As entrepreneurs it’s easy for life to become Eat. Sleep. Breathe. your business. We wake up to the sounds of “you’ve got mail” (not in the romantic Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks) kind of way but more in the Dolly Parton working 9-5 kind of way. Without even realizing it, our identities become wrapped up in the work we do, leaving no room for identity (or hobbies) outside of work!
In today’s interview, Hope opens up about what it’s like to literally grow up with her business. Starting her photography career as a 16 year high school student, it’s taken years for her to learn how to create healthy boundaries for work and life.
It’s no wonder Hope Taylor is a successful entrepreneur and photographer today. She’s basically been pursuing business in some form for most of her life.
“When I was little, I was constantly doing lemonade stands. I used to mix shampoo with water, rebottle it, and go door to door to sell it to my poor neighbors. I mean, I was always trying to find ways to make money.”
That spirit is what launched her into the photography business at only 16 years old. Yes, that’s right, while other teenagers were focused on getting their driver’s licenses, Hope was focused on building her business.
“I was taking a photo journalism class and ended up slowly taking photos of my friends for fun. Eventually I started getting paid to do that. By the time I was a senior, I was going to school part-time and using the rest of my time to focus on the business. That’s when I really went full time into photography.”
Fully in business before she even finished high school, Hope set her sights on continuing to build her brand.
“It very quickly went from ‘Oh, this is my hobby,’ to ‘Oh, this could be a real career.’ And when realized that, I knew I wanted to give all my energy and effort to making it a real career.”
For Hope, that meant changing her post-graduate plans in a big way. Rather than attend college, she revoked her admission just a few weeks before she was supposed to start. The new plan? To educate herself in her field and become the professional she wanted to be.
“I learned the basics of camera gear in high school and the rest I got from YouTube and late night Googling. I literally just figured it out as I went. It was a lot of trial and error and with that, a lot of failing. But I also had the time to invest in education and workshops because I wasn’t in college, and that gave me space to learn in more hands-on ways.”
Hope put that education into practice, doing a little bit of everything in those first years of business. From newborn photos and family pictures to senior portraits and engagement shoots, she was shooting it all.
“I was shooting almost every single night, and raising my prices little by little meet the increase in demand. I was lucky in that I didn’t have a lot of overhead or expense at the start. I was able to put all of my money back into my business in some capacity in that season, so I could keep learning, keep marketing, keep improving as a professional photographer.”
And for Hope, being a professional was a big deal. Barely out of her teenage years, she recognized the way clients and peers in the industry might view her work in light of her age. So, she made it a goal to present herself as a professional in the field no matter what anyone else thought.
“I never treated my work as a hobby or a side hustle. I always valued professionalism in what I was doing. I knew that in order for anyone to trust a teenager to do the job well, I had to come with a standard of professionalism and client experience that they wouldn’t expect from someone my age.”
Hope took herself and her work seriously. She promoted her work, shared her shoots, and worked hard to carve a space for herself in an ever-growing industry.
“I was very intentional about sharing what I was doing online, posting on social media, and marketing my work. There was a lot of intention behind my posts. I wanted people to see my work, yes, but also see that there was a demand for my work.”
That spirit of intentionality in her work helped Hope grow the business rather quickly. Beyond just shooting, she added education into the mix, mentoring, coaching, and teaching workshops for other photographers. The result? A successful photography brand with a burned out photographer at the helm.
“I hit a point where I had this massive mental breakdown. I couldn’t maintain that pace anymore. I was burnt out on every front.”
At her breaking point, Hope made the decision to take a step back. For a year, she stopped shooting senior portraits, which was a risk for Hope at the time. Having developed a reputation in that specific niche, stepping out of it completely might’ve seemed crazy at the time, but it was the best option to save her sanity and in turn, save her business.
With more time in her schedule, Hope focused her attention on scaling the education side of her business.
“It was really clear to me that if I wanted to continue the education part of my business, I had to do it in a way that didn’t take up so much of my time. So, I used that season to turn it into a digital product that wasn’t directly correlated to my time.”
She also scaled her pricing, building in new streams of income at higher price points to diversify the way she was making money and using her time in the business overall.
“I’m really thankful that I set up my business to have those multiple streams of income. That way, when there’s a lull in the photography side or I just need to take a step back, I still have the education side working for me and bringing income into the business.”
In 2019, Hope moved from Virginia, where she’d built and grown her brand, to Charleston, South Carolina. Only a year later, she started dating her now fiancée, and by 2021, she moved again to Savannah, Georgia to plan her wedding and set up her life with her soon-to-be-husband.
“I had to make a lot of shifts in those years. I was moving to new markets, finding new clientele, all of it. Thankfully, something that has always come naturally to me is strategy. So, I was able to be really strategic in the way I scaled my business through every shift and change.”
One of the biggest shifts for Hope? The way she viewed her finances!
“I’m a self-proclaimed spender. But in moving, getting engaged, buying a house, and all the things that come with this new season, I had a lot more expenses. So I had to shift my thought process from building a business with very little overhead to building a business as a full-fledged adult. I had to change the way my money worked for me.”
Now, her prices are set to preserve both her money and her time.
“One of the biggest mindset shifts for me has been seeing the value of my time. I now price everything really strategically to protect my time and bring in the income I need to pay my bills and grow my company.”
One of Hope’s biggest goals in this new season of business? Making sure she’s pouring into herself before pouring into her business. Things like turning off her notifications, seeing a therapist, taking time off, and outsourcing some of the more tedious tasks in her business have helped Hope find more time to fill her own cup. And now, she’s operating from a place of peace rather than a place of burnout.
“When I’m pouring from an empty cup, it really feeds into anxiety for me. That has made work/life balance really about mental health for me. I’ve had to work hard to set up my days so that they start and end with things that fill my cup. That way, I am pouring into myself intentionally so that I can pour back into my business from a healthy place.”
As I’m sure most of us can attest: working is a habit that can be hard to break. And while “work” isn’t to be vilified, not being able to turn off work is a fast pass to burnout. I am so grateful for the insights Hope shared in today’s conversation about protecting her mental wellness and practical ways she promotes healthy work/life balance.
Press Play to hear Hope’s entire interview or click here to download the full transcript.
Hope is a senior portrait + wedding photographer serving both Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA. She began her business when she was a 16 year old high school student, and has now been a full-time entrepreneur for almost a decade. She now educates photographers on how to build profitable businesses and lives that they love!
September 22, 2022