In this installment of our Small Business Success Story series, we chat with Jen Frase, owner of Jen Frase Photography. Jen has found that by focusing on her own specific interest – the close-knit bond that exists between dogs and people – she has also been able to realize photographic and business success.
In order to help promote her photographic services and products at community art fairs and other events, Jen purchased a 60 x 20-inch vinyl banner from Signs.com, as well as various counter cards for use at her booth.
Tell us about yourself
Hi there! I’m Jen Frase, the owner of Jen Frase Photography. I live and work in the San Francisco Bay area. I have 12-year-old twins, a dog who likes to terrorize my neighborhood, and a saint of a husband. I have an MBA from UC Davis and an MFA in Photography from the Academy of Art University. Yes, that’s way too many advanced degrees, but man do I love school. I also love dogs, Adam Levine, pizza, and watching crappy reality TV. I hate squirrels, flying, and people who chew with their mouths open.
What does your company do?
I’m a photographer who focuses on the very unique bond between dogs and their humans. I offer commissioned photography sessions and I also sell greeting cards and prints.
Where did the idea of your company come from?
In 2017, we got a puppy who changed our world. I hadn’t owned a dog since I was a kid, so I had forgotten just how much they mean to you. He became part of our family and we love him to death. I know many dog owners who feel the same way.
Around this same time, I was in a bit of a photography rut, shooting things that weren’t inspiring me. It dawned on me that photographing dogs is something I would truly love. After a lot of research, I realized there’s a bit of a hole in this market – there are lots of dog photographers out there, but very few who focus on the bond humans have with their dogs, with natural, lifestyle images. So, I decided Jen Frase Photography would focus solely on this. And it’s kind of awesome.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
I’m a total professional in my work and think great customer service is critical – but I’m also a super smart ass and pretty laid back during my photography sessions. My personality comes through on Instagram, and my branding and photography reflect who I am – but I still think people assume I’m more serious than I am because I’m over 40, write professional emails, and run my own business. Ha.
Focusing on the Bond We Share
What sets you apart from your competition?
I think my work itself – my photographs – sets me apart from the competition. There are so many dog photographers out there whose work I find a little cheesy with lots of props, dogs dressed in costumes, etc. I certainly think there’s a market for that, but my work simply tries to focus on the amazing bond that we share with our dogs. My style is light and bright and natural.
How do you market your business?
I stay active on Instagram and try to blog consistently. I’m involved in charity work, such as local auctions for schools or animal rescues. I also get out in the community when I can – setting up a booth at local art festivals or street fairs, for example. Word of mouth is huge too!
How do you “wow” your customers?
I offer amazing customer service – it’s something I pride myself on. I only take on a limited number of commissioned photography sessions per month, so I’m not too busy to give each client my total dedication. I answer emails immediately, I listen to what they want, I shoot the session with patience and as much time as we need, and I edit slowly and carefully – I never rush. To me, there’s nothing more important than being easy to work with, being kind, and offering great customer service.
What are one or two strategies for gaining customers that you have been successful with?
Word of mouth is super important, although that’s not exactly a “strategy.” I always ask my clients to share my name and their images if they’d like to.
How do you compete with competitors that are bigger than you in your industry?
I don’t! I just focus on my work and my customer service. I feel that if I offer a great product with great service, I will have enough clients to keep me profitable and happy. I don’t need to be the biggest and best photographer out there. I just want to do good work I care about, offer a great product, and have clients who appreciate my style, and enough of them to keep making money. I don’t need the world!
The Passion and the Service
What is one of the biggest challenges you have had with your business? How did you overcome it?
Covid-19! I didn’t shoot for three months, which is a long time for a small business. But I kept active – I worked on charity partnerships, I kept up on posting to Instagram and blogging, I launched a small greeting-card line with my photography. And I wrote a monthly newsletter, keeping clients up to speed on me, my business, and my life! I thought it was important for people to know I didn’t disappear, that I was still working, and that I looked forward to shooting again soon.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I launched a photography business 10 years ago and photographed families, commercial work, some weddings, and even headshots. I was trying to be jack of all trades. I should have spent more time learning what really drives me and fulfills me, rather than just trying to work. This comes with age too, though. Now that I’m over 40 and have spent more than 10 years as a professional photographer, I know myself and my work better. I know not to take jobs just to make money because my passion isn’t there and it shows in my work. I now only shoot dogs with their humans, and my work feels more genuine and real than it ever has because I feel so strongly about the dog/human bond and illustrating that for my clients.
What is the one thing you would do over and over – and recommend everyone else do?
Provide amazing customer service. I don’t care how talented you are at whatever you do – I won’t hire you if I can’t get you to call me back or you don’t answer questions or your policies aren’t clear, etc. Be a professional, do good work, be kind, and provide amazing service.
Being True to Who You Are
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read? Why?
I loved Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, by Austin Kleon. As a creative, we all feel this real pressure to create the most original, groundbreaking work in the world, and the truth is that all great art work is inspired by (not copied from) work that has come before it. There are more lessons than that in the book, too – he also reminds you to be true to who you are, which is so important in creative work.
Can you speak to your growth to this point and why you think it will continue?
I’ve grown slowly but steadily, and I strongly believe that if I create good work and provide great service – and stay busy and involved – I will be successful and continue to grow.
Where can you be found on the internet?
Online at www.jenfrase.com
On Instagram at @jenfrasephoto