“Yeah, the goal of having that many interviews is to see the person as they really are, and see if they’re going to work well with your team. There’s always this initial nervousness, there’s this initial, ‘I got to put on this front. I want to make the best first impression.’ We almost have to wait and get through that in the first two to three interviews to see who they really are in the last three to four interviews.”
Today’s guest is Nancy Ray of Nancy Ray Photography. Nancy has built a thriving photography business in Raleigh, North Carolina area, so much so that a few years in the business she realized that something needed to change for her to be able to both continue to grow her business and for her family to live the life they wanted to live.
So, she built a team. That’s exactly what we’re chatting about in today’s episode. Nancy shares with us how to know whether you’re ready to build a team, what she’s learned from her own experiences, insights into how to decide who to hire and how she evaluates candidates.
Find it Quickly:
- 4:35 Nancy shares about her photography business and how she eventually got to the point where she needed to hire someone.
- 9:31 How Nancy determined what role to hire first for her business (and the value of starting with an internship).
- 17:00 The differences between an employee and independent contractor.
- 19:53 Where your business should be at before considering hiring somebody.
- 23:22 Creating and sharing a job listing.
- 25:23 How Nancy sorts through the applications.
- 28:23 Why Nancy uses a multiple interview process when hiring.
- 31:04 The training and on-boarding process when someone is hired (and the importance of feedback).
- 35:31 Making sure employees are in the right fit.
- 37:42 Communicating with clients about associate photographers and marketing their work.
- 47:43 How having a team enabled Nancy to take a three month maternity leave.
Nancy is a believer, wife, mama, photographer, blogger, and speaker. She owns Nancy Ray Photography and leads a small team of wedding and family photographers. Nancy speaks regularly at several conferences and retreats, sharing her inspiration and foundations in building a successful business and a balanced life. She is passionate about her faith in Jesus, financial stewardship, strong marriages, and seeing small businesses thrive for God’s kingdom. She lives and works in Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband, Will, daughters Milly and Lyndon (with another on the way), and great dane, Winston.
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest
Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
- Grow a Creative Team (launches fall 2018)
Next Episode: Kaitlin Holland – Choosing Educational Experiences
Previous Episode: Paige Griffith – Building a Business in a Small Market
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“[0:00:06.3] NR: Try an internship, because it’s a great place to just start testing the waters as a leader, as teaching them, delegating them and really realizing like, “Hey, there are some things I need to offload off of my plate.”
[0:00:22.8] DJ: Welcome to the Brands that Book Show, where we help creative service-based businesses build their brands and find more clients. I’m your host, Davey Jones.
Today’s guest is Nancy Ray of Nancy Ray Photography. Nancy has built a thriving photography business in Raleigh, North Carolina area, so much so that a few years in the business she realized that something needed to change for her to be able to both continue to grow her business and for her family to live the life they wanted to live.
She built a team. That’s exactly what we’re chatting about in today’s episode. Nancy shares with us how to know whether you’re ready to build a team, what she’s learned from her own experiences, insights into how to decide who to hire and how she evaluates candidates.
Before we get to the interview, I want to mention that Nancy is launching another platform for creatives over at nancyray.com, where she’ll be sharing all of her best resources on life, work, home and faith. If it’s anything like the resources she’s made available in the past, you’re going to want to check it out.
Also, if you’re interested in building a creative team, but would like someone to walk you through the process step-by-step, Nancy is opening the doors to her popular team-building course this fall, and you can find a link for that in the show notes. Be sure to check out the show notes at daveyandkrista.com for the resources we mentioned during the episode. I like to hear from you about what kind of content you like to see on the Brands that Book Podcast as we move forward. I’d also like to know what episodes you’ve enjoyed so far and why. To leave your feedback, head on over to Davey and Krista Facebook page and send us a message.
Now, on to the episode.
[0:02:03.4] DJ: Welcome Nancy to the Brands that Book Show. I’m really excited to have you on. We have so much to talk about in terms of building a team and scaling your business. You’re also expecting your third, so you’re a pro parent. I’m a rookie parent.
[0:02:16.8] NR: Oh, goodness.
[0:02:17.6] DJ: I’m hoping to get your best parenting advice. Not to put you on the spot, but at some point you’re just going to have to drop your best parenting advice for me.
[0:02:25.0] NR: I will do my best. Thank you so much for having me here. It’s such an honor. I’m so excited to talk to you about things I’m super passionate about, like my team and yes, even parenting if we get there.
[0:02:36.2] DJ: Well, we do have lots of ground to cover in terms of building a team, I’m sure. We recently met for the first time, but it was one of those situations where yeah, so our mutual friend Katelyn James introduced us. She’s also mentioned you on her podcast episode a couple episodes ago and said, “Hey, if you’re thinking about building a team, you got to talk to Nancy Ray.” Here we are.
When we first met, I was like, “Have we met before?” Is this one of those moments where you’re so familiar and I realized, I follow your photography work and I’ve followed your – I’ve heard so many good things about your course in team building. You have plans on relaunching that again some time this year, right?
[0:03:15.1] NR: Yes, definitely. The plan is to relaunch it coming up in October and we’re super excited, because we’ve put a lot of time and energy into making it more robust and even appealing, not just to photographers, but to any creative, or business owner. Because what we’ve learned is a lot of people just need a roadmap to starting. We need some help, we want to grow a team and what did that look like. I’m super excited.
It’s definitely spoken from the perspective of a photographer who built a photography team. However, it’s definitely geared towards anybody who’s in business that’s ready to scale a little bit, or get some extra help and grow their business beyond themselves.
[0:03:54.4] DJ: I have to be honest, one of the reasons that we’re really excited, both Krista and I for this conversation is because we’ve been talking about hiring somebody ourself, so I’m really excited to dive into this topic with you, because one of the things that I realized having become a father is that all the different things in business, all the cracks so to speak in business before parenthood, they become very apparent since becoming parents. Just realizing, if we needed help before, we definitely need help now. I’m excited to dive in and talk about scaling your business by building a team. First, can you tell us a little bit how you got started and what led you to starting a team?
[0:04:35.0] NR: Definitely. I started my business, Nancy Ray Photography almost 10 years ago. Actually, it has been ten years ago now. When I started, I was in college and just dove right into the world of weddings. I loved weddings. The first five years it was like anybody starting out a photography business. I’m learning by experience. A guy then slowly building my pricing; I wrote my husband and along the way to be my second shooter. He had no intentions of doing that, but he quickly became an amazing photographer, so it’s the two of us for the first five years.
We hit a crossroads. During that time, we were really praying and discussing and talking about okay, we feel like there’s two paths to take. At that point five years in, we were at full capacity. We were turning rides away. I was very overworked shooting like 20, around 25 weddings a year and he was on staff at our church, so our weekends were just nuts between weddings and church and all of our obligations with work.
We felt the crossroads was either you can go the direction of he quits his job, we’re a husband-and-wife team, we are all in, I need some help, I’m overwhelmed, we share the load and we do the thing that most photographers do, the husband and wife route. The second option that we started discussing and considering was okay, well what would it look like if we built a team?
We only knew of one or two other photographers at the time going that direction. We’re like, “Okay, well that’s a little scary, because we don’t know how that’s going to go.” It’s not as tested and tried and true, but what we found in our discussions was number one, something had to change. Something had to give. I had to get some help, or I was just going to burn out and be done in a few years.
As we started talking about it, the second thing I was going to mention is my husband also had dreams of his own. He’s gifted so much. He’s such a great photographer, but he’s so gifted in business and finance, in ministry and coaching. He had these other gifts and dreams in the back of his head, that would serve our photography business very well, but also I didn’t – as we talked about it he was like, “I just feel like there’s something different for me.”
In all of those discussions we said, “Okay, we felt like it was time for us to go the direction of building a team, which meant hiring a few associate photographers to help take the load off of me so I’m not shooting all of the weddings. Then also hiring someone in the studio to help me with the editing load and the packaging and mailing and all of that.”
That was our big picture vision, but it scared us to death at first. I was like, “Okay, I’m terrified to lose control of my business.” I think that’s one of the number one fears, I wanted control over my editing, I wanted control over the weddings. What if they were to screw something up and mess up something that’s my name and my business? That was terrifying to me, but it was a leap of faith that we decided to take.
All in all, I can tell you the whole story, but basically we hit that crossroads five years then. Fast forward five years later, now we do have a team. I have two associate wedding photographers along with myself with the three of us shoot weddings and I have one family photographer and she only shoots families. She also second shoots for us on the weekends. Two of those girls who were photographers also work with me as employees in the studio. That’s what the picture looks like now five years later after that crossroads decision.
My husband is thriving in a job that he loves. He still speaks into the business and is part of it and owns it with me, but he has another full-time job that he absolutely loves that’s perfect for his gifting. I’m thankful that we went that route for sure.
[0:08:27.7] DJ: Yeah, that’s also and I feel just recently, photographers especially are realizing that they can scale their business by growing a team. I think that associates at one point we’re popular and then the personal brands took over. Now people are realizing, “Oh, I can I can still have this personal brand, but then I can scale my business by building a team.”
I think what you said about the fears of hiring people, I certainly resonate with me. I just think, “Okay, well can someone really do what I’m doing?” Then add in all the other stuff. You have to think about like, “Okay, well what do I need to do in terms of – is there certain workman’s comp and what are the all the other things that I have to make sure to do just so that I’m doing this legally in the right way and without a ton of liability?” I’m excited to dig into this with you. How did you go about, and you have a team of how many people now you said?
[0:09:23.3] NR: Three photographers and then myself and my husband, as well as three interns that come in and rotate through the year, seasonal.
[0:09:31.3] DJ: Did you hire all of them at once? How did you go about even figuring out who would you hire first? I mean, I think that’s one of the things that Krista and I are struggling with right now, like we have a couple different roles that could be filled, but we’re not sure really where to start. How did you navigate that?
[0:09:46.7] NR: That is a great question. The first thing I did was I hired an intern to test the waters. When I was just maxed out working alone long hours in my studio and my husband was on staff at church and I had no help, I hired an intern and said it’s seasonal, it’s for three months, it’s an unpaid internship. If you do an unpaid internship, side note, just make sure you look up the laws in your state, because it has to be in exchange for some educational, or some added value to them, and some states don’t allow unpaid internships and others do according to criteria. Just side note legally there, make sure you’re doing it the right way.
I hired the intern first and what it showed me in the three-month time that that sweet girl came and helped me, was that I really was doing way too much. As the owner and leader of my business, I should not – I was wasting so much time and energy on writing out mailing addresses and packaging up things and taking them to the store and going to the bank. Little things, even like blog post prep, populating links in the blog post, all that stuff takes a lot of time.
Pinterest, Facebook, there’s things that you can easily train someone to do, that you just think, “Oh, well this is my task. This is the thing I have to do. This is what I’ve always done.” It takes thinking through all of the tasks in your day. What I did, I made a two-column list and I wrote up everything that only I could do, like actually writing the voice of the blogpost, right? Then the things she could do, uploading pictures, populating the links, things like that. That’s just an example. Packaging materials, taking them to the store, running errands, all those things she could do.
At the end of those three months, when she left I was like hurt in person. I was like, “Okay, this this made a big difference, not only in my work, but in my quality of life.” I could turn off at the end of the day and not feel so overwhelmed, like I still had a million things to do because she had helped me do a lot of those things. That’s the first step.
After I realized it, it was almost like, I always recommend people, if you’re unsure, try an internship, because it’s a great place to just start testing the waters as a leader, as teaching them, delegating them and really realizing like, “Hey, there are some things I need to offload off of my plate.” After that internship was up, I had a conversation with my husband and was like, “Okay, I think I need to hire a studio assistant like $10 or $11 dollars an hour at the time, 10 hours a week.” Basically the same as an internship, but there’s no end in sight.
That’s when we hired Callie. Callie came on board. I took her through an extensive interview process, which is hilarious because literally like a $10 an hour job, she went through six interviews. I interviewed so many people. I could tell you all about that later, but her dad is a big CEO of a big company, or he had a big role and he was like, “Callie, this is ridiculous. What kind of job is this?”
Here I sit six years later, she’s still with me as one of my photographers. I really believe in having a very thorough interview process. I brought her on as a part-time studio assistant. She basically did all the intern tasks for me. About five or six months and to her working with me, that’s when my husband and I said, “Okay, let’s approach her about being a photographer for us,” and where she’s actually starting to generate some of that revenue too.
[0:13:17.2] DJ: Yeah, that makes sense. Why did you start with the studio assistant, just because you knew that those tasks that need to be started – and one thing about those tasks too that you mentioned, they’re certainly not complicated tasks, right? But like you said, they require time and it’s a lot of starting and stopping, like getting on Facebook and requiring your mind to transition between a bunch of different tasks, instead of actually being able to sit and focus on something and build in your business, instead of just working on it, right?
I can totally see how that would be helpful. Again, I think I’m in that place right now where I’m like, we need to find somebody to do some of these things for us. Did you know that your studio assistant was going to transition into being a photographer? Was that always the plan, or did you think, “I’m going to get a studio assistant and then I’m going to go out and find associate photographers.”
[0:14:06.3] NR: Yeah, so the studio assistant was more of an immediate need for me, because like I said, my husband had a full-time job and I was doing everything, and I just felt like I was drowning every week with the amount of weddings I was doing. That was more of an immediate need. The plan was not to approach her about being a photographer from the beginning. It was like, she is a great fit for the studio, and then let’s see how things go and if we want to reach out to other people, or who want to approach her.
It was more like, let’s fix this problem right here, right now in the studio and then let’s go on to build the team and bring in more revenue through photographers. What happened was in this journey, what I learned was if you have someone who fits your team culture and your business and have integrity and a passion and fits the character that you want, that is so much more important than someone who is technically gifted and being a good photographer.
Callie demonstrated such a love and passion for photography and wedding photography. She had the humility and the character that I wanted in a team member that I knew I want someone like you as a photographer, and I can train you in the technical stuff, right? Anybody can learn. Obviously, you have to have a lane, or an eye towards that creative gifting, but I think that we cut a little bit too much weight on the technical. Are you good enough? Little weight on the character. I flip-flop that in it, I think you need to put all the weight in the character and know hey, you can train anybody to shoot like you and to do that.
I’ve trained all my photographers from scratch. I really love that, because I hire for character, not for talent. I think that’s one of the biggest pieces of advice that I can give is hire someone who is going to fit just your style of working, who you like. That’s one of the biggest things that tell people when they’re interviewing someone, yes, ask them if they’re hard-working and have integrity and all those things and learn that about them. Man, do you just like them? Do you like hanging out with them and being around them? Because if you don’t, like don’t – I don’t know, I think we get in our heads. We have to hire them, because they check off these five boxes. If you don’t like being around them, good luck with that.
You’re about to spend a lot of time with them. You have to think big picture, but that’s what happened with Callie. At the same time we approached her to be a photographer, we approached another girl. Her name was Elizabeth and she’s not with us anymore. She was with us for five years. She’s wonderful. She just had twins six months ago, and so that was when she left our team. We approached Callie and Elizabeth at the same time to be wedding photographers.
Callie was an employee and she would continue as an employee, but Elizabeth was a contractor, independent contractor. At that point, we launched them and started growing the photography side.
[0:17:00.2] DJ: For people listening, can you just explain some of the nuances between having an employee and an independent contractor working for you?
[0:17:07.2] NR: Absolutely. This is actually almost an entire lesson that we devote to in the close, because it can get a little bit confusing, so we have a whole lesson and of course that’s just about the legal preparation and the financial preparation and what that looks like. In short, an employee is someone that typically comes to a place of work for you. You get to determine their hours of work, you’re a little bit more in charge of what they’re doing and how they’re working, their start time, their finish time, what all of that looks like.
An independent contractor is someone that you’re basically contracting with to do work for you, but they are independent of you and your business. I hired Elizabeth as an independent contractor. What that means is she was a photographer. I hired her to go, show up, shoot the sessions and return all of the film, or CF cards, all the equipment back to me and then she was basically done. There were some other things we asked her to take care of, like obviously client correspondence and e-mails and things like that, and that was a given. When she hired, she knew that because another thing with the independent contractor, a lot of times they determine how much work they want to take and what times. It’s all based on their schedule, what times they can do it. An employee, you just have a little bit more control over.
[0:18:21.1] DJ: Sure. Callie, did she remain doing a lot of the studio work, even after she became a photographer?
[0:18:27.6] NR: She did. That actually, her responsibility there has increased over time. She is no longer packaging stuff and mailing stuff. She’s our lead editor now. She really runs Nancy Ray Photography in a lot of ways and deals with all of our clients. She’s incredible. You have to think, as our weddings grew, the more weddings, the more brides you’re able to serve, the more bookings we had, the studio work grew too.
One of your biggest fears is, “Oh, my gosh. Can I afford to pay someone? Can I afford to bring someone on?” I mean, and there is that gap in the beginning where there’s some investment right, on your end of the owner. Like you have to train, you have to work, you have to wait. The idea is when you hire a team, they actually bring in money and pay for themselves over time. It’s scary at first, but in the long run, our revenue has increased so much because of the work that they’re bringing in.
[0:19:18.7] DJ: Well, like your story, I was Krista’s second for a while. She had to wrestle me to get two weddings in the beginning. Then eventually I loved doing it and wanted to come on full-time, but there was that gap in the beginning where it’s, we couldn’t quite replace my salary yet. We knew, okay if I had all of my time to devote to this, that we could eventually replace my salary and we went on to do that and much more. Even with that said, is there a certain place that you should be operating at before you start considering hiring somebody?
[0:19:53.9] NR: Yeah, I think so, because you want to go about it in a wise way. I think, we’ve seen people who are so vision-driven and they’re like, this is what I want. I want all these things, and they wanted everything and they want it super-fast. A lot of times, those businesses just crumble really quickly, because they haven’t been wise and really slowed down and thought through and made a plan.
A couple of things that I definitely recommend; first of all, make sure you’re at full capacity. You need to make sure that you have work to give off to someone, right? If you’re from a wedding perspective, if you’re shooting five to eight weddings a year and you want to hire a team, well do you think that you can get them more weddings? At the point that we were at, we were shooting 25 weddings a year and turning tons of people away. I knew, there is this rich well to pull from of people who are ready to book work that looked like mine.
Making sure you’re at full capacity with bookings, but also making sure you’re at full capacity with time. That’s one thing I mentioned. I would work. I was definitely more of the workaholic, where I would work. Start right when I got up, all the way until 6:00 p.m. I would have a hard time turning off my computer. I was working late in the evenings. It was around the clock on the weekends and I needed help just to get my time back and my life back.
Making sure at full capacity with your bookings, or your services and your time so that you’re ready to give work off, because you want to hire someone and then say, “I don’t know what you can do for me today.” Or you hire someone and you’re like, “Sorry, I don’t have any bookings to give you.” You want to love your people well by having work for them, because I think it’s unfair if you promise something to someone and you don’t have work for them.
Then the second, I guess third, so full capacity of time, second would be full capacity bookings, third would be just being financially ready. For us, we really believe in running a debt-free business. A couple things that we really encourage people to do, and it’s not you have to do these things, but for me it gave me such peace of mind. We really encourage people, be debt-free or have your debt at such a small manageable level that you know you’re going to pay it off soon, and then also have cash in the bank.
One thing that I did was when we hired Callie and we knew okay, this is our first hire. We’re paying here $10 an hour for 10 hours a week and what does that look like? How much is that a month, and then how much is that for the next three months? Let’s total that up and make sure we have that and some more in the bank ready to go. Over the next three months, we’re not questioning can we pay her? Can we pay ourselves and her? There’s not that question in the back of your mind.
I think it’s important to be debt-free and also have extra cash, so that you’re not stressing out about paying yourself and paying them, but that you know, like okay, we’re ready to go. That’s just any change in business. When you go through a major change, you have to pile up some reserves and get ready to make that initial investment, right, in the beginning? Then over time, they will start generating that revenue for you.
x[0:22:55.3] DJ: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I love what you’re saying about running a debt-free business. I know a book that has been super influential for us is Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey. Krista listens to his podcast non-stop every day, so a little plug for that book.
[0:23:11.3] NR: For sure. Also plug for Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership book, because his chapter on hiring is really what changed our minds about really doing this hiring process, but we’re big fans of Dave Ramsey and totally believe in that.
[0:23:22.9] DJ: Yeah. I’m excited to get into that hiring process with you, because I really want to hear about the six-interview process that Callie had to go through. First, also as you start hiring people, did you sit down and put together a job listing specifically, or did you just throw it out there on social media? Is there anything you did the first time around that you quickly improved upon for later hires?
[0:23:47.1] NR: Definitely. The way we went about it, I didn’t have a huge following at the time. This is five years ago. Instagram was pretty small. I mean, I had a pretty loyal following on my blog, but we did is I blogged about the position. When I blogged about it, I definitely wrote down like, “This is what we’re looking for.” On the blog post I put, “This is what we’re going to pay.” I said, “These are our expectations of the job, and then this is the person we’re looking for.”
You can even – it’s an old blog post, but feel free to go on nancyrayblog.com and just search for studio assistant and you’ll find the really old blog post that I wrote back then. It lays that out. Then there is a link for people to click on and fill out some questions. That’s how I got applications. We do the same thing now when we hire. You can also search for associate wedding photographer, position, or our internship program.
We always clearly lay out like, is this paid or not, and what you’re getting paid. Here are the tasks that you’re responsible for, the responsibilities; basically a job description, what this job looks like. Then lastly, the type of person we’re looking for. Then the type of person we’re looking for, we always say like, “Eager to learn, humble, likes big dogs because I have a Great Dane.” Little things like that. I’d hate to go through the whole hiring process and then have someone that’s highly allergic to dogs, right? You need to fill in all of the gaps.
Then there’s a link at the bottom. We gather so many applications. Every year, we do an internship program and we gather them, we sort through them and then we start our interview process once we narrow those down.
[0:25:23.8] DJ: How do you sort through the initial round of applications? I assume you probably get a decent amount. Again, just something that’s striking about what you’ve said so far is that some of your employees here have been around for five plus years. That speaks to I think, whatever you’re doing, it seems to be the right way to keep people around for that long. How do you go about, just from the applications you receive deciding who’s going to get an interview, who’s not going to get interview?
[0:25:51.3] NR: Definitely. We usually make three piles. The immediate yes pile, the immediate no pile and then the question maybe pile. We try to get a number. We’ll say okay, for this position we want to narrow it down to 10 yeses and then we’re going to start there. We just really go through them. Honestly, we pray over them beforehand. We ask just for wisdom. I brought my team in to talk through some things. Yes, we will look people up on Facebook, or Instagram because we always ask for their social media handle. That’s very telling of people.
More than that, we just look for the tone of what they’re trying to offer. There’s usually two types of people; there’s people who want to get a lot out of the internship and then there’s people and I’m talking about internships, just because that’s the most recent one. For any position, those people who want to get a lot out of it and then there’s people who want to give a lot to it. There’s the people who want to serve and show up and give a lot and say like, “I want to contribute to the work that you’re doing and serve.”
Those people immediately fit more of our culture, because one of our core values is servanthood. We really look for that tone. Then once we get those 10 people, or whatever number we decide, we start out with our interview process. We really start with about eight to 10 people and take them all through several rounds of interviews and do different rounds along the way.
[0:27:15.1] DJ: Tell us about Callie’s. I want to talk about interviews in general. Tell us about Callie’s six interview. You had a bunch of other applicants that you were also interviewing, and so you went back to – was it all in person?
[0:27:26.5] NR: No. Not all in person. We started out just doing a phone call interview, where I can just get to know them a little bit, see how easy they are to talk to. I think we started out with eight people. It’s so funny. This is terrible. It sounds terrible. I don’t even remember my first conversations with Callie. I had already decided on someone else, which is the point that I want to make, because you can’t decide in the first few conversations on who you’re going to hire. You just can’t.
I think we did a phone interview with her. With Callie, as she made it through, I remember the third interview I had my heart set on a different girl. Then the fourth interview, I had my heart set on another girl, like another different girl. Then it wasn’t until the fifth and sixth interview that Callie started to just shine in a way that the others didn’t.
Really interesting how that worked out, because she’s still here. She’s incredible. I don’t remember the first interviews with her hardly at all, but I really remembered about the last two or three very well.
[0:28:27.7] DJ: How has that influenced this interview process? It sounds like you still have multiple interviews with people.
[0:28:32.7] NR: Yes.
[0:28:33.4] DJ: Is there a key number? Have you found that four, or is six the key number?
[0:28:38.5] NR: After us. I think that every business needs to decide on what’s the key number for them. Like speaking of Dave Ramsey, I think they go through 17 interviews, so this was just huge. I mean, it’s very thorough. For us, I think we usually land around six, or seven for someone who’s coming onto our team in a more permanent position, like an associate photographer, or someone who’s an employee working in the studio. For our internship program, that’s unpaid and it’s four three month increments, I think we usually do four or five interviews there. Yeah.
[0:29:08.4] DJ: Okay. During the interview process, are you zeroing in on different things for each interview, or is it more just to get – giving people another shot and another opportunity like Callie to just get comfortable and in their zone and really see what they have to offer?
[0:29:21.9] NR: Yeah, the goal of having that many interviews is to see the person as they really are, and see if they’re going to work well with your team. There’s always this initial nervousness, there’s this initial, “I got to put on this front. I want to make the best first impression.” We almost have to wait and get through that in the first two to three interviews to see who they really are in the last three to four interviews.
We definitely zero in on certain questions for different interviews, and we’re focusing on different things and we go deeper as we go. Overall, it’s less about the questions you ask and more about listening and getting to know the person in their heart and who they really are.
[0:30:05.4] DJ: I think there’s probably so much wisdom in that and I really like what you said about seeing the person as they really are, and because it’s true. I mean, I think anybody who’s ever been in an interview, that first, even second interview, it’s you’re nervous, you don’t want to say the wrong thing. I think there’s probably a lot of wisdom in going through so many different, so many interviews. For you all again, you have people that have been around for years now, so there must be something about that that’s working.
Moving on past the interview, you decide on somebody, you offer them the job, one of the things that stresses me out about, because we’re getting ready to go through this process is the training process. I know that once you get through it, that’s where it starts paying dividends, right? That’s when the person starts being able to pour back into the business. It’s just that process of getting there. Have you laid out a standardized training, or onboarding process? What does that look like for you guys?
[0:31:04.7] NR: Yes, we have. This is something we talk about more in depth in the course, that basically we always start, first of all as the leader, you have to know that it is a time investment. It is scary and hard and at first, you feel like, “Oh, my gosh. I have a million things to do in the back of my head and here I am answering questions about this thing that I could do in two seconds, right?” There’s this frustration almost like, “Why don’t I just do this myself?” That you have to think long-term and think like, “If I can just get all of these things off my plate, I’m going to be able to really focus on what matters in my business.”
First of all in training, we always go over our core purpose as a business, our core values and we go over just our business as a whole. We tell them the story of the business, the heart of the business and the why behind what we do. That is so incredibly valuable to do first, and then to also repeat over and over and over again, because you talked about me keeping these people for five six years and that’s so true. The hiring process is an important piece, but it’s even more important to continue to speak to the why, continue to recognize and reward the things that they’re doing, to build a culture that they want to continually be a part of.
When you’re training them, it’s a lot of time upfront, but it’s always important to come back to the why, to the purpose, why are we doing this? These are our values. This is how we see everything in our work, whether we’re emptying the trash, sending a gallery, what up serving on a wedding day, this is how we do work here in this business.
That just empowers them. It excites them. It gives them something bigger to be a part of. It’s not just like, “Hey, I’m really overwhelmed. Can you do this list of things for me?” There’s a bigger thing that they’re part of. That’s the first thing that we always go over and the thing that we come back to over and over again. Once they get through that foundational training of this is why we exist and who we are and what we’re doing, we go through the technical training of this is how you actually do the work, right?
That takes a few weeks, and you have to be okay with being interrupted a little bit, right? They’re going to ask you questions. They’re not going to know how to do things personally. Another key thing I tell people, you have to give feedback. This is part of our culture that we’ve established that was honestly super hard for me in the beginning as a leader, because I don’t want to hurt feelings. I’m super sweet person who does not want to step on any toes, but I also realized to have a business of the caliber and integrity and excellence that I wanted, I can’t let things slide. I can’t just say, “Oh, sure. Go ahead and do it that way, and I’ll go back and fix it later.” That’s not the thing.
I’ll never forget, Callie packaged something, she was so proud of it and she thought she did such a good job. Bless her heart, she crammed a photo order that was $50 into this little thing, where it definitely be wrinkled for pulling it out. I just was like sweating in the back like, “Do I tell her? Do I fix it? What do I do?” I just was like, this is – I have to own this as a leader and just say, “Callie, great job. This is wrong, the way that you did this. Let me tell you why and let me train you in how I’m thinking about it, so you can think this way in the future and really own this.”
You have to give feedback. I mean, even them shooting weddings. I was like, “Can you tell me about this picture and what I would change about it?” Always asking them questions, but constant feedback has to be part of your culture from day one. I say, give them some feedback on the first day, like positive and negative. Make that part of your culture.
[0:34:43.4] DJ: I think people want to know where they stand too. There’s nothing worse than giving no feedback and then it all coming out at once months later, and then somebody thinking, “Okay, so have I been doing this wrong for the last year or so?” I think that’s probably great advice is on day one to make sure that you’re setting that tone like yeah, you’re going to get feedback in this job. At least people know where they stand, and they’re both being supported and challenged.
[0:35:09.8] NR: We talked about that in the interview process. I’m like, “This is the kind of people we are. We’re going to tell you when you’re not doing something right? It’s not about emotions, it’s about excellence. We’re not trying to step on your toes and we will always point you in the right direction, but you need to know that’s the culture that we have.”
[0:35:25.0] DJ: To transition a little bit out of the onboarding process here, have you had a hire that hasn’t worked out?
[0:35:31.3] NR: Not really, but I do want to tell a story about Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the girl that I hired first alongside Callie to be a wedding photographer. It was more, not tumultuous navigating her journey, but a little bit more difficult, because what we found out is she is so gifted as a photographer, she also has the character that totally fits our culture; very humble, hard-working, shows up, we love her.
Her personality is very laid-back and very relaxed. On a wedding day, she started booking her own weddings. I think she shot four or five and we both felt like there was something off. As the leader, I approached her. We were driving in the car home, I think after a wedding, she was second shooting for me and I just said like, “Hey, can you be honest with me? How are you doing? Do you like this? How are you?”
She was like, “Okay, just I’m really glad you asked. I don’t know that my personality is best suited for weddings and I’ve been terrified to tell you, because I love this job and I love this work. The high strong, high-pressure nature of weddings is very stressful for my personality.” That goes to just having the right people, but also having them in the right seats. We figured out that she was just in the wrong seat.
We actually transitioned her at that point to be our family photographer, which she got to decide, it’s more laid-back, there’s not that high pressure, that time line that you have to stick to and we ended up hiring Olivia as our other wedding photographer. That was a transition that it’s not that it didn’t work out, but that we learned in retrospect, like maybe we should have talked to her more or done some more personality test, or really thought through this on the front end of things, because I knew her really well. She was my college roommate, so I thought we were good to go.
Even in that, even in knowing her super well, we had to walk through that and learn she was in the wrong seat. Once we got everyone in the right seats, it was great. Then eventually, she got pregnant with twins and ended up leaving [inaudible 0:37:39.5] to be with her babies. Yeah.
[0:37:42.5] DJ: Yeah, sure. I think there’s probably a lot of value in checking in with people and getting them in the right seat and not just saying, “Okay, they’re not working out in this position, so they’re not going to work out in any position.” Like you said, it was just a matter of finding, navigating what seat she should be in within the business.
I want to wrap-up here by talking about your brand in general, because it is Nancy Ray Photography. This is actually something – this is how your name came up in my interview with Caitlin was we were talking about maybe Instagram presence, or something like that, but your situation, you have a team, I feel like you lift up your team. It’s very apparent that you have a team, but at the same time you still have that personal brand feel. It doesn’t feel like the people who hire you are like, “Yeah, I’m hiring XYZ photography and it’s just this team of people and I’m not really sure who’s who, right?” It’s Nancy Ray photography and it seems like you market it as you would market, just even if you were working alone. Can you tell us a little bit about how you balance that? Like, “Hey, when you hire us I might not be the one at your wedding,” and what you do to make people comfortable with that idea?
[0:38:54.2] NR: Definitely. One quote that I heard that has really resonated with me is ‘Leaders don’t produce followers, leaders produce leaders.’ I have always believed from the start, I want my team to feel empowered and to almost have their own personal brands within the overarching Nancy Ray Photography brand. I never want them to feel like they don’t have an identity, or a personality that they can bring to the table, because every one of my girls who works with me is incredibly valuable, incredibly gifted and they’re their own person.
There’s two ways you can do it when you’re hiring a team that you’re booking out. You can do it where they don’t know who really the team is, or maybe they see pictures of the team, but you just assign whoever to whatever wedding, or whatever service it is that you’re in. I’m at a different direction, where especially in my field, I think it really depends on your field, but especially as a wedding photographer, what I saw was brides want a personal connection with their photographer on their wedding day. They want to feel like they know that person, they want to feel like they love that person and they want the style and the personality, it’s all together.
From the time we launched this team, I wanted to lift them up as their own people. I wanted to give them platforms. I really encourage them, build your own Instagram and show your life, show who you are on your Instagram account. In the website, I want to give them a platform. They write their blog posts. They have their own gallery pages. It’s not just, “Here are our associate photographer work.” They each have their own place.
I just want to empower them to be leaders, even within this business. Then while maintaining my own sense of personality in my own brand as well. I think it depends on what line of work that you’re in and what the best thing is for you to do, because if it’s a totally different service-based business, it would look very different. For me, for brides on a wedding day, I feel like people want to really know and connect with their photographer. That’s angle that we took.
[0:41:05.6] DJ: Do they have to have any kit, like their Instagram profile for instance, does it have to say that they’re a member of the Nancy Ray Photography team? Do you put any guidelines in about that, or is it like, they know the aesthetic that we’re going for? Because I’m sure, you want it to be cohesive on some level. Do you manage that at all?
[0:41:24.4] NR: Yeah. One of our other core values in our business is communication. That goes for us communicating with our clients, but also with each other. We talk about everything in detail. I mean, we don’t let leave anything untouched. In their onboarding training process when they’re first coming on and I’m trying to set them up for success, I tell them a few things. I say, “This is a joint effort. I can’t just guarantee you that I’m going to have all these bookings for you. We both have to be working towards this, or it’s not going to work.”
These are some things that you can do that are really going to help your success. You don’t have to do them. Instagram as a personal thing; if you don’t even like Instagram, that’s fine, but it’s going to affect your bookings, it’s going to affect your success here. The best way to approach this is if we both are working towards the same goal. Here are some things you can do.
We all have really great professional profile pictures. We say, we’re part of this team, here’s the website linked to your work. Then in your Instagram feed, you have to be active on it, you have to be posting to it and you have to post a mix of personnel things, as well as your work. If you do those things, people are going to start to identify you with who you are, but also the professional quality that you have to go.
[0:42:35.8] DJ: Do you have any issues where a bride comes to you and says, “Hey, I want to hire you.” You’re like, “Yeah, okay. Here are a couple associates that are available,” and I’m not sure how you go about handing off work to your associates. They’re like, “No, I really want to hire you.” How do you work through that situation with that bride? Do you find that in those cases the bride generally is like, “Okay, never mind. If it’s not you, I don’t want to work with you guys.” Or do you find that they’re very happy to work with any member of your team?
[0:43:03.0] NR: What I found is they really become very grateful for the options. Because I’ve trained them, not only in the work and style of photography that we offer, but even the way that we work and serve on a wedding day and serve our clients throughout the process, I found that it actually pleases more people, versus lets them down.
I always feared like, “Oh, gosh. They’re hiring Nancy Ray Photography and they don’t get Nancy Ray. What are they going to think?” That was the big fear in the beginning. Now, one of the things that we do; this was very practical, is my price point starts much higher than theirs. There’s this automatic filtering that happens. Basically someone will say, “Hey, this is when we’re getting married. Are you available?” We’ll send them here’s my pricing, Callie’s pricing and Olivia’s pricing. These are ones of us who are available on that day.
There’s a self-filtering process, because of budget for one. Then, if people really want me, then they can have me and that’s fine too. Another thing that we do is I limit the amount of weddings I take every year. Brides that really come to this business and they want to work with me I tell them, I take seven weddings a year. I have two little girls, another little girl on the way. This is my magic number right now in my life, because I just want to be home more on the weekends.
Olivia takes 25 weddings and Callie takes 15 weddings, and so we’ve all worked out those numbers and what we’re most happy with. It’s like a self-sorting process now, which is nice with the pricing and then the availability. We just lay that out and say, “Okay, take your pick.”
[0:44:37.1] DJ: Yeah, that makes total sense. When you send over those pricing, that pricing, do you do it in – like is it three different – is it all part of one PDF, or one page, or is it like here are three attachments, here are the –
[0:44:49.4] NR: Three attachments. There’s three different links that they can click on. Again, going back to the personal brand, each PDF that we send over has a very personal welcome letter from each of us, with each of our pictures and then they’re full of each of our own images from our galleries. It’s very personalized for that photographer. Even in the beginning, we’re saying like, these are the personalities and the people and the different types of work that you’re looking at, and they can choose for themselves.
[0:45:20.5] DJ: Yeah, I really like that. Again, I just really like how each individual team member has their own identity within the Nancy Ray brand. I think that’s going to be a relief for people to hear, because I would assume, I know if we were to start an associate photography business, that would be one of our concerns is how do we – when people inquire, certainly at first, they would think, “Oh, they’re getting Krista, or they’re getting Davey.” That’s probably one of those fears that we have as business owners that actually doesn’t play out how we think it would.
[0:45:52.3] NR: Right, right.
[0:45:53.7] DJ: Well, I really, really appreciate your time today talking through all this stuff. I know that I feel a lot better about and actually excited about going through this process of hiring. I wish I always and I just get to talk to so many amazing people like yourself, that we could talk in series, that we could do a 10-part series about this, because we just scraped the surface, I think.
[0:46:16.2] NR: Right, exactly right. Yeah.
[0:46:17.8] DJ: We probably talked about a couple different lessons that are within the course, but there is just so much – there’s so many more questions that I even have right now, but I want to respect your time too for sure, since we’re coming up on an hour. If people are interested in your course, where should they go right now so that they can be among the first to hear about it?
[0:46:35.9] NR: Definitely. Growacreativeteam.com is the website you can go to. Like I said, the course is going to launch in October, but you can go there and click on Learn More and just sign up to be on the waitlist, so that you can be the first to know when it does launch and you will get the best prices and all that jazz, if you do sign up for the waitlist first. That’s the best way to just know about the course in general when it launches.
[0:46:59.3] NR: Yeah, and I think the benefit of going through a course like this is that you’re going to save yourself the headache of just maybe throwing yourself out there and going through this process half way, or in a lazy way, and then having a terrible experience and then potentially that turning you off from hiring somebody. Or just delaying, getting to the point where you eventually got to, which is now. You feel like at the end of the day, you can turn off the laptop, trust that things are getting done, trust that the business is running and maintain and scale your business, even when life is changing for you.
[0:47:34.9] NR: Absolutely.
[0:47:35.7] DJ: You’re going to have three kids by December, right? At the same, you’re still you’re still able to – you don’t have to shrink your business, because of that. You can still look for team members.
[0:47:43.7] NR: Right. It’s really beautiful. I took maternity leave last year when I had my second and I was laughing, because a team also enabled me to take three months off, three and a half months off of work completely. That was the best quarter revenue-wise than we’ve ever had business. I was like “Well, maybe I should just take a hike, because I’m not even here doing anything.” It was the most amazing year, the most revenue we’ve ever brought in, because they just kept on going, right? They just kept on shooting weddings and serving and they ran everything while I was away.
I’m going to planning another three months maternity leave, just to paint a picture and let you dream a little. I work three days a week and that’s it, and I shoot seven weddings a year, obviously, along with some sessions. That was my ideal, and I think I might even just go back to two days a week, or who knows what the future will look like. Just super grateful that my business doesn’t have to stop working and producing when I stop. That’s what the beauty of growing a team is all about.
[0:48:41.3] DJ: Yeah, and that’s also – I think, I might have to move this clip to the front end of the interview, just people can realize what’s possible there. I think, I’m not going to let this – we’re going to wrap up here in a second, but I think when people think about scaling their business they think, “Oh, I have to do it through digital products, or education, or something like that.”
That’s not the only way. If you love being a photographer, you can scale your business by growing a team. Anyways, I’ll get off my pedestal there and we’ll wrap-up. Besides finding the course at growacreativeteam.com, right?
[0:49:16.0] NR: Yup.
[0:49:16.2] DJ: Where can people learn more about you?
[0:49:17.9] NR: On Instagram, I’m Nancy Ray, and so you can just get to know me and my family and my team there, of course. Online, nancyrayphotography.com is probably the best place just to find me, my business, my blog, my work and even more about my team.
[0:49:33.7] DJ: All right, awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today.
[0:49:36.3] NR: Thank you so much. I’m so grateful and honored to be here.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:49:42.7] DJ: Thanks for tuning in to the Brands that Book Show. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing and leaving a review in iTunes. For show notes and other resources, head on over to daveyandkrista.com.