Jamie Swanson had a seven-figure photography business, but the COVID-19 pandemic decimated it. She lost 85% of her income almost overnight, and struggled to find photography sessions in the months following the first lockdowns.
However, her membership business presented her with the opportunity to step up, inspire others, and become who she needed to be. She envisioned a new business model and a new way to work. Now, through her membership business and her podcast, Bright Entrepreneur, Jamie is helping other entrepreneurs build movements around their business the way she built one around her photography and bring real transformation for their clients.
Today, Jamie returns to the podcast to tell the story of this difficult pivot, saying goodbye to the fear in her head, and flying by the seat of her pants as she rethought and rebuilt her business.
- How Jamie reacted to losing so much of her business to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Why doing less can sometimes prove to be doing much, much more.
- Why the best way to figure things out is to simply start selling and talking to people
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- “Don’t go into it. Grow into it.” – Stu McLaren
- “If you are struggling with your messaging, start selling before you feel ready. It will make everything so much clearer, so much faster” – Jamie Swanson
TranscriptRead The Transcript
Shelli Varela: Jamie Swanson, welcome back to the It’s a TRIBE Thing Podcast. You are officially the first-ever victory lapper back for your second episode. So, we’re jazzed to have you and I’m so grateful you’re here.
Jamie Swanson: Thanks for having me, Shelli.
Shelli Varela: You, after a recent conversation that we had and I got to hear about all of the things you’re up to and the massive pivot you’ve done, were so personally inspiring to me. And I remember thinking like people need to hear this episode. They need to hear about you and what you’ve done because your complete transformation and rebirth is going to be such an inspiration and such a massive needle mover for so many people who are hearing this episode. So, I’m just so grateful you’re here. I’m so grateful you said yes to this. But I wanted to see if we could chat about first what you were doing previously that led to the impetus of the pivot that you inevitably had to make.
Jamie Swanson: Well, like so many people, COVID affected my business in a massive way. I had a seven-figure business in the photography industry, absolutely loved my people, I love serving them. It was a business that I’d been doing for almost 10 years and then COVID hit and it hit the photography industry incredibly hard and my income dropped by about 85% almost overnight. And honestly, if it wasn’t for my membership, it would have been 100%. I had a few diehard people that stuck with me even though the market had completely tanked but, I mean, everything just got completely, I mean, it just went dead and I tried for, gosh, a good solid three, four months to revive it because I was hoping that once people were out of lockdown and they could get outside and start doing some photography sessions, again, that my market would come back because I was teaching photographers how to find clients, and specifically how to find entrepreneurs, online entrepreneurs who needed professional images to grow their brand for their social media accounts.
And so, I knew that with all these new people starting online businesses and everybody getting more comfortable with teaching online and businesses needing to have a presence online because maybe their storefront was closed but this was a great opportunity for them, but it just did not come back and I just kept pushing and pushing. I’ve been doing this so long, I know what they need to hear, I know how to do the things, and in the past, the harder I worked, you know, the more results I could get. I could totally do the thing, I could buckle down, I could make things happen, but nothing was working. It didn’t matter how hard I was working. Nothing was reviving. And so, it was really by necessity, Shelli, that I had to make a massive pivot.
Shelli Varela: Well, I love that you are, first of all, vulnerable enough to share that and I know that that’s going to resonate with so many people because out of the gate like it is sort of like an unfolding when you, Stu always says, “Don’t go into it. Grow into it.” And sometimes that means a pivot and sometimes that just means allowing things to naturally evolve. Can you talk about how you felt in that moment when all of the things that you had been doing previously were working? And the reason I want to share this with others is you went on to do something that is going to change the world, that is going to be a movement. We’re going to talk about that in a minute but right now, there are people that are experiencing those feelings. And can you share what that was like for you going through that and then having that sort of realization of, “Okay, I’ve got to try something different?”
Jamie Swanson: Well, first off, it was panic. It was like, “Oh, man, this is going to be bad,” because I, for better or worse, have the gift of foresight and I could see very clearly that this was not just going to be a one-month thing and then everything was going to go back to normal. And so, immediately, after trying all the things and trying to keep people positive for a while and starting to see where this was going, I really kind of fell into a deep state of panic and anxiety. And the story that kept going through my mind was I’m going to lose everything like how am I going to pay for my house? I mean, I had to let go of some team members. I had to make a lot of really hard decisions. And I could not get the story out of my head that you’re going to lose everything. This is not going to be short-term like there’s just no way that because we had this seven-figure business and the last year we had invested a lot of money into transitioning our business model from a launch model into an evergreen model. And it was great and it was starting to take off but it took longer than we thought. So, I had eaten up a lot of my savings already before COVID had hit it.
And so, it never hits at a good time. Like, I’m not going to say it was a bad time because it was bad no matter what but it was especially a vulnerable time for me. And it was a risk I took as a business owner because I was like, “Oh, well, if things get really tough, I’ll just launch again,” or like I have all these ways of making money that had never failed me in the past. And so, I didn’t really feel like it was a huge risk to have invested a bunch of money into making this transition but then when I found myself in that moment where none of those things would work like I knew a launch would not help anything that this was something beyond my control. I mean, it was just the hardest thing I’ve gone through. I really had to work on my mind game I think is the best way to put it and I knew that if I kept listening to that voice in my head that said, “You’re going to lose everything or you could lose everything,” that if I couldn’t silence that, that that’s what would happen. Because when we make decisions out of those fear, what we focus on is what is it? Where our focus goes, our energy flows? And I’m like I don’t want to be focused on losing everything. I know that doesn’t have to be my story.
And so, it was probably April, I think. I took some time and I told my husband, “I need to just have a night or two alone,” and we’re blessed to have a cabin right next to our house. And so, I’m like I’m going to go stay in the cabin for like two days and I just need some time to breathe and figure out how to turn this story in my head around. And so, I grabbed my journal and I started asking myself a question that was inspired by Glennon Doyle and I just said, “What’s the most true and beautiful story of how I come out of this situation in the future?” Like when I’m future Jamie and I’m looking back at this craziness, how do I want to have handled it? And I journaled it out and I journaled as if I was future Jamie talking to myself and I got as detailed as I could so that I could internalize that story and it changed everything for me. Now, it didn’t take away all the anxiety. I still even now deal with waves of that but it absolutely shifted my mindset and that voice that said, “You’re going to lose everything,” was gone like it went away and it was replaced by, “This is the time that you can help inspire others. This is what you were made for. This is where you get to step up and become who you’ve wanted to be.”
Because honestly, Shelli, for the last three, three-and-a-half years, I’ve wanted to make a big pivot into working with entrepreneurs who want to make an impact in the world but I hadn’t because I was so busy running my business and I didn’t have the time. I didn’t have the space. I couldn’t figure out how to get the margin that I needed to make this pivot. So, in that way, instead of feeling like COVID forced something on me, even though that’s kind of what happened, it really gave me permission to step into who I know I really am and to make a massive, complete transition that I wasn’t planning on doing right then and there that I’m so thankful for, despite the fact that it’s been very difficult. So, it didn’t just get easier. I still had to work through it and I still didn’t give up on my photography business for quite a while after that but there came a point where I just knew like I’m beating a dead horse. And, yes, it’s going to come back in 12 to 18 months. I really believe that what I had built is a beautiful asset and it could be profitable again in the future if I want to go there. But in the meantime, I took this as an opportunity to really say, “Okay. Well, let’s dream what could be.”
Shelli Varela: I really want to unpack just a little bit of this because I am a firm believer that not all gifts come wrapped in a bow. And sometimes they come wrapped in the universe saying, “Hey, I’m going to decimate the business you have so that you can birth the build the business that you are meant to deliver to the world.” And so, I want to shift to what happened and what that true and beautiful story is specifically. But before we do, I just wanted to circle back again to the story in your head. You and I have spoken about this. Story is everything, not just the story you tell the world and what goes out into the world and what that looks like, your business story, your personal story, your successes, your legacy, but also the story, that inner story of what you believe to be true or possible. And sometimes that inner story is wearing headphones that are shouting anxiety and fear in your ears. So, I really just wanted to make a point, this beautiful transition that you’re about to tell us about really came down to having to, first of all, acknowledge that the fear that you’re hearing in your head is a story and a story can have a plot twist.
And also, that not all gifts come wrapped in a bow. Sometimes, the thing that you’re meant to do pushes you outside of your comfort zone. And so, for everybody who’s listening to this, if you find yourself in a position similar to this in that you feel like you’re struggling or you feel like you need to pivot or you need to change your move or change it up just know that Jamie’s going to explain to us how that happened for her and what that looked like. So, with that, my friend, can you tell us more about that true and beautiful story that you wrote in the cabin that day?
Jamie Swanson: Well, what I realized, Shelli, was that I wanted to bring hope to people. I knew that pretty much everybody, even some of my friends whose businesses really took off because they happen to be in a market that suddenly became very popular, because all of these people were at home, and they needed to entertain their kids, whatever it was. Even my friends who were doing well through this, still, we’re dealing with the emotions of all of the stress that came from having a pandemic, you know, basically feel like it came out of nowhere, having our lives changed in ways we couldn’t even fathom were possible. And I really felt that I could be a voice of hope and encouragement and inspiration, and a model of how to do it afraid, and of how to take something that was painfully difficult that, I mean, it’s not that it was easy. It wasn’t that the emotions all disappeared. It was that I was going to do it anyways, that I wasn’t going to let that fear, that anxiety, that depression hold me back. And I knew for me, in order for me to be able to do this, I had to keep reminding myself who I knew I could be. And it wasn’t even that I was that person yet but by taking actions towards what I knew that person would do, like future Jamie, looking back, like, “Okay. If I want to inspire people, what does that mean I need to do?”
One, it means I need to be vulnerable and honest, two, I need to be able to speak to their situation, which is similar to mine, all of these things. And so, a big part of it was me saying, “Okay. I want to inspire.” Two, I want to model what a beautiful transition it can look like. I don’t know how to do it gracefully, necessarily, but I’m just going to start. It’s going to be messy and I’m not going to pretend that it’s all roses and rainbows because it’s not. It’s so hard especially when there’s financial pressure, especially when there are fears about our health and our fears about not getting enough toilet paper. Whatever it is, all of these things play into it. And so, I knew I needed to take action. I knew I needed to keep that vision of who I knew I could be in the front of my mind, and honestly, another thing I did was I gave myself daily validation and affirmations. I get my journal out and I was like, “Okay. What encouragement do I need to hear this morning?” And then I would write it to myself, which sounds so kind of pathetic but it’s absolutely one of the most helpful things I did was like, “Okay. Today is going to be a good day and you’ve got this. And yes, it’s hard and I know you’re worried about this but you’re going to overcome it, you’re going to do the things you need to do today, and done is better than perfect.”
I’ve heard Stu say that a bajillion times and I agree wholeheartedly. And so, I started taking action and I started saying, “Okay, who is it? I know I want to serve entrepreneurs but how do I want to serve them? What is the message that I can help them with? Or what is the thing that I can bring to the world?” And I’ve been running an online business for full-time almost 10 years now and so I have a lot of experience and our experience is really the most valuable part of what we do, right? When we experience something personally, we know how to handle it. It teaches us in deep, deep ways, way deeper than just reading about it in a book. And so, I thought, “Okay. Well, starting over, how can I take my experience and help other entrepreneurs build a movement around their business in the way that I had built a movement around the business that I was doing in the photography industry?” Because my goal there was truly to save the photography industry because it was in massive decline and so many of my friends and colleagues had given up their businesses, even though they were wonderful photographers, and actually really brilliant business owners because they didn’t see that the market had shifted into people needing online images to help promote their business versus still doing high-end portraiture or whatever.
And so, I was like, “Okay. I can help people build communities that turn into real movements around their business, and that are based on bringing actual transformation to their clients.” Now, the hard thing about this, Shelli, is that it’s not like how to grow a Facebook group in five days. It’s not some real, sexy, specific outcome that you can just sell super easily. This is like a high-level strategy that kind of ties all the little specific pieces together. Like, how does a launch fit into this? And how do your products fit into this? And how does your customer experience fit into this? And so, it was a little harder for me. At first, I’m like, “Okay. Well, how do I sell this? What do I do?” And so, I just started throwing stuff out there, just kind of talking around it and I ran a beta course. I think it was in May that I started. I didn’t have an audience. So, I basically just put it out there to some friends and said, “If you know anybody who wants to be a part of this, you can join,” and I think I got like six people in the door for this class. I’m like, I don’t even know how long it’s going to be, probably six to eight weeks. We’re going to cover this but I’m not sure what each of the modules are going to look like because I’m trying to take what I’ve done out of my head and present it in a way that’s repeatable to other people.
But I was very, very clear about the fact that I’m doing this as we go. It’s live. I need your feedback. It’s imperfect but you’ve got my brain here for you to learn from and I’m going to do everything I can to help you not only create a movement around your business, but really get out of that messy middle, and create a business that’s aligned with who you are so that it’s easier, that it’s more effective and so that you can scale more simply, and it’s just, it’s fun. Anyways, I get excited about it because it’s my jam. But did that. I let people invite a friend and actually, just because I wanted more people going through it. And a couple of people invited more than one friend so they ended up paying to join as well. So, I think I had 11 paying members and like, I don’t know, six or seven free members go through it the very first time I did it but at the same time, I was still trying to revive my photography business. My focus was still on this beautiful asset that I was trying to save. It was like the CPR of it. And I finished running the course, which kind of got, I mean, I love them but they kind of got my secondhand time.
It was like the back burner thing I was doing because I was hoping I wouldn’t have to keep doing that. I thought maybe I could do this one time and maybe build something later but get this photo thing back up and going. And it became very clear that it wasn’t going to happen. And so, right at the end of the course, when I was doing the beta course, it was the middle of June I think we finished up or right near the end of June and I just realized I could not keep going with the photography stuff and that it was time for me to pivot. And so, I did one final sale. I made a little bit of money just kind of like squeezing the last drop of water out of a dry sponge and just told my people, “I’m going to step away for at least three months, maybe longer. I don’t know, I’m going to focus over here because right now, this is what I need to do.” And financially, I mean, everybody knew what was going on. It was not a secret in our industry that everybody was struggling and I saw lots of people go out of business and all this stuff.
It was actually quite nice because it was right before I was going camping for a week and so it was kind of this nice clean break. So, then I went camping for a week, and then I came back and I totally solely focused on the new business and started serving entrepreneurs at that point.
Shelli Varela: So much to jump in and circle back on. This is brilliant because what I really love about you, I mean, aside from paying attention to what’s going on and what lights you up, you always listen to your body. Is this a yes or is this a no? And I think that is so valuable because many of us especially when it comes to business and especially when it comes to as we’re getting started, try and consider, “What is it I should do?” And sometimes doing less is doing more and sometimes doing something that is authentic to you even if you haven’t seen it done exactly that way before is the best way to go. And so, I wanted to also mention for all of the listeners and also pertinent to what we’re talking about here is paying attention to that which lights you up and comes easy to you and what I wanted to say is I watched you at a TRIBE Live a few years ago and, yes, everybody knew that you were Jamie with the rainbow hair and Jamie who teaches brand photographers how to be brilliant at their craft. But I watched people flock around you as if you were the Pied Piper and I remember hearing people like honest to goodness, like over and over and over going, “You know, I’m just trying to see if I can just, I just want to ask Jamie quick question,” and these were complete strangers to you.
It’s just everybody knows of that, which you do, and you have a way of delivering it. And so, I’m not at all surprised that you ended up doing what you’re doing now because you have a way of delivering it that is not only brilliant and tactical but it also makes the person who’s listening to you feel like it’s possible. So, it’s no surprise when you talk about rewiring your inner story and being aware, first of all, of what it is and that you have one, that you’ve put all of these pieces together into this brilliant business model that is not only going to allow people to step into what’s true for them. It’s going to emancipate them from what’s holding them back. And I also love that you said, “I don’t know how to tell people what this is,” and for everybody, I think there is always that point in your business or in your idea when you’re trying to make magic tangible. And so, when you’re trying to make magic tangible, at first, it does feel clunky to sort of try and explain it because the outcome they’re getting is sometimes internal and sometimes practical and tactical.
Jamie Swanson: Can I speak to that, Shelli?
Shelli Varela: Yes, please.
Jamie Swanson: Oh, my gosh, the best way to figure it out is just to start selling your stuff and talk to people. So, like the next chunk of this is that I’m like, “Okay. I know my messaging is everything at the beginning.” It is absolutely everything and the way that you hone it is by talking to people that you’re actually asking to pay you money. Like if they do not have to pay you money, they’re not really honest. You don’t hear those objections. You don’t hear the hesitations. And so, when I launched that again this fall, it wasn’t like a massive launch in terms of income but it was an insanely valuable launch in terms of helping me get that clarity around how to explain the value of this to the people that I really wanted to work with. So, I mean, whoever you are listening to this and you are struggling with your messaging, start selling before you feel ready because it will make everything so much clearer, so much faster.
Shelli Varela: And that is one thing you’re actually known for, Quick Start Swanson. And we laugh about that but you learn so much like you can’t read a book about running a marathon and then expect to run a marathon. You have to strap the shoes on. You have to clock the miles. You’re going to sometimes get blisters but the feedback you get and the way that you train yourself to process that information or process the stuff that’s coming in is absolutely invaluable. You need to have it. So, what did that pivot ultimately look like for you at the end of the day?
Jamie Swanson: Well, I started by thinking, “Okay. Well, I’ve got this course and I ran it as a beta and I got some great stories so I should do it again.” And so, this fall, I went and I started my podcast to promote it and I launched this course again. And when I was launching the course, Shelli, I realized, man, this is so heavy for some reason and I was really just thinking that it was the emotional weight of starting over and wondering if it was going to work and just all the questions that go through our mind when we actually go through a launch and it’s kind of like a rite of passage or moment of truth. And I’m like, “Oh, well, I’m just tired. This has been hard, whatever. We’ll just keep moving forward. We’re taking massive forward action.” And then I started teaching my course and I love the people in it. I love what I’m talking about but what I realized was it doesn’t light me up to teach lessons like making content doesn’t get me excited even via live video. What really got me excited was when I would do the small group coaching that was included with the course.
So, every week, we would have this coaching group where I would, and we’re still doing it as we’re recording this, I get to meet with them in a small group setting and we get to walk through what they’re learning and help them see how to structure this in their own business. And every time I finished one of those calls, I was lit up. I mean, I was like, “This is awesome. I love this. These are my people. Look at the breakthroughs,” but then every Monday morning, I would come and be like, “Oh, I’ve got to teach these lessons,” and it wasn’t hard because I already had the outlines from having done it before. And one of the things I realized was if I’m starting this business new, if I’m doing this over, I want as much as possible of it to be something that lights me up. And so, I started questioning, “Okay. If my zone of genius is working with people more one-on-one and in community, why am I not creating something that’s based more on community, that’s based more on support, and creating these beautiful, intimate groups where people can connect with each other, connect with me, share their experience, and really take what they’ve learned in all of the things that they’ve taken and gone through, and have people there to mirror back to them what they’re seeing?”
Because sometimes, Shelli, we’re too close to see the obvious opportunities or pitfalls that are right there in front of us. And we need somebody else to say, “Hey, have you considered this because I’ve been there and I see this?” And I’d already been thinking about what I wanted to do for a membership because I am all about having recurring income. I know that I would have been completely stuck if it hadn’t been for the recurring income I had in my old business. And so, that’s when I decided that I actually wanted to create a new form of mastermind groups. I didn’t want something super large. I wanted something smaller, more intimate, no more than 12 people in a group where we could actually have that community and share that experience and have a mastermind experience together virtually because right now meeting in person is very difficult but also more often than a typical mastermind would meet because it’s COVID right now. We need the support. We need somebody there to say, “Hey, how is your launch going? How are you doing with continuing to move forward? And just how are you doing emotionally through all of this?” So, that’s what I decided to do, Shelli. That’s what is in progress. I’m only a couple of months into this new business but as I was teaching and taking steps towards building this new business and being really aware of what I loved and what was heavy for me, it showed me this whole new thing that I hadn’t even considered doing.
I wanted to do masterminds but I’m envisioning this like super high-dollar adventure mastermind where I go around the world. I’m like, “Well, can’t do that now because COVID makes travel restrictions difficult.” And so, I’m like, “Well, one day,” and it’s like, “Oh, I can start this now and I can do this in a way that might not have been done traditionally.” And I can really use that zone of genius for me, which is connecting one-on-one with people in a real way. It’s not scalable in a huge way. I can’t do thousands and thousands of people in this setting but for right now, this is enough. And I had never considered a high-end membership. You know, high-ticket membership stuff is something I’ve never done but it gave me that confidence to move into something new and I just can’t stop thinking about it. I’m so lit up by it and I am a loving being in a business model that just brings me energy because so much of everything else is difficult. I homeschool my kids. I have all these things that are a big pressure on my life right now. So, if my business can actually light me up and it can give me energy, then that’s the business that I want to run.
So, that’s what I’m hoping other people can do as well like as they’re going through their stuff. As you’re taking action, you’ll feel what’s heavy, you’ll feel what’s really fun for you. Man, if I could give one word of advice to people, it would be to pay attention to what you really love doing and just go deep with that, and the stuff that’s heavy for you, say no. If it’s not a heck yeah, it’s a heck no. And try and really go deep into that because then business becomes fun and it becomes really easy. It’s really great.
Shelli Varela: Well, the truth is if you’re building it anyways and you’re paying attention to what lights you up and it goes back to that day in the cabin, what is your true and beautiful story, if you’re building it anyways, build it in accordance with what is effortless with what lights you up. And there isn’t one way to do a membership site or an online business. Some people like to create content at a low ticket price. Some people like a higher ticket price and some people like the one-on-one concierge mastermind type model, and neither is right or wrong but it really just becomes a question of what is the best fit for you.
Jamie Swanson: Absolutely.
Shelli Varela: So, can you let everybody know if they are looking to know more about you or to work with you or just to kind of be in your hemisphere, what does that look like for them and where is the best place they can find you online?
Jamie Swanson: I have a podcast called the Bright Entrepreneur Podcast, BrightEntrepreneurPodcast.com. And I actually started podcasting pretty detailed about the entire transition through COVID hitting my business and what I was going to do. That’s all in Season 2. Then I started Season 3 when I started this new pivot, which will allow you to hear about the course that I started. But also, I went on because I was listening to my body, like you said, Shelli, and really dedicated to aligning my business with who I was and I continued to shift how I was teaching it. So, you can hear all about that on the podcast as well.
Shelli Varela: Amazing. I am so grateful that you were able to stop by. I know that you were on the show earlier and it was going to be so valuable for people to be able to hear what becomes possible when you understand your story and change it when you realize that you’re not stuck in a one-trick pony act that there are so many gifts and knowledge and experience that people have and what is possible is actually far more diverse than they believe oftentimes in the beginning. So, thank you for sharing that, thank you for the hope, and thank you for the inspiration. You, my friend, are a gem.
Jamie Swanson: Well, thanks for having me, Shelli.
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