the story of a life changed | part four

Thankfully I had some experience with the legal jargon, and my experience as an assistant made it easy to create a document that looked super legit. When the signed contract came back with a cheque for over $1,000, I cried and ran back to my friend’s desk to share the news. I couldn’t have done it without her. 

My first real wedding was on the books; it felt like I had just made it to the Super Bowl. (And I doubled up on my memory card supply just in case…) 

When that wedding day came at the end of September, everything changed. I worked for 14 hours and shot 6,000 photos that day (resulting in a collection of 800 edited ones), a number which is hilarious now as I look back. Just to give you a frame of reference, on my most detailed and delicious wedding from 2017 I shot 2,000 photos, and turned that into a final collection of 750. The better you get, the smaller that ratio becomes. 

The original Laura Kelly Bride right here!! Mel was so laid back, so cool, and had beautiful style. That black sash was KILLER back in 2011 -- trust! 

Oh and what's a wedding without a tiered photo of the wedding party in various poses... 

I blogged their wedding and pimped it around online for a full 6 months, while I collected the 21 weddings that I would shoot that next Summer. With a full day wedding in my portfolio, suddenly Brides felt that they could trust me to show up. 

As we approach the next part of this story, I’m inviting you to change the soundtrack from the optimistic hopefulness from parts 1-3, to the trepidacious thundering tones from Shutter Island. Or Jaws… Choose your own musical reference as we forge ahead with *dun dun dunnnnnnn* …the GROUPON era. 

You might remember hearing a little bit about my Groupon experience from this blog post about difficult times, but I’m diving in deeper than ever before. 

I remember shooting a small wedding that morning. And I remember crying at night. It was the day that Groupon ran an ad for me, for a 1 hour photo session that could be used for anything from engagement photos to graduation coverage. If the Kijiji deal made me feel accomplished, then working with Groupon was like the gold star you get for student-of-the-week in second grade.   

For $55 plus tax, you received said 1-hour session as well as a DVD of my favourite 20 photos from the shoot. There was a little blurb about how you might be able to purchase additional photos afterwards, but there wasn’t a price tag attached. From that $55, Groupon took 20%, and the rest went to me. Doesn’t sound like a lot, right? Something like $44 for an hour of my time, but don’t forget I had previously been giving away sessions for free while broadening my portfolio. 

The first time I remember checking the ad was at 7am before I headed off to a small wedding I booked as a referral from one of my free shoots. The ad was live and my name and heart-shaped logo appeared right at the top of Groupon Ottawa’s home page. And to boot, it even had 2 sales! When I checked it at 10am the number had skyrocketed to 100, and I excitedly called Ryan to tell him the news! He was SO excited for me, and said he would keep refreshing for me since he knew I would be busy for the rest of the day. 

Over the next 3 hours, the excitement turned to nerves. The number was climbing into the 300s… 

I knew I had to call my rep at Groupon to let him know to pull the ad – it wasn’t even half over and I was sitting here with more shoots than days before the expiration date in 8 months! He pulled it off the web and told me he was so thankful to have worked with me. The final tally ended up at 406. 

Now the soundtrack makes sense, doesn’t it? 

406 photoshoots that would need to be completed in 8 months. And let’s not forget I was still working a full time job as a legal assistant… My Groupon rep assured me that only about 50% of people who purchase Groupons actually redeem them before the expiration date, so not to worry! Somehow I knew I couldn’t count on that. 

Leave it to Ryan Kelly to cheer me up with math: he eased my nerves by showing me on a calculator what Groupon would be sending me by cheque next week: $17,864.00. 

I went to sleep feeling nervously excited. Maybe I wouldn’t be commuting to the law firm for very much longer… 

Turns out, I would leave my job only 2 weeks after that Groupon ran, freeing me up to accept daytime bookings and pursue many of the things on my photography to-do list without having to shield my computer screen from my bosses. 

The next 8 months were a whirlwind of hard work, hustle, and expedited education. 

When the emails started rolling in I realized I needed to have some sort of organized method for handling all of the bookings. I switched from my trusted paperback agenda to a Google Calendar. When a client inquired, they were given 3 dates to choose from, most of which were on weekdays at either 8:30am, 11:00am, or 1:30pm. I used my evenings to edit those three shoots so that I wasn’t behind come the next day. I look back on my work ethic during that period of time where I was doing 21 shoots a week and honestly don’t know how I did it. I kept a huge running tally of the Groupon clients and with each click of the shutter I was one second closer to my freedom. 

I learned more shooting those 386 sessions that were redeemed than 3 years of organic experience would have allowed. I learned my limits. I learned how valuable my time really is. I learned about customer care, and how if you give and give and give, it will come back to you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. I also learned that the 50% redemption rate was total bull. 

Oh, and remember when I said that the option to add extra photos didn’t come with a price tag? Well that ended up being a freaking goldmine. They already received my favourite 20 images from the session on their DVD, but using a SmugMug gallery I uploaded a collection of majorly watermarked additional photos for sale. My first few collections sold for $30 each. And everyone was buying them… So I tried $40. Then $50, $65, and after 4 months the complete collection was worth over $185. Groupon didn’t take a cut from this additional profit because it wasn’t contained within our deal. 

I never expected an 85% collection rate for those additional photos, but I’m incredibly grateful for it. I learned to shoot better and faster than ever before, with a focus on getting exactly what my clients wanted, ensuring myself that add-on sale. This structure led to an additional $45,000 in revenue, pushing me into a new tax bracket and landing me more money than I could have earned at the law firm. 

When someone asks me where I studied photography I tell them I'm self-taught. But really, this 8 month Groupon education was more important than any classroom or textbook on the subject. Just for my own curiosity, I compiled a photo from each of those 8 months, in order, as a way to see my work evolve. Maybe it's just me, but when I look at the compilation below I see a style being solidified. I see couples getting happier with each month. I see shadows disappearing and lightness in its place. 

The Groupon era was pivotal in the business that I’ve been able to build over these 8 years. I needed to be pushed to my absolute limit in order to come away with the clear vision of the photographer I wanted to be: a boutique wedding & engagement photographer. 

And now that I could envision the business of my dreams, it was time to build it.   


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