Boston & New England Wedding Photographer Deborah Zoe

Boston & North Shore Wedding Photographer creating timeless imagery for classic New England weddings with a fine art approach.

Steph Stevens on Cultivating An Online Community

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Yep, right about now I should be relaxing in the sun, working on my burn and hopefully sipping on one (ok maybe two) fruity cocktails! Today marks the start of our family vacation to the Caribbean! We'll be sailing the seas for the next week with Dave's family and excited doesn't even come close to how I'm feeling! I've made a commitment to make this a "real" vacation with little to NO work while we're away, so I've enlisted the help of several friends to be my guest bloggers this week! I'm so excited to read as some of my industry peers share insight into specific areas of business that they are passionate about!

First is Steph Stevens, who I met almost two years ago! I was modeling in a workshop that she was attending. Immediately I knew I was going to get along great with her! But that's Steph, she could be friends with a tree. Her bright smile and beautiful personality make everyone she meets feel immediately at ease. Must be why her clients love her so much!

A few months after Steph and I met, she began and online community of photographers over Facebook. Now Facebook groups are the norm, but at the time it was something new and completely different. As more and more people shared in the group, more and more people joined, and what was once the small idea of a photographer has blossomed into something much bigger.

Today Steph is going to share her journey of why she started the group and how being a part of a community is so important to growing your business!

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Hi guys! While Deb is away playing in the Caribbean, she asked me to help kick off the start of a week of guest bloggers! Deb asked me to share my thoughts and experiences creating and sustaining an online community of photographers and I'm sharing my thoughts below.

For a quick recap, here's my story: My name is Steph Stevens and I am a Boston-area photographer shooting mostly weddings and families. My first gig as a photographer was shooting whitewater rafting trips. It was here that I learned to love having a camera in my hands and interacting with my clients!

So, a creating an online community, let's get down to business.

What I did In January 2011 I invited a few dozen of my photographer friends to a private Facebook group.  These were people I’d known since my early years of shooting weddings.  We’d second shot for each other, shared advice and referrals, met for breakfast or lunch, and had come to each others rescue in wedding emergencies!  Having a network of trusted peers is vital to being self-employed and being able to access them quickly on Facebook was so convenient.  This first group of a few dozen invited some of their friends to the group, those people invited their friends, and 14 months later we have 470 photographers in the group!  As you can imagine this is an incredible resource.

Why It Works Our group allows self employed photographers a place to discuss the thoughts they have and the challenges they encounter day to day in their business. If one person has a question it’s quickly answered by another, usually within a few minutes and the conversation bounces back and forth throughout the day. Because of the group’s Facebook platform, it’s easy to for members to stay active, informed, and engaged. Topics range from software, lenses, client relations, contract advice, gear loans, wedding vendor recommendations and referrals for inquiring brides.

It’s important not to get hung up on the fact that you’re sharing advice with your competition. Photographers get back what they put in, and in order to be a successful and respected contributor they have to participate.  There’s a greater good that comes from having respect from your industry peers, more important than the fear of giving away secrets.  Our images are an expression of our unique personalities, not a commodity that can be stolen or duplicated. That’s why Deb, our blog hostess, can ask me to step in and guest blog. I admire Deb’s photos just like all of you do, but we have unique perspectives and personalities that appeal to our different ideal clients.

Making it work for yourself Join an online community to share your recent work and bounce ideas around. Attend conferences and workshops to advance your skills (either local, regional or national). Set up practice, styled shoots with other local photographers, models and vendors. Find a mentor or become a mentor. Try local networking groups.

Most important: get back to the basics of social networking - and BE SOCIAL. Get out from behind your computer screen and shake some hands and have a conversation over cocktails or coffee. As photographers we have the flexibility of making our own hours but often lack the camaraderie of traditional co-workers. Invest some time in starting, growing and strengthening relationships with your peers in the industry. So being in an online community is great, but where the magic really starts to happen is when we can meet face to face, shake hands, share hugs, and share life with each other.

These professional peer relationships can be fruitful to your business. Some of my favorite weddings came to me through another photographer who was already booked. I recharge that karma by sharing inquiries that I can’t shoot with those photographers with whom I’ve developed a trusting relationship and mutual respect.

If you find yourself wanting that community but can’t find a platform for it - Create Your Own! “Build it and they will come.”  Watch your idea snowball, and gain momentum and friends along the way!

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