Celebrating and sharing what we’ve learned this year

We celebrated our first year anniversary as Harmonie House Images last month – woohoo! Isn’t it crazy how quickly time flies when you’re having fun, i.e., figuring out how to run a brand photography business together while also going about your normal every day life?! 🙂 

Like all good photographers’ stories start out, this business began as something we wanted to do as a creative outlet. To niche down (“Let’s work with amazing women doing amazing work in our city!”), to work together, and to be intentional about work/life balance. Sounds like a dream job, right? It is, truly! But like most good photographers’ stories tend to go, we soon learned that we needed to know and love running Harmonie House Images as a business just as much as our love of photography and our love for our clients. 

As much as the gear, the lenses, the software, the creative eye and the connection with clients are all so important, so is the drive and determination to create a successful business that is both profitable and sustainable. But guess what? The part about creating a profitable and sustainable photography business wasn’t in the forefront of our brains a year ago. Is that crazy to admit out loud and on the internet? Maybe. We had the heart for our clients, we knew we wanted to do the work together, we just didn’t know how to run the business side of the work. 

As we were reflecting over the last year, we found ourselves saying “Man, why didn’t we know about ____ sooner? Someone should tell people about this stuff! We should do a blog post about this and make it like one of our Client Spotlights!”

So here we are, giving you a glimpse into what business has been like for us in our first year and spilling the tea on what we wish we would’ve known from the beginning. Whether you’re thinking of starting your dream photography business or just newly launched – if you’re doing it solo or you’ve got a partner – we hope this post is helpful, informative and above all, encouraging.

Harmonie House Images talking about business at a coffee shop
Photo by Julia Fay Photography

What inspired you to create Harmonie House Images? Is there anything about the clients you serve that you were drawn to or is there anything about the impact you hope to have that you’d like to share?

M: I’d been running a part-time solo photography business for years – I enjoyed the work of photography and editing and connecting with my clients, but I was intimidated by the business side of things. I also felt like I wasn’t meant to do the work alone anymore, so when Lori Ellen and I started talking about going into business together, I was really excited to have my friend as my partner. Our clients at Harmonie House Images are women who bring design, beauty, structure and delight to their communities through their work. They’re creative, determined, innovative, and no matter their industry, they all strive to do exceptional work for the good of their clients. Our clients are what draws us to this work.

LE: Honestly, I wanted to start the business because I wanted a creative outlet and hoped that it would be a way for me to ultimately leave the day job that I’ve been unhappy in for a while.  And, I thought it would be fun to do this with my friend.  What I didn’t expect – or didn’t know to expect – until we got into this and started actually working with clients is how much I would enjoy getting a front row seat to seeing our clients (who we also consider friends) do what they were meant to do!  It has been such a privilege and I have so enjoyed getting to see these women shine, see different sides of them that I didn’t know much about if I “only” knew them on a personal versus a professional level, and know that we were doing what we could to help them grow their businesses.  When clients are able to see a noticeable difference in their business because of the imagery we provide…that just absolutely makes my heart swell.  I want more of that!  I want to know that we are supporting these amazing women in real and tangible ways.

What if any books would you recommend to people in your niche or books that you just generally love?

LE: Reading Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine by Mike Michalowicz was so helpful for us in developing a plan for how to manage our business finances.  We had no idea about how much or when we should pay ourselves or allocate our other cash for nearly a year…so we just hoarded it.  After reading this book we were easily able to outline a plan for managing our finances, and it will be scalable as we continue to grow.

M: I’m currently reading The Lazy Genius Way by Kendra Adachi and while it has nothing to do with photography, it’s been helpful for this not-so-organized creative to think differently about structuring my work week and home life in ways that feel manageable for me. I can get overwhelmed when life piles up or things aren’t done perfectly. This book feels like she gets me, like she’s saying “Hey dude, it’s ok. You’ll be ok. Here’s how to do stuff.” For photography inspo, I love spending time in Kinfolk books, National Geographic magazines, perusing Vivian Maier’s work, and I’m looking forward to reading Old Brand New by Dabito when it comes out at the end of August!

What resources or assets (software, apps, courses, etc) have really helped up-level your business?

We use several different apps and software programs to run our business.  Ones that we can’t run our business without are:

Honeybook – our client relationship management software

Pixieset – our gallery delivery software


YNAB (You Need a Budget) for budgeting our finances.  

As far as courses and continuing education, taking the Art of Her – Personal Branding Break Through course really helped shape our processes for how we run our branding photography business.  We’ve gleaned valuable information month after month from Annemie Tonken’s podcast This Can’t Be That Hard. Also, Abby Murphy’s Visual Content Toolkit course has given us tools for organizing and preparing for our shoots as well as ideas for how we want to expand our business in the future…stay tuned!

What would you say is the main thing that has helped grow Harmonie House Images?

M: I’d say our clients and word-of-mouth advertising has been really helpful as we’ve worked to grow our business. Also, being consistent on Instagram. We post 3 times a week without fail, and we’re beginning to add in 2 additional days.

LE: Definitely learning more about marketing has been helpful.  At least from my perspective, since my time for working on HH is currently limited by my “day job”, being disciplined to keep work hours when we don’t have a scheduled meeting or a shoot to work ON the business not just IN the business has been critical.  Otherwise, so many important “to do’s” would fall through the cracks.  But on a larger scale, making connections in the women-owned small business community has been key.  We’ve been privileged to photograph women who have either connected us to other clients or who we are actively working with to be able to expand our services in ways we hope will grow our business.

Harmonie House Images filming and photographing product
Photo by Carrie Allen

If you started Harmonie House Images over today, what would you focus on first to help you grow?

LE: Understanding more about marketing and having a clear plan for that from the get go.  Also, I would have learned more about how to organize our business finances before we launched.  Again, having a definitive plan for every dollar we earn has been a game changer!

M: Welp, I basically did this last year! And having a partner is the first change I wanted to make when I knew it was time to “start over.” I’d agree with understanding more about marketing and just how to go about drumming up new and consistent business. Also, even though I’ve been working as a photographer since 2010, I’ve sadly never made the time to know and understand SEO. It always felt too big to tackle, especially when all I wanted to do was create beautiful photos for my clients. I’m glad we’re putting energy into marketing ourselves and building up our SEO.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever been given?

M: I’m not sure if this counts because it’s not technically advice – it’s more like a little seed of knowledge that’s been sown in my mind and watered over time, but here goes: to do my work to the very best of my ability, and to always look for ways to serve others. 

LE: I don’t know that I can name anything here. However, I have loved learning a little something new about running your own business from every single client we serve.

What is your favorite mantra?

LE: I don’t think I really have a mantra. However, I’m a big fan for The Lazy Genius podcast, books, and Instagram presence and there are a couple questions I’ve learned from Kendra Adachi (The Lazy Genius herself) to ask myself regularly.  I’m a doer by nature.  I love a list! Man, oh man, do I love a list and checking things off of it!  I’m also an Enneagram 8, which means a lot of things.  But part of what it means is that I think fast, I move fast, I talk fast, and I’m more oriented to the future and what is happening next than I am the present or the past. That usually means I want everything done YESTERDAY!  Kendra has taught me to stop, breathe, and ask “What matters most?” as well as to ask The Magic Question – “What can I do now to make ___ easier later?”  If I can answer those two questions regularly I can usually calm my crazy (to a degree), better understand my current priority, and make a manageable plan to address it without freaking out because every time I check one thing off the to do list, 3-4 other things get added to it.

M: Take a deep breath. Drink some water. And do only what’s mine to do for today.

Harmonie House Images posing for headshots
Photo by Julia Fay Photography

So that’s our year in a nut shell! 🙂 Are you a photographer or business owner? If you’re here and you’ve been in business for any length of time, what’s something you wish you would’ve known when you first started out? What was the biggest learning curve for you? Leave us a comment below – we’d love to learn from you!