We are delighted that we had the opportunity to speak with PPA President, Mary Fisk-Taylor! Get your pen and paper ready, it’s going to be a good one! The full audio and transcript of the interview are below.
Full interview audio:
Links to websites and resources mentioned:
Get Your Shoot Together Photography Podcast – https://getyourshoottogether.com/
Professional Photographers of America (PPA) – https://www.ppa.com/
Email Mary – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mindset by Dr. Carol S. Dweck
Profit First by Mike Michalowicz
Photo Retouching – RetouchUp
Trevor: Welcome to RetouchUp’s interview series where we get to hear from some very talented photographers and how they turned their photography business into a success. My name is Trevor Black and I’ll be your host. We are very excited today that we have the chance to speak with Mary Fisk-Taylor. We are very excited today that we have the chance to speak with Mary Fisk-Taylor. Mary has been a member of the Professional Photographers of America since 1998. Along with her business partner, Jamie Hayes, they operate a high end wedding and portrait business in Richmond, Virginia. On almost one acre of beautiful gardens, they have successfully created one of the most sought after portrait and wedding studios in their area. Mary was named Photographer of the Year in 2007 and has won Best Wedding Album of the Year in Virginia several times. Nationally she has had her albums in the top five. She has won numerous Best in Show awards, Kodak Gallery Awards, Fuji Masterpiece Awards, Loan Collection prints and albums. Mary is also a recipient of the prestigious Virginia Award, which honors photographers for their commitment and dedication to their state association, and the business of professional photography. Mary also co-hosts the Get Your Shoot Together photography podcast with her good friend Kira Derryberry, AND, Mary is the current president of Professional Photographers of America. Mary, what an incredible treat it is to have you here, welcome!!
Mary: Wow. Thank you! Thank you for that awesome introduction! I’m happy to be here. Happy to do it!
Trevor: Yeah. And super excited. I was actually listening to your latest podcast episode and I wanted to, you know, make sure you and Kira are staying out of the way of little animals on the road. Hopefully you haven’t had any more trouble with birds.
Mary: That would be Kira! Exactly. Her and her bird incident last week or whatever. Yep, that’s true. Trying to not do that again.
Trevor: Absolutely. Man, you guys are such a good match. I love listening to you guys. But um, yeah, I, just as I was getting ready for this, being able to speak with you, I’ve listened to a bunch of different podcasts, interviews I feel like I already kind of know you to some degree, so I’m just going to dive right in and just kind of, you know, want to get down to the nitty gritty. So this first question is, you know, I think just, in anyone’s career really, I mean, at some point we go through a phase, or many, where we lack confidence to some degree, you know. So I wanted to ask you, you know, what have you done to develop this attribute of confidence over the years? Or maybe, you know, help yourself get out of a rut when lacking confidence?
Mary: Well, I mean, part of me wants to say, well, you know, Trevor, I’ll let you know when I get there. And then, the other part of me, it’s funny, I was actually having this conversation today. I was on, a guest on another podcast and, and we had this very conversation and, you know, it kind of boils down to, you know, mindset. And it’s not easy and it’s certainly not something that I feel like I can just give you a just add water formula for. But you know, it’s about, you know, really reaching in and, and, um, I’m a big reader by the way. So one of my favorite books is by Dr. Carol Dweck and it’s called Mindset. And I probably read and reread that book at least once a year. And it was a huge game changer for me, but it very much deep dives into the importance and the need for that growth mindset. And as creatives and as small business centers, I think a lot of times we fashion ourselves as being very open-minded, and this is very different by the way as being open-minded, a growth mindset means you’re not fixed. And I think we think we’re there, but we’re might be surprised if we really deep dived into it that we’re, that we’re not. But having that growth mindset is, you know, not being afraid to make a mistake, you know, fail fast, fail forward. You know, take it as a learning opportunity, not take it personally. Like I, I have many, many times in the past. And beyond that, I would say that I’m very, very wired to, kind of that, you know, an Eckhart Tolle kind of philosophy of putting my ego aside and, you know, we have to remember that as small business owners, as photographers, we’re not just going to market buying something, marking it up twice and selling it in the store. We are the visionaries, the artist, the creator, the manufacturer, we’re the everything of everything we do. And we need to, we need to start embracing that and how unique and how essential we are and not lean into a business model that just quite frankly doesn’t apply to us. You know, I mean, most people have a shop and they sell, many people have a retail store and have a shop and they sell something. And if I were just selling products I bought from my lab, then that would be different, but I don’t just sell that, you know, that album. I create the entire session. I know how to pose it lighted. I create every image. I use RetouchUp to get all the artwork done under my direction. And, you know, we put so much into it and then we turn around and go, Ooh, I don’t know. I don’t know if I can, I don’t want to charge. I’m not there yet. I don’t want to do this. I don’t really, we talk ourselves out of it. And in my opinion, a lot of that has to do with that fixed mindset about what it is we do, you know?
Trevor: Yeah, no, that’s very interesting. Like you are doing something for so long that you almost put yourself in a rut cause you think that you’re at this one level where it’s almost like you just need to kind of take a leap of faith.
Mary: That is a great way to put it. I mean, it is a leap of faith, quite frankly. I think it’s a leap of faith. You know, something that I will say is, the minute we decide to charge for photography, that’s a leap of faith. I think we need to put more emphasis on that because, because today, and not so much back when I started, you know, I mean, obviously it’s different, but because today taking pictures is at everyone’s disposal any hour of the day, because most cell phones, or whatever, take pretty decent little pictures, right? The minute we choose to sell it, we, the minute we choose to, to put a price tag on what we do, we’re creating a luxury product. And I don’t care if you’re doing school pictures or you’re doing high-end ball portraits or whatever you’re doing within the day and minute, we decide to put a price on it, we’re calling it a luxury product because it’s quite frankly a commodity today because it’s everywhere. So if you went into it with that idea versus, well, I’m going to go into it and I’m just going to photograph my friends and family and I’m going to do it for free and then I’ll eventually charge or whatever, whatever, whatever. It’s really hard to get out of that mindset. So, you know, I recommend when I coach or when I work with other studios, no, the day you decide, you’re going to put a price tag on it is the day you’ve decided you’re in the luxury business.
Trevor: That’s awesome. I love that. And like, I actually have to tell you, thank you because when I was listening to something else, you, you again, brought up that book, Mindset. So it’s cool to see how integrated it is in your life. And so I’m about, I’m about midway through reading it and this kind of leads into something. Yeah, thank you. It’s actually helping me already in some of my areas that I’ve wanted to improve on, but one thing that came up as I was reading is, one phrase that just really hit me. It says, you know, “Failure has been transformed from an action, I failed, to an identity, I am a failure.” And so as I thought about this, you know, if you were to address a belief that photographers have that holds them back, what would you say that belief is? And then what would you say to them about it?
Mary: Yeah, well, I think that there’s a couple of things, and photographers, we get it on a lot of fronts, and I’d love to give you one example, but I think it’s multifaceted in this respect. First of all, we’re in the camera room, right, and we put our heart and soul and all of our energy time and talent into creating the session and you get, maybe it’s a family, takes it for example. And then mom sits down and she goes, oh, I hate my hair. Oh I don’t. And okay. And look, what’s the first thing we do as human beings, and certainly as artists and photographers? We take it personally. That’s a hit, that’s a hit. And then maybe they don’t buy what we needed or expected them to buy. That’s another hit. We take all these hits, you know, taking that option of I’m a failure to, you know, this failed. Instead of having that attitude, I’ve had to teach myself and unlearn a lot of bad habits, by the way, unlearned to take it that way and go, you know what, I’m really sorry. You know what I think your hair looks great, but let’s, you know, let’s redo it, let’s do this. Or, you know what I can do? I have amazing artists that I work with and they can fix this. Let me, let me just, can I, can I get back to you? Let me show you what we can do. But I think when we start taking that stuff personally, cause that’s a reflection on how mom feels about herself, right? It really isn’t a commentary on us as, as portrait artists or photographers, but we take everything so personally and I, and I get it. And I think part of that is important because you know, that relationship and everything we build with our clients is such a huge part of what we do. But the bottom line is, is that we have to take ourselves out of it sometimes and let them sit in it and then make them feel better. Because the minute I start making it about me, it’s, it’s, it’s gone off the rails. The wheels just fall off because now I’m feeling bad. I’m a failure. Mom feels like a failure cause she doesn’t like the way she looks or, you know what I mean? That’s just one little tiny scenario, but you know, we can’t, I’m not a failure because mom doesn’t like the way she looks in this image. I’m not a failure because I tried a new marketing plan that just didn’t hit the numbers I wanted it to hit. That doesn’t make me a failure. You know, we have to take ourselves out of it. And this was a really hard lesson for me Trevor. It really, really was because I, I think I spent too much of my life being proud of the fact that I was a perfectionist. Being proud of the fact that, you know, failure, wasn’t an option. All those catchphrases that I thought were so incredibly mighty and purposeful, really and truly, I wish I’d never heard them. I wish they didn’t exist in my language. You know what I mean? Because I think they cause more harm than good, quite frankly.
Trevor: Well, where did you do then to like, to get over that perfectionist mindset?
Mary: You know, having kids. Having kids was a start, because then I start looking at, you know, if you would take the time or anybody would take the time and I did, and, and this book was, it just came, this book that you’re reading and I read, that’s not a cure all, right? But it’s that, it’s that idea that, you know, right time, right place, my heart, my mind, my soul was open to it and I heard it. Maybe if it had been three days before or a month later, it may not have struck a chord, but I was ready for it. And I think this is why. And you know, I hate this, I hate to even say this, but a lot of my lessons came from a place that wasn’t the best time of my life. So I had just finished one of my best years ever in photography. We made more money than I ever dreamed possible in photography. We hit, knocked every goal out of the park. We had a great Christmas. I went to bed and when I woke up in January, I literally couldn’t get out of bed. And I had to decide right then that either I was going to let this, I was going to let this be a failure, I was going to become a failure or I had to figure out how not to let that happen again because – and obviously that’s, there’s anxiety, there’s depression. There’s all kinds of personal things that came into that. But when I really boiled it down and I took the time, I took the time to look at it for what it was. What I realized was, coming off the best year ever and here it is, first quarter, time to hit, you know, put it on the ground, and starting over. And I was exhausted. I was just absolutely exhausted. I was fearful that I wouldn’t hit those numbers again. You know, everybody’s so excited. We’re all so proud. What if I didn’t, what if, and then all the what if’s creep in and then, I already was, I was failing on January 3rd and I hadn’t been opened my doors back up for the year yet. But I went into it, I was going to go into with that fixed mindset of all those negative, all those negative things we tell ourselves, which hurt. You know, you hear that all the time. Like, you speak to yourself the way you would speak to people you love. That’s so true because it’s so much easier to downplay or to, you know, to, we don’t treat ourselves very well. So it was that, it took that, and I, when I tell you I couldn’t get out of bed, and I’m not embarrassed to admit it, I literally, there was a couple of days before I just, I felt like I had on lead shoes. Like I just couldn’t move. And people would look at me at that point and go, Mary you’re, you know, your studio just was named all this stuff. You just won all these awards. You’re getting ready to move on to the board of directors. But I was so heavy and I think I just had to say, okay, what can I simplify? And it’s okay that everything’s not perfect. And you know what, it’s okay if I don’t hit those numbers again, I had to give myself permission to fail. And ‘fail’ is such a big word. It’s four letters, but it’s huge. I had to, I had to classify the word ‘fail’, just like I would classify any other word. I had to take all the impact out of the word ‘fail’ because it’s too much of a burden to bear, I think. So for me, it was very much self-reflection. It was very much that book that started for me. It was very much about being very intentional with my scheduling, my journaling, my goal setting, and being okay to just be okay. Not the best, not the perfect, not the this.
Trevor: That was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that. Like, absolutely there are just going to be some times, I mean, you had just finished up an incredible year, pushing yourself to your limits and then yeah, to be able to then all of a sudden it’s the next year, it’s like, Ok, time to do it again. It’s like, whoa, like I need, I need a second, you know, to, to recoup. I, I think that’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that cause I think so many of us go through that and when we are hitting a lot of success and then, but we’re not like feeling maybe super motivated, you know, take a minute for yourself. Like that’s okay. Like failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s like, hey, are you going to be learning from this opportunity, from this experience? That’s what I love so much about this Mindset book that you recommended cause it’s now helping me kind of see things in a different light. Like, oh, I didn’t totally just, I fell on my face, but that’s okay. I can get back up. And I’m going to look at this as an opportunity to learn and grow, you know?
Mary: You nailed it. We can project around corners, right? Meaning we can, we think we can see around corners, but we really, we, we can’t, we can do our best to prepare, but we can’t. So, you know, that’s another piece, like we can do the best we can, but we’ve got, at some point you got to give ourselves a break. And you know, I, it never feels good to fail. It doesn’t, it doesn’t feel good for things not to work, but when, if you could try, and then I hear it in your voice as you’re reading in the book, if you can try to look at it as an opportunity, then I think it makes it a little bit more palatable. You know what I mean? It still stings. Like, I’m not, you know, we’re, I’m a human being. It’s still, it stings, you know, when we don’t, when I don’t hit a goal or I don’t hit a mark that I’ve, I think, but I just can’t take it all. I can’t, I can’t take all that responsibility because it’s just too much. It’s too much for me. I, I, you know, I think that’s a lot of reason we have so much burnout in this industry and, you know, it’s a great industry, you know, it’s, it’s a great thing.
Trevor: No, absolutely. This is, this is awesome to kind of hear you talk about this. Cause I mean, huge leader in the industry and so this just makes it, you so relatable to kind of hear you talk about like, wow, really Mary has problems with these things? Like, oh, I didn’t know that. And that actually kind of leads into something else I want to ask you kind of hearing some of these experiences is like, you know what, what’s success to you, Mary? Cause I mean, you know, maybe some of the first steps of success are, you know, starting that photography business, being able to pay your bills, or replace the income from your job and you can say, yeah, I quit, and now I’m going full time. But you know, for you, that’s been going over twenty-five years, you know, long since passed those markers. What is success for you now?
Mary: Yeah, I mean, so success changes, right? I mean, I mentioned having kids and I, you know, I joke, but I mean success for me when my kids were little versus middle school versus high school versus college, which now we’re grad school, you know, it changes. And I, I will fully admit that success for me is very much based on, in my, with my family. So, you know, when my kids were young, success for me was to be able to get a nice living, make a living in photography, you know, not just pay my bills, but actually pay myself a nice wage. I mean, I went to college, I have my MBA. I, you know, at least pay myself what I would be out in the workforce and be able to have time to be at the school things and do the room mom, and then to be at the baseball games or swim meets, and then to be able to take weekends off and go to tailgate, you know, games or parents weekend. Those are things, you know, for me at this point, success is, it’s a lot of different things. First with, I start with my family first. I’ve been married for 27 years. My husband and I just spent two weeks in Jamaica and we’re like, you know, maybe we could stay a third because we can. You know, we can somewhat, you know, I have a business that I’ve curated that I can do that and still come home and here again, still earn a good living. I have two kids that have finished school, but have amazing work ethics. They’re good people, you know what I mean? They’re incredibly empathetic good people. And I, that’s a huge success for my husband and I, that I’m proud of these children. In my career at this point, I’ve worked with a lot of studios, I’ve done a lot of teaching. When I have studios that I’ve worked with that are now like breaking, you know, high six figures, even one recently just broke seven figures last year or year before. And you know, and I, they give me a, they give me a little piece of that because I coached them or I helped them, that, nothing makes me happier by the way then, besides my kids, then to have a studio come back and go, I just had my first four figure sale, 5 figure sale, seven figure year, whatever it is, nothing makes me happier than to just be able to be a small part of that journey with them. You know, I, I still enter image competition and do all that stuff. You know, I won photographer of the year in Virginia this year. That was on my list, that made me feel good, but, you know what also felt really good? I’m a huge profit first person. Again, I’m a big reader. So my profit first, which we’d practiced fully now for three and a half years, you know, when I took my profit check two years ago and I went and paid cash for my dream car and I earned every bit of it, not in my pay, but in my profit, that was a, I mean, I was walking on sunshine that I was able to do that. You know what I mean? Yeah, so there’s a lot of different things, you know, sometimes it’s just, you know, successes that I, as a matter of fact, I just sat down with amazing couple getting married in December and we hit it off like nobody’s business to the point where I’m like, please hire me. And I think they also looked at me and they go, do you want to work with us? And I’m like, are you kidding me? I feel so good right now because they picked me and I picked them and I know we’re going to have the best time, I already know. Like, I feel the energy between us. That’s success, you know? So it’s, it’s all of it. It’s, it’s really all of it.
Trevor: Oh, I love that. No, absolutely. And what you mentioned about that, that profits, Profit First, that’s going to be the next book I read. You also recommended that one. With how good Mindset has been treating me, I’m like, oh man, I got to get on these books that Mary’s recommending, shoot, ASAP, you know, so those are great.
Mary: Ya take your time, but you know, it’s a, that’s a game changer for sure.
Trevor: Fantastic. Well hey, just a couple of last questions just to kind of wrap up, with you, so much experience in this industry, what would be some of the best resources that you would recommend to a group of photographers that would help them and their business, you know, maybe something you use on a daily, weekly, even monthly basis that would help them?
Mary: Okay. I have a couple. First and foremost and I mean, of course I am president, but I will say being a part of this Professional Photographers of America is just a no brainer. I joined, you know, in 1998, my son was born like a newborn when I joined, but the benefits, the education, the fellowship, all of that stuff, being able to go to Imaging USA every January, you know, that has been a major thing, major game changer for us. I mean, it’s not just the benefits that you get through the membership, but certainly the fact that the, the tribe and community that I’ve curated through PPA. We, most of us are solopreneurs or work with a business partner, we don’t have quote unquote, work friends. You know, we work by ourselves. So having that network to, to reach out to, and to be a part of, and they understand our journey is just priceless to me. So number one, get involved, be a part of a community like that because you’re not alone. That would be first. My second preach that I always start when I, whenever I teach, whenever I speak, is do what you do best, you know, clearly identify your quote unquote, queen bee roll, or QBR, in your business and outsource the rest. I, if I spent my time in my studio doing things that I can outsource, I would not be as successful as I am today. I mean, hands down. So for me, my job is to vision this business, photograph, sell, and handle the vision of the marketing and the branding. Everything else I don’t deal with. File management, you know, color correction, retouching, you know, social media, finances, taxes. I’m not printing, I’m not doing that stuff. That’s stuff that I can hire amazing people, just like the folks at RetouchUp, right? Just like the folks at my lab. I hire amazing people that that’s what they do best. And they do that for me. So, you know, I know we’re small mom and pop businesses. I, I get all that, but you don’t have to do it all. And I find that when you can streamline your business and do what you do best or where you make the most of your money and outsource the rest, it frees you up to be less, you know, bogged down by all that quote unquote stuff that we just have to do. So, you know, I’ll have people quite often say, well, I can’t afford to just, well one day. I’m like, no, today’s the day. Today’s the day that you price yourself for profitability and sustainability. And today’s the day, outsource things that you can outsource and start paying yourself and start putting away and making sure that you’re getting, you know, that you gain profit at the end of the year. And even if you just start small, you know, 1% or this or that, just start today. Don’t wait. Don’t wait. Start today.
Trevor: That’s awesome. Cause that, that idea of like, I can’t afford to this, and then on the opposite side of the spectrum, I feel like there’s others like yourself that’s like, I can’t afford NOT to do this, you know?
Mary: A hundred percent. No, because if I were spending my time, retouching files, doing color correction or doing all that stuff or working on QuickBooks or all those things, if I were spending that time, you know what, I wouldn’t have had the time to go to a networking meeting, which is how I met this couple, which now I’m over the moon excited to photograph their wedding. Or I wouldn’t have the time to spend the extra hour talking with this client that I’m photographing on Saturday that I’ve already quoted her and she’s prepaid for, you know, an over $20,000 portrait session. I would be too busy and bogged down and quite frankly, probably exhausted because I’d spent all night or all day working on my computer. That’s not where I’m making money. I don’t make money working on my computer. I make money out meeting people, talking to people and getting people to buy into the brand that I want them to buy.
Trevor: Oh, that’s beautiful. Capture that, put that on, on a plaque or something like that. Take your notes, people. That’s awesome. And then Mary, you know, if people are interested in connecting with you, what would be the best way for them to do so?
Mary: Yeah, well, Mary Fisk-Taylor, they can email me at email@example.com, or always check out Kira and I on Get Your Shoot Together, GetYourShootTogether.com, social media presence, our podcast comes out every Thursday. Wherever you look for podcasts, you should be able to find us. And if all else fails, you can find me, just put my name in, I’ll come up. Social media, Facebook, Instagram, or PPA.
Trevor: Oh man, awesome. Thank you, thank you so much for your time! This has been incredibly valuable and I look forward to being able to post this for everyone and giving all the resources that you listed cause I think this is gonna, this is going to be a game changer for a lot of folks out there. So thank you so much, Mary!
Mary: Oh my gosh, you’re so welcome. And I, and I really hope so. I mean, that’s what we’re here for. That’s why I’m so excited you guys are doing this. You know what, if there’s just a handful of people that hear this and decide today’s the day that they’re going to start paying themselves what they deserve to be paid, or appreciating themselves more, or at least looking at failure as an opportunity to grow, you know what? That’s a win.
Trevor: A hundred percent. Well, you are, you are the woman. Thank you so much. We look forward to continuing to listen to your podcasts and following up with you in everything that you’re doing and changing this industry. So, thank you again! We appreciate your time and man hope you have a great rest of your week!
Mary: Hey you too! Enjoy it. Summer’s getting ready to hit here so we’re hitting the high temperatures. So we’re excited about getting out there in the sunshine and things opening up and getting a little bit back to normal. So I’m looking forward to all of it.
Trevor: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much Mary! You take care!
Mary: You too. Thank you so much.
Trevor: Thanks, bye bye.