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Entrepreneurship with Melissa Henry

Personal Brand Photography

What is your backstory?

I was raised in Tucson, Arizona, the youngest of a family of 6 kids. My father was a hobbyist photographer and I remember getting into his equipment and playing monkeying around with it when I was young. He even did some darkroom work and had an enlarger and all the equipment necessary to develop prints at home. I think my fascination with photography started then, perhaps as a way to better connect with my father, but it grew into a passion that has stayed with me throughout my life. I guess it was just in my genes!

Even though my creative outlet was photography from a young age, I didn’t decide to be a professional photographer until later in life. Instead, I received my Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting at the University of Arizona, spent 2 years in Los Angeles and then landed in DC in my mid-20’s. My working life started as an Accountant and Auditor but I spend most of my corporate career as a consultant, leading team projects. For roughly the last 8 of those years, I’ve been growing my Newborn and Maternity photography studio as a side-hustle.

Here’s the thing about a side-hustle: if it’s something you really love, it starts to compete with the safe and well-paying day job, until pretty soon, you have to choose. Fortunately for me, that choice was made crystal clear. I found myself managing a very large and challenging team, and working 60+ hour weeks with no end in sight. I was stressed out, losing sleep, and missing out on spending time with my husband and my young daughter.

So, I did the unthinkable for most people, I just quit. For me, it wasn’t too crazy of a decision, I already had a thriving side business but the scary part was the uncertainty of whether my side business would thrive as a full-time biz. Right around that time, I “discovered” the idea of focusing on Personal Brand photography through one of my mentors, Jamie Swanson. It totally clicked with me that this is the future of the photography industry and that I needed, and really wanted, to pivot my business to helping entrepreneurs with imagery so that they could connect with their target clients and grow their personal brands.

What I realized was that because I spent years in the corporate and consulting worlds and running a portrait photography business, I have a very unique understanding of how powerful professional photography can be in telling stories and engaging people. Now, I know that I’m in the best place for me and my family. I am doing what I love, I’m able to truly be present for my family AND I get to help other business owners succeed too!

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? What lesson did you learn from them?

Over the past few years, I have had help from several professional photographers in the industry to learn business and technical aspects of photography specific to my niche, through online courses and Facebook groups and they have directly helped me many times. My main mentors in this area have been Joy Vertz, Jamie Swanson and Julia Kelleher and I’ve followed them for several years.

My business coach, Mallika, is amazing! She has helped me see a bird’s eye view of my business and helped me strategically plan how to achieve my goals. I would still be thinking small and probably not growing much if I hadn’t found her.

Of course, as I mentioned before, my husband is my personal mentor and cheerleader. He is so grounded and calm but blunt and honest when it’s needed. If he had been unsupportive, and believe me, I have heard this from other photographers about their spouses, I would have quit a long time ago.

And last but most definitely not least, my lovely daughter. She is really the reason I quit my job to pursue my passion full time. She helps me by giving me the motivation to continue. I want to be her mentor. I want her to see, first hand, that if you pursue the things you love to do the most, success will follow.

How do you push through your worst times?

Sometimes, no matter what you do, life happens but you still have bills to pay, a child to care for and clients to serve. Knock on wood, I have not had anything major happened recently. That said, I do think about the fact that as an entrepreneur, I have a lot more responsibility to my clients than I did as an employee. I’ve been setting up a system with my assistant in case I am unable to meet my scheduled appointments (like if I am in an accident or get sick), basically a Plan B for making sure clients will be informed and know what will happen.

As for pushing through bad times, I have an amazing family and wonderful close friends who have always been supportive of me. I know that when I need them, I can reach out and get the help I may need. Really couldn’t ask for more.

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