With just $4.33 in his bank account, HoneyBook member Jeff Watkins took a leap of faith and traded in his 90+ hour work week as a professional chef for a career in photography. Today he runs KolorPHX Photographic CO based in Phoenix, Arizona. Passionate about helping others, he teaches classes to help photographers take their business to the next level. He’s also the creator of The Gathering, an intimate retreat for photographers in Mesa, Arizona. With the Bulldog cliffs and Salt River banks serving as the backdrop, the retreat is part photography/business education and part adventure. Here he shares what inspires him, the consumer trend he’s enjoying, and the game-changing tool that helped him send 2,500 emails in three weeks without breaking a sweat.
Did you always do photography full-time?
I haven’t always been a photographer. Frankly, seven short years ago, I had no clue about photography, much less that I even had a passion for it. After some life changes, KolorPHX Photographic CO was born. My goal at the time was to just make ends meet and support my family, not knowing that I would develop a huge passion for the industry. It kind of took me by surprise! You can read more about my story and how I got started here.
What was the biggest challenge in starting your business?
My biggest challenge was the financial side of the business. If you read my story and where I came from, I really didn’t start this business purposefully. I started my business with $4.33 in the bank and a $50 point-and-shoot from Target. But what I learned from that is you don’t have to have the best equipment or the latest and greatest to be able to create something special. I made my first $2,000 using that camera. That struggle early on really helped me get the big picture of how important it is to control the financial side of your business and keep it organized.
I started my business with $4.33 in the bank and a $50 point-and-shoot from Target.
Where do you get inspiration?
I have always loved to capture the emotions and the story behind what I’m photographing. I exclusively photograph weddings and always enjoy the stories behind the moments. I think that that puts so much more depth into a photograph when there’s meaning behind it.
Where’s the craziest place you’ve ever had a shoot?
From the Himalayas to Burma, I’ve definitely been to some crazy places in my life. But I think the craziest place that I’ve ever worked as a photographer was last year when we photographed an engagement in Paris. My client ended up not speaking one drop of English which made it extremely difficult. I ended up directing a four-hour engagement shoot all across Paris just by gesturing and by my wife and I acting out a few poses. We just let everything else happen organically and naturally. By the end of that shoot, we had created a trust and a bond. It totally surprised me considering the drastic language barrier!
I ended up directing a four-hour engagement shoot all across Paris just by gesturing and by my wife and I acting out a few poses.
What’s a consumer trend you’re really enjoying?
As far as consumer trends go, I am really loving the fact that all of our clients are really grabbing a hold of the concept of doing a first look. That used to be somewhat of a struggle for a client to understand the benefits of. Being that I’m not the type of person that’s going to push anything on anyone, we never really photographed many first looks in the beginning. But now it’s become the norm, and I love it! There’s something about that private, intimate moment with the bride and groom that always leaves me speechless.
What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
The best advice that I ever received from anyone was from my mother and father. I didn’t have a very positive experience through high school, and my high school counselor told me that not everyone was smart enough to go to college or had the ability to be successful. She suggested that I pursue a career in something such as a “sanitation engineer.” She basically told me to be a garbage man. I was in a phase in my life that I really doubted myself, and I remember my mom and dad pulling me aside, telling me that no matter what anyone else said that I could do anything and be anything that I set my mind to.
I didn’t have a very positive experience through high school, and my high school counselor […] basically told me to be a garbage man.
What’s one of the hardest things to photograph that people don’t often realize?
Family formals on the wedding day are one of the hardest things to photograph. It’s actually relatively easy to photograph, but it can make or break that time by making sure to help the bride be as organized as possible with her family pairings. I always tell our clients to trust us during that time and let us manage that workflow. I think as soon as the bride becomes stressed is when it becomes increasingly more difficult.
What’s your favorite HoneyBook feature?
My absolute number one favorite HoneyBook feature is creating workflows. This is a game changer for me and has allowed me to be completely hands off with most of my business, but at the same time still keep a personal connection with all of our clients, potential clients and leads – especially in marketing. I recently completed a Facebook ad campaign that sent a group of 10 emails to around 250+ leads in a three-week span. Do the math…that’s over 2,500 emails! Imagine not having a workflow to complete that for me. I would still be typing emails as we speak!
[Workflows are] a game changer for me and has allowed me to be completely hands off with most of my business, but at the same time still keep a personal connection with all of our clients, potential clients and leads.
Thanks so much, Jeff!
(Images courtesy of Jeff Watkins)