One client at a time – that’s the secret to growing your business.
In our culture of instant gratification, we all want to be an overnight success. But despite what those flashy Instagram posts say, slow growth is good growth. Our latest podcast guest is here to tell us why.
From launching her photography career right out of college with no past experience to becoming the main income earner for her family, Catherine Guidry is a case study for why slow and steady wins the race.
Catherine is a New Orleans-based wedding photographer, podcaster, and educator. In this episode, she shares an inside look at how she went from recent college grad to building a debt-free, six-figure business.
Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
Catherine was studying architecture when she discovered her passion for photography. Looking back now she says, “Starting out is the hardest thing. I believed in myself, I had the desire to learn and grow and work really hard. But I didn’t have a portfolio.”
So Catherine began photographing people, architecture, and anything she could to gain experience. She booked her first wedding for $1,000 for a friend of the family.
“It wasn’t my best work, but if you show up well and treat people well, they’ll refer you.” One referral led to another, and by the time Catherine finished grad school, she was able to go full-time in her business.
Like most new business owners, Catherine’s prices were based on what she thought people would pay. Over the next few years, she increased those prices based on supply and demand until her business became profitable.
Catherine’s financial advisor father helped her see the value in building a debt-free business. “I was super grassroots about money. When I photographed my first wedding in 2008, I rented the camera. I didn’t even buy it because I didn’t have the cash to afford it.”
These days, photographers can easily spend tens of thousands on gear alone. Catherine wants to offer encouragement that you don’t need to take out a loan or have the best equipment to get started. All you need is to take that first step and put yourself out there.
Now more than a decade into being full-time, Catherine has seen her business go through a number of shifts. The first was when she moved from the small city of Lafayette to New Orleans, where there was more opportunity for photographers.
The second shift came around the 10-year mark, when Catherine’s price point and clientele began to shift. “We started to work with wedding planners and photograph weddings that were half a million, a million dollars, these crazy things that we hadn’t experienced before.”
Working with higher-budget clients has allowed Catherine to photograph fewer weddings without sacrificing revenue.
Although photographing luxury weddings may seem like a dream come true, it was also a big shift in responsibility to work on events of that magnitude. Higher price points come with higher expectations.
“That’s why it’s important to price yourself properly, not just for profit but for expectations, because you don’t want to enter into a contract with an expectation that you can’t fulfill.”
This is another reason why Catherine is grateful her business progressed slowly at first. “Price is often a reflection of skill, portfolio, and experience.”
Growing your business in small increments allows you to build that experience as you grow, so you don’t end up in a situation where you can’t deliver on client expectations.
Catherine’s vision for the business has gone through many iterations over the years. “I’m always reevaluating. As an entrepreneur, we have to constantly be that visionary. What does the business look like? How is this impacting my life?”
Before having her daughter, Catherine didn’t mind missing personal events to shoot weddings every weekend. That was just part of being a wedding photographer. But now that she has a daughter at home and another on the way, she’s made a conscious choice to limit the number of events she takes on.
Moving more into the luxury event space has allowed her to cut back from 50+ weddings per year to 25, but she’d love to get that number down to 15.
“Our knowledge and portfolio have to be there, so we’re working hard to make sure we’re the best photographers we can be.”
Catherine has also started to branch into education, first with her Youtube channel and podcast, and now with a full course and membership for wedding photographers. Her long-term goal is to have the education side generate 50% of their business income.
“We’ve been working hard to create consistent free content on our YouTube channel, because I know what that’s like to be building the business day to day. So I’m trying to pay it forward.”
Growing up with an entrepreneur father and self-employed brothers, Catherine inherited a strong desire for independence.
“Money and independence go hand in hand. And even though photography was where my heart was, I knew I would never be able to do what I loved if I didn’t learn the money side.”
Catherine’s biggest struggle was learning to manage the seasonal fluctuations that come with being a wedding photographer and how to budget with an irregular income. Even with savings, she often found herself overspending when large sums of money came into the business.
“The ongoing thing for us has been trying to figure out how to balance inconsistent revenue with consistent expenses.”
This is a common struggle I hear from my self-employed students in Blueprint at Home: how do you budget for monthly expenses when your income changes every month?
The first step is to figure out how much you need to cover expenses. If you need $5,000 for your personal expenses and $2,000 for the business, then you need to bring home at least $7,000 each month.
From there, start building your savings so that you have something to draw from during low cash flow months. You can also offer your clients monthly payment plans to create more consistent income. The key is to plan ahead so that when a slow season hits, it doesn’t take you by surprise.
If you want to learn more about managing income uncertainty as an entrepreneur, check out my personal finance course, Blueprint at Home!
It’s important to create a spending plan that works for you, because sometimes what makes sense financially isn’t always what makes the most sense psychologically.
For example, Catherine found switching all of her subscriptions from an annual to a monthly billing plan helped her keep track of how much money she spent each month. Although the annual plan is slightly cheaper, the monthly plan forces her to regularly evaluate which subscriptions she’s actually using.
When you’re making a plan for your money, don’t make it harder on yourself than it needs to be. Create a habit that’s easy to stick to and whenever possible, make it fun (like hosting a regular money date with your partner)!
The biggest lesson Catherine has learned about money is that it doesn’t bring fulfillment. Growing your income is great, but it’s more important to keep a pulse on how you’re living along the way.
“For a long time, I was focused on making the business successful and I missed out on these personal things. But then it’s like you kind of get to a point where you’re like, what am I also fulfilling my soul?”
“Money can be on the forefront of our minds, but what we really want is joy and happiness and fulfillment.”
If you’re someone who struggles with workaholic tendencies, try scheduling regular check-ins with yourself, like a quarterly or mid-year review – that way you can catch it before you end up too far off track.
Becoming a mom has led Catherine to rethink how she runs her business. “It’s definitely been a challenge, but it’s also made me a lot more intentional and focused.”
Like me, Catherine prefers separation between her life as an entrepreneur and as a mom. She finds it easier to work when her daughter is out of the house. “Then when she’s home, I don’t work at all. And I feel less guilty that way.”
There’s no right way to run your business as a mom. Some women like to compartmentalize structured work time and home time, but others have no problem integrating the two. Find what works for you!
As Catherine says, “It’s constantly changing. I’m always figuring it out. The seasons change and her needs change, my needs change. So we adjust along the way.”
The best piece of advice Catherine has ever received came from her father, who taught her to always be honest. Being truthful has benefited her from both a personal and a business perspective.
“It could be as simple as noticing that a client overpaid. Are you going to tell them or are you going to keep the money and hope they don’t notice?” For Catherine, it’s an easy choice.
During the pandemic, many of her clients cancelled their weddings after signing a contract. “We had to make a decision: are we going to do what’s right or are we going to do what’s financially beneficial?”
Refunding those bookings wasn’t easy, but Catherine knew it was the right thing to do – and that peace of mind was priceless.
If Catherine could go back and tell her 21-year-old self one thing on her first day in business, she would say, “Be prepared to not have anything go as planned.”
No one prepares you for how unpredictable life can be as an entrepreneur. But if you keep showing up, serving people well, and building experience along the way, then you’ll continue to grow. The best way to move forward is one step at a time.
To hear the rest of the story and what Catherine is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Catherine Guidry is a New Orleans-based wedding photographer, podcaster, and educator. She has photographed nearly 400 weddings and successfully built a debt-free six-figure business over the course of the last decade; has been featured in a variety of publications including Southern Brides, Style Me Pretty, The Knot, and more; and is now helping other photographers and creative entrepreneurs embrace imperfection and pursue their passions through the podcast, “Mistakes Make Magic.” Her greatest achievements include creating memorable experiences for her clients and teaching other creative entrepreneurs and photographers how to successfully run their businesses!
March 16, 2023