Heidi Pratt, Photographer | Women Owned Spokane | Spokane Photographer
Last month, I spoke with Heidi Pratt, a fellow photographer. For those who may not understand much of the photography world, Heidi focuses primarily on posed newborn and maternity. My work focuses on documentary family work. While her style is different than mine, our obstacles are very similar and I found myself interested in her story because it is so similar to mine. So, we chatted a lot…. Thanks for reading.
Could you tell me more about what you do and how you got started?
I am a maternity, newborn and family photographer. And I specialize in a luxury experience, so helping my clients through the entire process of not only planning their session but helping them to get tangible pieces of art for them to enjoy rather than sending them home with digital files and having them do it themselves.
I went to Spokane Falls when I was clueless, right out of High School. Didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. And in my last quarter of my AA degree I took a photography class as an elective and just fell in love. Fell in love with the art, the darkroom. And as you can imagine that being almost 19 years ago now, the field has changed a ton. When I graduated, I was the last class that didn’t have digital courses so the year starting after I graduated, everything went digital. Well not everything, I hope they still have a darkroom but I don’t know.
So, I left there and graduated in 2000 and then ever since then has been on a path of knowing I wanted to have my own business, not knowing if it could be a reality, if it was something was doable or just something that was going to be a hobby.
Basically I didn’t have a clue, I didn’t know what I needed to do or how to do it. I just knew that I loved photography and I wanted to make a living out of it. And so, 18 years later, here I am. Super blessed that, honestly, my husband…. I mean, we’ve been married for ten years and I’ve been pursuing my business for most of that ten years pretty strongly.
But there were a few years I took a break. Having my son. And I took some time off when he was really little and then I would say since then I’ve just really hit it hard. So I would say it has probably only been in the last 4 years that I’ve really dug in deep and said, I want to make this happen. What is it going to take to be a successful business owner?
Because honestly, I was doing photography but I wasn’t running a business necessarily and I was blessed that my husband’s job could basically sustain us, aside from my part-time job I had. I didn’t need to bring any income in so I could basically do what I wanted. And learn as I went. And so it’s taken me years to get where I am just cause I was working part-time and I didn’t know what I was doing. It was trial and error, the whole way. Learning from people online, oh, I’m going to try this. And it not working out.
And those are all expensive, even if it’s cheap, the compounded amount of education we take in, it gets expensive.
Oh my gosh, so much. And then investing in something I think is going to be really good and then realizing oh that wasn’t the best way to spend my money. I needed to start way back here.
And then the time we put in…
Yeah, the time we put in! How has it been so many years. There wasn’t the urgency of, I have to have a paycheck to bring home to pay our family bills. I was able to take my time and do whatever which was super wonderful but not. It didn’t necessarily push me I think. I guess I’m glad I have enough drive in me to just keep going and figure it out. I know I love it enough to keep figuring it out…. Slowly been figuring it out [chuckles].
So slowly but that’s ok! Everyone has their own journey!
So why did you get into family and maternity then?
I started I weddings, I loved everything wedding. I guess it was, “where am I in life” kind of thing. I was dating my husband, he would assist me at weddings, and I just loved everything about weddings. It didn’t last long. I got pretty burnt out with weddings. They’re just so exhausting. And the editing process was like, maddening to me. And I would say, it was probably right before I had my son.
I had been married a couple years and this newborn thing was kind of becoming all the rage. And I was like, I wanna try that. And honestly it rocked my world. The hardest thing in photography I’ve ever done. And so, once I had my son and moved into that stage of life, it just made sense to me. Honestly, when I started learning to do it, I fell in love. It was like, Ohmygosh, I get to snuggle these babies and make them look so stinking adorable and then send them home to sleep through the night? It was great.
So I think it was just time-of-life. I just love it. Yeah and then the maternity piece, for me, I know how hard it is to be pregnant. It was really hard for me. And so many of my friends, I’ve had the opportunity to photograph. And they’re just like, Ugh, I don’t want to do this. And I say, Just trust me, let me do this for you. And they take that leap of faith and get in front of the camera, they go, Ohmygosh. Is that me? I look so beautiful. And giving them the experience of hair and makeup and take them out and maybe they feel ridiculous, or awful, or fat or whatever… being able to help them feel beautiful in that time and celebrate that time is super close to my heart. Every one of those babies is such a miracle. And I talk to so many women, Oh I never did maternity photography, I wish I had done it at least once with one of my babies. So helping women to not regret that.
Families? Honestly, families aren’t necessarily my favorite. I do enjoy them but not as much as the other two but it’s one of those things that I feel like need to be incorporated into what I’m doing. Like it just flows so easily. Those babies grow up and they need to be captured just as much.
There may be a day I end up not doing families but at this point, I need to have that in my offerings just because, I dunno. There are lots of newborn photographers who don’t do families so it’s not like I can’t say, no I don’t do families. But at this point I feel like I still need that piece, to help keep me afloat. It’s just one more genre I can shoot to pay the bills. If I fill up the books with newborns, I wouldn’t be upset to say I’m sorry I don’t have time to take a newborn session. But maternity is really where my heart is.
What’s been the hardest thing about starting your own business?
Ugh. The business. [Laughter] I’m a creative. I just want to take beautiful pictures. But there’s so much more. I have to know how to navigate social media platforms, and I have to know how to do my books, and I have to know how to create my numbers, my cost of doing business.
When I took my first class online that made me do my numbers, I was like, ohmygosh! It costs me thousands of dollars just to run my business without even having a client. And I didn’t know that. So it’s the behind the scenes, the running a business piece, that’s definitely kept me from moving forward faster. Having to learn all of those pieces.
Right, when you’re in a photography business, the business part is as much as the photography of what you do, if not more.
Oh yeah. More.
Yeeah it’s like a restaurant. The chef is one small part of it.
Yeah if you don’t have clients coming in the door, the chef doesn’t have anything to do.
Absolutely and marketing has been huge for me. I don’t understand it and my brain doesn’t work like that. Trying to learn all of that, it’s just been a really slow process of education to do the business side of things. The money, the marketing, the everything it takes to find and keep clients. All of that.
The client interaction piece, that’s a piece of cake for me. Until I get to the point where I have to explain why I’m worth what I offer. I can meet with my clients and connect with my clients but it’s getting them in the door so I can do that is the challenge.
I find that trying to sell myself is really hard.
Yeah and I don’t want to be a salesperson! I think I just lost a job a few months ago. I asked the client, what are you looking for? And she said, oh I don’t know. So I told her to research because I don’t want to sell you on me and my services if it’s not really what you want. I don’t want to have a client that’s going to be upset with me or what I offer cause they didn’t do the research and didn’t know what they wanted.
I try to make the service stand out as much as I can. Having fresh baked cookies for the consultation, gifting little things through out the process. I’m still figuring all that out too. I want them to go, Ohmygosh, not only did she provide these images we loved but she sent me a Christmas card! Really connecting with them, not just photographing them.
And it takes a lot of time. And that is one of those places where you say, it takes me more time to deal with my clients than it would if I had just been a shoot and burn photographer. Like I need, because it takes me more time, I have to take less clients and charge more. In order to offer that experience I have to do that. And that’s just another…. Raise the prices. But if that’s the service you want to give, you have to.
But in the end, you probably feel like you’re delivering a better product too, cause you’re not pushing them through, like client after client.
Absolutely. And my goal is to do two clients a week max…. I think that’s the max I could handle. Ideally I’d love to do one session a week and be able to pay my bills. But we’ll see. I’m taking a leap of faith. Just quitting my job two weeks ago. I’m still there until the end of the year cause I’m helping them train someone. But this is a huge leap of faith for my family and I know that I have to have at least three clients a month to pay my studio bills and my home bills. So it’s not a consistent thing for me at this point… which sounds so little to me.
Oh I get it though, that’s how many I need to. For my circle of documentary photographers, we average 2-4 a month as well.
A month? Oh, explain to me why that is.
Our sessions range
anywhere from one hour to a full day which effects how long the editing process is. And there’s still editing with documentary. We are really deliberate about how we edit and tone an image. And then the client experience only takes a small chunk of what we’re doing. So each week we might spend a day with the family, then hours here and there for pre-session consult and ordering consult, then it’s actually ordering the products, prepping everything for printing. Prepping everything for delivery. Prepping images for website, doing admin work, doing the books.
Yeah I feel ya.
Yup, so our average is 2-4. Before we become a**holes to our families [laughter]
Right? That’s where the choice for me to quit my job came from. It’s working really close to full time here, working 20 hours a week there, and my family as you can imagine is getting basically nothing from me. I come home exhausted and then I don’t have the energy to play with my son. Or to do a craft project. Or even to stay awake and watch a movie with my husband.
Yeah cause you’re physically and emotionally drained.
Physically and emotionally bankrupt. Just… honestly balancing the two. It’s literally going back and forth. You’d think that my 20-hour a week job, if it was just like I could go in, do my 20 hours and be done, but it’s running a ministry so there’s a lot more that goes into it. It’s constantly jogging – did I put my order in over there, did I email this client, did I send the gallery? So many things up in the air at once and I was just dropping the ball. Didn’t matter where I was. It just keeps happening. And my brain is so on overload I can’t remember things.
I’m like, I can’t do this anymore and my family deserves better. We’re a Christian home and I truly believe my family should be my priority and unfortunately they were not. So we’re making that change. And I really believe God told me, Ok, I know that you may not be ok on the numbers side to pay your bills but I want you to trust me. You can’t keep living like this. You can’t work 7 days a week anymore. Two years is enough. Put your family first and I’ll take care of the rest. So it’s like, OK here we go!
It’s a little scary but I am so excited. I have never had a weekend with my family on a consistent basis. Never had two days off. I’m so excited to spend time with my husband and my son. I’m excited to fully focus on one job and not have my brain scattered so much. I think it’s going to be a big deal for my business, push me to the next level. I can wholeheartedly focus on this one job. When I’m done, leave it here and focus on my family. I’m pretty excited.
I’m rooting for you… it takes a lot of self-reflection to see what’s going on.
Yeah it’s hard. Really it just came from exhaustion. It made me go, I’m working seven days a week!
Do you have advice for other female entrepreneurs, maybe photographers?
I would say, try not to care what other people think about you. So hard, but the less you care…. [chuckle] that sounds awful. It’s not that you shouldn’t care …
It’s like, have thick skin.
Right, cause you don’t know where the other person’s coming from. If you have a dream and a passion, go for it. But do the work to understand what it’s going to take before you jump into it I guess. For me, I really should have learned what it takes to run a business before I started my business. I didn’t have a business plan.
Also, don’t let people knock you down. Cause there’s always going to be a hater, someone who doesn’t value what you do or thinks there’s someone better. Don’t let them knock you down cause if you have a dream and a passion, it instilled in you for a reason. So I believe you need to just follow that passion and go with it with everything you have.
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