Kerry Railey owns Irish Eyes Photography, a boutique portrait photography studio located in Downtown Hingham, MA. Kerry's goal as a photographer is to capture her subjects as themselves, cheese-filled smiles be damned. She is also known to be spreading kindness in the world through her summertime kindness challenges or teaching beginner photography to anyone who wants to take their camera off the auto setting. When Kerry's not behind the camera you can find her trying very earnestly not to yell at her two kids (and often failing) while simultaneously loving them fiercely. And if she's not doing any of the above things, she's probably performing on stage somewhere. Seriously if she goes missing that's probably the first place you should check.
We asked her to share some insight into her journey to entrepreneurship, and here’s what she said…
How do you define success?
Success is obviously different to everyone. There are people out there working their behinds off to become the next “it” photographer or to have huge amounts of followers on social media. I realized a long time ago that’s not my style. Naturally, I want to have a large following because not only is it more fun to engage with lots of people, but I’m also a Leo, and deep in my core I need all the attention. All of it!
But, truthfully, as I get older anyway, I’d rather have the attention and respect of a small group of people that engage with me and care about what I’m doing, versus thousands of followers who don’t. My approach to life, and therefore my business, is very organic. Do I feel like posting something to social media right now? Yes? Than I post it. I don’t generally schedule things for peak times or try to do all sorts of flashy things. If I feel like it, I add some hashtags. If I don’t, I don’t. Sometimes, dare I say it, I even post to Facebook without a picture. Just words! Not even a link! Because that’s all I have to say in that moment. It’s real. It’s authentic. Even if it doesn’t give me a boost in followers. I’m fine with that. I’m talking about social media here but it’s a great analogy for all parts of my business.
I try to truly connect with my clients - and even other business owners and community members. I meet with clients in person to guide them through the ordering process instead of just emailing them a gallery link. I leave my studio door open when it’s warm out and I put out signs that start conversations with passersby.
Success to me is when Judy, a woman who walks by every day, knocks on the window to wave to me because I didn’t happen to notice her that day. Success to me is when my clients reach out and ask me to capture family portraits for a young mother who was given a very scary diagnosis and may not live to see the end of the month. Success to me is when I get an autistic child who is terrified of Santa, to sit, talk, and calmly play with The Big Guy. I will probably never buy a yacht with the money I make as a photographer. I will probably never win any photography awards (if for no other reason than I never submit anything to any contests!), and I will probably never have thousands of followers in the world of social media (or any other world for that matter). But when I get real, authentic smiles from my clients, and when they come back time after time after time….That’s my definition of success. And when my own kids tell me they’re proud of me. That of course, beats all.
Where do you find inspiration to stay motivated?
When it comes to being motivated as a business owner, I am driven by my desire to be treated well. If *I* have high expectations when I work with a business, I can only expect my clients to have the same expectations. And just like I don’t like to be let down, I don’t ever want to let my clients down. I strive to always be open and honest with my clients so they always know what to expect and give them my very best.
I get my motivation both from experiences I have that show me what greatness can be - and what the opposite can be. When I have an amazing experience, I process all the reasons why it was amazing, and vow to do the same for my own clients. When I have a bad experience, it motivates me to make sure I never do whatever it is that caused the issue. So I suppose it's my own expectations in life that drive my need to run a business that people can rely on and enjoy.
Of course, creative motivation is an entirely different thing. As a creative, I will flop and fail completely if I am not inspired and motivated. I definitely have times when I flounder - either from burnout or from just needing to add a new twist to keep things different. Luckily what inspires me most is people, and that’s why I photograph them.
I am a horrible landscape photographer. While I can see and love and appreciate a beautiful scene, I can never capture it in an interesting way, because that’s not what gets my boat floating. For me, I’ve always been in love with the stories people tell - of who they are. It stems from my career in theatre. I love telling stories. And now I love telling the stories of my clients through images and portraits. I try to come up with new ways of capturing my clients to keep things interesting, but what’s truly captivating to me are the images that don’t have any frills and props - they’re simply portraits that show WHO that person is. And that keeps me going.
How do you achieve work-life balance as a business owner?
This is a great question because I recognize that so many of us struggle with the concept of balance. My personal goal this year is to find more tranquility in all that I do - which just goes to show that balance is something I’m still trying to perfect (currently working on this interview at 2am!).
Tip #1: Segregate Your Work & Your Personal Life.
In the beginning, I ran Irish Eyes Photography out of my home while working an insurance job, so I myself could have insurance, which meant evening and weekend hours. When I married my husband and was able to leverage his benefits, I gave my notice. Then I worked full time on the business until our daughter was born 9 months later. From that point on, I was working both as a mother and a photographer, and both full time.
Because I worked out of my home, there was no escaping either role, and thus was barely accomplishing anything. Still, I plugged along tirelessly working late nights, then had my second child, while still running a growing business. As my family and brand grew simultaneously, it became clear that it was time for me to move the business out of my home and into a storefront studio location.
Even if you can’t manage to have a separate space that’s outside of your home, give your work a designated place and when your work hours are done, shut the door. At my studio, I purposely have all my editing software on my desktop computer and not my laptop so that I CANNOT edit at home. I allow myself time to answer emails and take phone calls outside of my studio hours, but everything else stays within those hours. It has made ALL the difference. So shut the door to your office - lock it if you need to feel like it’s really closed off - and make sure you get as much sleep as possible. Do your best to adhere to your schedule so you can feel good about your time away from work being YOUR time, but if life happens, then it’s okay to break that rule every so often.
TIP #2: ENJOY YOUR LIFE!
Make sure your life is worth living and taking time away from your job. Sometimes I never want to leave the studio because it makes me so happy to be here doing what I love in my gorgeous and cozy space. But then I think about what I’m leaving the studio to do and it brings me joy (most days anyway; let’s be realistic and remember I have two kids) and so I’m happy to walk away from my work to enjoy my personal life. So fill your life with the people, activities, and things you love, and you’ll reap the benefits on the daily.
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