According to many sources, most businesses fail within the first 5-10 years. How do you beat the odds and build a business that withstands the test of time? Through the economic recession of 2008 to the global pandemic of 2020, KT Merry has seen a lot during her 20 years in the photography industry. From the introduction of digital photography, the start of Instagram and rise of social media, to life before fancy website platforms. She remembers the days when business was built on making phone calls and knocking on doors.
Early in her career, she learned the power of perseverance, persistence, and good ole’ fashioned hard work. Through everything the past two decades have thrown her way, she has learned to roll with the evolving landscape and continue to push the boundaries toward excellence.
How to build a business that withstands the test of time? An inside look in today’s interview with world renowned photographer, KT Merry.
WILDFLOWER SHOWNOTES : shannaskidmore.com/kt-merry
KT Merry: (00:00)
The guy walks by and the dog's crying, and, and he looks at the owner like, Why is the dog crying? And he goes, Oh, he is sitting on a nail. And he goes like, Oh my gosh, Why? Why doesn't he get up? And he goes, Oh, it, I guess it doesn't hurt bad enough. And you know, there is that, that thing of like, we typically as humans, we wait until it hurts really bad before we take that big change. And so, you know, we all like to say like, if we can get ahead of these things and before you go, Oh my gosh, like I'm either gonna, you know, throw up my hands and quit my business, or I'm gonna figure this out. Like, let's, let's make it a lot easier on ourselves and do that preventative and kind of build it the right way. But, you know, easier said than done and hindsight's always 2020, right?
Shanna Skidmore: (00:38)
You were listening to Consider the Wildflowers the podcast episode 14,.15 years in weddings, 20 years in photography. If you think about it, KT has grown her photography business through the economic depression of 2008 and survived the global pandemic of 2020. Starting in the days before digital photography, before Instagram and the rise of social media, even before fancy website platforms were available. Over the past 20 years, she has watched her industry shift and change and pivot time and time again. And she has had to shift and change and pivot right along with it. how to grow a business that withstands the test of time? An inside look in today's interview with world renowned photographer, KT Merry, if you dig professional bios here goes: From the islands of the Maldives to the Serengeti Bush to the rolling hills of the Irish countryside, photographer KT Merry has traversed the globe shooting exclusive destination weddings and fashion editorials. KT's signature style blends her background in fine art and her years of experience assisting some of the world's most celebrated fashion photographers. She has been named a top wedding photographer by Harper's Bazaar, Martha Stewart Weddings and The Knot and a Rising Star by Photo District News Magazine. Okay, formal introductions over, let's dive in. Hey, it's Shanna and this is Consider the Wildflowers, the podcast. For the past 15 plus years, I've had the honor to hear thousands of stories from entrepreneurs around the world. As a former Fortune 100 financial advisor, turned business consultant, I have a unique opportunity to see the real behind the highlight reel. I'm talking profit and loss statements, unpaid taxes, moments of burnout, and those of utter victory. Or as my husband says, the content everyone is wondering but not many are talking about. And now I'm bringing these private conversations to you. Hear the untold stories of how industry leaders, founders, and up and coming entrepreneurs got their start, the experiences that shaped them and the journey to building the brands they have today. Stories that will inspire and reignite encourage to redefine success and build a life and business on your own terms. Welcome Wildflower. I'm so glad you're here. Hey KT, I'm so excited to have you on the podcast today. Just say hello to everyone and we'll just kick this thing off.
KT Merry: (02:55)
Yeah, thank you so, so much for having me, and congratulations on this amazing podcast. I'm so excited to be here.
Shanna Skidmore: (03:01)
Yeah, it's been really fun. I was just telling you right before we started just to get to talk to my favorite people and hear stories. I just sometimes like your story, I feel like I've gotten to hear a lot of it, but not all of it. So I'm excited to get, to get curious and ask you some questions. So let's just kick it off by taking it way back to when you first started your business. Like what got you into the photography business in the first place?
KT Merry: (03:25)
Yeah, it was, I, I do think photography chose me in the sense that I was a high schooler in Northern Nevada and we were lucky enough back then to have a dark room and a photography class and kind of, I'd always been deep into the arts and painting and pottery and photography was a, a natural extension of that. And I had a photography teacher who kind of took me under her wing and ended up taking me to, at the time it was called VICA, Vocational Industrial Clubs of America to a competition there where at the state level I ended up winning the photography competition, which meant I went to a national competition in Kansas and, and won at that level and ended up with two, or I was runner up rather at that level. And I ended up with two photography scholarships and kind of, it was like, boom, all of a sudden I'm going to photography school. And so it kind of was an accidental path, but then obviously was, was exactly how it was meant to work out.
Shanna Skidmore: (04:25)
Did you think that you would do something else? I mean, I know high school, like who knows exactly what they're going to do, but yeah. Did you have other thoughts that you were kind of going to pursue before photography?
KT Merry: (04:36)
Yeah, I was really, really interested to have the whole university experience. And so I really wanted to kind of have that four year experience and go off. I've always been really in love with learning and my high school, while it was a great high school, it wasn't very challenging. I think by the time I was a senior I was going to school for like two or three hours a day cuz I had already gotten so far ahead on all the credits and everything. So I was all, yeah, all set to apply to all these schools in between winning that scholarship and also finding out that I didn't have, um, a college fund that was set to allow me to go to a far away school. It was kind of one of those where it was a easy decision, but at the time I had imagined that I would study zoology and minor in photography and actually in high school was voted most likely to become a National Geographic photographer, .
Shanna Skidmore: (05:30)
Oh, that's so funny. I mean, that makes so much sense now. .
KT Merry: (05:35)
Yeah, after photography school, it really, there wasn't a quite a clear path in terms of, oh, now I'm gonna go be a photographer. In my mind, I, I still had so much to learn, so that's when I started photo assisting and working for fashion photographers. And so it really, I was freelance. I, I didn't really necessarily view it at that point that I was, was starting a business. I was just a, you know, independent photo assistant traveling the world and, and trying to gain as much experience as I could. So I continued doing that for about five years and kind of worked my way up the ladder from being a photo assistant. This was back before digital came alive and during that time it kind of was born. And so then eventually worked my way into being a digital tech, but did all sorts of other things from production at the time to working for a fashion stylist and just kind of all the different jobs that, um, compose a, a fashion set. Got a lot of experience in those areas.
Shanna Skidmore: (06:29)
Did you KT just get paid like commission or in taking a lot of different jobs or were you working for a company at this point?
KT Merry: (06:39)
Yeah, so I was totally freelance, so I did technically have, uh, I think I started out just like as, you know, 1099, but in that field everybody works on day rates. So you have a day, rate. And the normal day for, uh, fashion job is 10 hours at the time, most of the jobs you didn't get overtime, so you pretty much work from sun up to sun down and you get a day rate for that.
Shanna Skidmore: (07:00)
And did you know, I mean, were you just like, I have to pay my bills, I need to take on this many jobs, or how did you start figuring out how to make a living doing that?
KT Merry: (07:10)
Yeah, I just worked as much as I could. . So the jobs would come in and photographers would have you hold dates and, you know, you'd kind of start to see your, your calendar get put together. But starting out before I really, uh, eventually I became, you know, I got on studio lists and kind of was on, you know, photographers radar to give me a call once they had a job coming up. But when I was very first starting out as a, as a 19 year old, uh, female photo assistant, which, you know, even now it's still obviously it's, it's a very physical job. It's still very male dominated. And I was just emailing photographers, just literally, uh, reaching out to as many people as I could and reaching out to the studios and getting my name on the list and just kind of knocking on doors. And eventually that proved to work and I ended up becoming a, a first. So most fashion photographers will have anywhere from one to five photo assistants, but I ended up becoming a first for a German photographer, uh, down here in Miami. And he shot all over the world. And so I started working with him and traveling with him a ton as well as other amazing people, and even had a chance to work with like Patrick Demarchelier and some of the, the real, the big guns that are just, you know, legends in our industry.
Shanna Skidmore: (08:26)
Yeah. Did you know, I mean, did you just fall in love with fashion photography? Is that just where the door opened or, you know, is that kind of where you wanted to be?
KT Merry: (08:35)
Yeah, well really my ultimate dream was to take a gap year and be one of those people with a backpack that was just roaming through Europe. And, uh, as I mentioned, I didn't really have that financial cushion to be able to do anything like that. So this was the closest that I could get to that, where I was obviously working my way, but I was absolutely getting to travel and getting to see different things and get exposed to different people. And then of course, learning as I went, I learned so much as I mentioned, there wasn't digital, hadn't even been born when I was in photography school and I was now working for a fashion photographer who is super progressive, but the very first digital camera we were shooting, you know, each iteration as it came out. And so I got to, got a continued education, learning about all those things as we went.
Shanna Skidmore: (09:24)
That's amazing. I just, I wanna get in your brain for a second. So for five years as you're freelancing, what, where did you think this was going? Did you plan on having your own business? Did you, I mean, tell me what you were thinking through at this time.
KT Merry: (09:38)
Yeah, I was originally just of course working my way up to becoming my own fashion photographer. And then I remember at some point, and this is where, you know, you always just have to look back at at your ideas and plans and just kind of laugh. I remember at some point thinking, well, you know, I don't know, I might like kind of deviate a little bit because fashion photographers, you know, I don't wanna just like live on a plane. And I, I laugh because I think I've flown about 210,000 miles this year, so, you know, jokes on me .
KT Merry: (10:10)
So, but that was, you know, one of the core motivations. And then there was this thing also that happened when, when digital really came about where all of a sudden the photographers before it was a, a fashion photographer with a film camera, we were polerating throughout the day and sharing that with the art director and everybody was really looking, they had to put all their trust in that photographer when he said, or she said, you know, I've got the shot. And so once digital came about, all of a sudden we're tethered to a display. Every photo that's coming in is coming up on the screen. Not only the art director, but the fashion stylist, the hair and makeup team. Everybody's looking at it going, Oh, we need to change this, we need to change this. And it, it really did change kind of that creative control that that photographer really had. And so when I started to see those things shift, it also was just timed with, uh, really kind of the world of weddings being born and style me pretty and they were moving out of, you know, church basements and all of a sudden people were, you know, putting uh, mason jars on tables, you know, like it was, it's going really crazy. Um, so it kind of started to, to shift a little bit. And that fashion photographer that I was working for, he had this idea, Hey, you know what, if we sell ourselves to really high end luxury weddings as like the fashion photographer shoots your wedding, let's try it. And we, so we even like created this little side business. We did one job together and he was like, That was the worst thing I've ever done . I never want to do that again. And I was scratching my head going, I didn't really think it was that bad. I could do more of these. So then I started also in addition to the, the photography, the fashion photography work, I started to also associate shoot and second shoot for wedding photographers. And so I applied that same going out and getting the experience to that side and just started shooting on, on my own with other people. And that's kind of how I got exposed into the wedding side of things.
Shanna Skidmore: (12:10)
So tell me, KT, what year was this happening?
KT Merry: (12:15)
So I officially started my business it was 2007, January, 2007 was when I officially said, Okay, I'm gonna become an S corp and open up and really, you know, be able to change that. Um, so that was the year that I officially decided I'm gonna actually have my own photography business.
Shanna Skidmore: (12:36)
Yeah. So you've been doing fashion photography at that point for five years. I mean, so you mm-hmm. . Okay. So you graduated, what, like 2002? I, sorry, my business in 2013 and I laugh now. I mean, just what a different world it is. That was like pre-Instagram days. I mean, just so much changes. Yeah. That's so interesting. So when you started doing weddings, were you still shooting film or did you start with doing digital?
KT Merry: (13:01)
Yeah, so by that time I had been really immersed in the digital side in the fashion photography world. And then of course starting with weddings, it was one of those where I'm kind of starting at the bottom working my way up. So I actually started back again with digital and funny enough, in 2007 for anyone that can remember that far back, that was of course the, the year of the great recession. So it was interesting with the timing there that I had just kind of really went all in on this, this new business and shooting for myself more and more. But what I found was that the weddings took off very quickly, and I always say that I learned that weddings can absolutely thrive in a recession. So for anyone that's worried about that right now, rest easy, they cannot survive a pandemic. We did figure that out. So definitely I think of the two, I found that my work just went through the roof during that time, even with us being kind of in a, what some would consider a, an economic recession and, and kind of the turmoil of that time. But it just got really busy really quickly. And before you knew it, I was really at those crossroads where I had to say, Hey, I, I have to say no to all the fashion work now and, and really go all in on this side of things.
Shanna Skidmore: (14:15)
Wow. Okay. So tell me about those early days. I mean, how did you come up with your pricing and how were you getting clients? Was it word of mouth? Just kind of walk me through creating a photography business.
KT Merry: (14:27)
Yeah, and this is, I love talking about pricing and all that now, and it's something that I teach so much about now because I did it all wrong in those days. But I think how most people do is you kind of look around and go, okay, what are, what are other people that look like they're at a similar level to me charging? And I had a sense of it now having associate shot and second shot for other photographers who were really busy with their studios. And I was in South Florida. And then I also had the benefit because I had been working for over five years in fashion photography. A lot of the contacts I had through that side of things, you know, we were shooting at one place so often called the Moorings down in Isle Merada, and that had a wedding venue as well.
KT Merry: (15:11)
So I already knew the people there. And one of the first kind of big gigs that I got that ended up being published and everything was the locations manager. So back in the day, like J.Crew and Ralph Lauren and everybody used to shoot on this one beach and we'd have like five photo teams there, and she was the one that managed them all. And well, sure enough, she heard I was starting to do this wedding stuff and it, she also was engaged and I ended up shooting her wedding and it kind of, that, that area and those particular venues really became kind of my sprouting grounds of where I really got started. So I really leveraged a lot of the relationships that I already had and had built through that fashion world and just kind of started to slowly grow from there. And like I said, some of those early jobs, I was really keen to make sure they were published and kind of dove right into that whole scene really in my first year of really being out in business.
Shanna Skidmore: (16:02)
And do you feel like having the fashion contacts helped you know how to get published? Because I wonder, I mean, you would know this so well, you teach photographers every day, so most photographers know how to even get published?
KT Merry: (16:14)
Yeah, and it's, you know, it's, it's an evolving landscape and one that I think is actually a lot trickier now because as, as you're aware, so many of the magazines have folded up and have gone all digital. So just the page space that we used to have back then just doesn't exist anymore. I mean, back then when you got engaged, what did everybody do? They, they bought you ten magazines and put 'em in your lap and said, you know, have fun . Um, and that was kind of like, you know, the rite of passage and I feel like there's a few left, but you can't go to a, a market anymore and buy, you know, 15 wedding magazines. And so the landscape has changed so much. But back then I was, I was doing stuff like, you know, looking at the magazine and finding the name of the editor you know, right. Calling up and going, Who can I email to, you know, the old, old school way before, we could just DM someone or, you know, those types of things. And so in a way it was, it was a little harder because as you mentioned, these, this was also, you know, all pre-Instagram. This was before, you know, everybody even had like fancy websites and things like that. So it was, you had to be more resourceful. And I think that type of kind of continued persistence is something that I learned early on. I was never just afraid to go knock on whomever's door or email, whoever. I just kind of just trudged through it and just kept going until finally somebody said, Okay, I'll look at what you've got. And so I definitely learned that early on where I do think right now the world is so accessible and at our fingertips that A there's, you know, a lot more, more people kind of just barraging people all the time. But I think also people kind of lose a little bit of that gusto or creativity of like, how am I gonna somehow, you know, weasel my way to the right person.
Shanna Skidmore: (18:01)
Yeah. I wonder KT if it's this idea of, you know, if we keep posting or, or whatever platform it is, if we go viral. Cuz I saw this, you know, working in finance, I mean, we knocked on doors, we cold called, we mm-hmm. , you know, I was taught how to do all that. And I think in my own business that persistence is paid off. And like you said, I wonder if in some ways we need to get back to that, you know,
KT Merry: (18:24)
Yeah, Well and getting creative and kind of doing the thing that other people aren't doing. So I think it's, it's about how can you come at it from a different approach and, and back then even just, just reaching out to a fashion photographer and, and sending along the story and saying, Listen, I'll come carry your bags. I'm, I'm really, you know, can just be helpful in any way, There weren't a lot of people doing that. And so now everybody's gotten a bit more savvy. So we have to be even more creative with our, with our approaches and, and how we're looking to connect with people and get in front of the right people.
Shanna Skidmore: (19:01)
Yeah. That's so helpful to hear. I, I love that you said, I mean persistence, like that's mm-hmm. so key in those early days. What would you say, if you could go back and do over maybe what wasn't going well in those early days?
KT Merry: (19:16)
Oh goodness. I mean, I think like so many photographers or just business people in general, I mean, I look back and I used to literally get so like, sick before, like I would lose sleep the night before a job cause I would just be so nervous. Um, it was such new territory. And mind you, I've, you know, I've been shooting for other people for, for years. I've been on sets for five years, but when it came time to like, okay, these photos are in my hands, the weight of this day is up to me. You know, I just literally used to just get consumed with, with nervousness and, and second guessing and analyzing my work while I was shooting. And it was, it was, it was a pretty intense process. Um, , I, I think a lot about, like, you see these movies where, you know, the, the rockstar or the actor or whatever, you know, was like throwing up before they go up on stage. It was kind of like that where, you just had to push through it. And thank goodness I did. And thank goodness. I mean, I still of course have nerves and, and things like that as the stakes have only gotten higher, but luckily not to that same extent. And I definitely trust in my abilities and that experience has compounded and paid off where, you know, you can get, get there and go, Okay, I've got this, I, you know, know what to do next and, and things like that. And that's the peace of mind that, you know, you get with the years of experience. But in the early days, it was, it was a pretty brutal process and definitely going back to film. So then I slowly started to, weave film back in my work and that really helped me a lot because I think that instant analyzation and kind of judgment when you're looking at the back of a camera screen while you're creating, I don't think that's healthy, especially when you're, you're first starting out and your styles evolving. It's just, it's kind of the wrong place to do that self-critique.
Shanna Skidmore: (21:06)
I love that you, two points that you just made first, how scary it is. I mean mm-hmm. , I say, you know, this part of my story, but when I was doing flowers for like a minute, With Amy Osaba, I did like two events. I was like, I can't do this. I mean, it was way too scary. Like what if these flowers die, It's only flowers they have, you know, it was just too much. And I did a friend's wedding year, like four or five years ago just as a favor, and they had like a huppah with flowers over it. And the whole time I was a guest at the wedding, of course a really good friend of mine was like, Please just don't fall on their heads. Please just don't fall on their heads. You know? So I'm so glad you shared that because yeah, I don't think people would think that of you KT and you know, you exude confidence.
KT Merry: (21:45)
Yeah. And I, I think it's normal. I think, you know, for anybody going like, gosh, you can't be this, this like this for everybody else. You know, I, I do think if you really care and you're passionate, then, then that's often a byproduct of it.
Shanna Skidmore: (21:58)
Yeah. And I also, it's such an interesting perspective about film versus digital because that's so true. I mean, now with like camera phones even, you know, you see a picture of your, I'm blinking in that one, or I'm this and that one. Can you take it again? Everybody wants their to see their best self. So, Okay. Walk us through kind of the transition over time. You've been in business since 2007, started with digital. When did you start bringing film back? And then when did you really see your business start to shift into the luxury market on the photography side? And then we'll talk about education in a little bit.
KT Merry: (22:31)
Yeah, so I mean, it, it took me a long time. I mean, I, I kind of went through and I was still shooting in 2007 for a lot of other people, so I had, you know, and I, at that time I was still also photo assisting. So it really took me, I think until, you know, closer to 2010 when I had, you know, a full roster of, of 35 of my own weddings and had really kind of totally shut down on the fashion side. And then it was around that time when I really started to bring back in film and really, really hone in on the craft side that I started to, and it's funny, looking back at the work during that time, it's like, Oh my gosh, terrible, terrible, terrible. And then you're like, Oh, you know, there's glimmers of hope here. And, and you can kind of see in like a couple year period where it really progressed quickly and, and then, you know, 2014 was kind of like a quantum leap year where all of a sudden we just had some of the, some of my favorite weddings still to date that are still in our portfolio. And so, you know, even just in those few years of going from like kind of really not producing the high quality work that I would stand behind now in 2010 and 2014, you know, shooting things that were on the cover of Martha Stewart weddings and working around the world. And so it, it kind of did quantum leap and I think getting back to film and really focusing on the craft was a, a big part of it.
Shanna Skidmore: (23:58)
Yeah. And, and do you think, again, just persistence, continuing to shoot and get better at your craft, I mean, just time, I mean, know everybody wants that magic pill or whatever, but it sounds like truly just really perfecting your craft.
KT Merry: (24:12)
Yeah, and, and working a lot. I was definitely the one that was, like I said, not afraid to associate shoot, not afraid to second shoot, just shooting as much as I could. And I do think those, you know, there's the 10,000 hour rule, I do think there, there is some element of that and just really kind of knowing where we wanted to be. It was a really fun time in the industry where, you know, Martha Stewart weddings was like the golden standard and really just exemplifying kind of excellence in our industry. And so I, I definitely had my sites set and just was, you know, hell bent to get there. And so that was, uh, a fun time of just really kind of honing in on, on the craft. But what was funny is kind of, I was so focused on the craft that, you know, you would've laughed because, you know, I really wasn't caring that much about the numbers or the business side. And so that was something that really came later when I realized like, Oh, , oh yeah. Huh, I need to look at this other stuff.
Shanna Skidmore: (25:16)
Well, talk me through that, KT. I mean, you're, you're on Martha Stewart, you're on the cover of Martha Stewart, and you're saying, Hey, I still need to figure out the back end of my business. Like, what was that aha moment? I mean, what, when was it like, I need to figure this out?
KT Merry: (25:29)
Yeah, I think, and this is where, you know, why I'm so passionate about working with creative entrepreneurs and photographers, because I think sometimes we can be so shortsighted with our goals and it can just feel like, Okay, if I just get on the cover of this magazine, then surely everything else will work out. And I think, you know, any of us that have been doing this for some time, I think you really quickly realize like, Oh, it's not the 10,000 followers, it's not the cover of the magazine. It's, it's like something that we haven't even been aware of that is, is really kind of what's gonna give us that continued success. And so I realized at that point that I had A, you know, achieved some of those goals, but then I was really going, Well, now what what now what do I need to do? And so I hadn't been thinking big enough first or long term enough, and I really realized that, okay, if I now want to achieve some of these bigger goals and really quote unquote work towards having a successful business, well, I realized really quickly that nobody ever taught me how to do that. I have been just working for, you know, at this point, 10 years, uh, as becoming the best photographer possible. And, and lo and behold, that will get you so far. But it wouldn't get me, you know, as far as I needed to go and, and to keep going forward and to make sure that the business wasn't just solely relying on, on just the pretty pictures.
Shanna Skidmore: (26:53)
Yeah. Okay. So how did you get started? I mean, was it, I need to make this much money, Was that the goal? Was it I need to make this much profit per wedding? Talk me through some of those bigger goals, and then how you started figuring out the numbers?
KT Merry: (27:08)
Yeah, so as I mentioned, I kind of had experienced a bit of a quantum leap of just seeing this business growth, but it was more on the side of like, the business looks like how I wanted to, I was aligning with the right clients, you know, building the portfolio that I wanted. But then after that it was kind of like, okay, well now it almost feels like it's plateaued a little bit. Like it's a little bit like, Okay, great, but that, that momentum didn't feel like it was keeping going. And so I really was going, Okay, well what, you know, what's going on here? And I realized I didn't really even know the right questions to ask about, like, what does my business need right now? What do I need to do next? I, I really didn't know. And I was looking around and people are doing styled shoots and, you know, kind of doing talks about pretty much just inspiring the industry, but nobody was really necessarily saying, Hey, this is how you build a successful business, one that can withstand 10 plus years and continue to grow. And that was the thing is I just wasn't, uh, I, I know a lot of people are okay when they get it to a certain point to go, Okay, great, now we're gonna just like rinse and repeat and you know, kind of love it where it is. And to me, I wanted for it to keep having those quantum leaps and to keep pushing forward. And so that is when all of a sudden I just started looking elsewhere. I looked everywhere outside of our industry. I dove back into all the, the learning and like every business book under the sun. I ended up joining a, a CEO entrepreneur, female entrepreneur mastermind. I joined the 10,000 small business Goldman Sachs program, you name it. I, I was like, I'm going all in on everything on this side and learning everything I can.
Shanna Skidmore: (28:47)
What do you feel like you learned the most in that season?
KT Merry: (28:51)
Well, that you should look at your tax returns more than once a year. . No, but all kidding aside. I mean, I further was a while that I just was like, Oh, tax return. Okay. That, I guess that looks good. Great. Moving on. Um, , I think the biggest thing was that I always thought going into it that this was like a necessary evil that I need to learn the business side. I'm gonna like have to study a P&L and you know, I'll, I'll say, um, sometimes like I was just looking at the Goldman Sachs, they give us like these, these P&L sheets that are like really smart and they calculate everything. And I still look at it sometimes and I was like living in this thing for like five months and I like still look at it and go like, I'm pretty sure some of this is in Chinese, you know, like . Yeah. Some of this is definitely not English. Um, you know, so I, I'm so much more comfortable with it now, but it's, it's something that doesn't come natural to me. But what I learned through this season of, of all this is that that side of things, the numbers side of things of, you know, revenue and projections and, and revenue goals, number goals can actually be really creative and really fun, which is honestly something I didn't think was possible.
Shanna Skidmore: (30:07)
Hmm. I love hearing that. Like, I want you to give me an example of that. If you have one that comes to mind. Like, I would love you to share with the audience what has made it fun for you? It's funny, I hear this from my students all the time, like, you've made money really fun. And I'm like, Yeah, cuz you get to be like, I want to buy this new rug. Here's a new goal. And I'm like, that's something only entrepreneurs get to do, you know? So that's what's fun on my side. Would you, what's been fun for you?
KT Merry: (30:32)
Yeah, well it was interesting to kind of, once we started to break down, like, okay, and this year I did this, this year and all those years I, I hadn't ever, you know, paid attention like, okay, was it a little bit more than last year? Was it 20%? You know, I wasn't calculating that, but once I started to do that math and then go, okay, well, you know, how, let's say for example the goal is, you know, 200,000 just pulling numbers outta sky and let's say we have 50,000 that we need to change. Well, you know, what are the ways that we could get to 50,000? You know, oh, I could do, you know, 10 sessions at 5,000 or I could, you know, sell albums at this price. And so all of a sudden just kind of, having that creativity of going like, well, how can we get there? And the different strategies. And I think, um, I really loved the Goldman Sachs program for that because it was really about different ideas and we actually had to, to pitch growth opportunities. So, you know, stand up in front of a room and kind of share the, the numbers of it. And I'm happy to say I won my pitch. So that's the other thing is like when you kind of make it like fun and there's almost like a little bit of that competitive nature and you know, meanwhile we know we're just competing against ourselves. I, I kind of thrive in that arena. So it kind of brought that element of like, Oh, let's see how far we can do this and let's see if we can win this game. And gamifying it I think was, was quite fun. And you can see how quickly when you start to do that, at least for me, it built confidence around it because it wasn't this scary thing anymore. It's, it's a little bit, I think like, you know, once you know the ins and outs of, say, driving a car, it's not this like, you know, two ton scary contraption anymore. You're like, Oh, it's just a steering wheel and, and you know, a few gears. Um, so understanding the, the inside of it gave me more confidence where all of a sudden raising the prices here or telling my prices to a client or sending that proposal just got easier. Which I think, you know, I don't like to generalize, but I do think it's something that maybe most men are more confident in that area of like, Oh, just here's my big number. And things like that where it, I was like, you know, I wanna, I, I can be that confident with this. And it took me kind of that whole experience to then be able to say, Yes, I'm going to, you know, really push the glass ceiling of what's, what people are charging in this area and I'm going to continue to raise it. And, and that part of it made me, made it really fun for me.
Shanna Skidmore: (33:09)
I t's almost like you have to, I see this so much in myself and my students, you have to justify it to yourself first, and then when you're confident you can share it with your audience or with your client, you know, it's, but you have to believe it first and that's where, I think for so long, that whole like fake till you make it, it feels fake, you know. But knowing the numbers and understanding your price specifically Yeah. I think helps with that confidence and the pricing. I also really loved how you used the car analogy. That's what I think about numbers. It kind of puts you in the driver's seat. Would you say it's allowed you to make more strategic moves in your business?
KT Merry: (33:49)
Absolutely. I think that it's also something that I've learned to, to also just relax around that. I think there is this kind of frantic energy that often comes from season to season because it's a very unusual business in the sense that every year you've gotta rewin all your business again for the most part. You're not getting a lot of people that are coming back to you and going, you know, I'm gonna get married again, can I work with you again? And so yeah, you're, you know, you're having to rebook that entire calendar and I think when you start out it can feel like, Oh, I can't rest until, you know, I've got all these dates put on here. And so there's kind of this like frantic energy and I've learned to really just sit back and, and some of my very best bookings, some of the like, kind of crown jewels of the portfolio were things that came to me 30, 60 days out. And so kind of with that experience, you can go, Hey, you know, I I, and I know what I'm doing. I'm not going to, you know, be frantic about these things and I'm going to allow kind of it to work out as it's meant to and continue to just do me. And if I'm doing all the things that I should be, I've got a good business plan in place, then I can trust that the rest of it will just come.
Shanna Skidmore: (35:07)
Yeah. Yeah. That's so helpful. Do you have someone now that helps you on, like, on your financial team and then you just look at certain numbers like what numbers are you reviewing actively?
KT Merry: (35:20)
Yeah. And so this is where it's really fun and I think probably my favorite thing about growing my business, which, you know, business growth at the end of the day is about making more money and generating more revenue. And one of the favorite, my favorite things about that is it means that I have the ability to work with a lot of really cool people. And I have the ability to learn from a lot of really cool people. So I, I invest typically around 50 to 70,000 a year on education for myself and our team, which I know a lot of people are gonna like, be like, Oh my god, but you know, between, between masterminds and the different things that we're doing. And one of the cool things is that I've been able, over the years, I've got an amazing bookkeeper who is keeping everything tip top. I stay totally out of paying invoices or doing anything like that now, which I love. And then last year we started to work with a fractional CFO and so she's the one that's got amazing spreadsheets and is forecasting for the full, you know, the year and looking ahead and really being able to help us see how far we are from those revenue goals, how far we are from the profitability goals. And so that's been really great to have that strategic partner in that area.
Shanna Skidmore: (36:40)
I love this conversation so much because I'm over here like yes to everything you're saying, KT . And I really love, you know, cuz I do numbers is my creativity. Like I love numbers clearly, but my favorite thing is most people I work with, just like you say, like I didn't start my business to make money. I mean, we have to pay bills, but money wasn't your motivator. I don't think it's most people's motivators psychologically I think it's been debunked. Like it's nobody's motivator, but it came a point in your business where to continue your craft and continue it in the way you want it to, you had to learn those numbers and it put you back into the driver's seat. So I love, I always say most people that I work with didn't start to make like, just to make money. They have a passion or a creativity, but knowing just very few numbers really does empower you to make super strategic and creative decisions in your business. So I just love hearing you share that journey for yourself.
KT Merry: (37:42)
Yeah. And I think that it can also open your eyes to, I mean we all know that just because we're in the dark about something doesn't mean that it's not happening . So, you know, if all of a sudden you look and you're going, Oh my gosh, you know, this area of my business or, or my business, you know, isn't profitable or, you know, we're losing money on the, you know, you wanna know these things. And, when we went out and kind of filed for that LLC or that S corp, we really declared this isn't just a hobby anymore. And I think that ultimately some level, whether it's for our own families or for the, you know, your community or the world, we all wanna have some form of impact and be able to be able to do things for others or do things for ourselves. And, you know, money gives you access to opportunities that otherwise you would never have. And so all of a sudden you have doors that you can open for yourself and open for other people, whether that's education or traveling or you know, starting another business. All those things are things that have been a byproduct of saying, No, I'm gonna figure this out. Yeah.
Shanna Skidmore: (38:51)
Okay. So you've shared so many gems about learning to understand your money, but what would you say is the best thing that you have learned about money?
KT Merry: (39:02)
Oh goodness. Well, I have learned that it is, it is like energy and I guess, you know, that's why they call it a currency. But it is around us all the time and just like we can choose the energy. I mean, right now if, if anyone listening to this, you know, if you wanted to, you could put yourself in a really bad mood, you know, or you could think about, you know, one of the best days of your life that are the best experiences and you could like transcend to somewhere where you have, you know, amazing energy. And I think that money works very similarly that we can, you know, choose to avoid it. We can choose to, uh, what's the word I'm trying to condemn it, you know, make it well, like make it a bad thing. You know, we can choose to uh, sigmify it or we can choose to kind of coexist with it and, and let it flow in and out of our lives. And I think that when I really started to realize that also I could be a distribution center. Now there are a lot of people that I pay and you know, we have a lot of photographers that work with us on, you know, the weekends and things like that. And being able to be another source of that for other people. Like that's where you start to see it really come full circle and it gets really fun.
Shanna Skidmore: (40:15)
Yeah. That's so cool. So you have done this for 15 years, is that right? 15 years.
KT Merry: (40:21)
15 years in weddings, 20 in photography. I know.
Shanna Skidmore: (40:24)
That's amazing. I would love to hear how you have seen your business shift and then of course I'd love to hear, you know, I know you moved into the more of the education side recently, so how has your business grown and shift in relationship to what's happening in your life? You know, I love, I always love hearing how business owners find that harmony of work and life and, and make those two work together. So I would love for you just to share different seasons of life and how your business has adapted to those.
KT Merry: (40:55)
Yeah. And I think the, the key word there is seasons. And I definitely believe in seasons. Um, I think I'm actually in coming into a new season right now where I really feel on some level that I've been able to really build the wedding side of things. I mean, 15 years I think is a, a really great sweet spot with a business where let's hope by then, you know, you've kind of got the system or the machine if you will figured out, that you can kind of choose to dial it up or choose to dial it down or choose to let it stay the same. And so that part of it is really fun, that there's a sense of ease there that, you know, all that hard work has been able to build a reputation and certain things that you just don't have when you're starting something fresh. You know, those things take time. And so that part of it is really great in the sense that, while I'm continuing to work on it and evolve it, it's, it's really kind of those finer details of how do we make this part, you know, take it from a a 92 to a 94, how do we, how do we just make it a little bit better? And so that part is really fun. And then on, on the other side, you know, I feel like I'm, I'm starting, I'm in kindergarten again, you know, going into education three, well we're just about three years now and that's a whole completely new, you know, world. Totally different set of requirements and has once again given me a whole new education and taught me, you know, how, how little I truly know. And I, I love being in that space all the time. And you know, even if, uh, that business didn't make any money, which don't worry it is, but , you know, even if it, if it didn't, I, we've learned so much. You know, I work together with my husband and business partner Chad, and we've learned so, so much and that's only made us better on the photography side. So each time we kind of explore a new area, it's, it feels like a new season, but it feels like one that I can't imagine, you know, not having been able to gain that experience and that knowledge through these different areas.
Shanna Skidmore: (42:52)
Yeah. And I'm interested to hear how long does it take you, you know, if you try a new project, how long do you give it to say, yes, this is a fit or no, this is not something I want to keep, cause I dunno about you, but I've started stuff and been like, Nope, not a good fit. I, I'd love to hear that from you.
KT Merry: (43:14)
Yeah, I'm pretty persistent as I mentioned earlier. For the most part, once I've kind of made up my mind and I really feel like it's something that, that I really wanna go down that road in the, the other thing about me is I'm usually all in and so I usually kind of dive so far, you know, what do they say? Like dive so far away from the boat that you don't have a chance to swim back to it. Um, so that's kind of usually how I go. So I'm like, well we're gonna, you know, we're gonna see this one through. And so yeah, I would say at minimum, I mean two, three years I think, I think three years is where you really start to see what something is. And, and this is once again, if you're really saying, Hey, I'm going all in on something. But I also, I also think that if it's really something that you've thought through, if it's not just, you know, a shiny thing, but you've really, you know, spent 6, 9, 12 months putting together a plan for something before you go into it, then, then I, I would just keep working at it because I always remember that quote as well, that usually if you look at the timelines of, of things, it's usually like right before that breakthrough that most people give up. And I always think about that in the back of my mind and it's, you know, that you don't wanna be like right on the precipice and you can't see it, but you know. In that timeline you're like so close.
Shanna Skidmore: (44:37)
Yeah. That's so good. What made you want to add the education to your business?
KT Merry: (44:43)
Yeah, well it was always something that, you know, just as a byproduct of our industry, I'd kind of dabbled and, you know, done a workshop here, kind of spoken on a stage here and it always felt that just that we were just like skimming the surface that we really couldn't actually get to the meat of it or have enough time to really have a transformation for someone. And so naturally said, okay, you know, I had been, I'd been learning on the other side from other people in these, these different areas, other entrepreneurs in, in their programs and courses and had really just loved how far how much they could teach you in that model and just wasn't seeing that in our industry. And so naturally I decided to go all in and said, well I'm gonna build a full fledged A to Z, you know, full encompassing program that is really all the things that I wish I could talk about on that stage. But you know, you just can't fit that into a a 35 minute, you know, stage presentation. And so, you know, 41 hours and you know, however many lessons later we created like a full encompassing program. And that I think really, really speaks to all the things that I really wanted to talk about, which so much of it is so much deeper than just photography or, or just business.
Shanna Skidmore: (45:53)
Yeah, I love that so much and we'll definitely link your amazing program below because I think it's so good to hear from someone who's been in the industry for 20 years, you know, and what you've learned and I just, I love the education side, you know, that definitely changed the trajectory of our business because you can serve and impact so many more people and I'm just so grateful for the time in the world that we live that we're able to do that. I would be interested KT, as the last question just to hear, you have a lot of different revenue streams in your business. Do you think there's a sweet spot in adding new revenue streams? Because something I sense lately, and I don't know if you see this in the, in the market as well, this need to add revenue streams really quickly and sometimes I think that can, you know, hurt the progress of each revenue stream. So I'd be interested with all the revenue streams you've added over time, do you find that there's a sweet spot for doing that?
KT Merry: (46:52)
Yes, and I do think to your point, what do they say that, you know, you can't chase like three rabbits . Yeah. You know, there, there is that idea. And so I do think you have to, I think about it in terms of I don't have children, but I can imagine that, you know, if you have three newborns all screaming at the same time needing a change or a water bottle or anything like that, that, you know, that's a lot to juggle. Meanwhile, if you've got, you know, the five year old that's putting on their backpack and going off to kindergarten and you've got, you know, the teenager who's jumping on the bus, you know, that one newborn can kind of grab your attention and everything else is still well taken care of. And so I think about it in the same sense that we really need to, you know, we having five babies at once or three babies is a lot where I kind of had the teenager or you know, the, the adult business in photography. And so we can, you know, add a new baby cuz inevitably they, they take up a lot more of your bandwidth. It's new, it's clunky, you know, it's always going to be a learning experience, which is beautiful. But I wouldn't do that until, you know, option number one is matured where it can take care of itself a bit more or you've got someone or something in place that's going to steward that to make sure that it's not pulled backwards.
Shanna Skidmore: (48:07)
Yeah. It's so good. I have just loved hearing so much of your journey. Thank you for sharing. I mean the highs and the lows and the things that came naturally to you and, and I always find it so interesting to hear these stories KT because you know, some things like confidence I would just think came naturally to you or the number side of business and so I'm just grateful, I know people listening are going to be like, okay, I can do this. If KT can do it, I can do it. Um, I always like to end these interviews with just a quick fire round of questions. So first, what is one thing you would be embarrassed if people knew?
KT Merry: (48:45)
Oh goodness. Well, as I mentioned earlier, I am often kind of all or nothing. And that goes in terms of, of energy. I'm a early riser. I'm usually up at five and that often means that, you know, come the end of the day it's like there's a like shutdown switch where I've been known to be the one to fall asleep in the car on the drive home or you know, on the sofa up like, you know, commencing shutdown. So not that I have narcolepsy, but you know, those who are close to me would say, you know, it can be all or nothing and I might fall asleep. ,
Shanna Skidmore: (49:21)
That's hilarious. To like at 8:00 PM let's get this closed.
KT Merry: (49:26)
Hilarious. Giving my, given my industry.
Shanna Skidmore: (49:30)
. Yes. So true. Kyle and I are exact opposite. Like I'm a morning person, he's a night person, which now works great having Madeline, but same, I'm like, I will go to sleep at eight o'clock. Yes.
KT Merry: (49:41)
Shanna Skidmore: (49:41)
. Okay. Any wish you could do over moments?
KT Merry: (49:46)
Um, well, you know, I, I think it kind of comes back to why I started in education and created this program is I do wish I could go back and focus on some of these things in business earlier. And I wish I, you know, had somebody to kind of say here, like, look at these things. And I, I think that would've made the, the journey a lot less lonely and, you know, a lot less trial and error and duct taped together. So definitely, you know, I'm, I think we're all so lucky and, you know, I'm one of the students of all these great mentors and education out there that I wish that I had dove into that side and getting help even, even earlier.
Shanna Skidmore: (50:24)
Yeah. Yeah. That's interesting, I'm gonna go I script for a second and ask you, why do you think you didn't do it earlier?
KT Merry: (50:32)
Well, one, you know, A it just wasn't around as much, you know? Yeah. Right now, education, mentorship, all that is, you know, we had books certainly, and we had styled shoot workshop type of things, but it was a lot less common for people to say, Hey, you know, let me like show you the insides of my business and guide you through building yours. So it A, it just wasn't as much of a thing back then. But also, you know, I didn't even, I didn't even know what I didn't know. So I kind of thought, well, this is just what you do. You just keep going and, and try to figure it out. And then finally, you know, one of my mentors, he talks a lot about this metaphor of, of the, you know, dog sitting on the porch and the guy walks by and the dog's crying and, and he looks at the owner like, Why is the dog crying? And he goes, Oh, he is sitting on a nail. And he goes like, Oh my gosh, Why? Why doesn't he get up? And he goes, Oh, it, I guess it doesn't hurt bad enough. And, you know, there is that, that thing of, like, we typically as humans, we wait until it hurts really bad before we take that big change. And so, you know, we all like to say like, if we can get ahead of these things and before you go, Oh my gosh, like, I'm either gonna, you know, throw up my hands and quit my business, or I'm gonna figure this out. Like, let's, let's make it a lot easier on ourselves and do that preventative and kind of build it the right way. But, you know, easier said than done and hindsight's always 2020, Right? .
Shanna Skidmore: (51:54)
Oh, absolutely. Oh my goodness. I'm so glad you answered that because yeah. You, you don't know what you don't know. And then I, I've always said people come to me when it, when it hurts. Mm-hmm. , like that's when, when they reach out, you know, and it's,
KT Merry: (52:07)
Yes, we'll go in this crisis.
Shanna Skidmore: (52:10)
KT Merry: (52:10)
Shanna Skidmore: (52:11)
Um, okay, third question. What is a big win or a pinch me moment?
KT Merry: (52:17)
Um, I think, you know, I, it was something that I think ultimately was, like I said, a shortsighted goal, but definitely being able to finally get on the cover of Martha Stewart Weddings. And it was their, it was a wedding in the Maldives, and it was the first real Asian wedding that ever graced the cover. And that was just such a big deal for me at the time, and I was, it was, uh, a wedding that I really loved, and I'll always be grateful for that, that opportunity.
Shanna Skidmore: (52:44)
I love that. Okay. Best advice ever received, or just really good advice, ?
KT Merry: (52:49)
Yeah. And it's funny, I actually have it on my, my vision board over here, or my mood board, but it's actually like a clipping from an article. And, and Angelina Jolie said it andit says, If my life experience has taught me anything, it is that what you stand for and what you stand against is what defines you. And I, she didn't tell it to me personally, but I do think she's very right. That what you stand for and what you stand against are ultimately very defining in your life.
Shanna Skidmore: (53:21)
Hmm. I love that. Wow. Thank you for sharing. Mm-hmm. . Okay. Last quick fire question. What are you working on now or one resource that you would love to share?
KT Merry: (53:31)
Yeah. Well, we're in a really exciting season. I'm creating amazing three part workshop, a free workshop that's gonna be going on in October. So that is something that if anyone, it was really looking to end the year strong and kind of get into realignment, that's a great opportunity. And that comes just before we open enrollment into our program, the abundance plan this October. And so that it's just a really great way to really get centered, finish the year strong and really set up our business for success in 2023. So I'm really looking forward to that.
Shanna Skidmore: (54:03)
Okay. And we will link everybody listening, we will link the, the link for that in the show notes. Great. Uh, so make sure to check it out. This whole episode will air right when that's live, so everybody go get that amazing education free stuff from KT. That's amazing. Okay.
KT Merry: (54:18)
Don't, don't wait for the crisis, .
Shanna Skidmore: (54:19)
Yeah. Don't wait. Listen.
KT Merry: (54:23)
Shanna Skidmore: (54:23)
So true. I love that you said it's like preventative medicine. Yes. I know that we are kindred spirits in that, just hoping that we can make it easier for others because I, I know for me, entrepreneurship allows me the life that I truly do want to live. I mean, it's not always easy, clearly when some days you're like, How am I gonna pay my bills again? Or, This is doing great, you know, a rollercoaster sometimes. But yeah, I know that we both want to offer that opportunity for others to, to do this for themselves. So, yeah. I love that. Go. Don't wait. It's open now. as this is airing, so it's not always available. Yes. Okay. KT, I want you to take us all the way back to 2007 when you're starting your photography business after you've been in the industry for a while, but what would you tell yourself on day one?
KT Merry: (55:11)
Dream bigger. That simple.
Shanna Skidmore: (55:14)
, I'm like taking that in for a second.
KT Merry: (55:17)
Yeah. Just dream bigger. I, I, you know, and to everybody listening, really, the sky is the limit. If you really allow yourself to dream what comes up.
Shanna Skidmore: (55:26)
Yeah. That's amazing. I think so often we get stuck in the day to day weeds mm-hmm. and going back and saying, again, only entrepreneurs get to do this. Mm-hmm. what an an incredible opportunity. So thank you so much for sharing your story. Thank you for being on the podcast. It's been such a joy to chat with you today.
KT Merry: (55:43)
We should do this more often. I, I've loved our conversation and thank you so much for, for having me.
Shanna Skidmore: (55:48)
Same. Hey, Wildflower, you just finished another episode of Consider the Wildflowers the podcast. Head over to considerthewildflowerspodcast.com for show notes, resource links, and to learn how you can connect with KT. One final thought for today. I actually scribbled this one down while watching the Netflix series Cheer. This was from the Head coach, Monica. "Keep going until you get it right. Then, keep pushing until you can't get it wrong." As always, thank you for listening. I'll see you next time.