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Building an Associate Photographer Team with Amanda Rai

Building an Associate Photographer Team with Amanda Rai | The Business Minimalist™ Podcast with Jade Boyd
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Amanda felt called to be a full-time mom and a business owner, which ultimately led her down the path of building an associate photographer team. In this episode, Amanda is sharing all the tips, strategies, and advice that she wish she would have had when she first started building her team!

Amanda is a photographer, travel blogger, momprenuer, and business coach. She’s passionate about helping people design and operate businesses that fit their life, not the other way around. When she’s not keeping her team running like a well-oiled machine and teaching others how to do the same, you can find her homeschooling her kids or traveling the country with her family in their camper Callie. Press play to learn how to build your team, let go of control over client work, and create true time freedom in your business and life.

Building an Associate Photographer Team with Amanda Rai | The Business Minimalist™ Podcast with Jade Boyd

Key Takeaways from this Episode

  • How Amanda managed both work and home responsibilities as a professional and a mom.
  • What the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated for Amanda’s business and how it changed everything!
  • The unique thing Amanda looks for when hiring an associate photographer for her team and how it makes all the difference.
  • The process Amanda takes when onboarding a new hire.
  • Amanda’s key recommendation to entrepreneurs looking to build their team.
  • The productivity hack and productivity book Amanda recommends.
Building an Associate Photographer Team with Amanda Rai | The Business Minimalist™ Podcast with Jade Boyd

Connect with Amanda

Links and Resources Mentioned in This Episode


Click here to read the full episode transcript!

Amanda Rai: I was really struggling with being a stay at home mom. I knew that wasn’t where I was supposed to be, but it was kind of like, I was like, I want one foot in this door and one foot in another door. And I kind of wanted both.

Jade Boyd: Welcome to the show, Amanda.

Amanda Rai: Thank you so much for having me, Jade.

Jade Boyd: I am really excited for this conversation and you are somebody who has a lot of experience and a lot of different things so I would love to start the conversation with just some background information about who you are and how you’ve gotten to where you are today, because you do several different things and bring a lot of experience to the table and I would love to just start with that background before we dig into the details.

Amanda Rai: Sure. So my name is Amanda Perkins. I’m the owner of Amanda Rai Photography, which is a wedding photography business based out of New Hampshire. I’m a business coach. I’m also a homeschooling mom of two,and we snow bird in the winter. So we do a lot of traveling, so then I also have a travel blog and like a travel YouTube, and that kind of side of my life also.

So how did I get here? So I was actually a middle school math teacher before I had children. so I had a math degree. I actually had a teacher leadership degree. So I had two degrees, and after we started having kids, I left teaching to begin, just kind of explore my own photography business I had all intents and purposes of going back to teaching, but it didn’t turn out that way.

I was really torn between two worlds that I really wanted to be in. I wanted to be like a professional, career oriented person, but then I also wanted to be a stay at home mom, so I was really torn. So I kind of set off on this mission to create a business where I can have both.

Jade Boyd: So I want to dig in just a little bit more into that. So when you say that you left teaching to do photography and thought that you would go back, was photography something that you were already doing kind of on the side as a hobby before you had kids and decided to leave teaching? And what did that look like for you to decide not to go back?

Amanda Rai: Photography was something I picked up in college. And yeah, it was a hobby that I enjoyed doing. It was really difficult for me to imagine a life doing something that wasn’t what I went to school for, because I have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in education, so that was really difficult for me to think of doing anything else. So after I had my oldest, I was still like teaching night classes at the community college, and then it wasn’t until I got pregnant with my daughter two years after my son, where I kind of, I can’t do night classes anymore, like this is just, I’m so tired running around with a two year old. So that was kind of when I officially stopped working was when I was pregnant. and then after I had my daughter, I, like I said, I’m always like a career, I always wanted to work, I always wanted to be a professional.

So I was really struggling with being a stay at home mom. I knew that wasn’t. where I was supposed to be, but it was kind of like, I was like, I want one foot in this door and one foot in another door. And I kind of wanted both. So that’s then, yeah, this dream of doing a photography business was born, mostly because my husband, he, he sat me down one night and I was just really struggling. I was like, should I go back to work? Should I get some kind of job somewhere? I was just like, I was restless. And he asked me, well, if you could do anything in the world, like, what would you do? And I was like, that’s not real life. Like you can’t just like pick something out of thin air. And he’s like, no, like he really pushed me to say it.

So then I was like, I would run my own photography business. And once I said it, it kind of like grew into this thing and I’m an achiever, so if I say that I’m going to do something, then I’m going to do it. So, yeah, so that was 2018 when that journey started.

Jade Boyd: So 2018 you’re a stay at home mom you quit your job and you have this conversation with your husband you’re like okay I’m going to build a photography business and you built a wedding photography business. Which oftentimes wedding photography can get a bad rap as being The type of photography that allows for no work life balance because you’re giving up your weekends, right?

Or family photography. I feel like people lump that in that category as well. So when you say I wanted to be a stay at home mom, but I also wanted to build this awesome photography business and I’m ambitious, what did it look like for you in the beginning to pursue both?

Amanda Rai: So I feel like in the beginning, I’m home with my kids all the time, so going out to do shoots, to do engagement sessions and to go out for weddings was just so exhilarating for me because it took me away from changing diapers and snacks and wiping boogers and all that to be like a professional. So it just really like fueled me. I loved it. So, it, it didn’t feel like it was taking away any family time at all, because I was really excited to be more than a mom, I guess.

Jade Boyd: So what we’re talking about today is building a team and obviously where you are today, you do have an associate photographer team and a little bit more freedom where you don’t have to be the one necessarily every single weekend going out and shooting. But when did you first realize that you wanted to build a team?

Where were you at in your life and business at that time? Like how far into it? Because a lot of photographers might want the freedom to feel like I want to take on more clients, but I don’t want to leave my house that much more, but there’s so much hesitation with hiring a team, especially associate photographers.

So when did you first realize that was something you even wanted to do? Was that an easy decision for you?

Amanda Rai: I was forced into it thanks to COVID. So in 2020, we all know what happened. And, brides were, I mean, it was a really, really difficult time for 2020 brides. They had to reschedule their weddings and they had to make sure all of their vendors were still available for their new date. It was such a nightmare. And I had this one bride who rescheduled to a day that I was literally shooting another wedding. Like, there’s no way I could be in two places at once. So I approached a friend of mine, who was doing family photography and I just was like I got this crazy idea, let me know what you think would you want to shoot a wedding like under my brand and I didn’t really know what an associate team was like I didn’t see really anybody else doing it, there’s certainly not a lot of education around it. It’s kind of, it feels like it’s behind this like curtain where it’s like kind of like a secret of like, how do you build an associate team? But it just started as a conversation with this friend and she was like, yeah, totally. Like she wanted to know what weddings were like. So I was like, all right.

So, she kind of went straight into it, which is not how I do it anymore. But with her, she was my first. So that’s kind of how it started. And then once I got a taste of that and how it wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined it to be, I decided that I was going to onboard more associates. So 2021, I onboarded two more, and then it kind of just went from there.

Jade Boyd: So how did you first let go of that control with somebody else showing up and shooting for your client? I mean, especially that first time where it’s like, this person has never shot a wedding and I’m trusting them to show up and serve my clients without me there. How, I mean, in the beginning, I’m sure that there was some of that struggle, even though you had no choice for that specific one. But as your team has grown, I’m sure that you’ve had to let go of more and more control. What has that looked like for you to like loosen your grip on your client process?

Amanda Rai: Yeah, so, the way I hire associates, I think is a lot different than anybody else or certainly what anyone else is talking about. So when I hire, I only look for people withgood character. And it really doesn’t matter if they’ve never picked up a camera before. It doesn’t matter if they’re not a photographer to me. It doesn’t matter. What matters to me is their character because you can’t teach somebody to have integrity and to be humble and to be joyful. You really can’t teach those things, but I can teach anybody how to use a camera the way I do. So that’s kind of where it begins is this, I know their character and I get to know them really well to the point where I trust them because they have shown that their character is of great quality.

Jade Boyd: So how do you find those people? Just practically hiring the right people is such a hard problem. I do think that’s people’s, especially service providers and even photographers, number one fear when it comes to hiring. It’s really easy to make mistakes and hire the wrong person who won’t represent your brand well.

So how do you find the right people?

Amanda Rai: Yeah, so, I actually kind of, I like created this hiring process from reading a bunch of books,one of the ones that I took the most from was Entre Leadership by Dave Ramsey, and he talks about his hiring process, and I kind of took that and made it my own. So, what I typically do when I’m ready to hire someone is I will just kind of put it out there to my circle.

Like social media, email, you know, Facebook, my friends, I just tell everybody and every single person I have hired it’s been like some degree of a relationship from my circle. So like a friend of a friend of a friend or this past fall I hired someone and I didn’t know that they had worked with one of my past brides.

So once I was interviewing her, I got this DM on Instagram from a past bride and she’s like, hey, I heard that like, you’re interviewing this girl and she’s amazing. She’s wonderful. So it’s just, it’s so funny that like, because I’ve been shooting weddings and I have this network of brides and their families and, you know, bridesmaids and these people who live around me, I have always hired somebody who’s been some kind of degree of relationship from that circle, so there’s like a degree of trust transfer, I guess of their character so people can vouch for them and they can get these, references from people that I know.

Jade Boyd: I really like that you share that perspective, because oftentimes when it comes to hiring, I think our brains automatically go to like, there has to be a specific website or a specific process where the best people are, or, you know, the right questions to ask in an interview or the right things to check for.

But I love how you flip that on its head and make it honestly a lot more simple because you’re right. Training somebody to shoot the way that you do is a lot easier than training somebody to have a certain type of personality that provides the dimension of the client experience that you can’t really teach somebody.

You either act a certain way or you don’t. And so I love that you said that, especially for newer business owners who might not be able to hire somebody or afford to be able to hire somebody who is already trained knowing that you can go out and find people who are hardworking and who are like great at customer service or whatever those overall skills you need, and then train them on the details. And sometimes it makes your life easier. So I love that you shared that different perspective.

A lot of service providers also feel like they don’t want the burden of having a team. And having a team obviously gives you a lot more freedom because they do things while you are not working while you’re unplugged and spending time with your family.

But also there’s like the mental and emotional burden of feeling responsible for paying your team and like providing for their families and creating this business that gets bigger and bigger. So how have you kind of navigated that? Have you felt any fears around building your team or has it always just been something that’s like gradually flowed and felt good to you? I would love to know your perspective on that.

Amanda Rai: Yeah, so like I mentioned in my prior life, I was a middle school teacher. So I guess like leading and training, is something I just do pretty naturally, I guess. I always used to joke like when you’re a middle school teacher, like nothing can scare you. Like nothing scares me anymore. So I really enjoy leading a team.

I would say I am probably administratively gifted. But our associates know up front that this type of work, like wedding photography, it just varies greatly from year to year and there’s no way that I can guarantee a certain number of weddings because it ebbs and flows, and they’re also on a contractual basis. So there are subcontractors. So once I train them, they are now, they could be assistant photographers or second shooters for anybody. So, you know, my team, Amanda Rai, would be their first dibs, but if someone, you know, is in an emergency and needs a second shooter, like a week out, they are more than welcome to do that and to make more money.

It’s also important to note that this is not their full time jobs. Like I said, these ladies, some of them didn’t even own a camera before they joined my team. So this is not their full time job. We have a bookkeeper, we have a school counselor, we have a behavioral therapist, we have a stay at home mom, we have, just lots of different people across the board and this is just something they do for fun because they want to be a part of something bigger, and just extra income for them. So I’ve never felt the pressure because it’s, it’s like an additional thing for them.

Jade Boyd: So one other thing that often comes up, especially when it comes to training somebody to do what you do, there’s also that fear of almost creating your own competition and having people rip off your process or go start their own business that competes with you. Have you had that experience in your business?

Amanda Rai: No, no. So I think because I start with character, really there’s only one associate that I’ve had that is, also like doing her own weddings and she’s like transitioning out, of Amanda Rai to be her own. But I mean, because I start with character, she is so cognizant of that, and she’s very sensitive to that, that she would never want to be seen as competing with me.

She’s just made it so clear to me that she’s like, you know, definitely not, totally different area, totally different region. And she’s just so gracious for everything that I’ve taught her. But with my other associates, they are not interested in creating their own wedding photography business. Like I said, they have other full time jobs that they love, so it’s definitely a, like a side additional thing for most of them.

Jade Boyd: So for a lot of people listening right now, they might be thinking like, wow, everything was just so easy for her. It must be great. But can you tell us maybe what are some of the mistakes that you’ve made while hiring your team or some of the mistakes that you’ve almost made things that you would want other people who are considering building their team to avoid from the get go?

Amanda Rai: Yeah, so thankfully we have been pretty lucky, but I would just warn against trying to speed up the process. You really have to be patient. So like I said, our first associate in 2020, we were forced to like speed into it, but I learned a lot from that process and then with our with our next onboarding, I kind of switched up the system a little bit and we take a really long time to onboard an associate.

They’re literally coming from ground zero, so we never actually hire associates, we hire assistants, and then they can grow their way to be an associate, so it could, I mean, it could even take months and months and months for them to just be able to be an assistant on their own. There’s lots of trainings, there’s lots of mock shoots, there’s lots of shadowing at weddings. They have like this checklist that they have to be able to complete before I trust their photography skills to be a second shooter. And then from there they can kind of grow into an associate role. So I would just warn about trying to speed up the process. You have to be very, very patient.

Jade Boyd: Yeah, I think patience is a great recommendation for any entrepreneur because most of us are just like, let’s make this happen. I hired I should be able to have freedom now. So that’s really good advice. I would love to know what does your schedule look like today? Because you started out with this desire, I want to be full time with my kids as much as possible, I want this level of freedom, but I also want to build this awesome business. So like time wise, how does your life look today? Like what does your schedule look like to be able to do both? Right now.

Amanda Rai: Yeah. I have so much freedom. I could be in two places at once, and I don’t have to like, run myself ragged, trying to scale my business all by myself. So I am homeschooling now, so my kids are six and eight, so the rhythm that we had when they were little, we kind of still have that rhythm now, so I still spend almost as much time with them as I did when they were little.

I mean, now they’re into sports and all these, like, activities and things like that also, but I feel like maybe my time at my desk maybe is a little more, but I honestly think thanks to private editors and AI, it’s probably not. Ever since, like, 20, I don’t know, probably 2019 or 2020, I’ve shot 12 weddings a year, and I still only shoot 12 weddings a year, so my workload has not gone up, really.

But yeah, I’m able to be at these soccer games and I’m able to be, you know, with my family on weekends and yeah, it’s just 12 weddings a year. And I would say only a third of those are on Saturdays. Like, I feel like I have so much freedom. We were able to travel for eight weeks. we snow birded down to Florida. This was our second year. We just got back. So, I mean, it’s amazing. I would recommend it to anybody who’s willing to dive into it.

Jade Boyd: And then from a business perspective, how you’re splitting your time. Oftentimes when you hire, you do have to spend more time kind of wearing your CEO or like manager hat, so to speak. Have you found that your time has shifted within your business away from certain activities into others? You mentioned that you have a photo editor, so I’m assuming in the beginning you might have been editing your own photos, but what does that time shift look like inside your business?

Amanda Rai: I feel like it’s not that I maybe I just don’t notice it and maybe it just comes really naturally that I, I just enjoy leading trainings, but I feel like it’s more building this community on our team that it’s, it feels more like family gatherings than me like being a CEO teaching a PowerPoint or something like that. So it doesn’t feel like work. It just feels like we’re family when we get together. So I don’t, I don’t feel like it’s taken, it’s not more work, I wouldn’t say.

Jade Boyd: You’re making an associate team sound really really great. I’m sure all the photographers listening are just like, wow, this seems amazing. And I would also love for you to speak to, you also do business coaching. So talk to me a little bit more about where in your business timeline did that enter the picture? And what do you focus on when it comes to helping other business owners grow their business as well?

Amanda Rai: That just started pretty recently, I would say within the last year. So what I’m most excited about is my mastermind, I call it the A Rai Mastermind, and I just love creating those little pockets of community, this is for servant hearted creatives in year like one to four, kind of that messy middle of their businesses, I also have a, I have a couple of things on my website, like for wedding photographers, I have, like timelines and I have like SEO stuff on there, but I’m also really excited, to start thinking about like scaling your business with an associate team, like course or something like that.

I do have a freebie for your listeners. If they’re like, mulling around the idea of starting a team. I created a free, like, FAQ guide to starting an associate team, that I will send to you. And it’s because I feel like when I first started, I had so many questions and there wasn’t anybody to ask. And like, you know, Google’s only going to get you so far. So in this freebie, I have like copy swipes and like, just what I’m doing, so people can kind of see behind the curtain. So it’s not like a secret.

Jade Boyd: Perfect. We’ll make sure to link all of that in the show notes for anyone who is, again, listening and thinking, this sounds amazing. How do I do that? But would you be up for a bonus round of questions? Perfect.

So first question is, especially as somebody who is doing both business and stay at home mom stuff and homeschooling full time, what is your favorite productivity hack?

Amanda Rai: I feel silly saying this, but it’s so simple. But a timer is my favorite productivity hack. I feel like once you give yourself like this set time, then you become like this productive maniac. And I feel like it started when I was like doing that nap time hustle. That’s like, when I grew my business is when my kids were still napping.

And just knowing that I’m like, all right, I only have an hour, hour and a half max to get this done. And I was just so productive. So I’ve definitely taken that with me. Even when my kids are older and they don’t nap anymore. Just setting a timer does wonders.

Jade Boyd: I love that. There is nothing like a deadline. And we are expecting our first this June, which has been like a solid deadline for us to get house projects done. And things have gone so much faster. I’m like, we should have had a kid a year ago. We probably would have been done by now. So also kids, kids are great deadlines, due dates, naptimes.

Amanda Rai: Yep.

Jade Boyd: Second question is what is your favorite business or productivity book to recommend?

Amanda Rai: So I would say Essentialism by Greg McCohen. I love that book. It just, I feel like if you could get inside my head, And like, figure out what’s going on in there. I was just like, the whole time I was reading it, I was like, yes, yes. He just really inspires you to identify and focus on what really truly matters and then simplify your life and business choices. And you know, we’re all about being business minimalist, right? So

Jade Boyd: Yep. 100%. Have you read his book, Effortless?

Amanda Rai: Yes, I also read that one. Yep.

Jade Boyd: Yeah, those two favorite, favorite books. Caleb, my husband, also read Effortless when we were in Hawaii this year. So we had some great conversations about that one too. So we’ll make sure those are linked in the show notes as well. But for anyone who’s listening, who wants to find you and be in your space after the show, where can they find you?

Amanda Rai: So I live on Instagram. I’m always on. My handle is itsamandarai, R A I. And then my website is amandarai.com. You can find me on YouTube with the same handle. And then if you’re just curious and want to see our little travel, our travel blog and things like that, it’s life has its perks. And then I also have a YouTube, with that same handle also.

Jade Boyd: Perfect. We will link all the things in the show notes, but thank you so much again, Amanda, for being here. This was great.

Amanda Rai: Thank you so much, Jade.

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From MBA to Brand Photographer to Business Coach, I learned the hard way how to build a life-first business that allows me to work part-time hours without sacrificing profit. Now I help service providers simplify and scale their businesses so they can earn their dream income while living life on their schedule. If you're ready to build a sustainable, profitable service business (without the burnout), apply for the Business Edit™ Group Coaching Program today!

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