Tell me a little about you and your company.
I took the long road to get where I think I was always meant to be. I left attempted careers and 60-hour work weeks in journalism and hospitality to stay at home with my two children (Zack is now 5 and Addie is now 3) about two years ago. I realized I was missing too many bedtimes and milestones and was just too burnt out to feel like a good mom and wife on my days off, so we took a risk and it's been just fantastic. However, I soon realized that despite stay-at-home-mom being one of the most intense jobs imaginable, I still craved a little creativity and an outlet and so I started to reemerge myself into my passion for photography. I found that, much like in my past careers, lifestyle photography allowed me to still tell stories and freeze time. I love capturing memories for my couples and families and I am so ecstatic when a stranger says they feel like they know the people in my images -- that's what Wendy Zook Photography is all about to me.
How long have you owned your own business?
Wendy Zook Photography began on a very light scale in 2010 when I received my first "real" Nikon for our son's birth. In 2012, I photographed my first wedding, as a favor to a friend. In 2014/2015, it became very real, very busy and very legit!
What made you decide to start your own business?
The adrenaline and excitement I felt while photographing that first wedding -- a mix of nerves and nonstop ideas -- and the quick lessons learned and things I would do differently as I edited them made it very clear that this was something I could really and truly enjoy doing. With some number-crunching and a lot of late-night webinars and out-of-state trainings, I learned the tools needed to make it work beyond just a passion and a hobby. I am so happy to contribute to our family's finances with something I truly love doing.
What was the best advice you received when you started your career?
Several people told me then and always remind me now (thank you!) to always be "me." To remember that at the core of WZP is getting to know my couples and clients as friends and using what makes them tick to best capture their stories. I know that I can always learn from the many other talented creatives out there, but if I'm not Wendy, Wendy Zook Photography will surely come across as unauthentic.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started your business?
Don't ever stop growing -- you or your business/brand! I'm grateful for advice, trainings, workshops, webinars and just great community and collaboration. I'm not the same photographer I was in 2012 and I'm not the same person I was then, either. I want to always be improving and bettering myself!
What are the three skills that new entrepreneurs need in order to succeed?
Balance: Balance between personal and professional lives. Some days, I rock at this; some days, I realize one has to take priority over the other and that's OK. And a balance between good days (or weeks or months) and bad days (or weeks or months). Just about the time I wonder if I'm going to book another wedding at all is the time I have to turn people away because I have too many inquiries for a date or a month. And some days, I think I nail an image on location and am so disappointed when something is off on my computer screen hours later. Likely, though, there's another image down the line that I thought was "meh" and will be a "WOW."
Fun: If you stop having fun, your business is running you; you're not running your business. I have dance party breaks, I sometimes work in my pajamas and I sometimes (gasp!) forget to do an Instagram post because I'm too busy living my "other" life and playing princesses or something else with the kiddos. That's OK! I'm far from burning out because I make sure I take care of myself and find ways to make myself smile!
Tough skin: There will be really difficult moments. Financial issues are never fun (I remember the lump in my throat when I realized a beach wedding landed grains of sand in my new lens) but if you're frugal and careful, you can survive. Sometimes, I'm my own worst critic and sometimes I hear it straight from a client. Maybe they didn't see the beauty in the black-and-white I created or maybe they're on their fifth album version without an approval. I've learned to ask myself two simple questions: 1) Did I do my absolute best, with no excuses or issues I could have prevented? and 2) Have I improved from the last ___ (wedding, photo session, detail shot, etc)? Usually the answers are yes and I realize that's all I need to keep moving forward.
What routines do you have in place to help your days run smoothly?
My Erin Condren planner has changed my life and my desktop calendar keeps me sane. Beyond that, I set "likely" goals and "would love to" goals for my days and weeks. For example, maybe I would love to finish editing my latest wedding and surprise my client with their gallery two weeks early. However, if schedules are busy and kids are crazy, I've allowed myself plenty of time to be pleased with getting some sneak peeks on Facebook, and finishing most of the editing. I try to do a lot of preparing and scheduling ahead of time. I may write four or five blog posts in one or two days and then I have more than enough content for a couple of weeks. When I have the time, I manage it well and I'm usually able to get a lot of accomplished.
How do you find balance as an entrepreneur?
Planning ahead is key. Knocking out several blog posts ahead of time brings me peace when I need to have a slow or an "off" business day. Under-promising and over-delivering is important to me so I always make sure I give myself enough wiggle room for "life" to jump in the way of professional things -- whether it's not promising a contract for three days when I know today is out but tomorrow is likely or saying it will take 4-6 weeks for clients to receive photos when in a typical situation I can get it to them in 2-3 weeks.
And I have stopped being "on" 24/7. That does nothing beneficial for me, so I lose the notifications and turn off the messages and e-mails during certain times and on any special days.
What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?
Flexibility. I'm incredibly lucky and I don't ever want to lose sight of that. I make my own hours, I do something I love and I get so much time with children while they're young. My son has Down Syndrome and, thanks to my photography, I can be present for his therapies, school tours, IEP meetings and whatever else I want to participate in. That peace of mind is something I can't put a price tag on.
What do you do to unwind?
I am an old soul or at least a very old lady! I love time with my family, but my most happy "me" moments are quiet and peaceful -- classic films, a good book, music in the background, essential oils and some time outside. I'm all about a cup (or three) of coffee and taking care of my Yankee Candle addiction, too.
What is a project that you are working on right now or just finished?
I recently collaborated with the National Down Syndrome Society (www.ndss.org) and two other photographers on a rockstar-themed photo shoot in New York City. We had more than 50 models of different ages (11 weeks to 50 years old) with Down Syndrome who had hair, makeup and outfits done to create famous singers and entertainers. The final images will be used for the NDSS's annual auction and fundraising gala in March 2016. The best part was seeing and hearing afterward how our models gained confidence and positive self image after the shoot. So many of them are accomplishing great things -- graduating college, living independently, acting, traveling and just being so happy and so positive. It will go down as one of the most incredible highlights both professionally and personally.
How can people get in touch with you?
I'm so excited about my new website, designed by Alyssa Joy Photography & Design during my rebranding in late 2015: www.wendyzookphotography.com
You can also e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to meeting new friends!