting x and now I'm going to do try and get y and yes, I'm going to provide more intangibles right so how do you

Jenna Noelle  
so answer one market research I figured out what people who were shooting in this at the same level as me were charging and I figured out what luxury clients want to pay you can charge too little for a luxury client and that will be off putting to them right so I figured out what you know the the entry point for that price level was at some point I came across a calculator on the internet that was like average cost of living where you are here's what all your business expenses costs and pay here how many weddings you want to do a year. This is how much you should be charging and I was just like, oh my god I'm so under charging. And I think it's common with a lot of creatives because we all kind of have imposter syndrome, you know, and right with this. It's it's it's very vulnerable to ask, no matter how good you are. It's a vulnerable feeling to ask for money, especially like, in some cases, maybe someone could buy a car with the amount of money but then you look at planners, and there's plenty of planners in Denver that are charging like 30,000 in dollars. And when I look at that, I'm like, Oh my gosh, I'm at the time, I was just like I charging such a pittance compared to that, you know?

Gary Pageau  
So So I want to get into specific pricing, because I don't know if that's relative, but what was the x multiplier you think you needed to apply to your base to say, Okay, I'm not now luxury, right? Is it? 2x? Three, you know, I don't know, I'm just curious what, um, what more? Are you going to add on to, to warrant that, like you said, add a luxury, more luxury experience? What? Yeah,

Jenna Noelle  
that's a good question. Because a lot of people will just raise their prices, even though they haven't gained any more experience or offering anything different, which you should raise your prices every year, but by a reasonable amount. I just hadn't raised mine and so long, that I pretty much doubled my prices. But I also completely changed my offerings. So now, instead of it being like, churning out a bunch of people, I have way more elaborate onboarding. So I'm learning more about people at the outset, I'm sending out custom proposals that are like, doing proposal based pricing instead of like, here's a price sheet, pick one, sending out custom proposals that are, have photos in them that are relevant to their project, and are thoughtful of what they actually want. I started doing instead of, I always think in this day and age, people either get a USB or they get an email, with a link to a gallery. That's what I was doing. And so the first time they're seeing their photos is usually like, on their phone, you know? And it seems like such a shame, you know, for that to be your experience of this like really important thing. So I thought about how can I make this more special, and I decided I was going to start doing like premieres. And I would send people like a custom invite to a premiere of their photos and rent out a really beautiful space and via onboarding, I'd ask them, like, what their favorite snacks and stuff were. And I conveniently have those at the premiere. So it's just like, Yeah, I've got all their comfort foods, I've asked them what their favorite songs are, I've made a slideshow set to their favorite songs, I've included quotes that are important to them. And I'm showing them their photos in a way that's like intimate and emotional, and kind of having them be able to relive that day so that when their weddings over, they still have something to look forward to. And at first I was I decided to do that, because I thought it'd be really beautiful for the client, right. But then I'm also there, you know, in the background, letting them have a private experience. And I realized that watching, being able to see people's reactions to these photos was actually also very good for me. Because a lot of times, it's a fast paced world of sometimes people will get their running photos and won't even respond. And it doesn't, it took me a long time to realize it doesn't mean they don't like them. It's just like, you know, sometimes people just forget. So to be able to see reactions and know that I like made a positive impact in this person's life and they cherish these photos, it, it's ended up being therapeutic for me as well.

Gary Pageau  
I mean, that sounds like a great thing. Because you get to see the response right there as opposed to, like you said, getting a link on their phone, and you're not seeing that, you know, they're you're not seeing that flip through and they're nearby. In the case of this presentation, you're, you know, seeing the tears and the laughter and all that. So, so what happens to that slideshow afterwards? Is that part of the package? Or is that a one time only experience and if you don't do this, you're gonna miss out?

Jenna Noelle  
No, it's in there proofing gallery, so I don't send them their gallery before this. This is their first time seeing their photos. But the slideshow is like not every picture. It's like a highlight reel of photos. And then I show them that and usually they want to see it more than once you know, and then they also have all their photos. And the proofing site I use will also play that in slideshow format. But it just takes longer. It's, it's you know, if you're getting 400 photos, that's gonna take a while to go through and they get at that link gets sent to them, and they have that indefinitely to download.

Gary Pageau  
So imagine how long have you been doing that? This new format?

Jenna Noelle  
I just started doing that last year. Okay, so

Gary Pageau  
I'm sure the response from that has given you from a marketing standpoint, tremendous word of mouth,

Jenna Noelle  
you know, it's been a hard couple of years and I had some major health concerns and 20 in 2021 that I had to take some time off of like beating the pavement and advertising myself and networking whatnot. So I would say yes, when when people do find out they're all about it. But because it's so new and I just started offering it. It hasn't gotten around quite yet.

Gary Pageau  
Okay. I mean, obviously that is one of the great things about weddings is you know, not only is there a bride or groom but there's also bridesmaids and and groomsmen who will probably be getting married as well, at some point in the future, right? I mean, there's sort of a natural work that happens within that. But I think, you know, as you provide that experience to clients, and you're providing something that is actually well worth paying for, right, I think you're gonna have great success with something like that.

Jenna Noelle  
Well, the wedding market, the event, no, just weddings, specifically, actually is a unique market and that it's not like retail, it's not like Apple when they put out an iPhone, and then they put out an iPad, you have experience with that brand. So you're probably gonna buy that iPad. But a wedding is usually a one and done. So you don't get a lot, every client that comes to you is a new client with no experience with your brand. Unless they were like a bridesmaid in a wedding you shot, you have to repeat yourself every single time and then you might never see them again. So it's very different than retail and that you don't get a brand loyalty. So I actually think the better path to getting referral work is to really establishing relationships with planners and venues. Because I do get referral work from past clients, but not always, sometimes everyone they have at their wedding is already married. You know. That's true.

Gary Pageau  
That's true. So and that's interesting. So planners and venues are part of your clientele, if you will, because clearly they want someone that they can refer to that as reliable, dependable, and gives a great experience because it reflects on them. You do the same the other way around. I mean, when people come to you, they say, Well, where can I have this? Do you have like a slate of, quote unquote, partners that you have?

Jenna Noelle  
I don't technically have partners, if people ask me for referrals, I will definitely give them to him, usually only after they booked me because I don't want to get into the business of planning someone's wedding for them. And then them ghosting me hit out. So yeah, I'm always happy to give referrals and things like that. But usually it works the other way around. Usually they're going to a planner first. And then their first thing out of the gate is going to be venue, because they need to secure a date. And then their second thing is going to be a photographer. And then if they're working with a even halfway decent planner, that's who's gonna refer the rest of their vendors. Okay.

Gary Pageau  
So you've also been looking at kind of expanding your portfolio of offerings. Right. So tell me a little bit about the Endless Summer collaborative.

Jenna Noelle  
Collective. Yeah. So that is a business actually, I had a mentor and he was like, I don't know why you're having me mentor, you should be mentoring. And it had not occurred to me at that point that that was even an option to me, even though a lot of people were doing it. So I decided to establish a separate business that I'm doing mentorship, I'm selling my develop presets, my album templates, my contract templates. And right now I have a couple mentorship options, one that's just like by an hour by two hours, and another that's more of like a long term mentorship. And I just started that business. But I do intend to start offering more like webinars structured learning workshops, maybe one day have a natural light studio, it's just like a new endeavor that I'm embarking on. And I named it a collective because I do envision it, bringing in other professionals to be a part of it in the near future, and it not just being about me specifically.

Gary Pageau  
Right. So who is your ideal? advisee? For for that? Is this Jenna from 15 years ago? Or who do you think is the is the person you want to talk to?

Jenna Noelle  
I mean, I want to talk yeah, sure, I want to talk to beginners, but I also want to talk to people who are like me, and at multiple points in their journey have experienced burnout, or have wanted to change something and not known how or want to raise their prices and don't know to what or how or how to make that next step in the market. People that are plateaued, you know, like, that's something having done this for so long, which is unusual, like I was telling you earlier, most people quit under five years. So having done this so long, you know, I've plateaued more than once I've burnt out more than once you know, so it's something that I feel really strongly that I can advise on and would like to help other creatives through.

Gary Pageau  
You've been there and been through it.

Jenna Noelle  
I've been through everything. I'm convinced I have seen it all.

Gary Pageau  
When did that launch? And how does how do people contact you on that?

Jenna Noelle  
I kind of soft launched it last year. My number one priority was to change my marketing strategy and uplevel my photography business, but I while I was doing that I was also working on this other brand. So it already is out there in the world. I haven't done much advertising around it because I've been involved in a lot of networking whatnot. But I have started doing webinars and podcasts and it's available it's out in the world they can find it by googling enlists number collective they can find it just by Googling me Jenna Noelle Photography or Jenna Noelle Creative and I have links back to it on all my sites and they're all the options are pretty vividly laid out

Gary Pageau  
Well, thank you much for your time and your expertise. wishing you well on all your new ventures. And hope to be out see you on Denver sometime.

Jenna Noelle  
Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Erin Manning  
Thank you for listening to the Dead Pixels Society podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at www the dead pixels society.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai