In today's Customer Spotlight we are excited to introduce you to James Brandon, the man, the myth, the legend. James is an accomplished and recognized photographer who wanted to build a site on par with his beautiful work. Learn more about his story, how he got started in photography, and many other helpful tips (especially for photographers).
Q: Hi James! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in photography?
A: First off, let me say thank you to the entire team at Themeco for building such an incredible product and for having me here today! My name is James and I'm a photographer living in the DFW area with my wife and two boys. My journey to where I am today is certainly a unique one.
Six years ago I was a personal banker and mortgage officer at Bank of America. We weren't rich by any means but together with my wife (no kids at the time) we made a great living for a young married couple in their early twenties. The problem was, I hated it. The way my mind works, the way I'm wired…I'm just not set up for that world. I was doing just fine in my position, usually funding each quarter around 150-200% of my goals, but I just wasn't happy. The long hours, the predictable and scheduled lifestyle, the constant answering to higher ups, the selling debt to people who don't need/can't afford it…I was dying inside and my marriage was suffering because of it.
I truly believe that some people are hard wired to love the corporate world. Some are wired to be doctors, firemen, paramedics, door to door salesmen. Some were born to work in ministry. Me? I am 100% convinced that I was wired to be an entrepreneur.
During the only vacation I got one year while working at the bank, my wife and I went on a cruise to Mexico with her family. Kristin (my wife) had been getting into photography and brought her camera along with her. While visiting the Mayan ruins in Uxmal, I started shooting with it and within minutes was hundreds of yards away from our tour group taking pictures on my own. I had no idea what I was doing, but something inside me had been ignited. I had always loved photography. I grew up as a child buying countless disposal film cameras and taking pictures on family vacations, of my dog, and whatever else I could find. I was always told I had an eye for it but I always chalked it up to the fact that just about any parent tells their kids that :-). When I picked up that camera in Mexico, it was the first time I had taken pictures in probably 4-5 years. I was instantly hooked.
Within six months I had full immersed myself into learning photography. A few months after that I started taking clients. Six months after that I made a tiny leap of faith and went to a part time position at the bank to see where the photography business would take me. And three months after that, I took the biggest risk of my life and gave my two weeks notice. That's how I got started in Photography!
Q: I see that you are a pilot as well. How often do you get a chance to fly and do you ever just pick the family up and go on a quick trip?
A: My father-in-law is a pilot for American Airlines and decided to purchase a Cessna Skyhawk a few years back. I never in a million years would have guessed that I'd be a pilot some day but the opportunity presented itself and I jumped at it. Getting my pilot's license was one of the hardest things I've ever accomplished but being able to just drive to the airport, hop in a plane and fly through the air is just an amazing and awe-inspiring feeling.
We haven't taken any long trips in the plane as of yet. Just local stuff in the DFW area and down to Austin and up to Oklahoma a few times. I've taken my oldest son Isaac (two yrs) up a few times and he absolutely loves it. And I'm sure Kristin will get her license one of these days as well!
Q: You've got quite the following on James-Brandon.com (using X) and other places online. For those interested in becoming a thought leader in their respective industries, can you share some insights on how to wisely go about doing that?
A: Building a business that depends on an online presence is not for the faint of heart. I started out (after leaving the bank) photographing anything and everything I could find. Weddings, seniors, newborns, families, businesses, commercial work…I did it all. It took me around four years to start moving away from clients.
The turning point for me in this endeavor was coming across Digital Photography School (the largest source for learning digital photography online). When I found DPS, I had already spent around two years building up my website and blog with content (that nobody was reading). I saw that DPS was looking for writers so I emailed Darren Rowse (the founder) and pitched some ideas for an article. To my complete surprise, he bit. And rather than just offering a single article for my first submission, I decided to do a three-part series to get maximum exposure on the site.
When I became a writer for DPS, I instantly had credibility in the photography world. I had become an authority (to an extent) and now had a massive platform (2-3 million visitors a month) from which I could share the knowledge I had gained over the previous few years of being a full time photographer. So by becoming a writer for DPS I went from having an audience of hundreds to an audience of millions overnight. And by having an audience of millions, I now had access to all kinds of things I never would have had before. It opened doors to new relationships, it drove a ton of traffic to my website and things just started falling into place.
The second turning point for my business was starting a newsletter. I believe newsletters are one of the single most underrated business tools in just about any industry. During a sale of my first ebook on DPS, I was able to gather right around 7,000 subscribers over a 7 days period. During that same sale a year later with new products (at a higher price point) I was able to collect around 3,000 more. My list is now over 12,500 and growing every day. My newsletter, with those 12,500 subscribers, has become the life blood of my business.
Having a large social following is nice and it certainly has it's perks, but it isn't nearly as vital to your success online as you might think. As far as perks go, Red Bull recently invited me (as well as several other DFW based social media influencers) out to the Red Bull Air Races. They gave us rooms at the Hilton in Fort Worth, hosted us at 5 star restaurants, put us up in their suite at Texas Motor Speedway for the race and just showed us a fantastic time. These wild card benefits of social media are there, but they don't come around very often. I have around 160,000 followers on social media and (like I said before) around 12,500 on my newsletter. If I had to give one of those up, I would choose social media without even a moments hesitation. I think of social media numbers sort of like validation. Having a large social following isn't very profitable, but it instills confidence in those that would potentially purchase products from you.
Q: Many people in the broader Internet Marketing world consider their business to be a “lifestyle business” that affords them the flexibility to do what they want, when they want. Do you find that to be true for yourself?
A: Sure, absolutely. One of the great things about being a landscape/travel photographer is that I have to put myself in front of landscapes on a regular basis to keep my portfolio growing and up to date. My business allows me the freedom to do that and my family is very supportive of it as well. Running a small business can be stressful at times.
It's been said that self employed people are willing to work 80 hours a week on their own to avoid working 40 for someone else. That's certainly true at times. But in a minute I'm going to get up from my computer, walk over to the house from my office and help my son Isaac build his train set. Then I'll come back to the office and work some more, before walking back over for dinner and an evening with my family. Next week I'm heading off on a road trip to Colorado for some fall color photography. I didn't have to put in for vacation or try and schedule the trip around a weekend and a holiday to use as few vacation days as possible…I just decided to go. That freedom, to me, is priceless.
Q: What is one spot you hope to be able to shoot (photography) someday?
A: Oh man, that's a hard question for a photographer. I have a running list in my head of countless places I want to visit next. My top three are Iceland, New Zealand and Patagonia. I'll be able to mark Iceland off the list this winter.
Q: You were our second “first” customer (hat tip, Uncle Mike) but you were our VERY first repeat customer! Can you walk us through your experience in using X?
A: Haha, very well then. I'll concede to Uncle Mike.
Over the past 5-6 years, I've used countless WordPress themes. I've bought most of them from ThemeForest but I've also been an Elegant Themes customer as well as many other sites. I've always been search of that one theme that allows me the ability to create a site that I see in my mind.
I've known Kory and Kyle (the main guys at Themeco) for nearly a decade. And I always assumed Kory would have a career in the music industry. So when he came to me saying that he was going to work with his brother and would be creating a WordPress theme to end all WordPress themes…well…let's just say I was anxious to see what they came up with. I was lucky enough to visit with Kory several times during the creation of X. We'd go out for coffee and work remotely together and he'd show me how it was coming along. All the while I figured it would be great, but wasn't convinced it would work for me (a photographer). I told Kory several things that I wanted to have in a theme that I hadn't found yet; the ability to change the amount of columns and the width of things like sidebars and content sections on the fly, a search function that was actually beautiful and inviting and many other things along the way. Kory implemented just about everything I suggested into the theme and when it was ready, my curiosity was definitely peaked.
At the time I was using the Genesis Framework and a Minimal child theme. I loved it and had no real intentions of switching over. When I uploaded the X Theme to my site and got to work in the customizer, I was immediately impressed. By the time I got my site finished (probably took around 1-2 hours) I was blown away. The ease at which you can customize different aspects of your site with X is just phenomenal. And what really sets X apart from the rest is the little details like X Shortcodes. I've used them extensively on pages throughout my site.
Thank-you James for contributing to our Customer Spotlight Series and for being our second first customer! We encourage you to check out James' beautiful site (powered by X, of course) where you can keep up with his photography, blog, and latest pursuits. If you are a customer of ours who is interested in being featured in a future Spotlight, we'd love to hear from you.