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Vanessa Joy: “Because we can!”

Because we can! Because there aren’t, in America at least, laws stopping us so we should exercise that freedom and run towards our dreams. And because women are designed for the long-haul work that it takes to run a successful business. We do a darn good job at it. As a part of our series about […]

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Because we can! Because there aren’t, in America at least, laws stopping us so we should exercise that freedom and run towards our dreams. And because women are designed for the long-haul work that it takes to run a successful business. We do a darn good job at it.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Joy, CEO of Vanessa Joy Photography.

Since 2002, Vanessa Joy has been photographing couples and educating pros worldwide. She focuses her business in the Dallas, Austin, NJ and NYC area, and alongside her partnerships as a Canon Explorer of Light, Profoto Legend of Light and Adorama Syndicate she helps pros take their businesses to the next level.

Vanessa is a top vendor on WeddingWire, the largest and most trusted global wedding marketplace.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I fell in love with photography in high school. I had already learned a thing or two from my mother, who was a photographer at the time, but it didn’t really hit me as a passion until I started developing my own black and white film and prints. Ironically, even after that, I still didn’t think that being a photographer was a “real job”, so I continued doing photography on the weekends while working as a Spanish teacher by day. Eventually, my business boomed so much I had to quit my “real job”.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

This may sound trivial, but the most interesting story I can think of right now is how I once wrote an article about how pregnancy would destroy my life and how I hid it for 8 months because of that. Being a woman business owner is hard enough, but top that with being a mom and I figured I may as well kiss my life goodbye. Interestingly enough, it didn’t destroy my career. I have two beautiful kids and a career that has thrived since. It’s not easy, but it is absolutely interesting how my mind went from panic to productive once I needed to make it happen.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started my own wedding photography business, I bought a booth at a bridal show and the email list of all the couples attending. Thinking I’d be an email marketing master, I decided to email my wedding photography follow-up pitch to all of the couples the day after…and didn’t put anyone on BCC. Needless to say, most of those emails weren’t delivered, and the ones that saw a super unprofessional, spammy-looking email. Lesson learned: not only do I need to BCC my newsletter recipients, but I need to use a third-party mail service to do it effectively and professionally.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I worked for another wedding photographer for five years before starting my own business. It’s something I wish more entrepreneurs did. He taught me everything about weddings and let me experiment with marketing methods on his dollar and reputation before starting my own. John Heyn was also my high school photographer teacher that made me fall in love with photography to begin with. Without him, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Crush It by Gary Vaynerhuk is easily one of the most inspiring, get-your-butt-off-the-floor, books I’ve ever read. I’ve always been passionate about what I do, but that book taught me how to be equally motivated to work, and then to work even harder when you’re not motivated.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I’m looking up at the quote in a frame on my office wall that’s always been a key quote for me.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Owning your own business is super exciting, and there are days where you’re making strides. But there are also days when it’s drudgery and hard work and flat-out boring. It’s almost depressing how anti-climactic some days can be, especially shortly after a big success. This quote helped me to see that it doesn’t matter if I’m flying high on big successes, or barely crawling through the day by day, it just matters that I’m still working towards my goals.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Aside from running my own business, I am an educator in the community as well. I love being able to encourage and build up fellow business owners. Hearing their success stories of how their quality of life has improved from what I’ve taught is wildly rewarding. Most recently I’ve been providing free education on my YouTube channel at www.YouTube.com/vanessajoy.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I have to admit that number is shocking to me. In my field of wedding photography, females are more numerous business owners than men. I do remember the switch though. I remember in the beginning barging my way into a male-dominated industry and feeling slightly out of place. Then it started to change. There were a few women like Jasmine Star and Jessica Claire that became encouraging female voices in the industry and women felt empowered by them and their success. I don’t know that there’s as much holding women back, per se, as there is a need for more individual support and encouragement for women. I was fortunate enough to have had those supportive voices, ironically from two men who taught me what I know (John Heyn from before) and Kenny Kim who first planted the idea that I had what it took to go out on my own. The more we focus on the positive encouragement of women as business owners both publicly and in our private lives, the better.

I am grateful for the work of companies like The Knot Worldwide (I am a vendor on their WeddingWire marketplace) who are advocating for change in the wedding industry. Their B2B brand WeddingPro recently launched Fellowship for Change, an eight-month intensive program that will provide career advancement opportunities for underrepresented wedding professionals in their first years of business. Fellowship for Change will offer qualifying small business owners exclusive educational resources, mentorship opportunities with renowned wedding professionals, networking and financial support in the form of advertising on The Knot and WeddingWire.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

Most recently I am mentoring a woman, Bhuvana, in her wedding photography business. While I do a lot for both men and women educating in the industry, I love working closely with women in my own business. In addition to pro-Bono mentoring Bhuvana, I routinely train women in photography and business for both their separate businesses and their role in my majority-woman-run business.

This might be intuitive to you, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Because we can! Because there aren’t, in America at least, laws stopping us so we should exercise that freedom and run towards our dreams. And because women are designed for the long-haul work that it takes to run a successful business. We do a darn good job at it.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

  1. Encourage women. All it took for me to go out on my own was one conversation, a few sentences really, from a friend. Words have power and you can be that source of encouragement for anyone if you choose.
  2. Don’t focus on the negative. Yes, we need awareness, but there’s a tipping point where hearing too much of the bad discourages women. It has the power to instill fear and stagnation and ultimately that’s the opposite of what we want.
  3. Offer to help. What do you have to offer to those women in your life running a business? I know I’ve had acts of kindness over the years that have helped me through hard times. Right now, I have a man I’ve never met, Tony Molleur, helping me transition my business from NYC/NJ to Austin Texas. I didn’t ask for help, he offered it, and he made sure that I knew that there were no strings attached. I’m forever grateful for him and others that have selflessly helped me along the way.
  4. Help us at home. While women founders are more prevalent these days, what’s not changed nearly as much is how the home is run. I wrote a paper in college all about how women sort of shot themselves in the foot by wanting careers because they got that, but they still had a full-time job at home too. I’m very fortunate that my husband is also a business owner and one that does a ton of child-caring and cooking when I need it. But still, the mental burden of managing it all tends to fall on us women. That’s a lot to carry while carrying a business too.
  5. Don’t give us a leg up. For me, nothing screams “you’re the weaker sex” like a handout. A handout won’t help me be better or stronger or learn. It won’t help me feel proud of the work I’ve accomplished either. In fact, it deprives us of all of those things. I’ve been on stages or lists where I knew I was just checking off a “yup we’ve got a woman here” box. I wasn’t proud to be there. It was a consolation prize. Notice us and choose us for what we have and can accomplish, not because of our category in the human race.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love a movement where those inspired to be a part of it would #doitinstead. Talking is amazing. Marches are amazing. Raising money is amazing. Doing is better. Maybe the next time I’m getting motivated to speak out against sex trafficking children, I can go volunteer for an hour instead. Or as an extreme, and one I’ve considered, if I’m particularly moved by the fact that children over the age of 5 in the foster system are extremely unlikely to be adopted, instead of giving money to an orphanage, I start adoption preparation instead. Could you imagine a world where we wouldn’t just feel these pulls, but we’d follow them into action even if for just an hour. That would change the world.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

That would likely be a tie between Tomi Lahren and Gretchen Carlson. Regardless of their separate political and worldviews, they’re both fierce women who have taken serious punches and don’t back down despite not being able to go out in public without water being dumped on them (Larhen) or facing one of the world’s biggest issues against women (Carlson). It takes a kind of courage that you don’t see much these days to keep going, as a woman, holding true to your convictions, despite tremendous adversity and I’d like to learn that kind of bravery. And better than just breakfast with them, I’d love to photograph them.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me:

Where my weddings are: www.vanessajoy.com

Where my education is: www.breatheyourpassion.com

Where my videos are: www.youtube.com/vanessajoy

Where I like to hang out most: www.instagram.com/vanessajoy

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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