Q. Please give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/ cities.
A. Jen Castle Photography is a boutique Wedding and Family Portrait Photography team. I established the team in 2008 and have since maintained the roll of operations manager and lead photographer. Our team consists of 4-5 photographers and a few awesome assistants/ interns. Our brand?… We pride myself on journalistic story telling, evocative portraits, and candid moments. We don’t simply pose you, we capture you in your best pose. We direct and give suggestions, often creating movement so that our subjects are always reacting spontaneously. The key is making everyone in our sessions, comfortable and confident. Our clients never fully understand how we got there but they always fall in love with the finished product. Our journalistic approach tells your story organically every time.
Located within sunny Los Angeles, we manage to stay consistently busy with our weddings and family portraits. There is hardly ever a gloomy day in Los Angeles so our wedding season runs year round. That being said, we do often take on destination weddings as well. New York, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Tennessee and Washington are just a few of the US destinations that we’ve had the pleasure of shooting in.
Q. Please give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).
A. I’ve always loved photography, studied it in high school and in collage. During those years, I could often be found in a local darkroom or pacing the campus searching for that perfect Kodak moment. I won a few local competitions but photography had always just been a hobby for me. Immediately after graduating UCLA, I moved to London. I worked in London for about a year and then traveled the world in-between, with my old Ricoh and 35mm lens close at my side. It was while traveling that year that I decided to make photography my career. Upon my return to Los Angeles, I interned with a well know Los Angeles Wedding Photographer, where I was able to polish my technical skills as well as get a good grip on the business aspect of the Wedding market. After establishing Jen Castle Photography for Weddings in 2008, I soon decided to include family portraits as well. Family seemed to go hand in hand with our Wedding Photography, it was a logical and exciting next step since many of our first clients were the newly-weds we had captured a few years prior. This is what makes it all tick for me- the relationships that we build with our clients. It is so important to document these once-in-a-lifetime moments, in order to reflect and celebrate the future. My clients realize that and I’ve noticed that in documenting these memories, my team also becomes a part of them. My relationship with these clients starts from that first booking and then builds from there as they continue to trust us with the documentation of their love, children, and achievements. It’s an ongoing relationship and an absolute honor for me. It is the sole reason why I do what I do and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.
Q. What inspired you to (start a new business venture) or (to make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for your business come about?
A. My year in London and the travel that I experienced throughout, was my initial inspiration. I knew I wanted to grow in this craft and make a living for myself while doing so. I took so many rolls of film that year, hundreds of pictures, in an effort to capture the emotion that I was taking in on a daily basis. I was a perfectionist and worked hard to improve my skills. My primary subject was always people. I loved documenting the culture from each place I traveled to. It became extremely important for me to document them in an evocative way; within a moment of expression, and of course your settings had to be perfect all the while. So I took notes and primarily focused on what my style was. After a while, it became obvious that this was no longer just a hobby. When I returned home I had requests for various travel prints as well as an occasional portrait session requested but when the market went digital, I became a little lost in all of the new options so I took the next step and worked as an intern for someone who had already paved his way successfully through the market. He was a Wedding and Portrait Photographer within Los Angeles and I worked successfully with him for two years. Was I sure I wanted to go into Weddings and Portraits?… No. There are so many options for a professional photographer. I knew I wanted my subjects to be people though and so I googled my way to an answer that worked best for me. I researched annual income, marketing strategies, statistics and start-ups. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the Wedding and Portrait market was the perfect home base for my new photography business.
Q. What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
A. Diligence, patience, and strategy. Honestly, it’s that simple. Have a plan, never give up and do your best to stay in the know with what is happening in your market. Research! Don’t get lazy or the market will eat you alive.
Q. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
A. Just three?…lol. I’m still learning these daily. I think the above mention goes hand in hand with this next answer actually. It’s so important in business to eloquently define your brand- what is it that drives your company? Once that becomes clear to you, it will then be easily found and understood within the market place. It doesn’t just take good ideas to be an entrepreneur but specific ideas. Ideas that people can relate to and have a need for.
Next item on my list, perserverance. Never give up. There is always a wide variety of ways in which one can achieve their goals, you may be lucky enough to succeed upon the first try, you may not. Always research your options, be open to trying new ideas and never ever give up. Starting up your own small business is no easy task, if your can’t take the heat then don’t even look at the kitchen. However, once you’re in and cooking, it can be the most satisfying and pleasurable experience you’ve ever had, one that everyone wants to eat up!… How’s that for a metaphor.
Lastly, you’ll need help. This has been the hardest lesson for me. As your company goals grow, so will your need for employees. It’s often hard to give up that control but it’s a must. Start networking early and make sure you find the right personalities. Each employee will be a direct reflection of the company so make sure they are treated well, payed well, and consistently motivated. Keep them happy and you’ll have the best team you could have ever dreamed of.
Q. How many hours do you work a day on average?
A. I try to keep my hours between 10am-5pm, Monday-Friday. There are exceptions, especially when capturing a big wedding weekend but for the most part, I’m pretty loyal to that hourly structure. I’m married, with two dogs so it’s important for me to delegate my time.
Q. To what do you most attribute your success?
A. My mother. Yep, I’m an only child and grew up with a single mom. She worked so hard to help get me into the best schools and of course, the college of my dreams. And when I admitted that I wanted to go into the arts, she never judged or belittled that idea. She always encouraged me to achieve the goals that I felt compelled to and always celebrated the victories along the way. I will never forget that unconditional acceptance and love and it’s the primary reason why I continue to seek out my interpretation of success and happiness to this day.
Q. How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
A. Word of mouth and Social Media Marketing have been two of my most successful forms of marketing. I am blessed to continue finding new like-minded clients through past clients, who have often been left with an excited and passionate testimonial. I am so grateful and humbled by that. As far as Social Media goes, it’s not just about Twitter and Facebook but my blog, more than anything. I’ve been blogging on jcp for eight years now and have just opened up a new travel blog with my husband. It’s through this form of communication that I’m able to reach out to new and organic clients. They are instantly able to get to know me and that often leads to a new booking. I love writing and sharing what’s new with my business so it’s a win/win in many aspects. Oh and I’ve also recently hired a SEO marketing team called “E Web Results” and they’re not too shabby either.
Q. Where did your organizations funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
A. I’m lucky, when I established jcp, I started booking immediately. I had also already owned much of the equipment so there wasn’t too much funding needed at the start. At this time, my only source of marketing was word of mouth. My profit was high in the beginning but that all started to change the more I acquired the various software programs needed to consistently run the business, as repairs on equipment became necessary, and as I began hiring new employees. About a year after starting the business, I hired a financial consultant and he was an amazing influence on the future framing of the company.
Q. What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
A. Researching your options and investing along the way is the best path to achieving long-term success. Knowledge is power and that muscle should always be flexed. The more you know, the more options you have. It’s that simple. As far as investing goes, you can never be too sure of what the next month is going to bring. It’s a good idea to put away as much as possible so that there is always a source of income, in case of emergency. Along those lines, make sure you deposit or invest your profits within an institution you feel confident about. Create a plan for the future of your business and then create a plan for its retirement. With good planning, research, and savings, there comes longevity.
Q. Where you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?
A. I see our team growing in numbers and taking on more clients per year. I’d also like to see a partnership and another studio investment in our near future. Future sponsorships, speaking engagements, mentorships, and charitable investments are also on the list.
Q. Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
A. My admiration is spread across a wide spectrum of businesses- from Starbucks, Google, and Facebook, who are constantly redefining the rules and regulations for how employees are treated despite the numbers of employees, to smaller businesses such as Photojojo, The Energy Project, and Ruby Receptionists. Each one of these companies emphasizes the importance of making their work environment a happy and healthy place. They focus on engagement, communication, and enthusiasm. I admire that work ethic and strive to do the same with my own team.
Q. How important have good employees been to your success?
A. My employees are one of the most important keys to Jen Castle Photography. They are the ones that help to make it all happen. They’ve helped in building our company, brick by brick. They are loyal, creatively amazing, and sharp. This is why it is so important to treat them with respect and praise. I do my best to motivate them every day, as they motivate me.
Q. How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
A. It depends on the idea and situation. For the most part, I stick with an original idea for a while. There is never just one right answer so I explore. That’s how I learn. Sometimes, it’s not meant to be. If I try an idea and it doesn’t work out, I also do my best to move on. I learn the lesson and then try a new approach. With photography for example, one of the hardest lessons to learn is to move on. If a location or subject isn’t working the way you pictured, it’s usually best to move on, create a new pose, backdrop or idea. The more you force it to work, the more it usually won’t and then you’ve wasted valuable time and energy, with a client waiting in the wings.
Q. What motivates you?
A. Primarily, the individuals that surround my every day. My dogs, my family, my team, my clients, my friendships, and the various artists that I look up to. I also love to travel, capturing Landscape photography everywhere I go. Most recently, my husband and I created a travel blog with all of our tips, advice, and landscape prints, from all over the globe.
Q. What are your ideals?
A. Love. Peace. And Happiness… I’m serious, it sounds very 1960’s hippy but I strive to live my life learning how to best achieve those three goals while still moving forward with business and success. It’s tough. I’ve had business partners that didn’t work out because they didn’t have that same approach and I’ve had job opportunities that I took on simply because it would enrich me spiritually. It’s a constant balancing act- creating a consistent income while also making sure that it always brings joy. I love what I do and I always strive to pay that forward.
Q. How do you generate new ideas?
A. I generate them while on the Stairmaster, drinking a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine), while reading (I keep sticky notes close by for that reason), over long walks with my pups, or during our latest travel adventure. I often give myself a good healthy dose of “me time” and my aha moments usually occurs within those hours, when my mind is relaxed. That’s why traveling has been a huge motivating factor and why I am always so excited to take on destination weddings and/or portraits.
Q. How do you define success?
A. One step at a time. It’s not just accomplishment but the lessons in-between.
Much of my success is due to the people who taught me along the way.
Q. How do you build a successful customer base?
A. Specific branding and design, then reaching out, networking, meeting new people, creating a fantastic word of mouth and marketing strategy. Branding is the first step and then doing the job better than anyone else is the next. Once that is established, it becomes more obvious who the face of your company is and what it represents. Once people know and love what you represent, they become the most loyal clients one could ever dream of. My clients have become family really. I check in with them often and see how they’re doing. It’s a very rewarding way to approach business.
Q. What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
A. Me Time! I brushed on this earlier but it is so important for me to be able to be my own boss and make my own schedule so that I can keep on creating and doing what it is that I love to do. Everyone wins with this approach- my clients, my employees, my family, and myself.
Q. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
A. It is the best feeling, at the end of a day, to have documented these important memories and then watch the client beam from them as they reminisce over their story year after year. Due to the business that I represent, I naturally stay connected to most of my clients. They become distant family. I spend so much time with them, whether it be the initial meetings, the capture of their day, or the printing of it afterwards, by the time the job is done, we’ve spent about a year bonding over it all. It’s a long journalistic journey that we go on with each and every client that we book and by the end of it all, we celebrate together. That is what makes it all incredibly fulfilling.
Q. What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
A. Heart. Entrepreneurs have a vision and have mapped out the journey. They know what they want and have taken on great financial risk in order to achieve it. Therefore, a ton of heart is often involved. Entrepreneurs usually represent smaller businesses and therefore can be more personable and communicative with their employees, they’ve probably worn every hat within that company at one time or another. I may be bias but I think it’s heart. Entrepreneurs bring a ton of color to an otherwise, very neutral plate.
Q. What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
A. We work hard and while the work is very specific in how it should be approached, we also make sure to breathe and laugh through it all. It’s important to maintain that balance so that everyone has a good time and stays motivated. I also make sure that my company is comprised of good-hearted people. It’s important for me to know, when sending my team out on assignment, that they have my client’s interests at heart, as well as each other’s. It’s so important to check in at all times, a simple “how are you” and actually listening to the answer, can go a long way. I created this culture by practicing it myself. Before any hiring happens, I make sure to conduct a few interviews and interact with each potential hire on social media before deciding on whether or not they’re the right fit. By the time the decision is made, I have a good sense of their talent and personality. Why do I do all of this?… because, when they go out on assignment, they represent Jen Castle Photography. Their experience is our client’s experience. For that reason, it is so important for me to find artists that I can trust and rely on.
Q. In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
About Jen Castle Photography – Jen Castle Photography, a fun and vivacious, destination Portrait & Wedding Photography team, known for their stylish and evocative journalism. Our goal is to tell your story and to remain journalistic in our approach. We make sure to promote smiles, comfort, and ease, all while