When you’re your own boss, it’s sometimes TOUGH to look at a few things like where you can improve or where you need to grow, what you should be working on, when things SHOULD be done (deadlines!), and that’s where accountability really comes into play. Having an accountability partner to help you stay on track and achieve the dreams you express is HUGE to the success of your business. Dennah goes into that further on this episode and explains why it’s important to not only be involved with a community, but a community who truly KNOWS YOU.
Hey Dennah! Welcome to the show. Tell us a little bit about you and what you do!
Hey! I’m Dennah Renee and I am a brand photographer and small business coach out of Oklahoma City. And my mission is to empower creative solopreneurs, to build businesses that support a life that they love. So often we find ourselves running a million miles an hour. We all know the hustle. We’ve all built business. If you’re listening to this, I imagine you have a business that you love, that you worked hard to build, to bring to life. But then we get to the point where our businesses (if we’re not careful) can start running us instead of us running our businesses. We want our businesses to support our lives, not run it!
I love that so much, and I could not agree more. We often become business owners to have that flexibility but we end up working 24/7 sometimes!
Right? It’s so true. There’s that trending reel that’s going around. It’s like, “do what you love and you’ll work harder and longer than anybody else that you’ve ever met.” But it’s true.
Yeah we find something we’re passionate about and we love it, but there is that burnout factor that comes with that, and that’s where the danger lies.
You started as a wedding and portrait photographer. First of all, when was that? And then when did you switch to brand photography? What was the decision factor behind that?
So I actually started out assisting my sister who had a wedding photography business back in 2015. She is a typical creative. She is so good at what she does, she’s very artistic and she has the vision that she wants to bring to life, but interacting with people made her a little bit nervous. So she brought me along! And I was coming out of high school and I was pumped. I got to go from assisting her to second shooting for her, and then my sweet sister started having children all of a sudden and realized that she was having a hard time building and running a business and raising her family.
So she decided to put her business on hold. That’s not how everybody chooses to do it, but she chose at the time to put her business on hold. And then I had a gap in my life and I was like, “oh my goodness, where is this outlet to love and serve people?” At that point, that’s when I started building my own business. This was around 2017. And God was just so gracious in the way that he blessed my business, brought people into my life, and the different connections that I was able to make. I went from assisting my sister to, (I think it was about 2019 going into 2020.) shooting my own weddings and second shooting for other women that I love doing life and business with.
I was shooting 40 to 50 weddings a year. It was a very, very busy season. And like I said, that does include second shooting. I love getting to spend eight, 10 hours with other women in business that I just adore and respect and admire. I feel like it’s not just about the photos that day, it’s about serving fellow creatives. So I went from having all my weekends open when I was working a day job to working a day job AND working every weekend. And about 2020 my husband and I got married. He’s such a wonderful man. I’m so super grateful for him. He’s very supportive in this. And I was able to go full-time into my business and really able just to take a deep dive into the wedding and portrait world.
My sweet husband, he came to me and he was like, “I really like you a lot.” And I was like, “well, thank you, wonderful. I like you too and love you.” And he was like, “I never see you.” He works a day job. He was gone Monday through Friday eight to five, and I was working nights and weekends and we were just like those passing ships in the night where we really wanted the opportunity to spend time with each other and build our relationship. Throughout the process of building my own business and getting to serve alongside other vendors in the wedding industry, my heart for the hustle and work that it takes to build a business was just growing during that time.
I saw people who were wildly successful and they were living with freedom and margin and their business was serving them and it was a blessing. And I saw other friends who were working really, really, really hard, but they felt like they were being ran over by their business. They are still incredible humans, but they felt like they were being ran over by their business. That’s when I started to look at the back end of things and I started to geek out about the numbers and the systems and the automations. What is the difference between the creative that is having a business that serves them versus the creative that is having a business that they’re having to kneel down and serve? And that is when that transition started to come into play.
That’s awesome! And when did you establish the Quarter Co?
Dennah: So it was actually after I started that pivot into brand photography. I was doing life even more closely with business owners that weren’t just photographers. I was getting the opportunity to serve planner companies and coffee companies and a florist and just different types of businesses. And I hit the fall of 2021 and I was telling my husband, “I love running a business.” It is such a joy and such a gift to be able to do. I don’t want to go back to nine to five, but sometimes it can be a little bit lonely and sometimes we need a bit of a accountability and encouragement and things of that nature. And that is when the Quarter Co. was founded, I put out a call on Instagram to see who else was craving this same community and the first 10 people to jump in were the first members of the Quarter Co!
The Quarter Co. sounds awesome! Can you tell us more about what it entails?
Well, the Quarter Co. is a cohort of creatives that come together and we plan out in 90 day chunks. We take a bird’s eye view of the whole year, and we really focus on reaching goals consistently through planning out 90 days at a time. Quarterly planning is such a gift because it allows for several things. It allows for clarity and focus because we are just focusing on the next 90 days. It also creates freedom to be able to say, “yes, this is what I’m focusing on now and no to other things that can wait.” So it’s not a no forever. It’s a “just not right now.” The Quarter Co. gals come from a variety of industries and we get together and we plan out a quarter ahead of time. We have a Voxer group chat. If you guys are sending messages via iMessage – please do yourself a favor and get Voxer. It will save you hours.
Is that an app?
Oh, it is an app. It is like a walkie-talkie app and you can listen to people as they’re talking!
Wow! So it’s a free app?!
It is free for the basic level, yes! And then there’s other options for purchased plans!
So we have Voxer for accountability, for check-ins. It’s one of those things that it’s like with a mastermind, a cohort, oftentimes with small group coaching – what you put into the group is what you’re going to get out of the group. There’s a great stat by The Financial Counseling and Planning Association. They say that you are 95% more likely to reach your goal or most likely to reach your goals if you have some accountability. So that means if you have something like the Quarter Co., or some kind of accountability system that’s in place, someone that’s going to pull you higher, there’s only a 5% chance you’re not going to reach your goals. I don’t know about you, but I really like those numbers!
Yeah, me too. Dude. That’s like the dream, honestly! And I do agree with you, I think accountability is huge because especially you don’t have a boss above you, you don’t have someone telling you what to do. If you’re not disciplined enough to set deadlines and stick to those deadlines, you do need some accountability! I love that.
100%. I agree. For the number of people in the room who aren’t convinced that quarterly planning or accountability is a good way to go about it: they say that if you just have a dream or a goal or a plan in mind, there’s a 10% chance that you’re going to reach it. If you write it down, it increases to 40%. Jot it down somewhere on a to-do list, a Trello board, a Google doc.
But then when you get that accountability in place, it jumps from 40 all the way up to 95. That’s incredible. So being transparent, being vulnerable with somebody that’s going to hold your feet to the fire.
What else does the Quarter Co. Entail?
There are several one-on-one coaching sessions with me. And then throughout it there is that accountability where we’re checking on Voxer, I’m holding their feet to the fire, and it’s really kind of self-paced. So I’m going to ask them like, “Hey, when are you going to have your Q3 goals completely mapped out?” Because we have a quarterly planning framework that we work through. We review the past quarter, take that information that we need in order to make wise and educated decisions going into the next quarter. We’re able to play it out wisely!
But what I love about that is it’s so true that you have to put in the work to see results. And I think one of the main things with people who invest in their own education and the fallout that they have is they’re just not really putting in the time and they don’t have the accountability to do it.
How quickly do your spots typically fill up for The Quarter Co?!
Absolutely. So I was really grateful that those spots did fill immediately. And I had several girls that were waiting and they’re like, “Hey, if anybody backs out, if a spot opens up, will you let me know? Can I be the first to join?” And when I first started the The Quarter Co., it was free. It was like, bring your own snack, come together, we’re going to show up and we’re going to do it together. Now it is a paid investment because people pay attention to what they pay for. And we have to remember that people are going to pay us for what we do and not what we plan to do. And that’s the whole heart of the Quarter Co, is that we are going to come in and we’re going to get things done.
I think I have 17 members in the The Quarter Co., which is such a joy to have them in. And one of my favorite things is they’re not all just photographers. It’d be very easy for someone, someone like me to pull photographers because those are the people that we work with. But I think sometimes we can find ourself in a little bit of an echo chamber where we’re talking about things that are all things photography. We’re in photographer’s land, and we just start hearing all the same things, getting all the same perspectives. But through the Quarter Co. – I get to work with all kinds of business owners!
This whole thing came from the idea of “I’m tired of transferring goals from one list to the next, it’s time to finally check them off once and for all.” Everybody was feeling that way. And so when it started, it was us just coming alongside each other to encourage each other in that way.
We have monthly meetings where we come together! We don’t get together just to visit and catch up on life. We’re sacrificing business hours time away from our family, time away from the office with the belief that the return of the investment of our time, it’s going to be tenfold. And that’s where the conversations started happening. People started asking about it and wait lists started to get formed.
I seriously love that. It’s like there was that demand and painpoint – where people were really needing this service!
I am so grateful for it. As I was reflecting back about the business owners, the photographers, the wedding corners that I looked up to that had businesses that were serving them versus those who felt like they were being frequently ran over by their business, a couple common threads were the people who were having businesses that served them – they had put on their CEO hat and they were running their business like a boss. They had systems, they had automations, they had workflows in place where they were able to walk into the office each day and know what to get done.
They frequently talk about the fact that stress is directly related to the amount of decisions we have to make each day. Our brain doesn’t want to have to decide how we’re going to respond to an inquiry every day. And so making those things simple, putting those things on autopilot, you can still go in and personalize things, add those sweet touches in. That way we’re still able to make it personal in some way to each person – but we’re not using all of our mental energy to rewrite the same thing a hundred million times a year.
It really is the best way to love yourself, love your clients, love your family, because it is exhausting trying to write an email from scratch and trying to make it personal. And I know that some people thrive in that and that’s great, but not from a sustainability perspective. I also agree with having some type of template and then personalizing from there.
Where should people start with Quarterly Planning?
That is a great question. So when it comes to quarterly planning, we are going to do the typical, take a quick look at the whole year. I think it’s super wise to know what’s coming up, what we already have planned. As wedding photographers, we know our schedule about a year in advance if not more. We want to go ahead and we want to take a quick glance at the overall year. It’s kind of like a bird’s eye view. We’re going to mark off things on the calendar that are already scheduled. At that point, I do recommend that you write down time that you’re going to be out of the office. When are you going to spend time with your family? When are you going to go to a conference?
When are you going to take a vacation? When are you going to be out for the holidays? And deciding now before you get the inquiry of your dreams or before someone’s like, “but could you just squeeze in one more family session for me?” You’ve already decided when you’re going to be out of the office. It’s also about being aware of our numbers.
Before we dive into a quarter though, I do like to review the last 90 days. What goal did we meet and how did we do that? What went well? Where did we fall short? Was it because we over committed? Is it because we had unrealistic expectations? Did something come up? Are those goals no longer important to us? Then we plan for the upcoming quarter! I like to really think about four different areas.
First we are going to think about our schedule. What do you have coming up? What do you already have planned? Kind of like re-looking at that annual calendar that you have and taking a deep dive there.
Then we’re going to go ahead and talk about how many hours do you have to work? Do you have 40 hours a week to work? Do you want to work 40 hours a week? Are you a mom that’s working in the cracks and margin of life? If we know that we have 40 hours a week to work, but it takes 25 hours to maintain our business, we only have 15 hours left.
That leaves me 15 hours a week to work on my quarterly goals and my dreams. So it’s being aware of our time and schedule.
Then we want to tackle our finances. How much do we need to bring in each month in order for our family to survive and do well? And do we have a dream number? We also want to recognize – is there an area in my business that I feel like it’s running over the top of me that needs a little bit more attention/a little bit more love? A little bit more care somewhere where I’m getting hung up that’s causing some frustration? That’s a pretty good sign that that’s an area we might want to pause and look at and spend some time working on.
And then my favorite is we want to take a moment and dream. We all built our businesses, we worked hard, we had a dream and then we brought it to life. And so often we get stuck in the day to day of maintaining and getting things done. And wedding season is hot and it’s hard and there’s a lot going on. But then we forget to dream sometimes. We need to be taking a moment to pause and dream. What would we like to do? What would we like to add? What do we want to stop doing? What do we want to change? And just giving ourselves the freedom to be the creatives that we are is such a fun thing. So those are the four areas I like to look at before actually planning out the quarter.
And I love everything about that because I think if when you plan on an annual basis, there are things that change throughout the year!
Yes, I love the flexibility of being able to look at a quarter and say, “actually this pivoted a little bit. We’re going to change this a bit.” And I love making room for dreams too, because honestly, that’s why we’re entrepreneurs, right? That’s why we’re doing it. A lot of us get lost in the process and the systems of running our own business that we forget to be the entrepreneur.
For someone who is craving that extra accountability but doesn’t know where to start – what is your recommendation?
That’s a great question. So when it comes to that, I would encourage you to think about the people in your life that you love and respect that you already have a relationship with and say “Hey, I have these desires. I have these big dreams, these goals that I want to hit and reach. Who else is in this boat? Who, who’s willing to hold me accountable and allow me to hold you accountable?” Going somewhere where there are trusted business owners that you already have some kind of connection or rapport with because you’re simply in the community and sharing that. And then schedule out meetings. Don’t just say, “oh yeah, we’re going to touch base. It’ll be great.” Put it on the calendar, my friend. Go ahead.
And I would encourage you meet a minimum of once a month! Sometimes you can’t wait to have people come to you – you have to be transparent and put yourself out there!
Would you say it benefits you to have someone in the same industry or does that matter? What do you think?
It really kind of comes into the season that you’re in and your business. For me, I personally love speaking to people that are outside the photography industry because it can become an echo chamber. But I’ve also been in the photography industry for quite a while, and I’ve been blessed to know a lot of people get some great education from wonderful educators. If you are new or in your photography journey, if you’re newer and growing your business, I would encourage you to stay within the industry. If you are within the first five years, I would encourage you to stay within your industry and find your people there.
And the beautiful thing with accountability too is people can actually help you realize where maybe you’re falling short. And it’s not to hurt your feelings. Criticism is the best way to grow. And I think we live in such a sensitive society right now.
From a criticism perspective, how would you go about looking at someone’s business and then offering constructive criticism in a way that would help them?
I struggled getting into business and receiving constructive criticism even when it was kind. And there is a sweet photographer, her name is Anna Wright, and she offered a free class on receiving constructive criticism. And the first thing that she shared was, or she said to ask is, “who’s the source?” Know the source! Is this somebody who wants to call you higher, that loves you, that wants to see you be a stronger and better business owner?
Or is this someone that you’ve never met? That’s a troll on the internet? Knowing who the person is makes a world of difference. And if you go into this partnership and you’re vulnerable and transparent for a minute, and then you guys hop on a quick zoom call to make sure that you’re a good fit – do your personalities gel? Do I respect the business that you have? You’re going to want to look at their Instagram, maybe take a quick glance at their website, ask a few questions, do your values align? Do you care about the same things? Are the goals in within your business the same?
If you could give any advice to a photographer – what would it be?
Find your people, be wise and choose your people. The Bible says “in multiple counselors, there’s safety, there’s wisdom.” Find your people, find them fast. It is so easy to stay stuck and to choose to be confused. We’re like, oh no, I don’t know what to do. Be bold and courageous for just a moment. If there’s someone that you look up to that you admire that you can send a message on Instagram, being honest and transparent, like, “Hey, I am wanting to grow this business. This is where I’m at. I would love it for it to be you. And if it’s not, like is there someone that you could recommend?”
Together, everyone achieves more. If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together. These are truths, these are principles to live by. Finding those workshops, finding those in-person opportunities and being willing to do it alongside each other.
Sometimes it’s easy to fall into that comparison game too, especially with friends that are in a similar season. If you can look at it as, “you know what, there are so many couples or there are so many people I can work with”. There are plenty of couples to go around. And those people will find you. You have to focus in on your own business, but also champion others. Because if you fall into that negativity of “you’re my friend, but now I’m comparing myself to you and I actually dislike you,” that’s that’s going to hurt you more than it’s going to help you.
Yes! Comparison is a thief of joy. If we’re focused on things other than our lane – we’re going to get derailed. If we’re focusing where God called us to build, be with the business that he called us to build, we’re going to go there in a much more quick and concise way than we would if we’re taking all sorts of detours as we stare at other people’s businesses.
Dennah, this has been a great convo! We have one final question for you. If you could go back in time five years ago and find yourself, what would you tell yourself? And it can be anything. It doesn’t have to be business related.
It’s going to sound really cheesy, and some people may not agree with me, but for me, if I were going back, I would tell myself to get focused and build my business on the principles of God’s word early on. Because there’s so many great principles. God was the greatest business owner of all time. He knew what he was doing. He knew how to create systems. I mean, look at this world, this ecosystem that was made, and he’s the author of all creativity. And giving myself the freedom to really trust that and then trust the process and stay focused on my lane. I think I spent too much time watching what others were doing and trying to fit myself into their mold by nature.
I tend to be somebody that’s a little bit more logical and I like numbers and I like systems and I work workflows. But when I was starting out photography, I was curious how that was going to work and looking back and see and see how God had a plan in all of it. It was career capital that was building up to get me to the place that I am now. And so I think just learning to build my business on the principles of His word, trust the process, yet stay focused at the same time would be what I would tell myself five years ago.
Where you can find Dennah!
The Quarter Co.
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