On her career path to where she is now:

I started my business when I was 16. I was a junior in high school and I took a photojournalism class as an elective to fill my schedule and I ended up really enjoying it. You had to have a nice camera in order to even take the class so I got to trick my parents into buying me a nice camera. And by nice camera I mean a used $300 camera on Ebay (for the record). During that year, we pursued learning the basics of photography and I started to take pictures of friends for fun, and fast-forward to my senior year, I got a business license. I made things official before my senior year so I could leave school every day at 10:30am to go home to work. I essentially went full-time with my business as a senior in high school and during the season of applying to colleges and trying to figure out what I wanted my life to look like. I actually applied to seven universities and I ended up committing to the one that was closest to home, which was still an eight-hour round trip. But my thought process was “ok I’ll go to college, I’ll pursue a business degree and I’ll shoot weddings on weekends and travel back and forth and just deal with the fact that that’s going to be a little inconvenient.” And I actually ended up, a month before I was supposed to leave, revoking my admission to go full-time instead. So I’ve been full-time now for seven years in August and I’ve transitioned from just shooting high school senior portraits to shooting weddings and then into education. So now I teach workshops, I have online courses, I host a Mastermind and I really love teaching on marketing and business strategy and helping other entrepreneurs reach their goals. It’s been a crazy ride!  

On starting a business at a young age: 

I started my business in high school and I went to a public high school that was a mixed crowd of people and there was really nobody who was going against the grain and doing anything different. So I showed up and was like, “Yea, well plot twist I’m going to start my own business.” And the overall consensus was, “Who does she think she is and why does she think she can do that?” So it got a little rough for awhile there because I got a lot of backlash and I had a lot of people who made fun of me. A lot of people who mocked me on social media and things like that that made my high school career- which is already hard for a 14 or 15 year old girl- a little rough. I also got some backlash from my parents when I made the decision not go to college and to go full-time instead, because they wanted me to get a degree. Their job is obviously to look out for me and have my best intentions at heart and they didn’t want me not to be successful, so they wanted me to have a backup plan. My dad made me do a semester at community college in order to prove to him I could take this business full-time, that it was something I was willing to work for, and that financially I was going to be ok. So there were a lot of ups and downs, and earning my clients’ trust when I could barely drive a car, is a whole ‘nother side of the puzzle. So I just had to work really hard and I had to overcompensate a little bit in the way that I marketed myself. I remember being at shoots sometimes and my clients would be like, “We can’t wait for you to have a drink with us at our wedding!” and I’m like “well that’s super illegal because I’m seventeen.” So it was a fun little dynamic to figure out. But there were lots of pros to it too and I wouldn’t change anything, but it was definitely not as easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy as people make it seem in their heads. 

Advice for young entrepreneurs right now thinking of taking a different path from the norm:

If you’re deciding whether or not to go to college, it’s such a personal decision and such a unique season for each person. I think a lot of people assume I’ll be like, “Pursue your dreams! Don’t go to college!” But I actually think for some people it’s a necessary season for life. There’s a lot of things that I’ve missed out on: I never got to go to a college football game, I didn’t get to date in college, I didn’t get to be in a sorority or make friends in college. There’s a lot about that season that I look back on and I think, “Wow, I did miss a season of life that a lot of people get to experience.” And I also think I was in a unique position where I had already been building a business for two years so from a financial perspective I was already profitable and I knew that if I continued to grow and put in more effort with having extra hours from school, I was going to financially be able to go into the workforce in a good place. I think some people, in their senior year of high school, think they want to start something then, and within two months of the summer time they’re so passionate about it and they love it so much and they should wait on college and pursue that thing. But I think if you’re not financially in a place where that is the smart decision for you, then it may not be the best decision. But I do think if you’re only going to college to appease other people, then it might need to be revisited because with a lot of places and careers and just lifestyles right now- you don’t need to have a degree to be successful. I have two conflicting opinions about it but I don’t necessarily believe that skipping college is the right answer for everybody. 

But when it comes to dealing with backlash and bullying and negativity, I could talk about this for so long! I’m so passionate about this because I’ve had to build such a thick skin in this season with everything I’ve walked through- in high school and even after and now that I have a large following on Instagram, everyone loves to share their opinions. I’ve faced that in every season of life and I think my biggest piece of advice is to stay true to who you are and to know that those comments and those posts and people mocking you and those mean messages are coming from a place of insecurity. And I know that sounds so cliche but it’s such the truth. I’ve had people that were so viciously mean to me in high school and would mock me on Twitter and say horrible things and they’re turning around and booking me for their weddings now. It’s just so true that it’s coming from a place of immaturity and insecurity and not understanding themselves, especially when you’re in a season of high school when everyone’s still growing. So I think you just have to stand firm in who you are. My thought process was always to remind myself that I only have one life on this earth and when I get to the end of my life and I’m looking back on it, I want to know that I made the decisions that made me the happiest even if that caused people to make fun of me or went against what other people were suggesting. I wanted to make sure I was happy with the decisions I made because I only had one chance to make them. So that helped me get through it and just be like, “You know what, this is my life, I don’t care what other people are speaking into it, I’m in control and this is what I want.” And like I said, they’re booking me for their weddings now, so you just have to know those things will come full circle and it doesn’t have to affect you and stop you from doing something you love. 

Advice for young would-be entrepreneurs who may not be sure where to start:

My biggest piece of advice is that school does still have to be a priority. Which was so hard for me to process at that time. I wanted to build this business so bad and I was like “why do I have to go home and write this paper that’s not going to get me anywhere when I could be at a shoot making money photographing a client?” And the reality is the fact that school has to remain a priority. Your grades cannot drop, you need to find a lot of work-life balance and that takes a lot of self-discipline. When it comes to where to start or how to start, my biggest piece of advice is just to get out there and do the thing you want to do. I know this sounds cliche and it’s not even useful, but practice truly truly truly does make perfect. One of the things that made my business grow so quickly was that I was constantly out taking pictures. I was out photographing my friends, my family members, my acquaintances. I was reaching out to random girls on Instagram that went to my school that I never talked to- and I was not the popular girl at school- so I’m reaching out to these popular girls and I’m like, “Hey can I photograph you and your cute boyfriend? I know this is creepy but please let me take your pictures,” and I was just constantly out doing that. I think another thing too is to not be afraid to act legit and act like a real business owner and present yourself professionally even before you feel like you’re a professional. I had to shift my mindset from like, “Ok my friends are going to make fun of me at school because I’m going to change my Instagram from being a place I share normal high school pictures to a place where I market a business.” I knew that was going to get me backlash, but I also knew that clients who were going to pay me needed to be able to trust me, and if my Instagram feed was just pictures of me going to prom and doing stupid things in class, I wasn’t going to be able to be trusted by those clients. So don’t be afraid to just put yourself out there and just present yourself as a professional and market yourself that way because you have to forget about what other people are going to think and focus on who’s going to be paying you and the types of clients you’re going to be bringing in and what they’re going to expect to see from somebody they’re going to be investing in.

On growing a significant following at a super young age, balancing finding who you were and navigating relationships, and learning to love yourself:

It was definitely a crazy season of life. I remember in that season I was working so hard and I was getting a lot of backlash and I grew a thick skin, but there were times when it really got to me and I was having a hard time. I would cry about it and it was rough because I wanted to be accepted at school and have friends and all those things but I also knew that for the grand scheme of my life this was so much more important. So it was a lot of conflicting thoughts and having to just really focus on myself and refocus my entire perspective and thought-process. My biggest piece of advice was I surrounded myself with people who loved me and people that I knew would speak light into me. I heard a sermon at church, around this season of life where I was going through all of this, and he talked about the different types of friends that you have in your life. He talked about your outer circle of friends as just people you go get a drink with or go get coffee with but they don’t really know the inner workings of your brain and your heart. And then there’s your really close friends who you do let into that area of your life and you talk to them about hard things, but maybe don’t let them in completely. And then there’s your kitchen table friends, which are people who walk into your friends without even knocking on the door, throw their bag down, kick their shoes off and sit down at the kitchen table with you and get into the really hard stuff. And I made sure that the only people that I let speak into my life related to the business I was trying to grow were my kitchen table friends. So I didn’t talk about my business with my acquaintances, I didn’t talk about my business even with my close friends. I only talked about it with my mom and people that were kitchen table friends that knew my heart, knew who I was, knew what I was trying to do and would speak life into me. So no matter how excited I was about a project, no matter how happy I was about a shoot, I would never go to a random acquaintance in class and expect them to be excited with me or expect them to understand. Because that would just cause me to have more hurt. So I was building a following and I had a big Instagram, but I was just making sure I was really intentional and protective over the people I was letting into that area of my life and the way I talked about it and the way I expected people to show up for me. I was just really careful in who I let into that part of my life. 

On dating while running a business at a young age:

I was in a long-term relationship through all of this. I was dating the same person for about 5 years on and off from my freshman year of high school to what would have been my freshman year of college. He at the time was super supportive of my business, I was very surprised how supportive he was about me not going to college because we were actually supposed to be going to college together- we committed to the same school. But I ended up walking away from that relationship because it just got super toxic and super unhealthy and I am so glad that I did. But I can speak to dating now because I’m still in my early 20’s, I’m still running my business and it’s a very unique place to be because I am 23 and because of that fact that I can be intimidating. I have a successful business, I own a home, I am 23 going on 35 in my lifestyle right now so that comes across as very intimidating. I’ve also had to learn to be very protective of what I’ve built and to not let people walk all over me or take advantage of that. I’ve experienced that a lot in dating. I’m somebody who likes to help people, I like to fix people, I attract people who aren’t necessarily on a similar path as me or similar wavelength as me with their drive and their work ethic and their goals. And I’ve been put in positions where I’m very much taken advantage of in the fact that I’m financially expected to pay for things, I’m expected to be the cheerleader and pushing them towards their goals and making them more motivated. And just because I’m a motivated person that’s successful does not mean that that’s my job, and I honestly think that’s the biggest piece for young women to remember, who are working hard towards a goal and really successful, I’ve had to completely restructure the fact that I have really high standards. I heard another sermon where somebody was talking about how when you’re dating you need to be running your own race and running your own pace and just focusing on yourself and not looking behind you to try to find a partner and not trying to looking ahead to find a partner, but if you just focus on your own pace and your own path, one day you’re going to just turn to your left and somebody’s going to be running the same race with you. And I think that’s such a good way to look at dating when you’re somebody who’s really successful and building a business because it’s really easy to attract somebody who needs that additional motivation, needs that extra help, needs that extra push and views you as almost an easy lifestyle for them. If they can settle down with somebody who’s already successful and already doing the hard work, that looks like an easy option. I’ve been put in that position where it becomes really hurtful because you fall in love with the person genuinely and they fall in love with some more conditional things about your life. It can be really hard, so my biggest piece of advice is to just focus on your own path and keep your high standards and know that it is never your responsibility to try to push somebody to get to your level and push somebody to be driven just because you are. 

I learned the hard way that you can’t work from an empty cup and if you’re spending 8-10 hours a day just hustling and working so hard on your business and you’re going on date night with your boyfriend and you’re expecting him to fill you up and pour into you and say kind things and be encouraging and instead they’re just so lost and they need help and they need pushing, then all you’re doing 100% of the time is pouring out into other people. In a marriage or relationship there’s always going to be a give and take. And it’s never not ok for somebody to need help. If your husband or boyfriend or partner needs help from you, that’s ok. But it needs to be give and take, not constantly give-give-giving. As people who are super driven, we need somebody who’s on that same page as us, because we need somebody who can feed back into us and understand what hard work looks like. And understand what a long work day looks like. And understands that after a 10-hour day I just need to kick back and relax. We need to be able to be on that same wavelength together and I’m really looking forward to experiencing that one day because it’s just so unhealthy to be in any other scenario. 

3 things that helped grow her business:

  1. To present myself professionally even before I was a professional. Just really marketing myself and putting myself out there and that whole “fake it til you make it” vibe. I hate that term, but really putting yourself out there as a professional even before you feel like one. 
  2. To constantly make yourself appear to be in demand. That was huge for me. I was constantly going out and shooting, constantly taking pictures of friends, constantly perfecting my craft. And I was going out and sharing those images every single day. And because I constantly had new content to share, people saw that and thought “well crap I better book her fast or I’ll never get the chance to book her!” so that was really strategic for me and something for sure that helped my business grow quickly.
  3. When I was working for free and when I was going out and creating that content and doing those shoots, I was really intentional that those people I was working with were ideal clients of mine. They dressed like my ideal client, they wanted locations like my ideal client would want, they had friends who were ideal clients. Because in the beginning, we tell ourselves this lie that we need to take any work that comes our way. If somebody wants pictures we need to get out there and we need to do the pictures because we’re not good enough, we’re not advanced enough, we haven’t been in it long enough to be particular and you curate the type of people we work with. But the reality is if you work with the type of people who are your ideal clients, one- the content that you post will attract your ideal client because it will reflect exactly the type of people you want to work with. Two- ideal clients are friends with ideal clients and douchebags are friends with douchebags, so if you’re working with douchebags you’re not going to be attracting the right people. And three, is that when you work with those people you learn a little bit more about who your ideal client is- how they interact, how they behave, and how you can market to them successfully, because I learned the hard way over a very long period of time that you can get burnt out really quickly if you’re working with the types of people that don’t appreciate you and aren’t your ideal client. So being particular and strategic in the type of people I was photographing, especially when I was working for free to build my portfolio, you have the right to give yourself permission to be particular with who you shoot. 

On knowing when and how to pivot in your business:

I was a little bit unique and maybe started education in my business a little prematurely because it was never a question for me if I was ready to start education or ready to add that in. It was always a natural part of my thought process of, “I don’t own this information, this isn’t information I want to hold hostage from other people. I want to help and I want to help other people build their businesses.” I hosted my first workshop for other high school students under 18 that wanted to use their cameras within the first few months of being an official business. Which is crazy looking back, but I was only teaching content that I knew that I was comfortable teaching. I was not going out teaching wedding photography before I ever shot a wedding or in my first year of wedding photography. I was teaching the basics of using your camera and manual to other high school students when I was a year and a half deep into doing photography. I’ve always made sure that I was never getting ahead of myself in what I presented myself as being capable of teaching on, but I always knew I wanted to help others. I always knew I wanted to build a large platform because I just think that if you’re given a passion and you’re given a voice then it’s meant to be spoken into other people’s lives, so I’ve always known that I wanted it to be a part of my business.

For anybody that’s wanting to dip their toes into education, my advice is 

  1. Pay really close attention to the type of content that people ask you for. Because it’s really easy to think, “Oh I know that I’m really good at shooting light, bright and airy pictures so I’m going to create content based on that.” But you’ll be really surprised to find that the things you think you’re good at are actually not what other people think you’re good at and want to learn from you. So when I wanted to create my first course I wanted to create a course about shooting. I had been doing it for about four years at this point and I had a consistent editing workflow so that’s what I thought I was going to do. But then I started to poll my audience and ask them what they wanted to hear and everyone wanted to learn senior posing. I never even considered that as an option, but that’s what when people view my work, people think, “Oh her senior poses are good, I want to learn that.” But I never would have thought that about myself because that comes natural to me and isn’t something I really view as something I should educate on. So it’s really interesting when you start to pay attention to the DM’s you’re getting, the emails you’re getting, the comments you’re getting and what other people view you as a professional on because I will bet money it’s different than what you think you should be teaching on. 
  2. Start by giving out free content. Start really small. Start by sharing content on your blog. Start by sharing content on your Instagram stories. Take somebody behind the scenes at one of your shoots and talk through it on your Instagram story. The smaller you start, the better. I think a lot of people that are breaking into education right now, the mistake they’re making, is coming straight out the gate with a course. And while that’s awesome, you have not done any of the process of getting your audience to trust you as an educator or view you as a professional on that topic. And if you want to be trusted as an educator, you have to do the work in the long game of getting your audience to trust you because that’s not something you have the right to. You have to earn that trust and I think that’s the step a lot of people are skipping over. 

On defining success for yourself:

My definition of success has drastically changed from the beginning of my business to now and I hope it doesn’t come across as cliche, but my definition of success now is definitely rooted more in the work-life balance side of my business, and my ability to have financial freedom, but also my ability to just have joy and have time and good mental health and not be so focused on reaching the next thing and being on this hamster wheel of just exhaustion and trying to do the next thing. So I think for me success looks a lot more like peace. I’m somebody who gets really bored really fast with the same projects so if I’m doing the same thing over and over and over again I get SO bored. So success to me looks like peace in mental peace and clarity, but it also looks like constant movement forward- not in a trying to reach the next goal or make the max amount of money way- but always giving myself the freedom to do new things and to move out of what I’m used to doing and into new things if that’s what brings me joy, and just always knowing that I get to be the one that’s in control and have that freedom. So that’s a little bit more of what success looks like for me than what it used to look like. 

I think my biggest success in my business so far, that’s so hard, but I guess I’ll just give my present answer of what it is right now. Because I think that I have always wanted to move out of photography-specific education and more into small-business strategy education because that’s where my heart is. I love strategizing in other peoples’ businesses. So this year I launched something I never thought I would do and I’m hosting a Mastermind where I help strategize in other people’s businesses and help them create passive income streams. I opened up applications for it hoping for a very small number of people and I’ve now actually filled it twice. So for me it’s just a huge testament to my ability to move out of my comfort zone and what I’ve always been used to doing and move towards what I feel like my calling is. And if you trust those instincts it usually works out for the best, so I was super super grateful and really excited about that this year. 

On where to start when running your own business:

This is such a big question, I have so many thoughts. My biggest thing I would say if somebody is already running a business then my biggest piece of advice would be to set really really clear boundaries. That doesn’t just mean work-life balance boundaries of like the hours that your work day ends, but I mean clear boundaries with your clients of what your pricing is and that you’re not going to falter on that or negotiate on that. Boundaries about when they can expect to hear from you and how they can contact you, boundaries on how many images are in their gallery, and how many hours you’re going to work each day. Just setting really clear boundaries across the board in your business and staying true to those and standing firm. The biggest thing that causes burnout for small-business owners is allowing themselves to be walked all over because they feel like they’re too new and too inexperienced to set boundaries or set prices or set hours of work and I think that’s one of the things that’s allowed me to have the longevity in my business is that I really stand firm in my boundaries across the board and I think that’s so important and often overlooked in the early seasons of business. 

Instagram: @hopetaylorphotography

Blog: hopetaylorblog.com

YouTube Channel: Hope Taylor 

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Starting Young and Growing Your Business with Hope Taylor

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