Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Inspiration Spreads Like Wildfire ~ Storytellers Tell THEIR Story

Katie and Jeff Barker are a special pair of people who are near and dear to my heart. I met them while looking for a photographer for my wedding in March. I've developed a bond with them that you would have never expected to get from a photographer. I don't know if I ever told them this before now, but learning about how they started their own small business doing what they love was one of the biggest inspirational factors for me to put myself out there with Innov8ive Knits.

So not only is their work beyond amazing, they have influenced my life in a way I can't repay them. They have been kind enough to let me feature them as someone who I find incredibly inspirational and answer questions about their business and give advice from their experience. You can visit their website at: Katie and Jeff Barker Storytellers

Why photography?
Both of us enjoyed photography as a hobby for years before we decided to start our business. Katie took photography classes in high school, Jeff was always getting into crazy positions and situations to photograph our family. We have experienced love and joy and can't imagine not having photos documenting those times. We've also experienced pain and loss, and appreciate having photographs that pre-date those times. All of us have a story, and being able to tell that story with photography is awesome. We've had clients lose grandparents, friends, and spouses after their wedding, and knowing that we captured beautiful images of these individuals touches us very deeply.

How did you decide that your business should be the bread winner and leave the regular day job?
Honestly, we got a kick in the pants that made it happen. Jeff was working in a Monday to Friday 8-5 sales position, so photographing weddings on the weekend wasn't an issue with his work. His boss knew he was up to something on the weekends, but because it didn't interfere, Jeff didn't talk about it much. His boss asked him to take a client out on a Saturday that we had a wedding, and when he had to say no, his boss told him to choose which job to keep. We had the guts to go ahead to choose Storytellers. At the time, it was a little scary, but now we'd like to go shake his hand and thank him for making us leap.

What is your favorite picture?
This is the hardest question in this interview! [long pause, lots of hemming and hawing] This is a picture Jeff took of my [Katie's] grandfather. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's a few months after our wedding, and he slipped away little by little. He ceased to tell jokes or to work to make other people smile, so when Jeff got this picture of him about a year after his diagnosis, it meant to world to me. This is the look I remember in his eyes all the time when he'd joke and laugh. He died just this spring, and I'm so grateful to have this picture. I have this picture framed and it's a constant reminder to me that what we do as Storytellers matters. It really does. When the cake has been eaten and the music has stopped, all people will have from the wedding day is their pictures, and it's important that we capture images that capture the essence of the people in them.

How do you find the right balance in pricing (pays the bills but doesn't keep you overpriced)?
We've definitely not gotten it right all the time. There have been times that we've had our pricing too low, and when it was all said and done, we were working for less than $5 an hour. The formula that we've used that makes sense is to figure out how much we need to make to keep our business afloat and pay ourselves a living wage, and the worked backwards. How many weddings do we want to shoot each year? How much time do we want to work? And then it's just simple math. Money needed divided by number of jobs equals the amount of money we need to earn per job. Obviously it takes a while to come up with the answers to the first questions, but they're worth asking. We work six days a week, we work long hours, and we're always on call, but we love our clients and they make the hard work worth it.

When did you realize that Storytellers was the success it is now?
I think when people started asking us for advice, we felt successful. We enjoy speaking with other photographers, especially ones who are just starting out. It's a great feeling to help other people!

You have customers all over the country How did you get word of your business out?
We depend on referrals from our clients. Word of mouth is hugely important for several reasons. First, advertising is very expensive. Paying for clicks on Google or Facebook could easily eat up hundreds of dollars a month. Referrals don't cost you anything (although we do give our couples incentives for referring us). Second, having people who have worked with us recommend us is infinitely more valuable to potential clients than just randomly picking up the phone book and choosing someone they know nothing about.

What gives Storytellers an edge over other photographers?
I think it's the amount of care and attention we give our clients. I mentioned earlier that we work six days a week, and I really meant it. We care a lot about the people who have invested their trust in our work, so we work really hard to meet their expectations.

What is your number one piece of advice you would give to anyone starting their business?
Keep reading, learning, and asking questions. There's always someone out there who does what you do better or differently than you, and there's no shame in trying to learn as much as you can.

Katie & Jeff have been a tremendous inspiration personally to me. They have been so encouraging! I'm not just saying this to butter them up but sometimes I look at their portfolio or our engagement photos and can't believe we even know them.

I hope that you have found the Storytellers just as inspiring as I have. I truly do believe that inspiration spreads like wildfire and hope that my sharing this with you will give you that push to do something that your heart really wants, no matter what it is. To my fellow Etsians I hope that you find their expertise and experience well received and are able to take their advice and apply it to your small business. I know I will.


  1. What a great writeup on these inspiring people, thank you:)

  2. Wow!!! Amazing story. I really enjoyed reading this. I love their work.

  3. I love that the old boss made him choose! Sometimes you just need to leap. :-)

  4. Thank you! I love their story too. Being forced to make that leap sometime is the only way you get the courage to take it all the way.

  5. This was an inspiring post! I'll be furloughed from my day job for at least 30 days on Dec. 2, so I'll be testing my entrepreneurial wings. (I do have a safety net--doing full-time seasonal tax work, that will provide additional income through April.)

    And I love the photo of your grandfather! My favorite photos of my kids and grandkids are the ones where they were caught being themselves--not posing and saying "cheese."


  6. I'm sorry to hear about your job. Sometimes things like this can be a blessing in disguise like for Katie & Jeff. Good luck in doing it on your own. I know it must be scary but maybe it's just what you needed.

    I agree about the style of photography not being posed. It really grasps the essence of a person when you catch something "real" and candid.


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