For several years, I’ve had the absolute honor of working with my friend and colleague Jen Manzi of Magnolia Grace Studios. She has been a second shooter with me for multiple weddings, a one-on-one coaching client of mine (click here to apply!), was a retreat attendee at my first ever Fireside Retreat, and a student of the Wedding Photographer’s Playbook!
Today, I have the pleasure of sharing her story with you. I am so grateful for her willingness to take time out of her busy work and life schedule to be here with us today. In this Q&A, she shares her journey as a small business owner and how she made it to where she is today in her business and life.
Jen is also here to share her kind words about her experience as one of the students of my Wedding Photographer’s Playbook. Make sure to keep reading if you want to learn more about how the Playbook helped her save hours each week in her business and get more time back to live her life to the fullest with her family!
You are going to absolutely LOVE Jen and everything she has to share with us today about her experience! Grab a cup of coffee or tea, find a comfy seat at the coffee shop, and meet Jen!
I am the owner and lead photographer at Magnolia Grace Studios. I started my photography journey, technically, in 2011, but formally/legally filed for an LLC/FEIN in 2012. I hit the street running as a full-time photographer in June 2013 after losing my corporate job and then birthing my second son. Mostly, I photograph weddings, but slowly I’m integrating boudoir back into my business; and we have always had a small following of family clients that truth-be-told I would like to grow a little over time – even if it’s simply our couples returning with their families in the future.
Magnolia Grace Studios is located in Millbrook New York; right in the heart of the Catskills-Hudson Valley-Berkshire Mountain triad. We love servicing the whole area.
Our dream client believes in the tangibles of photography… perhaps they didn’t grow up with a film camera, but they appreciate the print or the photo album as a physical memory of what they felt in that moment. They love the organic feel of the outdoors; the adventure of the wilderness; the smell of good, clean, fresh air. Their hearts are filled with laughter and their souls are connected to each other – spouse to spouse, parent-to-child, women to her own body. After that, the type of session doesn’t matter because our “dream client” fits in with what makes my soul light on fire.
Feeling the connection between my clients while I’m photographing them.
Practically everything else about running a business.
Knowing that so many grandmothers & grandfathers have been photographed with their grandchildren as so many have passed away – preserving memories of people is literally why I do this.
Hire a mentor when you’re getting started; it will never be wasted money if you find the right person.
Two kids, two dogs, two cats, a husband and a partridge in a pear tree! I enjoy politics & current events (I know, so lame) and something quirky about me is that I just pick up these little facts from random places and they stick with me forever: for example, all kangaroos are left hand dominant. Weird, right? Or rainbows only occur when the sun refracts off the rain at approximately 40-42 degrees and a double rainbow occurs when the light is refracted twice in a droplet. There are also twelve different kinds of rainbows. Random, I know.
I never forget a face, and often the name associated with it.
My husband and I met on match.com when our “AOL Personals” profiles were automatically transferred after the match.com service was created – what is crazy about the whole thing is we went to Catholic grade school together but he didn’t realize it when he sent me a message on AIM after viewing my match.com profile. I knew who he was as soon as he sent me a photo; the rest is history!
I’m a foodie. I LOVE the kitchen and everything about cooking, creating, and eating all the things. I’m also a [self-proclaimed] wine snob.
Truth be told, Laura and I have been friends far longer than she has been helping me with workflow & task management issues, and so Laura knows my story of failure in business better than anyone. She actually approached me about The Photographer’s Playbook and there was no way I could say no. In the winter of 2015-16, I nearly lost my business; there were many dynamics to the situation but essentially the underlying theme was lack of workflow, no systems, and zero accountability. Laura’s friendship, then The Playbook were a HUGE puzzle piece to putting everything back together.
Essentially, I was flying by the seat of my pants – I don’t exactly recommend doing that when you start a business. I mean, I went to school for life sciences and worked as a clinical educator in the medical device field. I didn’t necessarily wake up one day and dream up becoming a photographer, but life threw me a curveball and here I am; essentially this was never in the plan. I had no clue what I was doing and while I had a really great mentor that got me up and running as a photographer, I never really learned about workflows and systems and financial management and that is how I failed.
Oh, well this is an embarrassing question. My wedding photography contract defined weddings would be delivered in 6-8 weeks. The average was 6 months and the longest was one year. Basically horrible.
I am a hybrid photographer, so I need to wait for my film scans to return from the lab, so about 4 weeks. During the summer, when my children are home (I’m the sole childcare provider while my husband works away from the home) it can take about twice that because essentially I divide my time between “all the work things” and refereeing a hundred arguments a day, a couple physical altercations, and the never-ending need for food for two boys who act as they’ve never eaten in their lives. So, finding solid amounts of time to dedicate to work can be difficult – but at least I’m not breaching contracts anymore!!!
I’m far more organized than I have ever been, although I can still make improvements.
I actually have a process and a workflow for most parts of my business. I didn’t have that before working with Laura and that is where my failures began.
The process of seeing the success after implementing a workflow!
Oh dear… well, it was fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, to be honest. I just sort of did what I could as it came along and so there was very little organization or anything. While I’m not 100% to where I’d like to be now, I have good solid pathways to follow for editing, to onboard a client, to generate revenue from gallery sales post delivery.
Um, basically any positive side effect that exists in business, I’ve seen. My clients are happy and I’m happy; my family is happy too!
I start my workday when my kids get on the bus and end my workday when they get off the bus. If I need to schedule something personal during my work day, I don’t feel guilty about it anymore because I have the ability to manage my tasks around it. I’m less overwhelmed, less stressed, I feel like I’m actually swimming rather than in survival mode and just trying to keep my head above water.
Don’t second guess yourself for even a second more. I’m 100% improved from where I was two years ago, and I can still improve 100% more. There isn’t a single business owner that couldn’t benefit from Laura’s expertise in mainstreaming business systems and workflows.
That is a tough number to estimate because I don’t take weddings every weekend, so my work is a bit more spread out, but honestly, the fact that I’m delivering galleries on time (spending less time editing), my email process is streamlined (spending less time writing due to more automation and pre-written templates), and the general business organization that I now exercise, I’d say that my overall work week has been reduced from “not enough time to do everything” to more like 20-ish per week.
Aside from the fact that I feel like I have my -ish together??? Just do it! I cannot speak highly enough of working with Laura. I know that she and I started this journey as friends in photography, but she is something shy of a genius with the way she organizes and creates systems. What is even more amazing is that her workbooks, programs, and retreats give you hands-on tools to do it yourself, and for you to go back to as reference if you want to make changes or updates as you change your processes or even as your business adapts and grows. Every NEW business should work with Laura; every established business should work with Laura: there is an equal success to be learned and achieved for everyone!
I cannot thank you enough, Jen! Your story is truly amazing and your clients are SO lucky to have you in their lives. I am so excited to see where your business takes you as you continue to grow and thrive!
To view more of Jen’s beautiful portfolio, click here! Also, see more pictures below!
To learn more about working with me one-on-one, click here.