Ep: 188: How this former teacher became a successful remote photographer with Jennifer Brazeal
In this week’s episode, I speak with Jen Brazeal who is an author, remote photographer, and educator.
Jen was a former elementary school teacher who left her teaching job to become a full-time photographer after she saw crazy success in her business and found joy in calling the shots.
She has also written a book, earned 6-figures, and managed a team of photographers all while raising her kids!
Listen on to find out how Jen was able to create a successful remote photography career and team as a mompreneur.
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Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being here. I am really excited to be with my guest today with Jennifer. Hey Jen, how are you?
Hey, I’m good, Debbie. It’s great to be here.
Thank you so much. If you can just give us a little more back story about you and why you live an offbeat life, that would be awesome.
Yeah, girl. So I am a mom of three. I’m happily married and we live in a little cookie-cutter house in a suburb sort of outside of Houston, which all might sound very generic upon first hearing it. But I do feel like we have made an extra effort to just live slightly different in the fact that we’ve taken all of our kids traveling out of the country multiple times since they were itty-bitty.
One of my good friends the other day at coffee said that I was a mompreneur and I guess that’s a decent explanation of what I do because a lot of what I do is just online, helping people get to where they can build lives that are online and profitable.
We just tend to do things at a different pace. Just against the grain from the rest of the world. And that did not happen overnight. It took a little while for me to realize that I did not have to look at what the world was doing in order to decide what I was going to be doing.
That I could truly create my own pass for myself that works for me. And if I saw something working then I stuck with it regardless of what everyone else in the world that I was supposed to be doing.
So, I really took kind of a bunch of different leaps and steps in my life that propelled me to where I am today and I’d like to say that I just got lucky in making those steps. But I truly think that there was a strategy behind it.
And I think that getting to where I am today; having a profitable business, working from home sometimes in my closet – I’ll be real honest because three kids don’t often give me quiet. But I have just built this business that has given us the opportunity to be all over the place in the world and meet all different types of amazing people.
That is definitely what most of us aspire to do. I also read on your bio, Jen, that you used to be a teacher before you became a mompreneur. How did you transition from being a teacher and actually leaving that?
Because most people will think, “Ok, Jen, your kind of crazy. That’s a stable job and you have kids. Why on earth did you go from a stable job and then transition to entrepreneurship?” And that’s a really hard thing for a lot of people.
Yes. So that’s the leap. That’s one of the leaps I was talking about. That was a big step.
I went to school for elementary education. So if you can imagine I did not take one single business class. I did not take a finance class. I did not really take anything that would help me in the world outside of hanging out with seven-year-olds.
So when I decided to do a full-time business in photography, at that time it was photography, I really, in my opinion, did not think that I was doing anything too abnormal. Because it was a passion, it was something that I knew I could do.
I loved photography. I love taking pictures and yeah, the business end of it was kind of daunting but I just kind of assumed I had enough confidence in my abilities as a teacher – and just my abilities, that I could get the business side of it.
And I think that that’s where a lot of us kind of get hung up. We think, “I’m doing something safe, I’m doing something – that’s fine. I don’t think I can make this leap.” But you skipped the part where you are capable of doing something really well and something really amazing. And taking a leap in a transition just means that you have a little bit of a learning period.
I mean, if you’re a capable person you just got to build the confidence to switch the gears. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah. And it’s a really scary thing to be able to do that. And kudos to you and to a lot of people listening to this who are super scared. Especially right now when things are so uncertain for so many of us that can really be a make it or break it type thing especially if you don’t have any choice.
Now, you mentioned this, a little bit, you didn’t have a business background. Many of us, to start this, we’re all kind of some sort of crazy – one of the things that’s beautiful about us. How did you learn how to run a business without knowing pretty much a lot of things about a business?
So I closed my eyes and… I’m just kidding.
A lot of it is trial and error. I say I took a leap but that’s a little bit misleading because I was an elementary teacher so I had summers off. So for a while, I worked on photography on the side, so I would just book weddings in the summertime or spring break or just doing things when I knew I had the time to kind of experiment with it.
I actually have a good friend right now who is starting a business and we’ve been talking about, “How do you decide on a price point? How do you decide on branding? How do you decide on how many images to deliver?” There are so many decisions to make and honestly, my advice to her was, “You Just start somewhere and you make tiny adjustments and tweaks as you go.”
Nobody in this whole wide world was born ready. I know there are people saying I was born ready for this but you really are learning as you go with everything and even little babies. I’ve seen in my children as they’ve grown, they make one step and it’s not necessarily the right direction. So they correct themselves.
They don’t just stand there never walking. They try and they fall and they get back up and they try again. So I think that that’s something that we as adults need to just be able to succeed right off the bat.
And if we start something and we’re not immediately profitable then that means that we’re not going to be successful or ever be profitable and that’s just not true.
I did Photography in the summers then I moved to a new town right here outside of Houston and we started kind of weighing, I guess, finances and options. I was working probably about 12 hours a day teaching and I’ve taken a really large pay cut moving to a smaller town from a large city where I had been in San Antonio.
Honestly, my fallback would be going to work at Starbucks because I can make more money working at Starbucks than I was making as a teacher because of the hours that I was putting in in the stress that was on me.
And so that was sort of my, I guess you would call it, like a safety net. But in the back of my mind, I was like, “I’m not going to go work at Starbucks.” Nothing against working at Starbucks. Like I still would kind of love to work as I’ve already said I would love to do that one day. But in my mind, I was like, “I’m not going to get there. I’m not going to have a fallback.”
Like this is my plan. This will succeed.
I hope that really helps with your question. But I definitely made the transition not just I woke up one day and said, “I quit. I’m going to do photography instead.” I have been working on this photography business for, I guess, about two years.
I’ve been doing it kind of very, very part-time. I’ve been doing it in the summers, toying around with some stuff. I had sort of a makeshift website – some things like that. And so when I did ropel into it full time, that was where I really invested in what I knew had already worked and I invested my time there.
And that was when I saw big profit jobs pretty immediately.
I think there’s a misconception with a lot of people that you just go ahead, you do it and then you start succeeding. And in the meantime, they don’t understand that there’s so much work that goes behind it.
I love your analogy with children learning their first steps and going through so many failures as a child. And it’s interesting how when we’re adults we’re so afraid of it, right?
For some reason when we fail at something. We just tend to easily give up because we’re not used to it or maybe it’s just because we’re so used to doing the same things and we perfected certain things and we’re just like that as our comfort zone.
So when something is brand new and it’s something that we don’t know, we tend to shy away from it and it really breaks your spirit in a lot of ways. But yeah, it’s really something to see children and they fail every single day and they just keep going.
Oh my gosh.
Can you imagine if a child did that they’re just like, “Okay, keep failing this walking thing I might as well just stop.”
I don’t think it’s ingrained in them. I think that we are really and truly born with a drive to keep going. And it’s not until we get to become adults and somehow we shift and think.
A couple of years back after my second child was born, I really wanted to lose weight. And so we joined a gym that had childcare and I started going.
I came home one day and I told my husband, “ feel so self-conscious. Like everyone’s probably looking at me thinking, ‘Oh my gosh that girl is so chubby. Why is she wearing those spandex pants?’”
And he looked at me and went, “Babe, why do you think there are so many mirrors in a gym? Nobodys looking at you. They’re all looking at themselves. They’re all trying to get themselves and trying to check their own form. They don’t care about you. You think they do.”
I think sometimes we need that gut check to just say, “You know what? Sometimes we overthink that people are watching our every move and criticizing us but, to be honest, they are looking at themselves making sure they are getting their form, that they are doing what they do too. And they might side glance over at you and be like, ‘Oh that girl’s doing hamstrings a cool way, I’ll try that next time.’”
We are definitely harsher on ourselves than other people. I think it’s like when somebody says one thing bad about you, you tell yourself like 20 or 30 more things. And then they forget about you after like a minute and you’re still like remembering all of that stuff years later and people have already forgotten any of that.
I know. Isn’t that crazy? I think that it starts to happen in adulthood. The more that we’re aware of our surroundings, the more we feel like we have to perform.
It’s really sad.
We need to change it.
So this is encouragement. Like, do your thing, do it your way and test the waters. If taking a step this way creates a little bit of profit then, hey, keep going that way. It doesn’t matter what somebody said or something you’ve read.
If someone says, “You should probably do it this way. You should have a mission statement. You should have this. You should charge that,” if you kind of make a tweak and you feel right doing it and you feel like, “I saw some profit. I saw some change,” then keep going in that direction.
There’s really no rule book even though we think there is and we kind of written one. It’s like an unwritten rule book. So I just would encourage you to put your blinders on like a horse. Put your blinders on so you don’t look, you don’t side glance when you shouldn’t be or when you should be looking for it.
There are times to turn your head and see how someone else is doing it but for the most part, honestly, it’s going to be what works for you in your stage in your life.
I think it’s better to compare yourself to yourself. Like how you come up, how you changed throughout the years, even after a few months Because if you keep comparing yourself to other people, you’re never going to win.
Like there’s always somebody out there who’s doing it better than you or different than you or you just think they’re doing it better than you. So I always find that: just compete with yourself not anybody else. It’s more helpful.
Yeah. That’s a great life motto.
So what would you say has been the best strategy that you have used to make sure that your business is profitable? Because there’s someone like you who is very creative. There’s a lot of people who are in that space that feel like, “Well, I’m doing things that are creative. Everyone has always told me that this doesn’t make any money.”
What do you do in order to make sure that you can actually profit?
Well, two things come straight to mind from that. You might think that you’re not in a place to hire someone to help you but I would almost promise you, not going to say I 100% promise you ‘cause of everybody’s circumstances, that if you could get together a few extra dollars to hire someone to do the mundane tasks that you’re doing throughout the day.
And you worked on something that only you could do that generated a profit, that was something that needed to be done by you. The day that I came home and just said, “I can’t do it anymore. I can’t keep nailing packages. I can’t keep going to stay in line at UPS. I can’t keep doing these things that have taken away what I really should be doing.”
My husband, he’s always been so encouraging. He said, “Just hire someone. Just pay someone even if it’s just like 10 bucks an hour for 3 hours a week to go do those things for you and free you up to get that out of your mind, off your plate.”
And when I finally agreed to that even though I did not think at all that I deserve to hire someone, that I could financially support hiring someone, I went against all that and I went ahead and brought someone.
I really do think they worked maybe 3 hours a week. So it’s like $30 a week, 120 bucks a month That’s not a whole lot of money. It’s some cash but it’s not a whole lot. But just from that alone, she freed me up to have the capacity to work on what I knew was futuristically going to help my business.
So I was able to finally get ahead. I guess that’s what I’m saying. So I was able to finally get ahead. That was one of the loops because I really didn’t take any plan or anything.
I just asked one of our babysitters like, “Hey, instead of coming and watching my kids, could you come and gather this stuff up and do this and that. Put stickers on this and help me in this way.” And then that freed me up to think about things that move the needle and I can go back and look at my finances and I see a spike right there.
And so to me, I’m like, “Okay, that’s a no-brainer. If I can empower people in my business to do the things that it doesn’t have to be me, Jen Brazeal, it is having my face, my thoughts, my words, I can empower them to do it and free me out to do something that only I can do. Such as sitting here talking to you. I can’t hire anybody out to do this.
But while I’m talking to you, I can hire somebody to be checking my emails or responding to emails, to be doing other things in my business. It really is going to provide the abilities to see into the future where you can go, what you can do and what you need to be doing now and get yourself to that spot and start making a profit.
Since my business is all online now, I have virtual assistants and I have a team virtually that does all of the things virtually that I don’t have the capacity to get to.
I would definitely have to agree on that because that also changed everything for me once I started hiring somebody and it frees up so much time for you.
It’s kind of ridiculous how you’re able to have so much more time and growing your business and focusing on things that will actually make you profit instead of just things that are, like you said, very mundane and you don’t really need to be there to be able to do it.
So that is such a great tip for those of you who are thinking about what you can change right now because it’s also really overwhelming when there’s so much that you need to do and you’re actually not getting to what you need to do.
And yeah, that’s such a huge stress reliever too. I love that.
And the second thing, this is when I was still doing photography, I created a non-service based product. So it was something that I did work on once and then it continued to generate revenue for me.
And that’s the second thing that I feel has made a big difference. If you can kind of have something that you do upfront, you do all the work for, and then you let it kind of run in the background.
You do tweaks and you give it some attention and stuff but you’re not constantly working on it. That’s another place to give you a little bit of breathing room because you’ve now created something that is working for you.
Yeah, absolutely. Definitely, all of that stuff like digital products that you can do is just once and it’ll just sell itself. You have your marketing strategy and you just keep going with it. So thank you so much for that, Jen.
So we all have our what now moment after leaving our 9-to-5. Once you left your teaching gig or maybe after you left all your other new ventures, what was your life? What was yours like and how did you handle the what now moment?
I actually can visualize and sadly, I posted this on Instagram, like, I don’t know, 7 years back. Please don’t scroll back but you can find this post if you really wanted to. Why I decided to post this – I’ve no idea.
I had to resign from teaching, we didn’t have any kids yet, I’ve been working on my business, I don’t even know what I had just done but I had a moment where I was sitting in a coffee shop here in town and I had my laptop all set of my coffee and felt like this is Instagram-worthy moment and I applied some horrible filter and I had my calendar laying out.
And the only thing written in my calendar was yoga at 9 a.m. And I was like, “Yay! Wait… in my head I was like, “Yay what?” Like the only thing I have on my calendar is yoga. Yeah, that’s cool for a little while. I have like a season of recharge and rest and I’m all about that.
But if I remember right, this is really like week two or three, and I kind of been doing stuff in my business but I didn’t really make an all-in decision to really do this. And I posted this picture kind of, I guess in my mind, to show people, “Look at my life now. I’m so relaxed and I’m sitting here having coffee, working on business. The only thing on my calendar that I have to do is yoga.”
And I remember after I posted that picture, maybe a day or two went by, and I was so sad. Like, “Jen what have you done? Where are you going with your life?” So I just had a kind of moment and I didn’t take that picture down ‘cause Instagram seven years ago is not really a thing And so I didn’t really even think about it.
But now, I just look back at that moment and that really was sort of a moment that I decided, “Okay, I need to be really strategic with my time planning because I could have the tendency to just sit here and dawdle online and talk to some clients, email some things back, and float by and probably do okay making a profit.
Or I could really hone in, I could get specific, and I could crush it. I could make a difference for my family, I can hire people, and I could build something bigger than just me and an easy-going planner.”
And so I sort of had that moment.
I’m a seven on the Enneagram so I’m like a go-getter, ready for adventure, super spontaneous, everything’s positive, I’m gonna look at the bright side of everything.
And I just decided I just let that be my motto: I am going to do it, I am going to build something big, and I’m going to bring other people along with me whether it’s because they’re working on my team or they’re clients I’m serving.
I am going to make a difference in just a couple of people’s lives. Like I don’t need to change America, I don’t need a change in my town. I just need to move big enough to be able to make a change for those few people that I’m impacting.
Yeah. I mean, just changing a few people’s lives is a huge thing if that’s what you can do. That’s a huge, huge accomplishment to have so that’s always good when you’re helping other people.
Now, Jen, going back right after that what now moment that you had and you finally started to get on top of your calendar and really honing all of that stuff in, how did you land your first client?
Like I said, I have been doing a little bit of stuff in the summer and originally had started by just asking my college roommate like, “Hey, can I take your engagement pictures for free just for fun? I don’t care if you actually hire like a real professional. I just want to practice and see what I can do.”
And kind of rippled from there. She really liked them then she gave my name out to some other people and one of her bridesmaids asked me to be her wedding photographer. And then, that kind of moved on from there.
Then, I moved towns, and when we moved we originally had the ultimatum. I had some kind of style. We got married, we moved, he kind of saw that I was now teaching full time but my business was pretty full time at that point.
It was a lot of client-talking, a lot of managing other people when in photography and weddings. There are other vendors that needed to get pictures too or that had requests for things, they were styled shoots, and there were just growth opportunities.
Until he kind of saw like, “You’re only shooting like maybe 20 hours a month but you’re also working probably 20 hours a week plus teaching.” So when we moved to this new town, we kind of decided, “Okay. I’m either going to be all-in teaching or I’m going to be all-in photography.”
And I got a teaching job. So that’s why I decided to teach but as I was teaching, it was really clear to me pretty soon that I actually need to be doing photography. That was where my gifts and my passions were at that time. And so I switched over and I got on a rampage.
What was your question again? Where was I going with that? My first client… Okay, there’s a point. I promise.
So when I switched over to a new town and I had officially quit, I shut down my website and been teaching. So when I quit teaching and came back into photography, I still had one or two weddings because nature weddings are booked out.
And so when I kind of flipped the switch and turn back on my website, I really just made a point of I need to meet people in my community that can not only be my friends because now that I was working from home and I didn’t have like a community around me of teachers and people, I need to also meet people that have been doing what I had been doing for a longer than me and learn from them.
And so I made friends with a lot of venues, vendors, florists, people like that. I wasn’t afraid to say, “Hey, I’m new in town, I’m a photographer and I would love to take some pictures of your flowers for you,” or do things like that.
Then eventually they just naturally would say my name when they’re talking to people and I start doing some family stuff too. So, it was just a warm and natural thing that happened because I wasn’t afraid to talk about it. I wasn’t afraid to say, “Hey, this is what I do. This is where I’m investing my time.”
So I really feel like, a lot of times as adults, we just kind of keep our mouth quiet and assume that people know that this is our passion, this is what we’re doing and that’s not true. Because, like we already talked about, people are focused on themselves and focused on what they need to be doing in their life to succeed and move on.
They don’t always remember that you’re the person that does XYZ or post about you on social or things like that or tag you. There are very few people, very few of your friends will even remember to give you shoutouts on social and things like that unless you’re asking them.
And that’s how I really feel. Like clients come for me. The worst they can do is say no. You don’t have to do sales or anything. You’re doing something you love, you’re just asking someone that you’re close to for some help. And it’s okay to ask for help.
The most important thing is never to be afraid, never be afraid to ask for what you need. There’s not going to be huge repercussions unless you’re asking something really horrible. But anyway, that’s a different topic.
So, Jen, I know that you and your family travel quite often before covid happen. So when you guys are abroad what type of international insurance do you use?
Uh oh…a We don’t typically use international insurance. That’s not the way you should do it. We have before. The last couple of times I had just forgotten to do it.
It’s crazy because I hear this a lot actually from digital nomads and people who travel often even with their kids, right?
Yeah. That’s terrible.
Yeah. It’s also insane because in the US a lot of people also don’t have insurance. So a lot of Americans when they go to travel they’re just like, “Okay, I’m not going to need it.” But since covid happened now everyone’s like, “I need insurance. I need to get it ASAP.”
I’ve heard so many horror stories about remote workers and digital nomads being abroad and they didn’t have insurance or they chose the wrong insurance company and they didn’t cover them. So that’s even worse ‘cause you’re already freaking out about everything that’s happening and then on top of that if something happens, your insurance company doesn’t cover you.
So that is really risky. That’s why I’m really glad to be partnered with Integra Global. They help remote workers especially can be such a headache to find out different requirements when you need to really figure out what you need to do when it comes to health insurance.
So they don’t ask their members to build a plan because we don’t know what we’re going to need right? I mean, who knew covid was gonna happen?
Their insurance covers it all and everything is built-in. So if you guys want to know more, check out IntegraGlobal.com and see how they can give you the coverage you’ll need and maybe some of you never knew you would because it’s crazy times right now, guys, – crazy.
I will forever remember that name next time we finally get to book a trip – Integra Global.
Exactly. And things are starting to open up now. Borders are starting to open up, even people having road trips across States and then going down to other countries too. So, let’s see what happens.
So definitely go to IntegraGlobal.com ‘cause we’re all going to need that.
So, Jen, let’s go forward to about 30 to 40 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
That’s a really great question and I’ve been reflecting on that a lot really, surprisingly. I feel like maybe a year ago you would have asked me that question and I would have just like salivated my mouth open and be like, “Uh… I don’t know.”
But I do feel like the past couple of months. So right in the middle of covid and everything, I had our third baby. I had two boys and then had a little girl and we were not expecting a little girl. It was a huge surprise, even the way that she came into this world was a huge surprise. Not necessarily the way it would have planned it.
But she has really given me a chance to reflect on what it is that I’m doing as a mother but also really as a businesswoman. Because I see her and I see this world that is happening right now. And I know that my kids are not going to grow up in the world that I grew up in.
Like the next generation is coming into a very different time. I guess since this baby was a girl, I can feel a little bit more connected to her ‘cause I’m a girl.
30 years from now, I want my daughter to have learned from me how to be strong, how to be brave, and how to just see success, not by the way the world measures it, not by the dollars in my bank account or my Instagram followers or anything like that, but see success in the way that she feels, in the way that she and her brothers were raised.
I love what I do. I have a passion for helping other people make changes in their lives, start businesses, live life different countercultural. I love doing that and I love it. I have the power to help people make a change.
But, truthfully, 30 years from now, I want my kids to be able to be strong because I was strong. And I want other people that maybe came in contact with me to be a little bit braver because I showed them what bravery looks like.
And so really I can’t say that any of that could be measured. I can’t say that any of that is something that one day I’ll be able to say, “Nailed it.” But if that is sort of the way I’m striving for and if that’s what I’m doing now from looking into the future and trying to build a life now that reflects that, I think that I’m on the right path.
And I’m hopeful that that’s what my kids see and it’s really hit home having a daughter ‘cause I’m like, “She’s going to have a rough time.” Like all our kids, the next generation’s going to have a rough time. Like kids all over being born right now amidst this covid thing.
It’s just such a different world. You walk down the street, you walk into Target, whatever, and people are wearing masks. That never even crossed my mind that we would be required to wear masks and stay away from our neighbors and just different things like that.
And so kind of without us really having any say in it. I don’t know when you ever really have a say when the tides turn but the tides are turning and I do want to show that you can be strong and you can be brave and you can measure success in a way that isn’t necessarily the way the world measures it.
Yeah. Having a legacy for your children is obviously one of the biggest things that you can do because it goes from generation to generation and also lasts a lot longer. So that’s always a great thing.
So, Jen, thank you so much for speaking with us today. If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
You can just hang out with me on Instagram. I’m @jenbrazeal or over on The Unhurried Life, which is the podcast show that I host.
Perfect. Thank you so much done for sharing all of your incredible journey with us. We really appreciate it.
It’s been awesome to be here.
Listen to Jennifer’s extended interview where she shares the first steps to starting a creative online business.
What you’ll find:
In this episode, Jennifer shares her kept secrets on starting a creative online business. Start your online business the right way with these tips and tricks.