I’m going to continue the second part of this two-parter by talking about why it’s important to write your own story. I’ve already told you about my childhood story and now I’m going to tell you about my business story and how I’m still learning from everything I’ve been through to write my own story every day.
It’s easy to see people who have success and assume that they’ve had it come easy. It’s also easy to create excuses for ourselves and assume that someone is succeeding because they have money, or an education, or don’t have kids… But comparing yourself to others is toxic because you simply don’t know what they’ve been through. Instead, use this good energy to focus on building your own business.
Last time I told you about how my cafe business had failed and I was totally out of cash. I didn’t want my failed business to not become part of my identity. At the time we were going through a minerals boom in Australia, so I jumped on an opportunity and moved up to the mines in Queensland.
It felt like a prison and my bedroom was like a jail cell. The gym had barbed wire around it and the weights were old and rusty. I spent 12 months there working as an electrician before moving to the mines near Perth, which was the most challenging job I’ve ever had. I was attacked physically and mentally. I met someone who had no good in their heart. There was even a murder.
My workmates spent all afternoon in the pub and I didn’t really want to spend my time drinking. I thought that as I’m in such a beautiful part of the country, I wanted to learn photography.
I jumped on eBay and bought a Canon 5D with a fish-eye lens. My flatmate also bought a camera and we’d drive down to the ocean and take photos of the sunset and beautiful landscape.
I put together a blog called Free The Bird and posted my images on there and wrote a few captions about what I liked about the photos. The blog was perfect because I also want to practice writing and being able to tell a story. Just those few captions on each photo were game-changing. Through the blog and Instagram, I could share my art with people who knew me.
I came back home and it was like returning from prison. I had to reintegrate myself into society. I got myself a normal job as an electrician, worked up the ladder and was given my own job site. The only catch was that Leelou and I had to move to Melbourne but this opportunity was worth it. I could be my only boss, run a team and have my own life at the same time. I really felt like I’d made it and was proud of the work that I was doing. But I knew it wasn’t going to last forever, so I needed to take advantage of the situation to build for my future
I needed to learn about money and understand why do some people struggle others have so much. I contacted a financial planner and studied the mindset of wealthy people. I grew up around people with a scarcity mindset and now I was surrounded by people with an abundance mindset. This was another life lesson to add to confidence is key – there is abundance.
I wanted to put what I’d learned into practice, so I took my $100K savings to the bank who then loaned me a million dollars. Just stop for a second and think of how weird it was for someone with my upbringing looking at their bank account and seeing a million bucks. I used the money to buy two houses in Melbourne and I still have them today.
Anyone who knows me will know that I don’t want to swap my time for money. I’m always looking for ways to build wealth without having to spend a lot of time doing it. So now I had some houses, I figured I didn’t need my job and decided to become a full-time photographer. I liked taking pictures of people and I wanted creative control, so I reckoned wedding photography was right for me. The weirdest and funniest thing about this is that up until that point I’d never even been to a wedding, other than my parents’ which was held in the front room of my house.
I set myself goals for the next year:
This was ambitious even for me, so I hustled as I’ve never hustled before. I knew I had to go to the US as wedding season was over in Australia, so I put the word out on blogs and social media that I would shoot for free in return for a couch to sleep on and within a month I booked 8 weddings. Now I just needed to get myself there, so I sold my car to pay for me and Leeloou to head to America.
The weddings were fantastic but I knew I needed more content for my site, so in between weddings we would raid thrift stores for wedding dresses and I’d do a photoshoot with Leelou in awesome locations like Joshua Tree.
We had a lot of adventures and we were so low on money but I saw it as an investment in our future. Another life lesson that I learned was that you don’t get opportunities like this by playing it safe.
When I got back I was published in Junebug Weddings and Hello May magazine, so I was now an international wedding photographer and published photographer. Oh yeah, and I can now shoot in manual mode all day long…
Just 18 months after I started my business, I launched my first workshop. I taught the business and my friend Ryan Muirhead flew over to teach photography. It took a huge amount and of time and energy and in the end, I think I was about $5K out of pocket. Some people might see this as a failure but I saw it as an investment, as the ticket for my education. And it worked.
It skyrocketed my career. I was asked to talk at the biggest conferences, be a guest speaker at other workshops and it really put my business on the map.
In two years I had shot 60 weddings in 4 different countries, held a workshop, was named one of the 30 rising stars of wedding photography by New York Magazine Rangefinder, was Caption magazine’s runner-up photographer of the year and was published in all my favourite wedding magazines.
It might sound like I’m bragging, but I’m telling you this to inspire any creative entrepreneurs and show you that making it is possible.
And believe me, I got hate mail.
People thought it was coming so easily to me. My peers blamed me for their lack of success and one US professor of photography even sent me a 10-page email critiquing my pictures. He was actually 100% right and I learned so much from him – I’m sure that’s not the result he wanted but it proved to me that if you have confidence in yourself then no one can shake you.
People will get upset if you fail or succeed. Just do it for you and you will be an unstoppable force
And it’s not all easy. I’m still fighting every day to continue this life I’ve built. Leelou and I currently live in a tiny house with no TV. I make good money but I invest it back into my projects, just like this podcast. I get up on stage at workshops and I’m still really scared but I know I have to be out of my comfort zone in order to keep growing.
I want to finish up by talking about my new business, jailong.co, which is focused on teaching business to creative entrepreneurs. It blows my mind that I can just think of a fun project and make it happen and that even thoughI’ve grown up, I still get to be a kid and play on the projects that I want to do. I make decisions not out of fear, but from knowing that I have the power to change my life, to do more, be more and love more.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Thanks for taking the time to listen to my stories – if it can help just one person then I know I’ll have succeeded.
Find me on Insta, and if you want to share this podcast then be sure to tag me in.
Cheers guys, catch you next time!
[…] Zoë is a Sydney-based photographer who has been shooting weddings for seven years. She made her break in a pretty funny way. She worked as a flight attendant but had a background in photography and so to shortcut all of the grunt work of being a second shooter, etc. before she could start booking weddings on her own, Zoë put on a big fake wedding with her cousin (who’s a model), got a wedding dress from Grace Loves Lace, invited all of her friends and used the photos for her portfolio, which helped her book her first year of weddings. The really funny part is, she’d never even been to a wedding before (just like me…). […]