Sean Oblizalo of Vows and Peaks: “Self-Motivation”

Self-Motivation — A lot of people have ideas for starting a business but never take the first step. Setting goals for yourself is one of the best ways for an entrepreneur to ride the emotional highs because it motivates you to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. If you’re constantly working towards new goals, you’ll always […]

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Self-Motivation — A lot of people have ideas for starting a business but never take the first step. Setting goals for yourself is one of the best ways for an entrepreneur to ride the emotional highs because it motivates you to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. If you’re constantly working towards new goals, you’ll always stay motivated.

Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Oblizalo with Vows and Peaks.

The beard behind the lens, Sean Oblizalo, the trail guide, planning expert, and straight-up Colorado elopement ninja, shares his passion for the outdoors with couples who want to skip the wedding day drama and go straight for an epic experience by eloping in nature.

Sean started his business 4 years ago and boasts incredible stories of couples eloping in epic scenery. He specializes in creating a memorable experience of journeying to distant landscapes and coordinating adventure the moment you call him up. As a leave-no-trace elopement photographer, he embraces the modernity of elopements.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started? What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Do you remember watching cartoons as a kid and a literal lightbulb would go off above their heads when they have an idea or an epiphany? Well, that’s what happened to me on my elopement in Northern Ireland. There we were, my soon-to-be wife and I, standing at Dunluce Castle with the waves crashing down below us. Our amazing photographer had just driven us around to gorgeous locations capturing our day, and I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Why the heck am I not doing this?!”.

I had been applying for landscape photography jobs for 3 years while working in a restaurant, and I kept getting rejection after rejection from outdoor brands and companies. It was so incredibly defeating and was all because I didn’t have a big enough social media following. I mean, what kind of qualification is that?!

So when we got home from our elopement, I reached out to several friends that had gotten married already and asked them if they’d be interested in getting dressed up in their wedding clothes and doing mock-shoots for my portfolio. I knew that I needed to have photos to build a website, so this was the first step in a very long first year in starting my business. It was the power of getting past rejection that got me to where I am today!

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

I knew from an early age that I didn’t want to work behind a desk my entire life. I knew I wanted to have the freedom and be able to jet off and do things on the flip of a dime. My first real job out of college helped drive this home for me. I was hired by a kitchen equipment company as a salesperson and I would always sit at home and wonder, “Why am I out here making all of this money for someone else?”. I went through a year of long hours, a terrible work environment, terrible pay, and many broken promises before I finally had enough and quit. It was just 9 months later that I started Vows and Peaks. To be honest, I don’t regret doing that job, I think it helped me realize that I needed to follow my passion for photography and make working for myself a priority.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

I think this is a combination of being inspired by some of my favorite memories in Yosemite with my dad, plus some of my favorite photographers’ work. My love for the outdoors started with my upbringing and my passion for photography was fueled by photographers like Scott Kranz and Jimmy Chin.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When I first started, I knew I wanted my branding to reflect myself as a true “adventure elopement photographer”. Spending my time outside hiking and backpacking are my true passions and I wanted to incorporate those two things as much into my job as possible. One of my biggest investments when starting my business was hiring a copywriter because I wanted to get my “why” and vibe across on my website. Yes, there are a lot of talented photographers out there, but I wanted the people who choose to work with me to share that same passion and affinity for the outdoors as myself. I’m at the point now where I only work with couples who are wanting to do some sort of adventure for their elopement, which to me, makes me stand out. Some of my favorite elopements included backpacking, off-roading, and I even go to do a Via-Ferrata!

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1) Pride: For one, I take pride in my work and being different from other photographers. I take pride in being myself and having self respect for what I’ve built on my own.

2) Humbleness: You have to stay humble and not let your ego drive your business. You never know what’s around the corner, so it’s important to remember where you came from and keep on grinding.

3) Letting Go: You can’t dwell on the rejection of the unknown. You have to be able to let go so you can be receptive and embrace something new. My wife always says to me, “If you hang onto an upset, you can’t allow space for new and better opportunities to come to you”.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

When I first started to build my website, I was told that hiring an SEO agency was the best investment I could make…but let me tell you, it wasn’t. I invested thousands of dollars into having someone build out my SEO before I finally cut the cord after not seeing the results they promised. I took it upon myself to purchase courses and watch YouTube videos for how to do SEO myself, and my business has thrived since then. Sometimes the unknown can seem overwhelming and scary but I would advise against hiring someone to do something until you’ve tried it yourself.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

I would recommend outsourcing things you don’t have time for. I started outsourcing my editing last year, and it was an absolute game-changer in my free time. Editing could be up to 15 hours per shoot and I figured my time would be better served taking on more bookings vs me sitting in front of the computer. Finding things that you can outsource will cost you money, but it will save you time and in the end, it allows you to make even MORE money!

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

Look at the market you are starting a business in and find the problems where you can create value, all while carving out your niche. You have to be able to differentiate yourself from others while finding solutions for customers.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

A lot of times, businesses are doing the same things as their competitors. For example, there are thousands of elopement photographers out there. You need to figure out how to make your brand stand out compared to others. Ask yourself, “What problems are you solving for potential clients? What story is your brand telling?”, by answering these questions, you not only start to add value to your business, but you start to gain trust from potential clients, and start to see your brand identity take form.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I think it’s super easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to your “competition”, but I truly believe that there is a perfect match for every business. I would suggest that instead of trying to “compete” with your competition, you try and separate yourself by providing different value and sell YOURSELF. Your tone, your personality, and all the things that make you, YOU. People want to do business with people they like. If people don’t like you, they won’t want to do business with you.

I can’t tell you how many times a couple has booked me because of my “vibe” on my website vs my actual photos. People want to book me because of who I am vs what kind of photos I take. I think a lot of businesses can push good products and services but what are your core values? What makes you stand out vs the rest? How are you selling yourself and your business?

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

No matter how successful you are, no matter how big your business might be, there will always be ups and downs. Whether it be having to learn new SEO tactics to improve your website, or navigating a global pandemic, you always have to remain confident but flexible. Unlike a “regular job” as an entrepreneur, you are NEVER off the clock. You are working 24/7. Plus, when it comes down to the success of your business it all is on your shoulders.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

I still remember when Insider Magazine reached out about featuring one of my photos on their website. It was pretty surreal and flattering to have them reach out and then to see MY work in an online publication. Wow! My work is featured in smaller websites pretty often now but Insider but was a big deal for me because of how well-known they are.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

I used to take rejection super personal. Am I not good enough? Did the couple like the other photographer more? Am I not worth it?

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

I realized there is a photographer for every couple and just because they didn’t choose me, it doesn’t make me inadequate or lesser than. I realized these thoughts were a waste of time and energy that I could be focusing on something else.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

1) Passion — The key to success is finding something you’re passionate about and making it your baby. You have to be passionate and have confidence that what you are starting, is going to work because you are going to face failures and uncertainty on your path to success. If you are passionate about what you’re doing and the service you are providing, each hurdle will be easier to overtake while doing what you love.

2) Self-Motivation — A lot of people have ideas for starting a business but never take the first step. Setting goals for yourself is one of the best ways for an entrepreneur to ride the emotional highs because it motivates you to accomplish what you’ve set out to do. If you’re constantly working towards new goals, you’ll always stay motivated.

3) Check Your Ego at the Door — You have to be willing to embrace the fact that you are going to make mistakes. You’ll make lots of them, believe me. You have to be willing to take criticism and make the necessary changes on the path to success. The best way to check your ego is by letting your defenses down and welcome in personal and professional growth. Instead of blocking out other ideas, you have to be vulnerable to criticism and swallow your pride. Use your ego wisely and don’t be afraid of checking it at the door when you need to.

4) Confidence — Every entrepreneur should believe in their product and business. Having a strong belief in your business, and yourself, will help you feel in control of your success. People with confidence are more likely to understand their own self-worth, be more persistent, more likely to attack new opportunities, and not be afraid to raise their prices when the time comes.

5) Sacrifice — Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone. Why? Because becoming a successful entrepreneur doesn’t happen overnight. It’s for those with the mindset that you’re going to have to sacrifice your time, energy, relationships, and freedom for periods of time. This quote sums it up rather nicely, “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t”.

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I would define resilience as someone that can “ride the wave” of the ups and downs. You have to be willing to make mistakes and outwork others while learning from your failures so you can do better the next time. The path to success is never-ending, and the highs are much more enjoyable than the lows. But if you can remain resilient, you can handle anything!

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

I think my dad passing away when I was a child helped me become more resilient. It was a tough experience, and still holds a lot of weight in my heart. That loss plays a huge role in how I’m able to push past adversity and focus on moving forward rather than dwell on the past.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

Strangely, I feel that I work best when I am not being 100% positive. A little bit of self-doubt lights a fire under me to handle whatever comes my way. But, a positive attitude can make or break an experience. So while on the inside I might not be 100% positive, it sure looks like it from the outside. Your customers don’t care about excuses, they care about how you’re going to handle problems and fix them.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

Absolutely. I think it’s incredibly important to be compassionate and uplifting with your clients and within the workplace. Trying to bring out the best in people while helping them advance not only benefits the person, but it can make your team better which then reflects in the outcome of their work. The worst kind of bosses is those that bring their team down rather than build them up.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

“Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love. If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.” — Mark Cuban

This quote hits home because it’s easier to wake up and be motived and excited for work if you’re doing something you love and are passionate about. I wish everyone could follow and work in their passions.

How can our readers further follow you online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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