Episode 47: Photography Studio Manager Confessions: A Conversation with Andria, My Studio Manager | Joy of Marketing

Episode 47: Photography Studio Manager Confessions: A Conversation with Andria, My Studio Manager

For the last 15 years, I’ve worked side by side with Andria, my studio manager. She started with me as a photography intern while she was finishing up college. When she graduated, I didn’t want her to leave, so I offered her a full time job.

So what does she do now as the studio manager of Sarah Petty Photography and how do we work together? That’s what this confessions episode is all about.

As a photographer, it’s hard when you’re working all alone, and you want to add an employee to help you. What I’ll tell you is my very first employee that I hired, I had to fire two weeks later and it kind of freaked me out for future hiring. So, I spent some time figuring out what kind of person I truly wanted.

I had this person named Andria who came in for a college job shadow day, and I just loved her. She was amazing and she worked herself into a job. So here we are, 15 years later, she runs this photography business for and with me and knows as much about it as I do. 

Everyone in my community is always asking me, “How do I get an Andria?” Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. But I brought her on to answer some hard (and some fun) questions.

What Does A Photography Studio Manager Do?

So from the start of the start of a client cycle, Andria is returning phone calls, answering the phone, and responding to emails. She preps consultation forms before clients come in and takes notes while the client is in the first studio consultation, so that I can give her full attention to the client and not worry about taking notes. 

Andria on what she does when the client comes in: During the session where I’m helping out, sometimes Sarah and I are passing the camera back and forth. I do have a photography degree, so I can do anything that needs to happen. Then, I edit and build the presentation for Sarah. She gives it a quick glance over, and then she presents it to the cleitn. After that, I retouch images, communicate with clients to order products for them, and meet with clients for framing. Sarah will come in and give opinions when needed, package products up and give clients lots of love to send them on their way.

Sarah Petty:

Andria and I work so well together as a team. We have really good chemistry together, and we like to laugh and have fun. A lot of times on sessions, we’ll have the same idea at the same time — I think we share one brain.

Andria:

Yes, it is kind of freaky when this happens, but our minds have melded together over the 15 years. Right before Sarah is about to do something, I’ll say, “Why don’t we do this?” and she’s already halfway there to getting that set up and vice versa. So, it makes for a really good session experience and clients notice it too.

Sarah Petty:

I think what makes us such a great photography team is that you’re the half of the brain of mine that’s missing. So, you remember things that I don’t. You take better notes. You keep us on track. The other thing that’s really extra special about Andria is that she’s so in tune with our clients. She’ll say, “I noticed this person seemed to have a little bit of anxiety more than normal. Maybe when you reach out, check in and see if everything’s okay.” She listens, and she’ll say, “Oh, remember they just got back from a vacation here?” So that I can connect right with them instead of having to ask, “Oh, what have you guys been up to?” She’s very good with that.

It doesn’t stop there, though. One of the things she does on the Joy of Marketing side, is she does something called “audibles”, where she critiques our students’ sales presentations and gives them the same sales psychology that she uses to help our clients make their own decisions. Because that’s what it’s about. It’s not being tricky or smarmy or salesy. It’s about, “How can I put these images together in a way that makes it really easy for people to choose?”

I knew I needed a studio manager, but I was anxious about handing things over.” In the beginning, I was nervous about someone calling my clients and editing my images and building my presentations. I thought that no one possibly could do this as well as I can. When I met Andria, she was already 90% there. Then there were a few tweaks, and now we practically don’t even communicate about it.

The Photography Studio Manager Work-Week

Sarah: 

People are asking what does your work week schedule look like? I think it’s interesting because it’s changed over the years and now we’re in a pandemic. So we definitely have had an interesting view on this.

Andria:

I started right out of college, so I was maybe 21. In January of 2007, that’s when I started full-time. So it was your typical eight-to-five, nine-to-five workweek. As time went on, I got married, and we talked about how Sarah could provide flexibility and security when it was time for me to have children. With the family-first model, that is really something that obviously was very important to me. When I had my first child, 10 years ago, I reduced my hours, and I was able to go and do things like the library, or story time and music class, and got to help out at preschool. I helped out at the elementary school for a long time. So, my schedule was cut back.

Here we are 2021. In 2020 in the fall, my youngest was finally set to go to kindergarten. Basically since the day he was born, Sarah and Erin would joke, “We’re so excited for when he goes to kindergarten.” I was also very excited for him to go to kindergarten for me to get back on track and be here more with clients and with our coaching students. And then, there was a pandemic. And so, they closed all the schools, and there were a lot of emotions around scrambling to find childcare and nannies. At first is was 100% homeschooling. But as of right now, it’s sort of a hybrid between full-time and my part-time when they were toddlers, babies, preschool.

Sarah Petty:

A good question that leads into that, do you ever get overwhelmed?

Andria:

Not really, but to talk about the strong leadership, as the leader, you set the tone for what’s going to be happening in your business or anything, in your family. And Sarah? She is who you guys see. She doesn’t come in one day, freaking out and slamming doors and throwing stuff everywhere in a panic, which then would obviously send others around her into a panic. So, overwhelm is not really something that I struggle with luckily, but it, also, I think comes with… I’ve been doing this for so long that I have a good routine, and I can manage it.

Sarah Petty:

We always say here, there’s no such thing as a portrait emergency. We do have some busy or stressful days, where it’s like, “Okay. We’ve committed to put a lot of things in a day that probably should have been spread over two days.” I know that I’m guilty of doing that sometimes. But we have to remember, we’re not heart surgeons. Someone’s not going to die today if we drop a ball or miss something up. And so, we try to keep that perspective here a little bit.

Andria:

Hard work has never scared Sarah or myself and doing what needs to be done to get the job done. I have a studio art degree at BFA. So I am very accustomed to critiques at 8:00 AM the next day, and staying in the art building all night until it gets done. I’ve done that many times so that doesn’t freak me out. I’ll do what needs to be done to get it done.

What Makes Someone The Right Photography Studio Manager Fit

Sarah Petty:

Why do you believe that this job as being a studio manager is the perfect job for you?

Andria:

Well, and I think the other question within this question that people have, maybe don’t ask me, “But why don’t you go and do this yourself? Why don’t you just go be Sarah Petty?” Owning a business was never something that I had a drive to do. In fact, in college, I originally thought I would be an art teacher. And then I realized I had to wake up at 7:00 AM every day. So, I decided that wasn’t for me. Part of becoming a business owner and an entrepreneur is that you have to be a strong leader, like Sarah is. That’s not something I ever really saw myself as. If you believe in your leader, you believe in the mission. I am more than happy to do what I can to support that. So, it really never was something that I thought I wanted to go and do, and I still don’t want to do.

There’s also something that I love about being in a creative field, where I can have flexibility. We have this awesome studio building here, and I get to spend time here with my family on the weekends. My children’s school is literally two minutes away. So, when they’re in school, I can always go do something in the studio if I need to. There’s a great value in that more than just maybe the monetary thought of becoming a business owner.

Sarah Petty:

We have lots of variety here, because we have the studio and the Joy of Marketing. She’s a good writer. She’s a good leader too. She says she’s not a good leader, but Andria is in charge of big projects for me. And she gets to be a leader in projects that play on her natural strengths.

I like to find people’s skills and create their jobs so that most of what they’re doing is in their natural ability. I could have Andria crunch numbers and she would absolutely do it, but she would go home in tears every night because I know that’s not what she loves. She’s not a numbers person, and I know what makes her happy. I know she likes the balance. Not 100% of anyone’s job is going to be perfect, but I think we’re good as a company at putting people in a challenging role that gives them variety and flexibility that they can have fun with.

Andria:

When this career started out, it looked a lot different than it does now. Things are changing all the time in good ways and I get to be a part of all of that. There’s always a conversation of, “What can you do? What do you want to do? Would you be interested in doing this?”

If you’re trying to hire a studio manager, or any employee, and you’re spending a lot of time from a place of fear of like, “What if they just take all this and leave? What if? What if? What if?” then you’re really missing out on mental energy that could be spent pouring into that person and helping them to find what they’re good at. You have to help them grow and see what you guys can all do together.

How to Become the Best Boss

Sarah Petty:

What does a studio manager love about their boss? People want to know what makes a photographer a good boss for the studio manager.

Andria:

It’s really important to build up trust over time and to train your new employees early on. A great boss will not just let their employee sit and stew over a problem. If an employee is stuck, eventually that will make the boss stuck. So, just coming from a place of kindness and “Hey, let me help you. Let’s get this corrected.”

And then once they have it set, you don’t need to continue to micromanage. Sarah and I have our own lanes that we work in, and sometimes we cross paths. I’ll do my work and she’ll do hers, and then we’ll communicate on things that need it. That is just a really great atmosphere where you can feel like you can do what you need to do without too much oversight.

Sarah Petty:

One of the things that really helped us was setting our core values and being really clear on that when we hire people. Hiring for a cultural fit versus just a skill set is key, because someone could be a great retoucher and a real jerk. When there’s just one of you and you’re adding another person, even if they’re part time, there needs to be a good groove together.

One day I came in and I was in a fizz. I had another employee or two along with Andria, and they were all working. I came in with this new idea, and gave everyone new tasks to do. And then I left, I thought everyone would be so excited. When in reality, that’s not what happened. A little bit later, I got a text from Andria and she said, “Hey, I think you stepped on the toes of this other person. Maybe you could find a reason to call back and just make nice. She said she’s been working. She had her whole day scheduled and it just that messed up her day.”

Here’s Andria, this kid right out of college, who could have sat there with this person and talked about how I was upsetting everyone by being insensitive, but instead she texted me so that I could fix the problem. I was able to make nice, and I knew right then that Andria was such a keeper because it was so consistent with our core values. She stepped up like a grown adult and texted me, which could have been hard to so because I was older than her. I was the boss, but I want to have a good relationship with my team.

You might be thinking that you have to be the perfect boss. But really, you have to be honest and say, “I’m not perfect, and you’re going to find that out sooner than later, but I want you to know that I want to hear these things from you.” That experience with Andria, 13 years ago, has allowed me to create a good culture and reinforce it in my communities.

Andria:

Our words have meaning and power. One, you have a sports background, obviously, Sarah, and you have always come at everything with a team mentality. Even when we were a team of two people, three people… were a team. It was never like you’re on the high pedestal and we’re down here. Remembering back when I first started, as someone who just came out of college and started working full time, when we would go places, Sarah would say, “This is my coworker. She works with me.” It was never like, “Here’s my assistant. Here’s my employee.” She just did a really great job and you still do of making me feel like I’m not just like the hired help.

Sarah Petty:

Sometimes a client, a new client will come in and they’ll be like, “That assistant of yours,” and I’ll play dumb and say, “I don’t… Assistant? Oh, Andria. Oh, my studio manager.” It almost offends me when people think that she’s an assistant. I’m like, “Oh, she runs the company. She’s like the boss.” But it is true that words do have power. I think having worked at Coca-Cola where it was so hierarchical, if that’s even a word where it’s like, “This person is the boss of these people.” It was very competitive and I don’t like that. I don’t want a plaque on the door. I don’t want this title. We’re just all in this together, and we have to help each other.

Andria:

I’m not someone who has a lot of personal ego, chips on my shoulder or anything like that. So, if someone mistakes me as an “assistant”, it never bothers me. Because I know who I am and what I do and the value I bring, and I know Sarah recognizes that, it’s not something that has bothered me.

Does Everybody Make Mistakes?

Sarah Petty:

Let’s talk about screw ups, because often you’re the frontline man, whether I screw up or you screw up. You’re usually the one that has to handle it or does handle it, because we’re running fast. Often, if it’s a smaller thing, you have those skills and you’re comfortable doing that. I never dump a big mess on you if I don’t think you’re capable of handling it. We know we screw up, like everybody does. But do the mess-ups bother you?

Andria:

I’ve been doing it long enough that there are screw ups that Sarah Petty doesn’t even know about because I just make them go away or I solve the problem myself. Even early on, the environment never made me scared to come to you if there was a mess up. If you have that kind of environment, then your employees won’t come to you and ask for help.. Which can make the issue worse sometimes. So getting after it right away and doing your best to be open with the people, the client, whomever, and making a plan to make it right for them and doing everything in your power to make sure that they are happy.

Sarah Petty:

For those of you thinking about a studio manager, I might ask those questions like, “Pretend you just screwed up my order. Let’s talk about it. You have to deliver that bad news.” We always talk about the book “Dig the Well Before You’re Thirsty,” which is just about always pouring into what you do, so that when you mess up, you still have a solid foundation. I think both of us feel bad when we make a mistake. And so, we don’t let it sit. We just pretty much, “Let’s get it. Let’s figure out what happened. How do we fix it? And let’s go tell the client.” Usually, it’s not nearly as bad as what we thought. They’re fine with it and they’re happy that we’re fixing it. We’re not surgeons. This is not a portrait emergency. Let us fix it. We’ll fix it.

Andria:

One thing that I hope that everyone who’s considering hiring people or has already hired them is Sarah has never made it seem like, “Oh, if you order a print wrong, we got to pay for that twice.” That’s obviously going to put pressure on your staff and it could lead to them putting out work that is not the best that you would like to have out in the community, on your client’s walls. So if I need to order something four times to get it right, that’s just what we have to do.

Sarah Petty:

Sometimes that happens, but that’s why we’re boutique. I don’t have to lose sleep thinking, “How are we going to pay for those three extra prints that Andria is getting now for Christmas wrapped up so nice?”

Studio Manager Rapid Fire Questions

Sarah Petty:

What is your favorite prop?

Andria:

I’m a big vintage person. So we occasionally would go to auctions, vintage shops, find cool stuff, cool, old stuff that’s unique. Chairs are always good. I love a puffy ottoman you could sit on, or a fluffy rug. Those are always really great.

Sarah Petty:

Do you drink a lot of caffeine to keep up with me?

Andria:

Actually, I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was 30 and had my second child. So there were many years of no coffee. But again, those were more of my youthful early 20s, so I think that’s probably why I could keep up with her.

Sarah Petty:

Is your hair naturally curly?

Andria:

It is actually naturally curly and it is just a funny coincidence that Sarah’s is as well. So sometimes we have hair chat, curly hair chat. That’s why so many of the things about how we work together, it’s almost like this was just… Do you ever feel like things were just created and you’re just going through it? It’s just we were put together, a little bit of two puzzle pieces put together. It’s just how it worked out.

Sarah Petty:

If you were sitting and talking with someone who’s growing their photography business and they’re ready to hire a first employee or an intern, from your perspective what are some things they can do to really make the experience great for you? And how does the boss find such a great person?

Andria:

I would say to not just count on young people, but also don’t rule them out. Keep going until you find somebody like our other fabulous current college and high school workers that you click with and have your maturity level. Hire slow. To be clear too, I was not a free intern. We both believe in paying people what they’re worth. So, when I started as an intern, it gave us a lot of time to see how things work together, how we got along. It’s a really great trial period and setting clear tasks and boundaries.

Think about your needs and communicate them, see what they’re interested in, what they feel like they could be good. Create a growth path for employees and let them know. You don’t have to sit down and have a big meeting, but you can occasionally say, “This is what I’m thinking for this next year. These are the roles that I would like to see you in. What do you think about that?” Those are the things that are going to retain your employees for a long time, because no one really wants to be in a stagnant job.

Sarah Petty:

The general assumption of everybody is that it’s all about money. One of my values is that I’m not trying to get the cheapest person for the cheapest amount.  When we have a good year, we share in that. I want to pay well, what the market is or higher than what the market pays, but not everybody’s driven by money. Andria, as you’re going through your list, from the employee’s perspective, what gets you excited about this job other than money?

Andria:

The teamwork, what we do for our clients and what we do for our coaching students keep you going, the culture. It’s all of that. The open communication. I have always been a person who is loyal and I’m the person who still talks to the friends from elementary school.

Like I said Sarah does, make sure everyone’s happy in their seat on the bus and they’re in the best seat for them. If there’s something that you want to do more of, sometimes you might need to invest in more education. Sarah is all about education. It’s what we do and it’s what she lives in breathes. Providing education to help employees continue to grow is a great incentive as well. My last thought, too, about hiring, and this is something that Sarah and I have done for a long time is we look within our network for people. I think hiring doesn’t always just start with going to a website and putting up an ad. In fact, we have done that and I don’t even know if we’ve ever retained any person who ever came from an ad in that way.

Andria:

So, I think it’s sort of like what we tell everyone, “Look within your network for potential clients and marketing partners.” Do that same thing when it’s time to hire an employee. I’m not saying you have to hire your best friend. That could not go well. But think about who you know who could fit the needs you have, and ask around people you trust. “Do you know anybody who might want to come in to meet and talk and learn about the job?” That’s going to get you better leads than just ads.

Sarah Petty:

And hire somebody fun.

Andria:

Always have fun.

Sarah Petty:

I’m just kidding.

Andria:

It also helps when you like the same snacks, so pizza and Reese’s over here.

Sarah Petty:

Yep. Yep. Those are our snacks of choice, right? We like a little pizza. We do some popcorn. We try to stay away from Reese’s.

Andria:

But sometimes they sneak into the building.

Sarah Petty:

Sometimes they do. Well, thanks, Andria, for coming on.

Andria:

Oh, thanks for having me.

Sarah Petty:

I think for anybody who’s wanting an Andria, it starts by keeping your radar up and looking for those talented young people, looking for a friend of a friend. As a rule of thumb, your business can justify about 10% of your gross sales toward an employee. So if you do that math, as you’re just growing, that’s not a lot. I hired my first full-time employee when I was at $235,000. So before that, I had to have part-time and some interns and different things like that. So your interns and your part-time people can really help you grow your business, and hopefully, like Andria, grow into a really important part of your business.

So, I’m cheering for you, and I just want to let you know that you can’t have my Andria, but I’m happy to share her awesomeness and her ideas and share her with you on this podcast. I hope this inspires you to go mentor some young people and put yourself out there in the market, because you never know when you’re going to come across your own Andria.

Working photographer, coach, mama, and wife. Whether you’re looking to take your photography business full-time or simply make good money on a very part-time basis so you can contribute to your family financially and be your best self, we’ve got something for you.

I’m Sarah Petty

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