“Follow Your Passion” is a common phrase that is often referred to as a simple solution to choosing or changing your career path. While the success stories are endless (i.e. Steve Jobs), more recently recognized experts ranging from Forbes contributors to Stanford and Yale psychologists are challenging this advice for multiple reasons ranging from the ability to earn a living to navigating the unexpected challenges that may arise. Is it possible to combine a passion for horses with your career?
An accomplished entrepreneur in the equine industry, Kirstie Jones first initiated her professional career by earning a BBA in Finance from the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University, where she also rode as a scholarship athlete for the TCU Equestrian Team. Full-time employment and financial security derived from within the financial sector was a natural path given her knowledge and skill set for several years. During this time, she started to carve out evenings and weekends to hone the skills and develop an individual style necessary for a successful professional photographer. Additionally, she formed a legal business entity complete with the necessary administrative and marketing components and eventually built a full-time sustainable business model within the equine industry.
Kirstie Marie Photography is the culmination of these efforts with a primary objective to provide clients located across the United States with an enhanced portraiture “experience.” Additionally, she offers mentorship programs (in-person or skype) to other entrepreneurs, photographs commercial work and manages the online sales of her artistic equine images for the public. Below, Kirstie shares insight of how she transitioned careers, marketed her business, avoids burnout and more.
Why did you start doing photography?
KJ: I sold the horse that meant the entire world to me when I went off to college. It wasn’t until after he was gone that I realized I only had show proofs with him. I didn’t have any photographs that showed our special relationship outside of the show pen. When I picked up my first camera, horses were the first thing I practiced on because they were the only thing that meant something to me. To this day, I am still trying to deliver to my clients the image that I wish I had for myself.
How did you know you were ready to go full time with photography? How did you juggle a full-time job and your side photo business at the time?
KJ: I worked a LOT of hours when I did photography on the side! Every weekend I spent doing shoots (in Texas or out of state) and every evening I would edit. Virtually all of my PTO vacation days were spent on photography trips across the country.
I never intended for photography to become my full-time career. I was working my dream job in finance at an incredible firm. My college degree, internships, and past work experience were all pointing to the career I wanted in investor relations and I thrived in that position among colleagues I enjoyed working with. I did photography for fun and I loved my clients so dearly that I never wanted to see them as dollar signs. I was afraid that putting pressure on this business to perform would drain the fun and passion.
Eventually, it came to the point where I essentially had two full-time jobs that I loved very much. It all came to a tipping point where my growing photography business was looking more attractive than my dream finance career. I left my position at the asset management firm when I was confident that my photography business could replace the income, because the momentum my photography business was gaining was extremely exciting. I was ready to trade in my suit for yoga pants and a traffic-heavy commute for at-home flexibility. In the back of my mind, I knew I could always go back to finance and a “stable career,” but I had a very unique opportunity to let my budding hobby keep growing.
When and how do you start to ask for money for shoots?
KJ: While I was practicing photography, I did photoshoots for friends for free or my costs until I was confident that I could produce an excellent and consistent product in any condition (bad weather, tricky light, difficult horses, inexperienced models, etc). At that point, I registered my business. I was charging for sessions, had a contract, bought an insurance policy… the whole 9 yards!
Any marketing tips for the horse world?
For marketing in general: know who you are, what you offer, who you offer it to, and why they need it. Be communicating who you are and why they need what you offer in as many ways as you can to the audience: be where they work, where they play, where they run errands, and where they leisure. Having a consistent message in as many different forms as possible will keep you at the top of mind.
In the horse world, specifically: have stellar customer service. This is a very tight community where word of mouth referrals are key. Be prompt in your communication and be very reliable! One disappointed customer could spread the wrong word quickly.
How do you deal with a saturated market and competition who copy your every move?
KJ: Professional cameras are extremely accessible, so there is virtually no barrier to entry in my industry. In reality, my competition is every cell phone. It is imperative that I deliver an experience that is true to myself and serving my clients well. I try to keep my eyes forward and stay ahead of the curve. When it comes to other equine photographers, I try to stay in my own lane and drive out the noise of what others are doing.
The more different we all are, the more we will succeed. I am constantly trying to evolve and grow to stay differentiated.
What is your most successful marketing tool? What brings in the most bookings?
KJ: Word of mouth! People tagging me on social media for their friends and barnmates to see, alongside personal testimonies, are far and away my best marketing opportunities.
I know that is a generic answer, but the best way to win new clients is to take AMAZING care of the clients you have! Go above and beyond to give them an experience they will rave about.
How do you avoid burnout?
KJ: I ride horses, and I schedule seasonally. My summer and winter and very slow (intentionally). It is early March and I am itching – DYING – to get back into the thick of it. My spring and fall are very, very busy. I travel a lot, I book a lot of my sessions, and I hustle really hard. When I get overwhelmed, I take a bubble bath and ride some horses and schedule personal work and trips.
What’s one change you plan to make to your business next year?
KJ: SO many changes! It is an exciting year for me. My main focus will continue to be my portrait clients whom my heart beats for. I have a lot of new cities I am going to this year for portrait work that I am thrilled to expand to. I am also taking on more commercial work with equine brands this year, as well as influencer-type collaborations.
I am offering video courses to photographers and other entrepreneurs (the first one just launched, and another one is coming soon!), and I am now selling highly requested art pieces.
Your session with Kirstie Marie Photography will be customized to tell the unique story of you and your horse. Whether he’s a world champion, or the champion of your heart—we’ll document that love story together as the sun sets, and you’ll be left with sweet memories and beautiful lasting images of your precious relationship.
Every session with Kirstie Marie Photography includes 75+ high resolution images, 4x6 proof prints in a wooden box, and discounts on professional prints, canvases & albums.
All-inclusive packages start at $1,495
For more information, visit http://kirstiemarie.com/experience/
Mentorship sessions are 4 hours of one-on-one time with Kirstie in Dallas, Texas. Each session is unique and tailored to your goals:
Cost: $200/ hr.
For more information, visit http://kmplearn.com
To visit Kirstie Marie’s gallery and purchase a curated image in multiple formats including on canvas, metal, framed and more, visit http://kirstiemarie.com/store/
Kirstie Marie Photography is located in Dallas, Texas and travels coast to coast to photograph the world's most beautiful horses & their girls.
All-inclusive portrait sessions start at $1,495.
Commercial rates start at $2,000.
I: @kirstieeemarie (43.7k followers)
Kirstie Jones is an equine portrait photographer located in Dallas, Texas. Since opening Kirstie Marie Photography in 2013, her work has been featured across dozens of equine publications, as well as on coveted photography blogs around the world. Using both film and digital cameras, Kirstie’s work is often described as authentic, emotional, and timeless.
Kirstie earned a BBA in Finance from the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University, where she also rode as a scholarship athlete for the TCU Equestrian Team. Kirstie started riding at the age of 4, and has competed successfully in dressage, A-circuit hunter-jumpers, reining, horsemanship, showmanship and trail. She holds 3 world titles and countless awards at the local, state and national level.
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