How to Build a Community & Attract Your Dream Clients With Christy Gagnon




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This week on the podcast, I’m sitting down with my friend and fellow creative, Christy Gagnon. She’s been a wedding photographer for over 12 years, and now she’s a mentor and coach for other like-minded business owners. We talked about how she got started, her process for building a community around her business, and how she decided to pivot her business to where it is today.

About Christy

Christy Gagnon is a legacy photographer and coach for heart-centered small business owners. She’s like your favorite coach, but instead of fitness she’s going to feel out about your biz, break down how to connect with your dream clients, and guide you to work smarter with an abundance of joy within your business. Christy is an enneagram 2, full of Leslie Knope optimism, an avid leo and believes in the power of a solo kitchen dance party!

She got her start as a wedding photographer over 12 years ago, and since then she’s pivoted her business in a dozen ways – from bringing her husband on board as a second shooter in 2013 to reinvesting in her education in 2016 to her busiest season (36 weddings!) in 2018.

Check out her photography here.

Follow her on Instagram here.


Galen: Welcome Christy. I’m so excited to have you on the podcast today.

Christy: Thank you for having me.

Galen: I would love it if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself and your business and how you got started.

Christy: Oh, I love this. All right. So I’m Christy. My business is called Eisley images, which is actually named after my six-year-old daughter. I have been a photographer for, this is my 12th wedding season. Like. It’s been a minute. I started in high school in a dark room and I just loved that you could connect with people with the camera that just set on my heart from day one.

I originally thought I was going to be a photo journalist because I love documenting and telling stories. I am a writer at my root. But instead of going to school for journalism first, it was recommended by my teacher in high school that I go to photography school first. So that’s what I did. And I, at this school, that’s when I was introduced to wedding photography, it had never been even a thought in my mind before and out of all the things we learned about commercial photography, like portrait studio everything under the sun, even photographing like automobiles, but weddings? Done. Game over. I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do. And that’s what I’ve been doing the last 12 years. And I’m very lucky and fortunate to have turned that into a legacy with our couples who we lovingly call Eisley Couples. And now that all of our couples over the last 12 years have been growing their families, getting dogs, buying houses or whatever life is throwing at them. It’s been a complete honor and joy to document those moments as well. And I also lead a group of creatives in the local Tuesdays Together chapter in Rhode Island called the Rising Tide Society.

And that is just like one of those heart filling moments where I, my soul lights up. Like, I love love community, but being able to lead a community of people just like me, it’s been phenomenal. And that’s how I spend my days.

Galen: That’s so wonderful. I think it says so much about you that the couples you work with, stay with you from wedding to other life events. Like that’s just such a beautiful thing that they feel so connected to you. And I want to dive into your insane community building skills, because I feel like you’re so good at this, but before that, When you were first starting your business, what did that look like?

Did you just start it right after graduating school? Did you second shoot for a while? How did you decide to dive in.

Christy: Yeah. So I graduated from Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2008, June of 2008. And I got my first wedding inquiry, July, 2008. And mind you. In my mind, I just, I didn’t know what to charge. I just knew that I loved it. I knew that I wanted the opportunity. I knew I needed this for my portfolio. So I was like 500 bucks and they were like sold.

So I did that wedding and my, I had a website. Instagram, wasn’t really a thing then at all. And so I had a place to send people to, but I really didn’t have much momentum. From that first wedding, it was just word of mouth marketing. Because other than that, like what were you gonna put something in the paper, you know what I mean?

Yeah. So I always did like maybe five weddings myself in 2008 and 2009. And in 2009, I started second shooting for a local like well-seasoned wedding photographer, which was one of the best experiences because I got really good firsthand experience on what a legitimate wedding day is like versus couples who want like a budget beginner photographer like myself.

So that was really incredible to see. How she sends a timeline to everybody, uh, what a real contract would look like between those couples, how she edits things and just how she handles herself on the wedding day. There were a lot of things I learned that I didn’t like as well, where I knew when I was like really set in my own business, I wouldn’t do. So that was also a great learning experience. And then, yeah, I just kept trucking along. I took a few detours in my photography career. I ended up being cause I’m a leader at heart. I truly am. I ended up being a manager of an Aerie, like by American Eagle when I was 18.

So I did that. And then I was always a photographer though. And I didn’t truly go all in on myself until like 2013. I just got to, yeah, it got to a point where I was seeing all my friends, who I had graduated with. They were like doing it. They are doing the dang thing. They didn’t go off and have like little side hustles and manage a clothing store, which has nothing to do with photography.

And I was like, we have the same education. We have the same opportunities. What am I doing? Like why, what am I doing? So I rebranded, I was just Christine That was my name. That’s all I was. So I rebranded to actually I’m getting ahead of myself. I have a very long…

Galen: I feel like so many times we look at a photographer who’s as established as you are in their market and saying, Oh, you know, she was an overnight success. She just, you know, started, hit the ground running and boom had this big flourishing business. And I feel like what you were hinting at there when you were saying, I just kind of did these other things and was sort of taking my sweet time.

Like, I felt like you. We got to a point where maybe you really needed to give yourself permission to step into this role that you’re like, all these other people are doing it and they’re not different from myself. You were there, you had everything you needed. Why not? You? Yeah. I love that. I think so many people can identify with that story and you like, those people might feel behind, like, you might feel like, Oh, everyone else got this head start, but like looking at the business you’ve built today, like, that’s just not true.

Like you’ve really set yourself apart since then.

Christy: But I’m also very grateful for the path I went on because I worked in the service industry during that time. I’ve been a bartender, I’ve been a server, I’ve done so many things. And I just feel like that is like the best training for any wedding photographer possible. Being able to talk with people, be quick on your feet.

Like that was the best 101 I’ve ever had in my life. Being able to relate to people. So yeah, I’m very fortunate, uh, how it all worked out and it did all work out. But it really wasn’t until this is going to be like mind blowing. It really wasn’t until I got serious and sat down and was like, what.

How can I feel more legit? Like I did, I, even though I was booking these weddings, I just didn’t feel like, like a successful business owner. I, and I know a lot of that’s in my own head, imposter syndrome, like that’s oh, real kick in the pants. But I, this is when I found HoneyBook, the Rising Tide Society.

And for years I just been coming from a place of like a scarcity mindset, like, especially growing up in New Hampshire and like a small town, like there’s not many other wedding photographers. So I would take it like personal someone didn’t book with me. Cause it’s like, It’s me. I get all the weddings.

I didn’t understand what ideal clients were. You know, there was so much that at the end of the day, I didn’t know that they can’t teach you everything in photography school. So I went out and I wanted to continue my education and that’s when I found yeah, the Rising Tide Society, Katelyn James, she’s one of an educator that I really found a lot of good stuff with and truly changed my business when I started taking some of her courses and like, it literally changed overnight.

I was just kind of like photographing weddings yeah they were pretty, yeah, they were great, but I was missing that whole connection and growth and everything that I have now I did not have so, connecting with our couples. Like I mentioned, we call them like our Eisley Couples. We have a private Facebook group, our Eisley community, and that’s what I wanted.

Like that’s what I was missing. And maybe that’s just goes back to all that leader had just natural born, community bringer together. I don’t know. But once I started doing that…

Galen: It all changed. That’s just amazing. I feel like I can relate to that too. I think a lot of times when you’re new in business and you get started down this track and you’re just doing things a certain way, you kind of forget to. To peek your head up and say like, should I pivot? Do I need to change anything?

Should I find ways to Uplevel my client experience? Should I find ways to Uplevel my brand? And you’re just like heads down going, doing the same things, but you’re not going to get different results. If you don’t change how you’re doing things. And that’s a wonderful opportunity to look to mentors, whether they know who you are or not, right mentors out there who are, have the type of business that you want to run, and then finding small ways that you can start to. Become more like that person and kind of step into that role that you’re talking about, like that CEO role of your business to build something bigger than yourself, bigger than just, you know, Christy taking pictures. Right? It becomes this whole thing that people can really relate to. So what are some of the changes that you made?

I know you mentioned you started to kind of create this community feel. What are some of those changes that you made to kind of pivot from just like taking photos, going through the motions to really building the business that you have today?

Christy: So my first pain point was my website. I don’t even remember what I was hosting it on. I think it was called One in One. And basically I created it myself with what I learned in InDesign and it was brutal. It was just like a rectangle with my face and like basic information. That’s about it. So that’s when I found Squarespace back in 2013 and that just felt like the first step of, “Oh she’s a photographer, she’s a business woman.”

And I loved it. I loved how customizable it was because. Like, I really, I don’t remember much of like the coding that I learned in school. I just wanted something easy. That felt like me. That sounded like me. So that was a major change. But then another pain point started coming along: the inquiries I was getting, they’d get lost in my email.

And I’m like, there has to be a better way. It just, and I just felt like I’d be trying to. I would just be sending like, “Hey, here’s my prices.” Like nothing really connecting my inquiry form it was missing a huge opportunity to connect right off the bat. Like they were just inquiring with a photographer.

They weren’t inquiring for Christy or to be an Eisley Couple. It was just like, “Hey, like here’s some money. Can you help us?” And that’s that? So that’s when I found HoneyBook. I think I found HoneyBook in 2017, so I really roughed it for a few years and it wasn’t great. I felt like I was forgetting to email people back.

There was just not good follow-up and trying to copy and paste. Uh, an email that I thought was good. Like I thought, Oh, I really connected with this person who inquired like two months ago, I’m going to try that again. It just didn’t feel good. And I was wasting so much time doing that for people who probably weren’t going to book with me anyway.

So then I found HoneyBook and that was just like, that is the point that it genuinely all changed because at this point in time I had a little baby, so my time was cut very short. Like the time that I had to run my business, I didn’t have it. I just didn’t have it. It was bananas. But that made me feel like I was back in control.

I could automate things. Like there are so many things I was doing in my business that I didn’t have to, I didn’t have to physically be doing it, you know, sending out a brochure. I didn’t have to do that. So that has been, I still use HoneyBook to this day and I’m so, so proud of how far I’ve come with it.

And. I think it’s been such a good experience for me and for clients that I’m just so thankful. It exists being able to collect money that way, email signatures. I remember in 2008, I was mailing copies of a contract or have to go to a coffee shop, just like sign them together. Are you kidding me that so much time, you know, so.

Galen: I was using Hello Sign in my like early days too. And then I would be like, “Oh, where’s that contract that I had someone signed a year ago?” And I wouldn’t be able to find it. I would have no idea what email I use to create the Hello Sign account. It was just a disaster. I did the same thing as you.

I took way too long to put something like HoneyBook in place. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve been in business for a long time. And I was like, I got this at the time. I convinced myself, I wasn’t getting enough inquiries to warrant paying for something like HoneyBook. And then I realized not having something like HoneyBook was the reason I didn’t have the money for something like HoneyBook, because I was just wasting all my time being like, wait, did I send them a proposal yet?

Do I need to send them an invoice? Sending invoices for me, I think was one of the biggest pain points, like mental pain point, mindset pain point. And now I set everything to auto pay. They have a payment plan and I just get and.

Christy: Amazing.

Galen: So good. I need to have you come into my membership, the Creator Club, because I am a huge fan of talking about systems.

And I feel like you would be such an amazing guest speaker to tell us about how you specifically use HoneyBook, because I talk about me, but I think from a photographer’s perspective, it’s just fun to see how other people use the same tools that you do. So. I really want to see that cause that’s like, yeah.

So having those templates, like starting to put that in place, creating those structures, that then probably allowed you to spend more time on figuring out how can I make my couples feel more special? My clients feel more special. And then like you had a kid like this is you shouldn’t be spending all of your time.

In the business, right? Like you want to have a life and HoneyBook’s like, I feel like, I mean, there’s a ton of them out there. HoneyBook, Dubsado, 17 hats, but it’s all about finding one that works for you. And it’s like, I think it’s, you know, as good, if not better than having an assistant to start with.

Like, if you can’t afford having somebody work with you, this is a great way to have like a fake employee that does all of the tracking for you and…

Christy: A hundred percent. I was using, Oh my God, I still have copies of it in my office. Uh, every one of my couples had like a manila folder and I made these like cute little print outs on Word, and it would be like, their timeline. I would put in there. And then also, you know, my workflow that I would physically check off, but it’s like when you start getting more and more clients, how many folders are you going to be really going through?

Like being able to see it all together on a dashboard game-changer, game-changer and then QuickBooks was another one that totally changed everything. Being able to track my mileage automatically, being able to see how much I was actually making and how much I was spending. That I had. I, yes, I was just using like an Excel spreadsheet, but still missing so many things like, I didn’t know that you could split your utilities if you had a home office and like on QuickBooks, you can just be like, yep 25% or whatever of my gas bill goes here. And now it’s just like, and that also gave me confidence, which sounds so dorky, but…

Galen: No mindset is huge.

Christy: like having my email address, not be at Gmail, but it was @ Eisley Images.

I’m like, I made it. I am so legit. I have arrived. Like little things like that just totally changed the game for me. I came, Oh my God. When I got my first email list, I was like, You can’t stop me. You can’t stop me. I’m here. It’s just little things like that. I don’t know.

Galen: Whole new level.

Christy: Yes.

Galen: Whole new level. That’s amazing. I use Wave for all of my bookkeeping, but I felt the same way you did. I was trying to keep track of everything in a spreadsheet before then. And I honestly felt like, again, another mindset thing. I didn’t actually want to know how much I was bringing in and how much I was spending.

Cause those numbers seem scary. But I forget who it was, but I was talking to somebody and they like, there was this recurring theme in their education that like what you focus on grows. And if you want your money to grow. You have to stare it right in the face and know exactly day by day, like what’s coming in, what’s going out.

And that was really painful for me back in the day when I was like, I don’t think it’s going to look so good for a little while, but the fact that I could then see, hey, you need to make an extra two grand this month to cover your expenses. Then, I’m like, all right, I’m going to make an extra two grand this month to cover my expenses.

And you know, and then some, and that included my salary and everything, but it just got to this point where I was like, you need to pay yourself like a business. You need it to keep track of your expenses, like a business, like you are a boss, start acting like it. I had to like give myself a little pep talk.

Christy: And like even having my own bank account for my business, like that just seemed like, look out like, this is happening. This is real. You can’t even tell me I’m not running a successful business. Look at me, look at my bank account. It could only have 200 bucks net at the time, but

Galen: Doesn’t matter. Yeah. Like the first time you pay yourself out of your own business bank account, you’re like, Whoa, look at me, It’s so great. So next, like as your business started to grow, you hired your husband. Can we just like, talk about how amazing that is?

Christy: Okay. So this is actually, so back in 2013 before I had rebranded. So Christine, like that’s a whole thing. And I had a wedding and I had a second shooter lined up and they bailed on me the day before. And I couldn’t find it. And me buddy, like not even, it was a June wedding date.

Like there’s no one, there’s no one. I was even trying to find like, college students, like anyone to physically be there. And George just so happened to have the day off next, the next day. So I’m like hi, you’re gonna. You’re coming with me and I’m going to teach you how to take photos now. And we literally spent like the whole day, he’s such a trooper the whole day, really learning photography 101 in a day.

And I’m telling you, he crushed that wedding. It’s like infuriating. Considering how much training I’ve done.

Galen: You’re like, I went to school for this.

Christy: I’m like, excuse you. And he’s like, well, doesn’t that mean? You’re just a really good teacher and I’m like, I can’t please. No, I’m still too mad. And he was like, also we get to eat at weddings? Like this is amazing. And like that particular wedding, he got to go on like a brewery tour with the groom and groomsmen. He’s like, “this is what you do?” Like how could, why doesn’t everyone become a wedding photographer? He was like in love. So we rebranded to GNC Photography, George and Christy. It was just, I felt like I needed to make, you know, a change really quick.

So that’s what we landed on. Didn’t love it, whatever. And then he actually didn’t come full time with me until last August. No. Yeah. August of 2019. So almost two years ago. Cause he’s always,

Galen: 2020 doesn’t count that…

Christy: Literally. So, yeah, and we have shot, I think he’s photographed over almost a hundred weddings with me.

Like, no way!

Galen: And he had no experience before?

Christy: No experience, but he is such a good dang people person that like.

Galen: That’s part of the job.

Christy: It’s part of the job and knowing that he’s not going to screw me over, he’s not going to call out. Also, he loves to drive. So I was able to like start editing in the car, which meant that I could give out sneak peeks earlier and like, and it’s just so great to have someone that you can just like mentally, we don’t need walkie-talkies it’s just like you go here, yeah. You see this? Okay. Yeah. Talk to you later. It’s just great. It’s so yeah, he joined me full-time in August. And it was amazing. We were just doing the dang thing and then life happens and I got sick. So we had to put a pin in that.

But we’re gearing up for this wedding season and it’ll be nice to get back into it together. Cause it feels like we haven’t photographed anything together for a hot minute there. So we can’t wait though. Yeah.

Galen: How did you, like, how did you know when your business was getting to that point where he could come on full time?

Christy: So I, if I had it my way. I would have had him come full time with me in 2018, because that was our biggest, busiest wedding season yet. And at that time we had a three-year old, so it was bananas and like that, then I should have really convinced him then. But he. He’s a creature of habit and he loved his job.

He was a manager at a Starbucks. He’d been with them for like eight years and also just financial stability. Like for him not being a natural born, like entrepreneur, like that was terrifying to him, which I totally get, you know, so it really took him. He was still doing all the behind the scenes stuff with me and still putting in the hours in the business.

So it took him until August of 2019 to finally be like okay fine.

Galen: And he jumped on board?

Christy: He really did. He

Galen: Never looked back. That’s amazing. Yeah. That’s incredible to hear that you two can work together and still enjoy each other’s company outside of work.

Christy: Oh my goodness. Yes. Like, especially at the end of the wedding day, I always, I was so terrified that, you know, it takes a lot emotionally and mentally to do a wedding day. So I was so afraid that we’d be so burnt out and like, hopefully not bitter towards each other after every wedding, but if anything, it’s, we like jam out to music on the way home and like, we’re good.

We’re good.

Galen: And you’re both in it together. You’re both like exhausted together. You’re both like…

Christy: And like, I would never see him on weekends if we didn’t do that. So we’re very thankful. Very lucky. Yeah.

Galen: Where were most of your inquires coming from at that point? Because at that point you must have had pretty consistent inquiries coming in and booking pretty consistently.

Christy: So we had, it’s a lot of word of mouth. We have a lot of word of mouth. We have been very fortunate for our, I call it community-based marketing. A lot of family members of other couples that we’ve had. It’s just been very good. We do little to no advertising. I didn’t start doing Facebook ads until 2019. Like with intention, not just like floundering around.

So it’s really all just being nice to people at weddings and it’s always, someone’s like, Aunt Sue who’s like, “I saw you at wedding and I, Oh my goodness. My own son would love well.” Yeah. Or like, just even networking with at local community groups. I’ve booked a few weddings from our Tuesdays Together chapter, actually.

So you never know where inquiries are going to pop up. One great. My greatest example of this, and this is why I really try and say yes to things that feel good. My I call her my sister-in-law, she’s my brother-in-law’s sister. I just call her my sister-in-law. She was part of this group, who it was a bunch of women who get together and like do good and raise money.

They were having an event at the Hard Rock Cafe in, uh, Foxwoods. And she was like, “we need a photographer. We can pay you. And we’ll also put you up in a room.” Me and George, like. Yeah, like, we’ll do that. Sure. Because at the end of the day, like it’s still an experience and we’re actually getting paid for, it’s not just for exposure, you know?

So we said, yes. And I have now photographed quite a few weddings from people that I’ve met through that event. So.

Galen: Really? And was that this was a while ago now, too. So they like still trickle in?

Christy: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. And so now those are the people who I am doing, like the legacy sessions for, and like, it just, that’s how it grows. It’s been so natural and organic and it feels like such a privilege because I know so many people do not have that type of fuel behind their inquiries, but one of my most, cause you can see on HoneyBook, like where your inquiries are coming from. They’re almost all client referrals. It’s just, if we, I just feel so good about it and lucky and like, yeah, it’s amazing.

Galen: That’s wonderful. And going back, like, I think some people, like, obviously everyone is like, yes, you know, we want to have referrals. You want to have a create good experiences that people recommend you. But if you were to talk to a photographer who was just starting out, who didn’t have a network and maybe didn’t feel comfortable like posting on Facebook to share with all their friends and family that they’re now a photographer, and then I’ll do whatever it is, whatever creative field that they’re in, how would you, like, what recommendation would you give to that person to help them get their first X number of clients to really start seeing that?

Christy: Join your local Rising Tide chapter B. A lot of people that come to me for mentorship haven’t yet taken the first steps of learning about business. Like what it genuinely entails. They know that they can take pretty pictures. Awesome. But. Knowing like basic things, website, SEO, like those are major things, choosing what you want to invest in, but not just like money, like your time.

So I know a lot of photographers who go the route of like joining styled shoots or setting them up for themselves. That’s another way, but what I like to do is just offer your friends and family sessions. That way you get more and more comfortable with it. And so when you’re ready to, you can even do like a model call, like real couple call and have a bride and groom who have already gotten married, or it may, whatever they can be in there. There wedding attire again, and you can take some photos or even reaching out to a fellow photographer to ask if you can shadow along, not even necessarily shoot, but just to see how like you interact with people, how you physically pose people. There are so many things that you can do, but the best piece of advice is, do not stop learning. Still to this day, 12 years in, I still am signing up for webinars and I’m still taking courses and I’m still like, I’m always trying to get better and better.

There’s just so much, I didn’t know, in the beginning that if I even did an iota of all this learning that I’ve done, I would have gotten here sooner.

Galen: And there’s so many more resources available.

Christy: Resources. Oh my God. We didn’t even have Instagram. Yeah.

Galen: Yes, it’s a great place to connect with people. And I think what you said could relate to any creative industry of just like finding other people who are doing the thing you want to do, learn how they’re doing it, watch how they’re doing it. And also just finding people you can work with.

And if you have no experience, like, I feel like it’s okay to start for, you know, a really low price, like. And then start to raise your prices as you get booked out and sort of figure out what, like there’s no right or wrong answer to that. I hear so many people saying like, Oh, it devalues the creative industry to, you know, charge nothing or charge very little.

And it’s like, not if you’re just figuring out what you want to do. And you’re not really sure what your client experience looks like. Like, you know, when I first started out for websites, I think my first website was like $300 because I was like, it probably was worth more than that. I had no idea what I was doing.

I just winged it. And I obviously picked it up quickly and started to charge more pretty quickly. What I realized is that it’s not a good use of my time, but you learn from those mistakes. And the only way you’re going to learn is by doing and, you know, failing and then getting up and starting over and trying something different.

So I love to hear that you would recommend that for somebody to, just, to like keep putting one foot in front of the other and seeing what happens next.

Christy: And also Google, like Google is your friend of all friends. YouTube: that’s a search engine. That is your friend. Pinterest: that’s a search engine. Like use those tools. There are so many times I’m a part of so many Facebook groups that a lot of beginning photographers are in who they’ll ask a question that if you just type that into Google, you’re going to find your answer.

You know? Anyone who knows anything in the world, like experts. There is a very good chance that they learned that on Google first, you know, so.

Galen: That’s hilarious. So my whole family sees me as like, I have the answer to every single tech problem they could ever have. They literally call me. And while I’m sitting on the phone, I type it into Google. Like, Oh, why is this error coming up on my phone? I type it into Google. I read them the response that Google tells me.

And they’re like, Oh, it works like nine times out of 10. It is as simple. And I can do it while they’re on the phone with me. And then their problem is solved and they’re like, “Galen, thank you. You saved, like, I couldn’t figure this out. You really helped me.” And I was like, yeah, just nothing special about me.

Christy: Yeah. Yeah. It’s like the most basic questions. Like I’ll see people being like, what’s the difference between this lens or this lens? That’s a very Googleable question. You know what I mean? Like it’s just another, I think that ties into protecting your time, because if you post that to a Facebook group, you are waiting for responses who even knows if the people responding, you know what I mean?

Like know their stuff, so yeah. Protect your time and sanity. Google, all the things.

Galen: Google, all the things. And I think the other thing, like you mentioned is to set yourself up for success just when it comes to the basics of running a business and figuring out what that looks like for you. Cause I think that can make a really big difference. Uh, so tell me a little bit, yeah. About the future of Eisley Images, Eisley Education.

I know everyone’s had a rough 2020, you’ve had a particularly crazy 2020. So I would love to kind of hear like what lessons you’ve taken away from that and what you’re bringing into the future with you.

Christy: Yes. So I feel like we should preface this. So in 2019, I started having some health problems that were pretty serious. That at the time were precancerous. So we really our last wedding was in October of 2019. And after that we just stopped booking because we genuinely didn’t know what our future looked like, and that didn’t feel right to book couples who, and then all of a sudden, “Oh, we can’t be there at your wedding.” Things are crazy. So, and then in March, 2020, when the whole world ended, I found out that I had cancer. So that was a whole upending game-changing insanity that we obviously didn’t want to have happen. Oh, actually no, my timeline’s wrong in January. I found out, so in January I had we knew that within two months or so, I would be getting my final surgery.

I had to go through three of them. So I spent a lot of time on bed rest. And while on bed rest, this is when I planned. Out Eisley Education. And this has been a dream of mine since like 2018 to be able to pour even more into my creative community and people like like-minded people. And to

Galen: Share all knowledge. You’ve

Christy: That I’ve just accumulated over 12 years just sitting in my brain, like, please take it.

So I started doing that from bedrest, thankful. Thanks to the power of Zoom and Facebook groups. And it was so wonderful and organic and kind and uplifting and people were really seeing true growth. It was just beautiful. And then out of nowhere, my oncologist decided to move up my surgery. So all these things I had in motion just stopped.

And then on April fool’s day of all days, I had to get my radical hysterectomy. And of course I was alone for it because of COVID and it was just.

Galen: Scary and just like horrible to go throughalone that. I mean, not alone, but alone there in the hospital.

Christy: Yes. Yes, it was a lot and I protected that information for so long. Only, a few people knew that I had cancer. I think I actually told you while we were.

Galen: Had coffee.

Christy: By the way, I got cancer.

Well, I don’t know what’s going on with my life. And it was, I didn’t want to tell the public because I didn’t want to freak any of our couples out. I eventually told them in private, in our community and they were. Like, this is how I know that we found our ideal clients. They really showed up for me in ways that I wasn’t even prepared for. Gift baskets, like throughout my bedrest, like gift cards to restaurants, like we really felt they would check in with George.

Like we just felt so taken care of as well as you can take care of someone in a pandemic. So, yeah, I only ended up booking six or so weddings in 2020, I turned so many down. I ended up looking up the number the other day and I had like, I average like a hundred inquiries ish a year. And I had to turn down something like 80.

I think it was just. Sad and hard and awful. But I got to refer a lot of my friends, so I hope that they ended up booking with them anyway. So, this whole year, of 2020 really got me thinking about what I want to spend my time doing. What do I want to be intentional about? And the sessions that make me happiest, the weddings that make me happiest.

And I feel like we have the best connection are those that are like, the intimate ones. The ones where the couples take so much care into the details, no matter how big or small this wedding is It’s just all the heart that goes behind it and the legacy sessions that we do. So for new babies, new houses, new puppies, photos just because I love that.

So that’s where our business is going towards. It’s the, just that, it’s your legacy. Let’s make it fun. And it feels so good. It feels like sunshine. It just feels like this is exactly what I should be doing. I started offering they’re called resilient sessions for women who are going through hard times and that could be cancer it could be something in your personal life? I, yes, because if one thing I’ve learned from this is that we are resilient, especially women we can be put through, so dang much and still come out on the other side of it. You know? So, I recently just did a session for a friend of mine who found out she needed a double mastectomy.

So the day before she went in for her double mastectomy, we just did like a celebration resilient session of her body and what it went through and what it will go through. And it was such like a peaceful, joyous moment and such a hard time. And knowing for her, knowing that I knew exactly those awful feelings, the guilt that comes up, the just genuine grief. It was just so beautiful. So if I had to go through all my junk to be able to serve these sessions, then that’s the burden I choose to happily bear. So.

Galen: I have goosebumps right now. Like I’m like how amazing that you can turn something that people forget to capture something that’s so painful that people want to like shove into a little box and put it away and never look at it again, once they move past it. And you’re like, no, let’s turn this into like a celebration of life and this journey that we’re all on.

And it’s not a, it’s not a straight line, right? It is messy. But like, those are the pieces that make us stronger. Like that’s so incredible.

Christy: And that’s like, my biggest regret is A. I waited so long to tell the world and I felt so guilty about it. Cause like obviously I wasn’t responding as much. I was just not there for my community in a way that I have always been. And I really don’t have any photos of the sadness to the point where like, if you scroll back on my iPhone, it feels like it never happened.

And that’s like pretty devastating for me because I document it all. Like my whole life has, you know, photographed and there’s just like, I only have one photo of me in the hospital. It was just like, you know, I don’t know if I was trying to put on a brave face so people would know what was going on. I don’t know.

But looking back on it, I know I would have loved to have had a session like this. With someone who could just commiserate with me for a minute and not feel like I’m taking up too much space, like my grief is taking up too much space. It’s a burden because it’s not. And you know, it just felt good when I don’t know, me and my friend were talking that it just felt really like a breath of fresh air when she was saying like, the crummy thing she’s feeling and not have me be like, Oh my God, I just feel terrible.

Blah, blah, blah. I was just like, yeah, that sucks. And we just kept talking about it and it just felt like she didn’t have to protect anyone else’s feelings. It’s just all about them. So in a nutshell, that’s what I feel really good about doing lately.

Galen: Yeah, I feel like you’re moving forward from the heart. Like you have this like heart centered focus and it’s coming from this place of like power and beauty. And like, that’s just so cool to like, come out of all of that and then find ways that you can incorporate that into a way that you’re helping others.

Like that’s amazing. And in going forward and realizing like business might not be the same after this, but that’s okay because it’s going to be more closely aligned with. How you feel and the direction you want to go and what, like future Christy wants out of life. Like that is so powerful. And I think more people need to like, sit back, even if you haven’t had something like dramatic or, you know, awful happen.

Like it’s still, there’s never a bad time to like really reassess what you want and what would make you feel good. I just, I think that’s really wonderful. And I think it all comes back to your community too, right? Like. Your community wanted to be there for you. You just had to let them.

Christy: I know, I learned a lesson. Let me tell you, I am totally the kind of person where I’m like, I don’t want to take up space. Don’t worry about me. Don’t make it about me. It’s okay. I remember the day I had to tell everyone it was the last in-person Rising Tide meeting that we had in March. I was leaving the next day to go to California to photograph an elopement.

This is like, before we even knew that you should wear masks. And we didn’t know that everything was shutting down in two days. Anyway, so I told the community and I was like, I felt like I had let them down. And. Looking back on it. I’m like, you’re bonkers. Why would you be letting them down? Because you have cancer?

Like what is, so, yeah, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve had a lot of time to sit with my own stuff and yeah. And it feels good to navigate through it. And I hope that I can help others navigate through it as well because going through this alone, crummy beyond belief, but going through it with community and any sort of way, whatever you, your community looks like.

That’s it, man.

Galen: That’s it. Yeah. And just to wrap up here, cause I think I want to stay on this topic of community. I think so many small business owners are looking for ways to create community among their peers, as well as to create community among their clients and to have a group of their ideal clients that are all just there to support them and to cheer them on.

And like, I want to hear from you, what is your number one tip to help build that community around your business so that your business just feels like it’s supported by so many people and it’s just starts to grow? And that feeling is contagious. Like it’s not just a business anymore. It’s like this vibe that you’ve created and these people that you’ve created around you, like, how do you do that?

What is your secret?

Christy: So I basically forced it on to all of them. Yeah, it’s.

Galen: Truth comes out.

Christy: Yeah. Yeah. I’m like you will be friends and you’ll like it. No, it was really, I just, it started off from such a pure place of, I am genuinely obsessed with our couples. I think they’re such the greatest people. I genuinely adore them. Love them. We have the same ideals.

Like we’re truly, if I wasn’t shooting their wedding, I would just want to be their friend, you know? So it just started off with a hashtag #eisleycouple. That’s how it started it. And. It was about maybe a year of #eisleycouple. It was on my website. My inquiry form, like on my contact page, it starts talking about that verbiage community closeness, all that good stuff on my brochure.

It talks about welcoming you into theEisley community, what theEisley experience looks like. And then it came from a place of just wanting to connect all these couples together because it actually started with we’ve had in 2018, I lost count. We had so many couples who had lost a parent or someone close to them.

And we’re dealing with grief and like how to navigate through their wedding day with that grief. So I got my, it was mostly brides together to talk about that and they wrote a blog post about it. And so I just created the Facebook group so they could all be together and then we just brought everyone in.

And so now, when anyone has any questions about, I don’t know what to wear or heirloom pieces, did you have it just so naturally connecting and. I just love it. People will connect if you give them a space to, without a doubt, like that’s you just need to create the little space. Yeah.

Galen: That’s perfect. I feel like so many of us think it has to be this big, complicated process and it has to take years to manifest and create and build all these people. And it’s like, you just, you literally just decided. That there was going to be a community around your brand and then you just made it happen.

So that.

Christy: They needed to know each other.

Galen: That is so wonderful. And I’m so excited to share this. And I think so many people are going to like come away from this episode, just feeling ready to go, ready to make moves, ready to be that business owner that they’ve always wanted to be. So thank you so much for sharing. I I would love for you to share with us where we can find more about you online.

Christy: All right. So I am at Eisley Images, E I S L E Y images on everything. On Twitter, on Pinterest, on Instagram, on Facebook. You can’t miss me. On Tik Tok. Oh yes. Oh yes. I dabble in the Tik Toks and.

Galen: Go check that out.

Christy: Yes. And I have educational resources through Eisley Education on my website, which is www dot Eisley

And yeah, that pretty much covers all the bases. Thank you so much for having me. This was so wonderful and I cannot wait to connect with your community more.

Galen: They’re going to love you. So I can’t wait to share this with them. Thank you, Christy.

Enjoy my interview with Christy on the Intentional Creative Podcast. If you love the show, be sure to leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Your feedback helps us reach even more intentional creatives!

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