Monday, June 14, 2010

meet {and greet} Lena Hyde

We are so happy to introduce Lena Hyde, a wonderfully talented photographer from Palm Beach, Florida
and the amazing business woman behind Design Aglow.
Welcome to the Savvy blog Lena~
we are thrilled to have you stop by and inspire us.
Great to be here, Marsha! Thank you for having me.

When did you begin your career in photography?
I started in the darkroom way back in the film age. I have a BA in art history with a minor in photography, plus a teaching credential in studio art. After college I taught art in San Francisco and exhibited my photography in galleries and museums internationally. I also wrote an art education column and was commissioned to photograph a series of fine art for the San Francisco Chronicle. When my first son was born in 2001, I started photographing him when he was just a day old. Newborn photography was totally new then, and I had such a great response to the work I unintentionally created a demand for my fine art baby and child photography.
The business just grew from there.
What line of work did you do before photography?
I have always been a photographer, but I did supplement my income as an art teacher for 8 years while I was a starving artist. I still like teaching and do it occasionally because I love helping people solve problems.

If you weren't a photographer, what would be your ideal career?
I would love to be an interior designer or a food critic! I just love food so much and my husband is a classically trained chef (turned firefighter).

How many shoots do you do a week?
I prefer to shoot 2 or 3 times a week, but in the busy season I will sometimes shoot up to 10 sessions (my record is 16—I didn’t sleep much that week). Each year, I take the summer off to travel with my kids and husband, so I have to work hard the rest of the year to make it all work out!

What is a day in the life of Lena like?
I start every day with the same breakfast: I make a vanilla soy latte and Ezekiel toast with butter and Swiss cheese. Sometimes I take the kids to school, but if my husband is off from work (he is a firefighter so his schedule is slightly more forgiving) we swap. My studio is in downtown West Palm Beach, which is about 20 minutes from home, and I work Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I have a wonderful assistant who works 40 hours a week taking care of the editing, order fulfillment and day-to-day running of the studio, while I focus on shooting and client relations. Most days I start with returning emails and phone calls for an hour or so. I may have a shoot, an order session, or a meeting and then have lunch out with a friend or client (did I mention I love great food?) or sometimes get something to-go and eat at my desk. After lunch, I usually work on Design Aglow until about 3 or 4 and go home in time for dinner with the family. About two days a week I leave early to get my kids from school. I try not to work most weekends, but sometimes I will have a quick weekend photo shoot.

How do you manage to balance family life and work?
I try my best, but family always comes first. I am lucky because my husband is sort of the "mom" since his schedule is more forgiving; he does things like shopping, cooking and laundry and he is the best! Without this type of support, I would never be able to do what I do! We try to take lots of vacations too, which is our favorite way to connect as a family without the distractions and responsibilities of business or home life creeping in.

For those photographers struggling with getting new clients, what advice would you give?
Never give your work away because it makes you look desperate (trust me-- nobody wants that). Set up your business the way you want it to be right from the start, be confident in your work, take a business workshop, and network like crazy. Never do what everyone else does. Figure out who you are, be innovative and always go in the other direction from the group.

How did you create a business with such a great clientele?
Truth? I never really set out to tap into such an amazing clientele--it just happened organically via word of mouth. When I look back, I realize now that I did things the way many luxury brands tend to succeed: with a great product, amazing customer service, a solid brand identity, and a unique experience. I was also priced at the top of the market right from the start, and I created an exclusive image along with demand. Really, enjoying my celebrity clients, offering innovative products and an amazing studio set me apart from the other photographers in my market from the beginning.
Did you always have high paying clients or was there ever a time when you struggled with low orders?
A very high percentage of my clients have always been art collectors and were the first to support my portrait businesses. When comparing photography to other art, our work is actually a bargain!
Of course, I was able to raise prices over the years
and sometimes lost clients who could no longer afford my work, but with each step I was able to work less and be with my family more, which is important to me. After eight years in business, I think I’ve finally achieved the perfect balance.
Today my portrait clients spend as much as wedding clients used to, I have much more fun, can be more creative, and don't have to book my life out a year ahead. Having weekends off and time for travel is another huge perk of not shooting weddings.

Do you have a minimum order?
I don't have a minimum, but we do prequalify our clients before they book. I also have my $550-650 session fee on my website so we tend not to get random callers and price shoppers.
What is your average order?
Our average order is easily more than $5000. We are 100% a la carte, without collections, packages or discounts. Every client wants something different, and we always suggest canvas wall galleries, coffee table books, and some extras to enhance their experience with our studio. We also offer digital negatives for $5500 for clients who want to archive their family images.

I know you have set high goals for yourself. Can you share with us how you decided to set these goals and the benefits it created for your business?
I have set high goals in the past, if for no other reason than to really see if I could attain what I thought would be almost impossible in this business. What I gained is a huge sense of accomplishment and trust in myself as a successful business woman. I seriously never imagined myself being so financially secure so early in life (my net literally doubled every year). After meeting my crazy goal for two years in a row (2009 was my best year ever) I think I can now chill and enjoy things a bit more. I will probably bring home less this year, but I am starting a new endeavor (which means I’m not sure how much I will be able to kick back!).

Will you share with us what's possible financially in the photography business?
Honestly, I think it is relatively easy to bring in six figures a couple of years into the business if you do things the right way: with a CPA and an advisor to help you run things smartly. For the first two years I ran my business with a partner and it was an absolute mess. The books were a disaster and everything got done ‘on the fly’. There was no organization, no business plan, and no profit. Once I was done with weddings, I buckled down and started doing things the right way on my own, even though it was much more labor intensive at the beginning and, frankly, not a lot of fun. I hired an assistant which left me free to take care of marketing, business planning, and client relations. The following year I hit the six figure mark and celebrated by installing a gorgeous pool for my kids in our backyard. The next year I paid off our entire mortgage. I don't think there is really a cap on how far someone could take this business...I know several portrait photographers who have studios that bring in 7 figures a year. If you want to expand, the sky is the limit! But, I also think there are more important things than making lots of money... you have to be able to enjoy life too, right?

What do you think is the biggest mistake most photographers make?
The biggest mistake most photographers make is in being too cheap. When starting out it’s easy to tend towards granting free photo shoots in return for model releases, or allotting friends a ridiculously low session fee for all images. If photographers give discounts right off the bat, referrals won’t be based on talent—it’s because they’re so cheap. You’re training people to expect discounts and to not respect your work; and, in addition to killing your brand, you’re attracting the bargain hunters who want more and more for less and less. Sure, it’s all right to have a promotion once or twice a year if you absolutely need to, but studios should: offer something they usually don’t, make it a special, and make it for a very limited time (a week or less).

Do you advertise?
I have never paid to advertise-- not even once! I’m not a fan of advertising and direct mail, but I love marketing and PR to make sure you target your desired client base.

I'm such a fan of Design Aglow and
I remember the first time I stumbled upon the site.
Will you tell us how you came up with the idea of the site?
Originally, we came up with the idea for Design Aglow as just the online magazine. We saw a huge void in the industry for a creative, ad-free and unbiased resource that showed the hottest trends and ideas which was fun to read and super inspiring. We also wanted to feature the best and brightest in the field and create something that we would love, so the magazine was born. The shop followed in pretty short order due to demand for beautiful and affordable templates, marketing materials, and sales tools. All of our products are designed to be completely original to Design Aglow and 100% flexible in design and content and they literally pay for themselves with one or two uses.

Are there any fun things in the future for Design Aglow?
Where do I even start? Right now we are completely redesigning the site and shop to surpass even our own high standards. We are thrilled with our new look and we’re adding so many more products and tools for photographers than ever before, along with more sales tools to help photographers meet their financial goals in their businesses.

We'd love to know...your Savvy indulgence?
I so look forward to my weekly hour-long deep tissue massage every Tuesday evening at my house.
If it wasn’t at my house, I’d never go, though!

Favorite vacation spot?
That's tough, but I would have to say Bali, Indonesia. Everything about it is magical, from the great smells to the live music in the background all day long-- and then there’s art in everyday objects. It’s a total immersion in a unique and amazing culture. Still, pretty much anywhere we go on vacation is awesome because we're on vacation!

Favorite thing in your closet?
I am not super attached to material things, but right now I am totally loving my dresses from the brand Desigual from Spain.

What inspires you?
I’m so inspired by travel, art, food, films, kids, beauty, and music-- Pretty much all the good stuff in life!
Thank you Lena for joining us!

Tomorrow is a fabulous giveaway from Lena and Design Aglow!
You don't want to miss it~
The studio tour is on Wednesday...want a peek?

The rest of the tour is just dreamy.
See you tomorrow.



  1. Thank you for interviewing Lena. I love Design Aglow and often find inspiration at their site and the magazine is one of my faves.

  2. I was lucky enough to meet Lena at the last Learnfest that was held in September.
    She is remarkable and I loved hearing her thoughts on branding, marketing, etc.
    Design Aglow is truly amazing...we are so lucky to have a resource like that.

  3. Fantastic...really loved reading this...looking forward to the tour.

  4. I live in West Palm Beach too, and I've admired her work for a while. Great interview!

  5. That's a great interview... but I think you can't forget that all the marketing and branding comes AFTER you have a to-die-for product. I find myself tempted to skip the "product development", i.e. me practicing my skills, and go straight to the good stuff!

  6. Lena, I have admired you for a long time and was luck to meet you at Learnfest. Thanks for the great interview and I look forward to seeing your new space!