©Kayleigh Ashworth

The Value of Valuing Yourself

Kayleigh Ashworth had known she wanted to be a professional photographer for years. A longtime photo enthusiast, she dabbled in family portraits, product photography, and other photo jobs until the birth of her first child opened her eyes to maternity and newborn photography. “Having a baby created a love that I’d never experienced before,” she says. “It’s consuming and amazing, and I wanted to help capture it for people. I remember thinking, ‘This is it. This is what I’m supposed to do.’ It was as if my life was decided for me.”

After committing herself to maternity and newborn portraits, Ashworth’s business grew. She founded Kayleigh Ashworth Photography in Murrieta, California, in 2015, and steadily grew her business into one of the area’s premier maternity and baby portrait studios with a dedicated clientele and rich referral pipeline.  

©Kayleigh Ashworth

When she launched her business, Ashworth knew she needed to educate herself and hustle. However, she wasn’t prepared for the crisis of confidence that being a small business owner would bring, and how important it would be to value herself, both as an artist and as a businessperson. Like many artists turned entrepreneurs, Ashworth struggled with anxiety surrounding sales and business. “That was definitely something I had to get over,” she recalls. “Well, not get over but get through, because you can’t get over it. You can’t get under it. You have to go through it.”

Ashworth pushed forward, resolute that she wasn’t going to let anyone derail her journey. That meant she needed to understand her own worth and the value she could provide, and set her goals accordingly. “You have to be your strongest support,” she says. “If you don’t want it bad enough, you’re not going to get it. Getting over the anxiety wasn’t something that was immediate for me. I had that level of anxiety for a long, long time. I just had to keep working through it, focusing on that light at the end of the tunnel. To do that, I determined my end goal and worked toward it every day. There’s no secret; you just keep going. I just kept making phone calls. I just kept talking to people until I wasn’t nervous about talking with new people anymore.”

One technique Ashworth used to help alleviate anxiety was writing scripts—which she referred to as conversational guides—for different types of client interactions. She also worked to make personal connections with prospective clients earlier in the process, often by inviting them to the studio for a tour and a pre-booking consultation. Then the interaction became less about sales and more about sharing expertise, she explains. The resulting conversations helped photographer and client get to know each other and led to a greater sense of familiarity at the eventual portrait session. 

In addition to her own resolve, Ashworth found support from other business owners, especially other women, from a variety of fields. “Early on, when it came to photography, I tended to stay in my own lane,” she says. “Then I learned from some other photographers that I admire that when they look for inspiration, they often look elsewhere, outside the industry. I found that really inspiring, and I think that works for a lot of things, not just for the creative side of photography, but the business side as well. Find people whose work or businesses you admire and learn what makes them successful. Borrow what you can and follow that inspiration. It will make a big difference in terms of your confidence.”

©Kayleigh Ashworth

Ashworth generates new business almost entirely from referrals, but the process of building her business to that point took time. Early on, she networked with people at a local OB-GYN practice, child and baby clothing boutiques, ultrasound facilities, chiropractors—anywhere expectant mothers, or new moms and their babies, would go. She’d bring them treats, leave behind her flyers, and follow up at regular intervals. Within three to six months she started to see referrals trickle in.

When people did contact her, Ashworth reached out immediately. Using her scripts, she’d talk them through her process and send them her booking information with an incentive to book quickly, something like a $50 credit toward their eventual order if they booked within 24 hours.

Once they booked, Ashworth sent them a small greeting gift. Then she’d enter them into her system to receive automated reminders and other pre-session communications. “I’m always in communication with them,” she says of her clients. “I’m keeping those lines open and building up to the session with lots of little touch points.” When they come in for their session, Ashworth has a sign to welcome them and a packet of information. “They never leave empty-handed.”

©Kayleigh Ashworth

During the session, Ashworth’s goal is to make everyone comfortable. The energy differs depending on the type of session, she says. Maternity sessions are about empowerment and making the women feel beautiful and appreciated; newborn sessions are about nurturing, catering to comfort, and alleviating anxiety. For all types of clients, Ashworth tries to align her work with their ultimate goals by asking questions: Do they have any inspirational photos? What are they comfortable doing? What do they want to get out of the session? What products do they ultimately want to come out of the experience?

After the session, clients return for the image reveal.

From day one, Ashworth guides clients through the photography session as well as the purchasing process. She delivers a striking presentation accompanied by treats, and offers incentives at various purchase points that include free gifts and add-ons. “My ultimate goal is to give people what they want,” says Ashworth. “Everybody is different, so I offer different incentives so people can get something that works for them.”

©Kayleigh Ashworth

“To move up in this industry, you have to be brave,” says Ashworth. “Don’t focus on others. Just focus on you and what you need.” That sometimes means ignoring what other people are charging, because their circumstances may be completely different, as well as their level of experience, skill, and artistry. “So, focus on you. Value yourself, value your family, and understand the value of the time you’re spending away from them. Then price yourself accordingly and stand by it. It’s important to do what works for you and value yourself enough to stand by it.” 

Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.