Episode #8: Creating a Bicoastal Photography Business, with Stacey Vaeth
Just how do you run a successful photography business in both Washington, D.C. and Seattle? On this month’s Creative + Moneywise podcast, portrait and commercial photographer Stacey Vaeth talks about how she started her bicoastal business, how she maintains it and especially how she’s learned to treat herself like and think of herself as a business executive.
Stacey is a fourth-generation photographer in her family and the first woman to do it professionally – but this wasn’t her first profession. She used to work at an environmental nonprofit – an amazing job, she says, but not one that fed her creative side or made her happy.
Stacey is a portrait and commercial photographer and also the owner of Bird and Fish Co., a company that sells products printed with her fine art photography.
Full disclosure: I met Stacey years ago just after she started her photography business, back when we both lived in Washington, D.C. I always admired her determination and her courage in starting her photography business.
Cinematic Orchestra Cello Loop by Wanderexplore
Happy Upbeat Cello by Audiokraken
Fearless First by Kevin MacLeod with a Creative Commons License
Going Forward Looking Back by Sound of Picture
FlitterKey Backwards Beat by Sound of Picture
Freesia by Sound of Picture
Lode Runner by Sound of Picture
Swimming by Sound of Picture
FULL TRANSCRIPT from 01:31
Stacey Hey, Laura, thank you so much for having me I’m happy to be here.
Laura So, one of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you is because you do something that I don’t think a lot of photographers do, which is you run your photography business on two coasts, the east coast and the west coast. Can you tell me about how that happened?
Stacey Sure. yeah, I started my photography business in 2008 in Washington, DC. And around 2013, I was sort of going through a life change and I’d always wanted to move out to someplace that was more connected to nature and connected to the mountains. And so I decided to move out to Seattle, Washington. And when I made that decision, I really realized that I didn’t want to give up my business in DC. And so I polled all of my clients – who have really become my family – if they would be willing to work within sort of a spring and a fall schedule when I could return to the area. So, the majority of them said, yeah, that would be fine. And I moved myself out to Seattle. And then since then have been doing a bi-coastal life where I’m in DC for about late March through early May, and then again from early October through about Thanksgiving every year. And then the rest of the time I’m out here in Seattle working and creating.
Laura About what percentage of your clients did you keep in DC?
Stacey It’s continued to grow, which is sort of shocking. Yeah. So, it’s been a growing business and yeah, I just feel really blessed.
Laura So, you moved to Seattle and did you just kind of start doing the same kind of photography there? Or did you try something different?
Stacey You know, I really thought about that and I think the low-hanging fruit was to start the business in the same way that I had in DC, because I was familiar with that process. But to be honest, the culture in Seattle is quite different. I think the demand for the type of photography that I do is also a little bit different. So, it didn’t feel like my techniques that I had used when I first started in DC to get my name out there were working in the same way out here because the industry has changed, time has passed and I have grown.
And then also I just was ready for diversifying the business. I really was starting to think toward what does the rest of my life look like? You know, I’m now 44. And so, you know, as I look toward the next 20 years of my career or longer, you know what do I want to be doing? And so really what I do out here in Seattle is I do some fine art, photography nature based. So, I sell large format metal prints. I also have a small line of products that I have put some of my personal and nature-based work onto like an umbrella line. I have some calendars and cards and that sort of thing. So, you know, those combined with then the portrait and commercial photography that I do out here, but all that to say that it’s not fully the same in both cities.
Laura And you forgot to mention something that I’m going to mention, cause it’s kind of like bragging about you. You do have some of your photo products in the Seattle Art Museum gift shop. Right?
Stacey I do. Yeah, I do.
Laura How did you get that to happen?
Stacey I actually, so I have some of my products in a small gallery store called Venue in Ballard, which is a part of Seattle. And the buyer for the Seattle Art Museum — her name is Renata Tatman, she’s amazing — and she actually goes through small stores and finds local artists. And so she saw my umbrellas that have my nature photos on them and yeah, from there we built a relationship. So, the name of the company, if I can say the name of the company is Bird and Fish Co so you can check them out on my website, Stacey Vaeth dot com or on birdandfishco.
Laura Yes. so quick question about how this, this woman got in touch with you to buy your umbrellas for the, for the museum. Did she email you, did she call you like, do you remember that first communication and how did you feel?
Stacey I walked into the Seattle Art Museum store. I got their specs for how you submit a product for consideration. I sent it to her and she had already seen them at Venue. That’s how the relationship was built. So yeah, it took that extra step from me, I think, to get on the radar. But she had definitely already seen them at the store.
Laura That is so cool. You’ve just had the confidence to go in there and ask them how you can get your products in the store. And she already knew you.
Stacey Yeah. Yeah. It’s a small city. When you open yourself up to opportunity, I think anywhere, if you put yourself out there and you have that bravery… When I started my photography business in DC, I had little like wedding invitations almost created for the launch of my business. I threw this party and I had 150 of them and my commitment to myself was that I was going to get rid of all of them. And I walked into every last store in Adams Morgan in DC and other like neighborhoods right around there. And I handed them out to all the business owners and I just said, please come to my launch party. And it was like the scariest thing I’ve ever done, or one of them, I mean, it was terrifying.
Laura Did you know most of those people already?
Stacey No, I didn’t know any of them, no. But you know, it’s like, it’s funny when you take yourself out of that perspective, it’s kind of silly maybe to offer to somebody you’ve never met an invitation to your party. But also like who’s going to be offended by getting like an invitation with a ribbon wrapped around it. Like nobody. They’re going to be like, oh, that’s lovely. And maybe I won’t come or maybe I’ll stop by, but you know, what’s the harm.
Laura Very fancy. And that’s also smart because I think it, it shows that you were investing in your business already.
Stacey Yeah. I mean, I think anytime you start a business like this and it’s interesting now to be with Bird and Fish Co. And like going through this process again and also Stacey Vaeth Photography out here in Seattle and like being back in that vulnerable place of having to believe in what it is that you’re doing. And more and more I’m continually reminding myself, like it’s not about imitation, it’s about inspiration. I have to keep remembering that I have a vision. It is mine alone. I can look around at what other people in the same field are doing, but they are not me. And if I deny what it is that I am put on this earth to do, and my unique vision, then I’m never going to reach my full potential.
Laura I love everything you just said. You sound incredibly confident about your business. Did you feel that way when you first started your business? So, you mentioned that you made these 150 wedding invitations basically and invited people you didn’t even know to your launch. What made you feel confident enough to do that?
Stacey I had kind of an epiphany when I was thinking about starting the photography business. And I kept hearing this voice in my head saying, well, once you take more classes or once you’re more technically adept at like off-camera lighting or, you know, studio lighting or whatever the thing was – posing the client – then you can start your business. And I was really looking around at what other people in the field were doing at that point. And I thought, you know, these people are out there and they’re making a living at this. And I don’t know what kind of living they’re making, but they’re, they’re making a living, they’ve got a website they’re getting hired.
And so I just thought if they can do it, nobody’s going to come and actually give me permission at any point. Like where is the point where I’m going to think the quality of my work is good enough that now I can go and do this. And so I just decided with really, honestly, the help of like yoga, meditation, deep introspection, lots of nerves, but just really like, kind of leaned on those internal forces to just give myself to permission to go for it. I’m just so glad that I did. But I would say the full confidence in terms of like what my primary work is, which is portraiture and lifestyle photography, that full confidence in, like, I know that I deliver a great product and great customer service that probably didn’t come until like year seven or eight.
Stacey Until I was like fully embodied, like, okay, I now know, like I’m, I’m fully committed that I do a good job. It takes a while.
Laura So, let’s go back to when you decided to launch your photography business. I know that you had another job, like a regular nine to five office job before. And you thought about launching your photography business for quite a bit before you actually did it. So, what situation were you in both professionally back then and also financially?
Stacey Yeah, so I was actually a community organizer at an environmental nonprofit working with community groups who were facing toxic threats in their neighborhoods and basically taught them how to take on city hall or empowered them. They really taught themselves. So, it was an amazing job. I had gotten a degree in environmental science. I had gone to the Peace Corps and worked in agriculture there and then came back to DC and got this job. By my standard, I was at the best organization I could be at, if I was going to stay in that field.
Financially, you know, it was a nonprofit, so didn’t pay very well. I think I made about $50,000 a year at the end when I left. What I found myself doing was going to work, being inspired about the work that I was doing there for when I was talking with communities. But if I was just on the computer, you know, or working on, you know, some document or something, I was just dreaming about what I was going to do when I got home. You know, and I think a lot of people in the workforce do this. You know, where you’re like, what you really want to be doing is baking a loaf of bread or going for a run or painting a picture or playing with your kids if you have children or any of those things.
And so, I would find myself just dreaming about creation all day long and saying to myself well, as soon as I get home, I’m gonna crack out my paint brushes. And then I would get on the bus and then get on the train after the bus connection and get home. And it would be seven o’clock at night. And I’d had a very stressful day and I would make dinner and I would watch TV and crash. And it was every day for five years. And I started to look for other jobs in the field. And as I was looking around, I just realized, this is just not for me. This is just absolutely not what I can do for the rest of my life. And at this point, I think I was about 27 or 28. Yeah, about 27 when that process began.
And so I did… Laura, you and I have talked about this a little bit, but I did this analysis of all of the jobs in which I had been most fulfilled in my life or felt just the most alive. I started working when I was 15, so I reached all the way back to there and I made two columns. And so, in my favorites column was stocking shelves at the grocery store. I had been a plant lady going from business to business or home to home watering plants that were on like a subscription service. I had worked on an organic farm and I had been in the Peace Corps. And so I listed those down and I also mowed lawns for a while that was on there. And then on the other list, I listed my least favorite and it included the one that I was in, even though I feel such a loyalty to that organization in that work it’s, but it was just really the nature of the job.
Another job that I had had at the University of Buffalo, which was really great in its principle and what they do, and it was doing energy audits and energy conservation work and sort of a dream job for that field, but still landed on that list.
And so then I did a list of all of the qualities that went into each job. And so in my favorites, it was being physically active for the majority of the day, interacting with people, but not the same people consistently. So like when I was watering plants, I would see, you know, one person once a week for 10 minutes while I was in their home watering their plants. So social, but not sort of bound to that same social group. I had no meetings. I didn’t have to do much of what I didn’t want to do. I mean, I still have to like, you know, do bookkeeping and stuff like that, you know, or deal with my website. Like there’s still stuff that I don’t want to do, but for the most part, like I’m deciding where I’m focusing my energy. And then no commute working from home. That was another really big thing.
And then when I looked at the jobs that I really was frustrated in, it was all the opposite stuff. And I was like, I really have been acculturated to have sort of a class issue here. Like the definition of success in my mind has been, you will work in an office and you will rise up the ranks. You will have employees, you will have a corner office or the version of that in a nonprofit, which was never in a corner with a good view.
But then on the other side, it was like, this is really the truth, your truth. You’ve just written it down. What you want to do is something that is service oriented. And so from there then grew out the idea of you know… I’ve left out the whole piece of creativity, which was also a big thing. Like you want to be creative, but, you know, it’s like, it was just a very interesting uncovering for me. And it didn’t leave me any option. Once I went through that exercise, I had to make a change.
Laura How did photography become the thing that you were going to do though? Is it because your dad was a photographer? Your dad was a photographer for Kodak.
Stacey Yeah. I’m actually a fourth-generation photographer. I’m the first woman in my family to become a professional photographer. My aunt is an amazing shooter on her own. And yeah, so that was part of the reason I guess, but I didn’t see it very clearly. I was sort of astounded when I decided on photography because I was like, well, that was like laying at my feet this entire time. So yeah, it was just a, it was a long uncovering. It really felt very murky. And then when I settled on photography, there was a combination of things. Actually, it was like, this is something I’m already trained somewhat. I mean, I had some foundation in it to do, and I knew that there was an opportunity to make a living at it.
Laura So tell me a little bit about how your family responded to this and your friends, because I know you have a couple of friends who really cheered you on through this process of trying to discover what you were going to do instead of the job you were doing at the time.
Stacey I’ve always also been just sort of like until very recently, you know, kind of in that how do I explain this? There’s like a…. I always felt like as a woman, that there was a certain path that was somewhat prescribed for me by society, right. And that included having children and getting married and, you know, having the home and sort of that level of stability. It was how it was raised by both community and society and my family and, you know, all that. And so this did feel like very daring move to make.
My parents, I think were the, both the most supportive and also the most difficult people to tell that I wanted to do this because it did feel quite risky. I wasn’t going to work for Kodak. You know, I wasn’t going to actually have a paycheck that was guaranteed coming in. I felt like maybe I was taking my financial future into a very dangerous place by making this decision. And so that made it difficult to talk with in particular, my parents about this. But they were very supportive and of course, a bit apprehensive, I think.
And then my dad was instrumental in the first couple of years. I mean, just from like a – and my mom as well – but my dad, because he had sort of been on the front lines with clients and in shoots, you know, I could call him. I probably called him daily for their first year of launching the business, you know, and just said, oh my gosh, this just happened. And he just said, “Oh my gosh, this brings back so many memories.”
And then my mom was actually, you know, she was instrumental in their business as well. She did all of their books. She did all the client meetings. She built the albums with the clients. So, she was really supportive in all of those elements as well. But then also in terms of the launch and my friends, I mean, it was a very different approach to take to life, especially in a government town like DC. All of my other friends were going into public health, law or government. And so I think more than anything, they were a little bit fascinated at like, oh, what is the life of an artist feel like, or look like.
Laura How lucky that you had your parents who had already, you know, worked in the field. So incredibly lucky. Yeah.
Stacey It’s incredibly lucky. And I have to say also it has truly deepened my relationship with both of them in ways that is difficult to even express. My dad and I are able to go out and shoot together and we’ve just been able to bond over creation of just a beautiful object, which is really a unique thing to have with a parent.
And then with my mom, it has been even more powerful in that she wrote me a letter. She came with me when I was shooting a wedding up in New York. It was like year one or two. And so I said, do you want to be my assistant? Cause I would just take like, even a person off the street. I was like, so nervous and like, so hyper, you know, so I was like, I need somebody to carry my gear and like, hold my shot list and all this stuff.
Anyway, so she was up there and she watched me work. And I woke up in the morning and there was an entire notepad from the hotel we were staying at, filled out with her handwriting and it was, I still have it, of course – it’s like one of the most powerful letters I’ve ever received.
And she said, you know, when you started your business, I envisioned you in my role when we had our portrait and wedding studio. And she said, I don’t know why, but I just didn’t even really realize that you are doing the job that your dad did. And she, you know, said some beautiful things about my interaction with the clients and watching me work. But it was just this true acknowledgement of like, I’m seeing my powerful daughter, like doing this job that a man — in my mind — usually does. And that in so many other experiences throughout these years has, has just strengthened our relationship. And I think just been like this great feminist awakening for both of us. And I’m really grateful for that.
Laura That is such a beautiful story. Thanks Stacey. Wow. You’re really lucky to have your parents who had all this previous experience of photography to help you out. What did you learn from them or what did they teach you about the financial side of running your photography business?
Stacey They didn’t teach me anything about that.
Stacey Got to be honest! Not sure if I ever asked. Yeah, I don’t remember them teaching me anything about that. They could correct me. I’ll have to ask them if I’m misremembering.
Laura Well, then what did you learn about personal finances and running a business, I guess when you were growing up and watching your parents run their wedding photography business?
Stacey Yeah. So, my dad worked, full-time at Kodak as a studio photographer and then they had a portrait and wedding business on the side. So, they basically did portraits and weddings from Friday to Sunday. and I remember it, you know, I remember clients coming through their studio in our, the upstairs part of our house when I was really little. but yeah, when…
I didn’t go in with any strong financial literacy whatsoever and that is one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t get a strong, confident foundation as I began the business. It was just something I’ve always been very fearful of. you know, when I first got a credit card, the bill would come and, you know, even if the balance was like $500, I wouldn’t even open the bill. I just wouldn’t pay it. Because I was just terrified of like this unknown. There was an undue sense of power that money could hold over me.
So that sort of, that’s the honest truth about how the business finances started. I read a lot of business books before I began. And one of them was like how to start and grow your photography business, I think it was called. And she ran two small studio, two big studios, actually, I think she grossed over a million dollars a year, somewhere in the Midwest. And she had said, don’t ever price yourself at the low end, even though you think because you’re beginning that your work is at the low end. You know you’re capable of so much more – something to this effect, right? You know, you’re capable of so much more of growing in the field, growing technically growing your product line and so forth, she said. But if you price yourself low, you’re going to get people who don’t value your work. And you’re never going to be able to get out of that group.
She also said two other really important things. She said, you are not your own client. Because you’re a creative, you wouldn’t probably pay for this at this price point. You already can do this product. It’s like being a builder and building your own house. You probably wouldn’t pay a contractor to do most of that work. You would do it yourself. Right. so that was a really important thing to think about. Like, don’t filter your pricing through yourself. And then the other thing is you’re one person. You don’t need every client. You can’t fulfill the work of every client. You just need enough clients to be able to fill, you know, sort of your docket so that you can make the amount of money you want to make per year.
So those were really, really strong, important principles for me, starting out. I took them to heart. I did price myself pretty well from the beginning. And actually I was so busy within two years that I, I upped my prices by almost 30% on year three. And I lost like, I don’t know, 30% if it was that many, probably 25 or 30% of my clients. And it was terrifying. Because it took a year for me to catch up with building more clientele into the network to be able to get back up to where I was. So, I was going up, up, up, and then dropped for that year and then built up again. But the difference was is that I got my life back because in those first two years I was working like 80 hours a week a week.
Laura Well, your business was a startup then. I mean, did you have a certain kind of money goal when you left your job and started the photography business?
Stacey Yeah, my goal was to make the same amount per month that I had been making at the non-profit after taxes. So, which at the time was $3,400 a month? Yeah. $3,400 a month.
Laura And you did it?
Stacey I did it. I did it month one. And then, after year one I realized so, come like August in DC, which is like a kazillion degrees and everybody goes to the beach, nobody hires a photographer. Nobody’s going to look good behind the camera unless you’re doing a wedding perhaps. Right. And in September, everybody’s going back to school. So those are really slow months. Then after Christmas, nobody really hires a photographer again until the cherry blossoms come, which isn’t the end of March, right?
So, these are long stretches with no work and the most important people in my life put on their calendars — I had multiple people tell me this — that they put it on their calendar that like August 15th and February 15th, I would call them and panic that I was never going to work again. That somebody had sent out an email to the whole universe that I sucked and don’t hire her. And it was like the most catastrophic thinking you can actually imagine. But this was the amazing thing about this structure of only paying myself.
And so I would put that $3,400 into my personal checking account. That was the money for the month. Everything else went into the savings account. And I’m so grateful I had that discipline and I maintain it to this day. You really gotta save. I do.
Laura I agree with you because for most of us, our work is… it fluctuates. It might not be as seasonal as yours, but you might have like a $10,000 a month and then you might have a, you know, $700 a month, depending on what you do. You don’t have a kind of system to make sure you are paying yourself and covering your own actual living expenses, you can become even more anxious than you already probably are.
Stacey That is precisely. It it’s like where you can control having stress in your life. Like control it. You know, this is like totally predictable way to just prevent yourself from panicking because you can just look at the savings account and say, oh, I’m good. I’m totally fine.
Laura Sometimes there’s this narrative about artists and how you can’t really make money as an artist, but that’s not true. You can make money and you can be successful in this. What do you think are the keys to making that happen?
Stacey I think believing in your own vision is the most important thing as an artist. Commit to what it is that you love, that what you think you can offer to people and create images that reflect that. You know like, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a shoot where I’ve, this is earlier in my career in particular, where like say it’s a newborn shoot and I would do all of the shots that I had seen other photographers. You know, like the sleeping peaceful baby, even though the baby was like not peaceful and not sleeping
Laura A real photographer’s miracle to, you know, pull that off then.
Stacey Exactly. Well, you’d spend like two hours trying to get the shot that you quote unquote, think you have to have in then at the very end of the shoot, like one of the images that’s on my homepage of my website is one of my favorite images I’ve ever taken. It’s of Nicole and her daughter and she’s laying on her back and her daughter is sleeping on her chest. And this was the last shot. We had wrapped up the shoot. I’m at her home. And I said, you know, I’m going to go out on a limb here. This is a shot that I think I want to do. I just have it in. I’m just seeing it for you. I’ve never done it before. I’ve never seen it done, but I would love it if you would just slide underneath the blankets and just — her baby had fallen asleep because the shoot was long, right. So she just…. I said, just rest her right on your chest. And so we just did this image. It took two seconds. She was totally game. And I walked away with that image and I was like, that’s the picture from this shoot. That is the picture of a mother and a child. Like, this is what I can do, and this is what I can offer. So I think that’s really important in making a strong living is, is developing that strong vision and, and really committing to it.
And then the other thing is, good customer service for me has been absolutely crucial. You know, if you mess up say, “I messed up” and make it right. COVID tested absolutely all of us on this one. Clients were coming left and right saying I need to cancel my shoot. And the majority of mine, you know, have been with me for a while. And so, most of them just said, you know, “we just want to take it as a credit for whenever the world reopens.” But I had a couple of events that were fully canceled and they needed their deposits back. I waived all of the, you know, the sort of deposit requirements that I had. And then just on a general basis in terms of, of customer service, you know, answering your emails promptly and fairly. And there’s more to that, but I think that that’s how you build a strong business that really can rival what you can make, you know, in a private company.
Laura Those are some really good, they’re not quite tips, but I’d call them tips.
Stacey Yes. The other brilliant, brilliant move that I made – and this was when I was going through my divorce and I left town for a month and I just thought I’m going to tank my business. I literally cannot be on email. I cannot be on any soul-sucking device whatsoever. I’m going to the mountains. I’m going to do yoga. I’m going to go ski. I’m just going to like run. I’m just going to be. And I called my sister who had just left her job. She worked at a tech company out in LA. And I said, if I set up the emails, you know, just email responses for you and give you a cursory training, can you just like respond to emails for me for a month? And you know, I’ll pay you and everything. And she said, sure, no problem. She was very much into systems and making lists and you know, these sorts of things. And so when I came back after a month, my whole, the backend of my business was just like completely reorganized. It was awesome.
She created something called a sales log, which has been very instrumental to the business. So basically it’s a tracking system where we track, like all of the clients, how much they have spent, if they’ve placed their order, like where they are within the process. So that helps keep sort of our, like the customer service end of things, running really well. She became my studio manager for five years. And I think that was one of the best moves that I made because while you feel like it’s an extravagance that you can’t afford, just having somebody answer your emails, most of them end up being the same questions again and again, or they’re sort of logistical so it doesn’t really take just specifically you to answer them. Somebody can be trained to do that and often do it better than you can. So, I recommend that as well in terms of efficiencies, if you can find the right person.
Laura Do you have someone else doing that for you now?
Stacey I haven’t been able to find the right person
Laura I just read this book called “We Should All Be Millionaires” by Rachel Rogers. And she runs a, yeah, she runs a life coaching company and her, her main goal is to make more women millionaires. And one thing she says in the book is that no matter what size your business is, you need to hire a personal assistant to help you at least five hours a week with something. It doesn’t even have to be your business. It can be something that frees up time, so you can work on your business or rest more or just, you know, whatever. and I thought that was great advice. Actually, my husband and I, we have a house helper who comes one day a week and she cleans everything. She does the laundry. She does all our dishes. And then she chops vegetables for us because we like to prepare our own meals, but chopping takes so much time.
Stacey What a good idea.
Laura And it’s amazing. It frees up so much time for both me and my husband to do other things. It’s great!
Stacey It’s wonderful. And I think this is the thing is that we inherently in so many different ways limit ourselves through like a stereotype, right? And so we’re like, oh, only the wealthy can have a house cleaner. Or only the super successful can have a professional website built for them. And that is where the limitations begin and inhibit us from ever getting to that greater point of success financially.
I’ve had the same experience. When I started my business, my ex-husband watched me try to build, try to build a website. He said, “What is your plan with this?” And I was like, “Well, I’m going to launch with a website that I’ve built. And then once I have a couple of clients, I’ll have enough money to pay somebody to build it.” And he said to me, “You’re not going to even get those first clients if it looks like you’re running this business out of your basement”. And I was like, “Interesting thought.”
And I noticed that the vast majority of male photographers had professionally built website and the vast majority of female photographers had websites they clearly built on their own. And I ended up getting a small business loan, about $7,000. So, I bought a couple of really good lenses. I already had a good camera body. I bought my laptop and I paid for my website. Those were my big expenses starting out.
So I do think like with what you’re saying, I also, you know, have always had a, well, I just hired my first house cleaner here in Seattle, which made me so thrilled. She comes Wednesday for the second time and I’m just beyond happy.
Laura Wednesday’s the day my house helper comes, too!
Stacey Isn’t it so great? It’s so great. It just makes you like… It makes you feel like you’re being cared for and you’re caring for somebody else. Like you’re giving somebody a really good job. I pay my housekeeper more than market because I feel like she really deserves it. And it makes me feel like somebody has just like put a little bit more love into my home and I can come home refreshed and ready to work.
Laura Exactly, exactly. Yeah. And here in South Africa, house helpers are a lot less expensive than in the U.S. but we, but we pay ours more than most people I know pay theirs because I think what she does is so valuable.
Stacey I love that. Well, and those, and those are the small things that we don’t realize actually suck energy from us.
Laura When you first started working in Seattle and DC, you were doing things like packing up like millions of suitcases and lugging them across the country, but now you do things differently. So, can you talk to, can you talk a little bit about what’s changed?
Stacey Yes, definitely. When I’m flying, you know, I’m bringing like a whole bag of light stands, which, you know, what that weighs you know, it’s probably 40 pounds or something and very unwieldy plus a two months worth of clothing, plus my laptop, plus my camera with every last lens and every last flash, because I don’t know what shoots are going to be booked.
So, it’s not like I can just bring like a, kind of a small gear bag. And it was so like stressful. And then I started working with a business coach. I have to give her a shout out cause she’s absolutely unbelievable. Her name is Christina Marie Kimball and her company is Artful Thinking. And she said, “You have to treat yourself like an executive.” Very similar probably to the “We Should All Be Millionaires” author you just mentioned. And she said, I want you to think through what are the technologies that can help support you in this way and who are your resources?
And so, I have a friend who has a yoga studio in DC. And so, she let me store my clothes and toiletries and even I would keep like some spices and like chopping knives for cooking meals and stuff in the basement of her yoga studio. So, I actually just bought or left a full second set of clothes…
….plus like, you know, basics like a hairbrush and my shampoo and so on and so forth in these Rubbermaid bins, in the basement of a yoga studio. With Christina Marie’s tip, she was like, you know, put the list of things that you use every time you’re there, whether it’s notebooks or pens or sticky notes or whatever batteries I always need. Put those in an Amazon – which I try not to buy from Amazon to be quite honest – but put those in an Amazon wish list. And then just before you go to DC, just hit send. And your entire box of your sort of school supplies are going to arrive in time. And so, then I took that idea and also applied it to Instacart. So now when I arrived to DC, I have everything already there. So, now I’ve got some fresh fruit and I’ve got my coffee. I’ve got the things that I need to sort of start the day. And then I also have my little school supply, like box from Amazon.
Laura So, you treat yourself like an executive.
Stacey Treat yourself like an executive and make your life easier. And then actually this year, Kelly moved from her old space, so she no longer has a storage space at the basement of the yoga studio. So this year I actually shipped three priority mailboxes to myself, with my clothes and my shoes in them.
Laura How much did that cost you? It wasn’t that expensive, right?
Stacey It wasn’t expensive. It was $34.
Laura And totally worth it then.
Stacey Totally worth it. I didn’t have to have a suitcase at all. I just brought my camera bag and my laptop on the plane with me. Yeah. And it’s, COVID. Like, I didn’t want to spend any extra time waiting for baggage in the airport or, you know, dealing with any of that stuff. So yeah.
Laura Well now I want to ask you my new favorite question to ask every guest, which is your thoughts about retirement and how you’re planning for it.
Stacey Yeah. you know, so I am just starting to think about retirement, but I did start a retirement account. probably, well actually through CATJ through the, the first organization that I worked with, I had a little four oh one 3b, I guess they were for nonprofits.
Stacey 403b, yeah. And so we had a, I had a tiny amount in there, which we actually, my ex-husband and I used as a down payment toward our first apartment that we bought.
Laura Oh, so you pulled all the money out to buy…
Stacey Yeah, I pulled all the money out as like a dummy does. No, I’m just kidding. Well, it’s funny, when you’re in your twenties and you look at this account with money, it you’re like, shouldn’t, I just spend that money. Like you, can’t, it’s very hard to conceive of how it grows and how much, you know, how much stability it can offer you later on. But yeah. Then I, when I started the business, I began a self-employment retirement program. I don’t know actually know what the acronym stands for, but it’s SEP S-E-P. So it’s a self-employment 401k essentially.
Laura It’s a Simplified Employee Pension IRA.
Stacey Thank you for that. One of the main reasons to do that is, you know, you know, being a self-employed person is that it reduces your taxable income. So you can put in, is the max 20 or 25% of your….?
Laura I think it’s still 25% up to like $58,000, something like that.
Stacey Right. So, 25% of your income you can put in every year and then your taxable income is reduced by that amount. So, what you’re taxed on is reduced by that, and it goes right into the retirement program. So that’s fantastic. So, I’ve been doing that ever since I opened it right at the beginning of the company and then my property, you know, in terms of sort of retirement assets. but in terms of like the, does thinking about what to do, long-term… When I started, you know, again, in your late twenties, you can’t even imagine like what you’re going to be like in your fifties. And so I sort of, I made this arbitrary call that I would sort of do this work for like 13 to 15,
Laura It’s been 13 years,
Stacey It’s been 13 years and I’m 44 so, apparently, I thought when I was 44, I would be over the hill. But here we are, luckily, still I think up on the, going up the crest. So, I don’t foresee myself doing this for the rest of my life. But more than that, it’s really sort of creatively speaking. Like the building of the business is is a total turn on for me. I just really get excited by it. I like puzzling through these problems. I like being up against fear. I actually think that that’s a huge motivator and calling on my own like internal reserves to, to find confidence and to find, you know, drive. So, I don’t know if the next stage of the life or part of the retirement plan is the Bird and Fish Co product line.
Stacey That’s definitely was part of the intention to have that be part of the income stream. I have a couple of other dreams in my back pocket, so yeah. I sort of feel like I’ve been living, especially since doing the bi-coastal life. I’ve been just living a life that I am fully embodied in and don’t really want it any other way. Like I’m not, I’m not yearning to retire and then travel Europe. I’m embedding those bits of life and experience into my every day right now.
Laura Do you think you would still stay an artist even if you’re not doing exactly what you’re doing now with photography?
Stacey Oh my gosh. Yeah. There’s like no end to the arts that I would do. I would be a glassblower first, which I just love. And I’ve done a lot of glassblowing, pottery and you know, my dad’s a woodworker and a wood turner, very accomplished at both. And so, you know, have an interest in exploring that yeah. Gardening, painting, cooking, pickling. Sky’s the limit. Yes. Yeah, yeah.
Laura Thank you so much, Stacey, for coming on the show. I love all the stories you’ve shared. I love all of the insights you gave.
Stacey Oh, thank you so much. One of my big give backs in all of the time that I’ve had this company and I hope going forward even more so is supporting other people to truly live lives that make them feel full because honestly like life is, I know it’s such a cliche, but it’s so true. You know, life is so short. And I think if we really remember that we were each put on this earth with certain gifts — it’s very tempting because we have these gifts — to feel like because they come naturally and easy to us and they give us joy and we want to spend our time doing them. That there’s no way that could possibly be a career. Like there is that false narrative that is so untrue. And we have been fed that by society.
And I just want to encourage people if they’re having that feeling to realize no, somebody else doesn’t have that vision. Somebody else doesn’t have that skill. Somebody else doesn’t have that interest. And so they would be benefited by you sharing that with them. And so just, you know, kind of tuck that little nugget away if it’s helpful and lean on it, if you can.
Laura Thank you, Stacey.
Stacey You’re welcome. And thank you for having me and thank you for having this awesome podcast. It is so important and supportive of people like me. So, I appreciate it.