Almost exactly one year ago, all of the balls I had been juggling in the air came crashing down. The collective sound of them coming down was so piercing, it literally shattered me. I can’t even describe how bad it was, but it was just so, so bad. I had been going, going, going and not taking a break for so long. Ever since my middle daughter was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, I started holding my breath. She was scared, she was getting used to her new life with lots of negative attention and I was trying to keep everyone happy and control every single situation as best I could. So on February 14th, 2022 when I opened my laptop and saw a broken screen… I lost it. The screen was broken, I was broken, and that made it feel like the end of the world. Even though it was a bright, beautiful day with Carolina blue skies and perfect puffy white clouds, I was surrounded by darkness in the deepest hole I had ever fallen into. This was the day that ultimately led to the perfect storm of what would be my battle with anorexia for the next 11 months.
I won’t go into details about the eating disorder journey, but if you want to know more – I’ve been sharing my recovery on YouTube, the entire thing from August until now. I shared because I knew there were going to be moms and women my age that were surprised (like me!) to find themselves in this struggle at this stage and season of life – and it’s proven time and time again from the DMs and comments to be HELPING others! This is all I care about when I share!!!! Starting to follow another girl’s recovery led to me being brave enough to start my own, and I truly believe that hope is contagious. I’ll share why this is incredibly important later.
So the illness started, and it quickly got bad. I lost way too much weight, way too fast, and I ended up sick and malnourished. I lost a ton of hair. Like… for three months straight it fell out by the clump daily. But then, I chose recovery toward the end of my busy summer season. I knew I wasn’t going to make it to Christmas if I didn’t act fast. Plus… I just got so damn tired of being so sick, so depleted and foggy-headed… I wanted myself back.
During the illness and the start of recovery… I worked less, I even made a little less, but my business did not suffer during my illness or recovery. In fact, my business STILL trended toward the upward trajectory it tends to year after year when it came to demand, visibility and volume of inquiries. I wasn’t able to do as much work as I normally do… I didn’t create the way I normally do and I took quite a few months off of showing up and sharing like I normally do. But my clients still were served well, ALL getting their galleries within 24 hours of their sessions and every single family I worked with was a dream. They were SO aligned with my brand, my heart, they were my people. I was suffering so much, especially during those busy summer months, but the one thing I made sure to do if I wasn’t going to be able to take as many clients as normal was show up fully for the ones I did have on the calendar while making a plan to save my life and start recovery.
There is a clear reason that my business didn’t suffer and that I was okay during literally the worst season of my life. A season where during one week, my client had to help me when I was having trouble walking. I was so embarrassed, but he didn’t care. They knew I was in recovery. That session was so filled with joy, BEAUTIFUL moments captured, and as usual…a quick turn around time and huge gallery. But the moment I am so thankful for is the kindness and lack of judgement. When you build a business where people know who are you and see you as human, everything changes. I’ve known this from day one. This is why a personal brand has kept my business running so beautifully even in the hardest seasons and over the course of thirteen years.
Our personal brand includes what I mentioned earlier in this post… hope. Our family has always been inextricably tied into my business because I can’t separate them. When you book a session, a person shows up to work with you that will make YOUR session easier when you know a little bit about her. And her wild daughters. And maybe even her struggles. People tend to be less stressed and have less pressure to be performative for their sessions when they feel like they already know the person they’re working with. I’ve seen it literally HUNDREDS of times over the years, people do better when they know who I am already. And this year having a personal brand was absolute proof for me (not that I needed any more) that I couldn’t have the business I do today without it.
I care about my clients by default just because they made the choice to work with me out of so many other local photographers, and they already care about me before they book most of the time. It’s like this beautiful experience of mutually being happy to make the connection to spend time in the salt air together to do something important. Because this job is so, so important and precious. I can’t tell you how many times when I was at my lowest and sickest that I realized something I already knew for years but was experiencing from a different perspective, pictures are so damn important. And doing this is an honor. It says that word, honor, on my website and I write it in my emails. Working with families always has been and always will be a true joy and honor. And I am forever thankful.
A personal brand may share a lot about me, and our family, but a huge component of our personal brand is that we care about our client’s struggles and sensitive life situations. We’ve had a bride in the past book me because she knew I could handle her alcoholic mother at the wedding because of how I shared about my alcoholic parent. We booked a bride who had severe anxiety and could barely stand in front of all of the people at the church to say her vows but knew I would never push her and I would work around her anxiety. We’ve had clients with terminally ill and disabled family members who know I will go above and beyond to set up everything as easily as possible and not make them feel like a burden. This year, I have a client with a child with Tourette syndrome and because of our Ellie, they knew I was the girl for the job. Personal branding may sound self-focused but ours actually echos right back onto our clients and the love and caring is mutual.
This year, we are projected to be back on track as far as session volume, but in addition to that, we were able to raise prices because of demand and exclusivity and that means my business in growing exactly how I want it to. In addition to that, we are adding educational experiences like never before, and things we haven’t been able to do for YEARS that we are ready to bring back!
Last year, my illness and recovery timed out well with the busy season so things worked out conveniently for me. I was at my worst at the end of the summer & September and I only had about 3 sessions between October & November. I KNOW I lucked out in this area. If you need to rest, or even quit, DO IT. Do what you have to do. This is not going to look the same from person to person for whatever illness, physical or mental, but you have to take care of yourself first. You can’t do anything or run anything if you aren’t here or healthy enough to do so.
I just wanted to share this with you today: having a personal brand has been a major saving grace and it is THE REASON I am still doing well 13 years later, and that my business continues to shine. My clients sent me recovery gifts, support, encouragement and they checked in on me. They just care. And the feeling is mutual. Feeling vulnerable by having a personal brand was a little scary at first and it DOES mean you are up for judgment and criticism when sharing about your life, but aren’t people going to do that anyway? I’d rather take the risk and get the absolute reward in the form of the best clients who trust me and invest in me. I can’t imagine missing out of these angels who I ADORE and feel so incredibly lucky to work with!
If you are struggling or need help with an eating disorder, I recommend NEDA or Eating Recovery as resources. If you are a business owner who is struggling in this season, I GET IT. I get it. It’s not easy. But I hope this blog post today gives you inspiration to share a little more personally so that your people find you. It took me a while to build what I have today, but I’ve never regretted it. I’m forever thankful.
TLDR; Having a personal brand where my clients actually know who I am, about our family, etc has allowed me to go through the lowest of lows mentally and physically and STILL come out of it with a shining business and angels for clients. It’s worth it to have a personal brand. A mutual one. I care for them, they care for me. Thirteen years later, I have it to thank for so much of my success.
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