From living on food stamps to building a multi-six-figure photography business in just 16 hours a week, Shay Cochrane has perfected the art of working smarter, not harder.
Shay is the CEO and Founder of Elevae Visuals (formerly Social Squares), a styled stock membership for creative entrepreneurs. She’s spent the past 16 years modeling what it means to build a business that supports the life you want.
From her biggest belief shift about money to the importance of defining your long-term vision, Shay had so much wisdom to share. Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
“My entrepreneurial journey began on the playground,” Shay says. “I found a way to monetize anything I could get my hands on.”
Flash forward a few decades and Shay never wavered from that entrepreneurial spirit. Straight out of college, she worked as a portrait and wedding photographer.
Although she loved the creative aspect of photography, she knew she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life working evenings and weekends – especially once she became a mom. After her daughter was born, she shifted into commercial photography.
Shay’s business has been through a lot of iterations over the past 16 years. What began as a 1:1 service morphed into a stock photography shop, and eventually the subscription service it is now. “I always tried to build a business to support the life that I wanted to live.”
Shay believes in creating offers that align with your season of life and recognizing that you may need to pivot over time. What works for your business when you’re young and single may no longer fit after you have children, and that’s okay.
What’s most important is building a business that serves your life – whatever that looks like in this season.
For Shay’s first few years in business, she could only afford 16 hours of childcare a week. “We were in a very financially meager season of life. We had lost jobs, we were on food stamps, and it was during the 2009 recession.”
The 16-hour cap put an instant filter on Shay’s business. It forced her to get strategic about how she spent her time and to identify which tasks would help the business grow fastest. “Boundaries can create an enormous amount of creativity.”
Although it was frustrating at times, the 16-hour limit helped Shay protect her mental health and avoid the burnout that so many new business owners fall into.
Even now that her kids are in school full-time, Shay sticks to her routine of 16 hours. She and her husband never work past 5 pm. They take Fridays off to spend time together and have family dinners with the kids every night.
Shay can feel the difference her schedule has made in her marriage and her connection with her family. “At the end of the day, work is a small slice of the pie of my life, and I’m just not willing to give more to it. I want to feel like I’m loving all the other areas of life.”
“You can be successful holistically in life,” Shay says. “You can be thriving in all of those other areas and still thrive in your business.”
Shay is very honest about how her shortened work schedule affects the business.
“I do compromise revenue to maintain the life that I want to live,” she says. The business currently sits at $750,000 in annual revenue, but she believes it could reach over $3 million if she gave it more time – something she isn’t willing to do right now.
For Shay, the trade-off in extra revenue isn’t worth sacrificing time with her kids. “I can take over the world when my kids are out of the house, but I have such a short season with them at home.”
Shay doesn’t have a lot of regrets about her business, but she does wish she had enjoyed the early seasons of motherhood more.
Many of the women in her industry didn’t have children yet when Shay had her daughter, and she often felt alone in struggling to balance it all. “They were just crushing it. They were working 40 hours a week and their business was seeing so much growth.”
Looking back, Shay wishes she had given herself more grace and taken time off to enjoy her maternity leave. Her advice for new entrepreneurs would be to invest in your relationships and industry connections so that when times are hard, you have people to lean on.
Shay was raised in a traditional home, where her family lived paycheck to paycheck and their income always remained the same.
“To me, money and wealth were fixed. It was whatever your job was willing to pay you and you could only rise to a certain point.”
That belief was challenged when, during the 2009 recession, both Shay and her husband became entrepreneurs. They began to realize that wealth isn’t fixed, it’s created – and they can always create more.
‘If all of our money disappeared, if the internet broke and we could no longer do this, we have a high level of confidence that we could create it again.”
Shay’s biggest piece of advice is to build the business you want 10 years from now. What do you want your life, health, and relationships to look like in 10 years? Get a clear vision in your head, then build your business around that.
So many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of building owner-dependent businesses that rely on them working around the clock, but Shay is living proof that the hustle isn’t necessary.
“You can do it differently and still be financially successful. Don’t assume that you have to do it the way everybody else is doing it, because it’s not worth what you’re going to have to sacrifice. My encouragement is to build it differently from the beginning. Build it with the future you in mind.”
To hear the rest of the story and what Shay is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
As a commercial photographer and product stylist, Shay’s clients spanned the globe (brands like Sugarfina, Pure Fiji, Truffle bags, and Simplified Planner, to name a few) but powerhouse female entrepreneurs like Marie Forleo, Jenna Kutcher, and thousands of others love her Social Squares Membership where she puts her years of work as a commercial stylist and photographer into a highly curated stock image membership that supplies elevated stock images for female-owned online brands. Her vision is to enable more women to find greater success sharing their ideas and businesses with the world, and she manages to do this in just a 16-hour work week! She has been married for 16 years to her fellow entrepreneur husband Graham Cochrane, and they call sunny Tampa, Florida, home along with their two daughters.
February 2, 2023