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Community Highlights: Meet Kelly Heck

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelly Heck.

Hi Kelly, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
The pursuit of a photography career has been my focus since childhood. Great appreciation goes out to my parents Doug & Susie – they trusted a film camera in my hands at a very early age and encouraged both my sister and I to pursue careers in the arts. The moment I knew photography was my path, I was still just in middle school. Every penny I earned or was given was put towards my first digital camera. Seeking out opportunities to fuel my passion included features in the local County’s newspaper (Carroll County Times), shadowing a portrait photographer local to my hometown (Fine Portraiture by Michelle, owned by Michelle Jones), and landing a job at a local youth sports photography company (Pictures-R-Us https://www.pictures-r-us.com/) that employed me for five years through high school and community college while I hustled little photo jobs on the side.

After completing my bachelor’s degree in photography out of state at Savannah College of Art and Design, I returned to my hometown, immediately taking a comfortable 9-5 day job. Bills had to be paid, but I still had my little hustle on the side, and I worked it evenings and weekends. Like many photographers, I took nearly any job I could get and was grateful for it. Over the next eight years, I tried to build a web presence that would passively work for me, I networked within business groups in my county like crazy (both for the day-job and for my side-hustle). So when the little push came for me to walk away from my day-job, I was in an incredible position. I left that job and in the first year on my own, I made more money than working 8 hours a day, five days a week for someone else. My transition was a safe one, but I credit my success 100% to community support and implementation of decent organic SEO practices. These two things are vital to any small business owner.

Working for myself, I knew I needed to make some changes. They always said if you narrow your niche, you’ll get bigger and better jobs. I was tired of the time lost on little photo gigs and I wanted to cut out some genres like wedding photography – but that idea was so frightening (less jobs means less money, right?)! But I finally did it and all I can say is I wish I had niched earlier. I now work primarily for businesses, creating photographic imagery to represent their team (headshots, portraits, and team photos) and their products and/or services (product shots, custom stock photography or “personal branding photography”). I more than doubled my prices, cut my workload in half, and I still bring in the same income and more. I’ve smashed my personal records bringing in a 5-figure job just last year – and looking forward to more jobs like that!

Over time I have also been able to automate some processes to better nurture my clients and to help with organization and time management as well. Shoutout to HoneyBook (http://share.honeybook.com/gz3hJ) – your app has made my life so much easier!

Exciting things are on the horizon too! I recently got married to another talented individual, my husband Adam Stultz. He is a videographer and motion designer with the same general B2B target audience. We are partnering on some wonderful projects and business ventures yet to be announced, but I am eager for their launch and excited for our future plans to unfold!

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I am very fortunate to say my road so far seems pretty smooth. But we all face struggles and I can share at least a few things I’ve learned along this awesome road…

When you work for yourself, work-life and personal-life go hand-in-hand. Learning to set boundaries is a big deal. It didn’t take long before I set strict office hours. Working all hours of the day is not sustainable. So I have office hours like any other business. My notifications are completely OFF on my phone so that emails and work reminders do not interrupt my evenings or weekends. Nobody has emergency photography needs, so for me this works! My evenings and weekends are mine, with the exception of the occasional booked photoshoot.

Have you ever taken on a client that you felt (or found out) wasn’t quite the right fit? Things can get difficult and uncomfortable. Learning to turn away incompatible work is a very important. Learning to say “no” is part of that diligence. My first “NO” felt so amazing – it was a rush! Every inquiry is not my client, just as I am not every individual’s ideal photographer. I am a huge believer though that things happen for a reason. Challenges, difficulties, and mistakes make us stronger. For example, tightening my contracts and modifying/improving my workflow is the positive end result of such a struggle. With better processes in place, I can ensure all future clients are even happier.

Finding my voice has been a little challenging as well. I am an introvert, so learning to be outgoing and develop strong communication skills took some trial and error (and years of business networking and wing-men / wing-women). Now it is easy to pick up the phone, take a new lead, and turn that point of contact into a warm connection. Learning how to connect with a stranger face-to-face and on the phone is a hugely rewarding skill to build trust, win projects, and build your personal network.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’ve been told by prospective clients that my website galleries are like a “Who’s Who of Carroll County” business owners and entrepreneurs, and it is true! I have had the honor of creating photographic media for so many organizations right here in my county.

Though most of my incoming work is direct hires, I have enjoyed several assignments featuring local businesses on behalf of Carroll Magazine, Carroll County Tourism, Carroll County Economic Development, Carroll Community College’s two business centers Miller and Advantage C, and a few private companies. Relationships like these have fueled my business like crazy. I love sub-contracting relationships because we get into a friendly groove and build up each other’s businesses.

Because I primarily service businesses, you can imagine my work centers heavily on Staff Headshots, Environmental Portraiture (great for Commercial and Editorial uses), Custom Stock Photography (most recently morphing into “Personal Branding Photography”), and Product Shots. Most businesses need some if not all of these image representations for use on their website, social media, email marketing, link building, and print advertising.

So many client prospects tell me how much they hate having their photos taken. That breaks my heart because everyone should exist in photos and every entrepreneur should have the spotlight shown on them. Without photographs or other visual media, it is so much more difficult to form trusting bonds with your audience. Visuals help you broadcast all you have to offer so much more effectively. So when I hear a client express how much better they feel and look in-front of a camera because of the posing tips I’ve taught them… or that their friends have been complimenting their new portraits like crazy… when I see clients broadcasting their new images with full confidence… that’s the icing on the cake.

Honestly, there are photographers everywhere… if you can’t find their website, you can find them on Facebook. I jokingly say “there’s a photographer every 3 square feet”. And while that’s for the most part a joke, it’s true in many respects. High quality cameras are super affordable, camera phones take great quality photos for small uses. The equipment is important, but it’s what you do with it and how you treat people. So you can imagine that a positive experience from communication and connection to technical and creative knowledge is vital to building a photography business. But from a more unique standpoint, I am proud of myself for constantly hearing how easy I am to work with, how friendly I am, and the comfort that my clients feel in front of my camera. I am also proud to be a FEMALE photographer in the B2B arena. I can’t tell you how many female photographers I talk to that don’t want to be stuck photographing weddings, but they don’t know how to bow out. Honestly, it’s about embracing the fear and just going for it whether you are ready (which you never will be) or not.

What do you like and dislike about the city?
Taneytown and surrounding Carroll County is a beautiful and tight-knit community in central Maryland. The business circle here is very connected, supportive to one another, and always growing. This is a place to grow your business and have a family. And as a bonus, Taneytown itself is central to many large cities… Frederick MD is just 30 minutes south, York PA is just 60 minutes north, Baltimore is just 60 minutes East, and Washington DC is just 2 hours South East, and even larger cities like New York NY, Richmond VA, and Philadelphia PA are just 3-4 hours by car. We have so much accessibility here it is insane!

What I do not like about my city & county is the fabricated belief that we are JUST a small country town of rednecks and “good ole boys club” – a belief held by both residents and other nearby regions. We have some huge business right here in Carroll County. We have extremely advanced technology. We have fiber internet. We have tons of small businesses and new start-ups are constantly popping up. So what I do not like is the lie being told – our story needs to change, and I suppose that begins from the inside. We might be a small town and a small county, but BIG things are happening here! Both Taneytown and Carroll County are hubs to an incredible community to establish your roots.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
1. Self Portrait (Photo Credit: Kelly Heck Photography) 2. Adam Stultz (hubby) & Kelly Heck (wifey) (Photo Credit: Susan Heck) 3. Kelly Heck (Photo Credit: Tiffany Noone of Little Cuddlebug Photography https://www.littlecuddlebugphotography.com/) 4. Kelly Heck behind-the-scenes at Fuchs NA https://fuchsna.com/ (Photo Credit: Adam Stultz of http://adamstultz.com/) 5. Kelly Heck behind-the-scenes on assignment (Photo Credit: Laura Pengelly of ArachnidWorks https://arachnidworks.com/) 1. Self Portrait (Photo Credit: Kelly Heck Photography) 7. Behind the Scenes with Kelly Heck photographing MAKKER with model (Photo Credit: Anna Mallepalle of MAKKER http://makker.co/) 8. Kelly Heck on set with owners of Alpha Sedan & Limo and Sharon Tillman of SJT Marketing (Photo Credit: Kelly Heck Photography)

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