photography

Elle Drouin

Elle Drouin is the founder of the Styled Stock Society and the human behind @mochiandthecity. After several years working as the Director of Marketing & Digital Strategy for e-commerce businesses, Elle launched her own business to focus on helping other women build brands that are as profitable as they are pretty. 

Elle currently runs the Styled Stock Society, a stylish stock photography membership for female entrepreneurs, as well as works as a commercial photographer for beauty and lifestyle brands. 

Elle Drouin | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance product stylist, photographer, and marketing strategist.

I studied business in college and started my career in finance before pivoting to work in marketing for a few years. When I first started my business wonderfelle MEDIA in 2015, I offered marketing consulting services, launched online courses, and created other digital products. In 2016 I created the Styled Stock Society because I wanted to create a subscription based business with recurring income to smooth the ups and downs in between course launches, but I quickly realized that I enjoyed styling and photography more than constantly launching courses or working with clients one on one.
I never planned to be a full time stylist and photographer but at the end of 2016 I felt like I was being pulled in too many different directions, so I decided to focus on the parts of my business that brought me the most joy. Since then, the Styled Stock Society has grown to over 1,000 members and I’ve worked with dozens of lifestyle and beauty brands to create custom imagery for their marketing channels. I also started an Instagram account for my dog @mochiandthecity around the same time as I started my business - and while it started as a fun creative outlet, it has grown to the point where I’ve had the opportunity to shoot ads for brands like American Express and The Ritz-Carlton.
Elle Drouin | Mochi Mondrian Park Ave | Freelance Wisdom
Elle Drouin | Mochi Mondrian Park Ave Leopard Lounge | Freelance Wisdom

In the beginning of your freelance career, how did you attract your first good clients?

Knowing that I wanted to start my own business, I actually started a blog sharing marketing tips while I was still working a 9-5(ish) job. I built up a couple months worth of content before I ever launched a services page so when I was ready to take on clients, I already had an audience that I could offer my services to. For the first couple of months, most of my clients found me via Pinterest - they would come across one of my blog posts and end up hiring me after learning more about my services.


You run three different businesses, how do you balance the needs of each business and/or do you have any tips for being your most productive?


While I have 3 different businesses, there are many things they have in common. I batch all of my tasks so that I can focus on one type of thing at a time across all businesses. So for example, I have one week every month that’s my “content creation week” - so this is when I’ll style, shoot, edit, and upload all of the images for my clients, for the Styled Stock Society, and many of Mochi’s images as well. I’m much more productive when I can get in the zone and STAY in the zone so it makes the most sense for me to spend a few days focused on a task rather than do a little bit each day or week.
I couldn’t live without Asana - I use it to manage all of my projects! I map out everything at the beginning of each month so that I always know exactly what I need to do when I wake up and I don’t have to waste time figuring out what my priorities for each day are.
Elle Drouin | Styled Stock-Society | Freelance Wisdom


What has been your greatest struggle as a creative business owner so far?

My greatest struggle has been accepting that there isn’t usually a clear next step. When I had a corporate job, there was a hierarchy to things so I started as an assistant and worked my way up over the years with regular promotions. There was always a next step or next level to strive for that made it easy to figure out “what’s next”... but when you own your own business, there are no promotions. There’s no one to tell you what the next step is so you have to figure out what that is for yourself. It’s liberating in a way, but I’m the type of person who likes to feel like I’m progressing towards something specific so I’ve struggled with not always knowing what’s next!

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

As much as possible, I try to automate or outsource the things that I hate doing! I’ve found that I’m a much happier person when I don’t waste time worrying about things like bookkeeping or failed transactions. I’m lucky that I have a great support team to help with a lot of the nitty-gritty business details, but with that said, there are also going to be some things I have to handle myself. I have “CEO week” every month where I address any of the business issues that need my attention so that the rest of the month I can focus on creating content, marketing, and serving my clients and customers.
Elle Drouin | Blush Office | Freelance Wisdom


What are your favorite ways to stay creatively inspired?

I travel (almost) every month which always helps to fuel my inspiration but in general living in NYC keeps me creatively inspired. There are so many different people doing really amazing things in this city and I find myself constantly inspired by all of the other business owners around me!


If you could give one piece of advice to your "just starting out self," what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to get REALLY specific. I think a lot of newer business owners (my former self included) are afraid to really niche down and get really specific about who their target audience is - but my experience has really proved that the more specific I am in targeting a specific group, the better I can understand their needs, and the better I can attract and serve them.
Elle Drouin | Fall Fashion 16 | Freelance Wisdom
Elle Drouin | Creative Entrepreneur | Freelance Wisdom

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Discipline, perseverance, and courage.
Elle Drouin | Styled Stock Society Images | Freelance Wisdom

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Liz Kuball

This week we are excited to talk with Liz Kuball, a photographer based in Los Angeles with roots along the shores of Lake Michigan. Her work has been exhibited across the United States and editioned through 20x200. Liz's clients include the Ace Hotel, Condé Nast TravelerThe New York Times, Refinery29, and The Wall Street Journal. AND we are so lucky to have her as a member of our Creative Lady Directory!

Thank you Liz for sharing your captivating photos and empowering insights. 

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance photographer.

I majored in English, worked in house for a publishing company as a copyeditor for a couple years, and then went freelance. Editing was never a job I wanted. As a freelancer, I stuck with editing a lot longer than I would have if I'd stayed in house, because I enjoyed a lot of the perks of freelancing (mainly, the freedom to live where I want and set my own hours). For a while, I thought I wanted to be a writer, and I went to grad school for writing in my late 20s, but I wasn't feeling it and I was floundering a bit. I took an independent study course toward the end of my time in grad school, and at the beginning of the semester, the professor told me he wanted to put together a reading list for me, to try to give the semester some focus. He asked what I was interested in. I said, "I've always been interested in photography," and that changed everything. He had me reading Susan Sontag and Janet Malcolm and thinking and writing about photography, and by the end of the semester, I knew I wanted to be a photographer, not a writer.
After I got out of grad school, while continuing to work as an editor, I started teaching myself how to use a camera and also studied the history of photography. I took a couple classes at a local community college, but really just started taking lots and lots of pictures and looking at the work of other photographers. I started a blog in 2007 and fell into the fine art photoblog community. I started showing my work in group shows and editioned a couple prints through 20x200. But something still wasn't right. I didn't like the split between my day job and the thing I loved to do. For years, I had worried that if I made photography my job, I would hate it because I had hated my day job for so many years. But finally, in 2014, I decided I would start going after photo assignments.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

I started by making a list of all the publications I wanted to shoot for. Most of the publications were places I had in mind already, but I also looked at the client lists of photographers whose work I admired and felt some connection to or thought shared a similar aesthetic. I did test shoots (basically, self-assigned stories along the lines of what I hoped to be assigned someday), and I shared those images with the photo editors I wanted to work with. I put together a print portfolio, and I went to San Francisco with it, and then to New York. Slowly, I started getting assignments. I started sending out postcards once a month, with handwritten notes on the back. I went to New York again, this time with a much better book, and took more meetings.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

Can you tell us a bit about what your photography process looks like?

For my personal work, it's largely about heading out the door with my camera, usually on foot, but sometimes behind the wheel of my car, and just looking for photos. If I'm doing it right, I'm not in my head too much. Thinking is my greatest roadblock. Being in my head too much, second-guessing myself and what I'm doing, can be debilitating if I let it.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelance photographer so far?

Having confidence in myself, not allowing self-doubt to creep in, focusing on my own work, not getting distracted by what other photographers are doing.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

The freedom.

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

It's really more of the same: making good work and getting it out there. If I feel like I'm not getting the clients or assignments I want, I never forget that it's because my work just isn't there yet, and that means I need to work harder and shoot more. Never losing sight of that means I'm solely responsible for my failures. I think some people have trouble with that, but I find it comforting, because it means it's within my control. If I make great work, the clients will follow.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

Liz Kuball | Freelance Wisdom
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

Do you have advice regarding choosing the clients with which you work?

For editorial photography, I think it's really about knowing your work, and knowing the magazines and newspapers that would be a good fit for you. I don't think it hurts to go after clients who might not at first glance seem like a good fit for your work, but then you should be able to talk to those editors about why you're approaching them.

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?

Because I've been a freelancer since I was in my mid-20s, I feel like these details are second nature to me. I don't have an accountant. I do all my own taxes (using TurboTax). I keep a spreadsheet of all my assignments, how much I invoiced for, and when I invoiced. I keep another spreadsheet of all my expenses and scan all my receipts. I save a percentage of every check I get for estimated taxes. (The first year I freelanced, I didn't know I was supposed to pay estimated taxes, and I've never made that mistake again!) The past few years, I've used YNAB for my budgeting, and that's made a huge difference just in terms of not stressing about money and making sure that I always have enough to cover the kinds of expenses that crop up unexpectedly.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

I often hear from friends that they wouldn't be able to work from home. They think they'd never get any work done. For me, that's never been an issue. In terms of making sure I don't work too much, when I was editing, that wasn't hard because I didn't love the job, so I just did as much as I needed to do to pay my bills. As a photographer, I actually don't even want a work-life balance. I want photography to be my life, so I never feel like I'm working too much. I love it! I just want more!

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

Usually, it has nothing to do with looking at photographs. I'll see a movie or read a book or take a trip, and that gives me new ideas. 
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are: 

Confidence, discipline, and an open mind.
© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

© Liz Kuball, do not repost without permission

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Reema Desai

Reema Desai is a lifestyle, travel, and food photographer based in Washington D. C. Her photographs are filled with light, wonderfully colorful, and incredibly refreshing. We're drooling over each one and wishing we could transport ourselves to the location of them all.

Thank you Reema for sharing your wisdom with us!

Reema Desai | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance photographer.

Well I’ve loved photography since I was young, and have spent most of my life taking pictures. I actually went to school for International Relations and Diplomacy, but I paid my way through school working as a second shooter and office manager for an absolutely incredible wedding photographer as well as working as a staff photographer for my university’s paper. It was something I absolutely loved, but not something I thought I could make a career out of.

After college, I traveled for a few months before moving to Washington, D.C. to pursue a career in my field. I got an office job here, and though I learned a lot of valuable things there, I realized that it wasn’t something that I wanted long term. I really missed the photography field, and as result, started getting more serious about taking photos and sharing them. The sharing step was by far the hardest part as I was incredibly shy and nervous about my work (luckily, I got over that)! I had very few clients at the time so I’d set up shoots in my apartment to build my portfolio, and tried to reach out to as many other local creatives that I could. That combined with sharing my work on Instagram really got things going for me. For about a year, I worked pretty tirelessly on saving money to start my business, finding new clients, and shooting while continuing my full time office job. I finally got to the point where I was able to take the jump, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

A lot of my clients came via word of mouth or through Instagram, and I still find that to be the case. It can be a challenge to find clients who value an artist’s worth but I was lucky to find a few right off the bat. Share work that you love(d) creating, and it will happen organically!

Reema Desai | Freelance Wisdom

What advice would you give to somebody starting out in photography?

It’s basic but be out shooting constantly. Keep your camera (or your phone even!) on you at all times, and be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Practice using different angles, compositions, lighting, subjects, etc., and shoot as often as you can. This will really help someone starting out hone in on their style, and figure out what does and doesn’t work for them.

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I work from home a lot but if I really, really need to get things done, working in a coffee shop or co-working space really helps me focus. Something about being around other people being productive really motivates me to do the same.

What has been the biggest “Aha!” moment that you’ve had while making photographs?

I’m not sure if I have one in particular, but I think a big thing for me was gaining the confidence over the years to share my work and pursue photography as a full-time career. Realizing your value is really important.

Reema Desai | Freelance Wisdom

"Realizing your value is really important."


Reema Desai | Freelance Wisdom

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelance photographer so far?

As a freleancer in general, it’s definitely scary to not know where your next check is coming from. Specific to photography, there are so many great photographers out there, and it’s pretty easy to fall into that comparison trap.

What is your favorite thing about freelance?

I love the freedom of creating my own schedule so much! I’m happy to work until later at night if it means I can go have lunch with my sister on a moment’s notice or catch up with a friend. I have a really hard time with the office mentality of “stay here for eight hours even if you don’t need eight hours to complete your work” so freelance makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t have to tell someone if I want to run an errand or go to the gym in the middle of the day, and as long as my clients are happy, my schedule can be whatever I want it to be.  And working from home with my dog is pretty great :).

Reema Desai | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I really try to create a great client experience so that they’re first and foremost, happy with their photos but secondly, happy enough with them to recommend my work to others. A lot of my clients come from recommendations which I absolutely love. Also, I have no problem contacting clients or brands I want to work with. I know this probably makes some people a little nervous, but the worst they can say is no!

Reema Desai | Freelance Wisdom
Reema Desai | Freelance Wisdom
Reema Desai | Freelance Wisdom

What do you do to stay creatively inspired?

Travel is the #1 thing that keeps me inspired creatively. I also really like switching up mediums (e.g. - painting or drawing when I’m feeling like I’m in a rut).

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

Always keep your personal life and expenses separate from your business expenses. I try to have a monthly “accounting day” where I pay bills, pay myself, go through receipts, etc. which helps me immensely.

Reema Desai | Freelance Wisdom

Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?

To be honest, my work filters into my personal life a lot, but luckily my friends and family understand. I tend to work on weekends, but I do try to set expectations for my clients. I don’t respond to non-urgent emails over the weekend, and I won’t respond to texts from clients outside of a certain time frame which helps a lot.

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

A thick skin (I used to absolutely hate when people said this to me before but it’s definitely true), drive, and passion for your work

Reema Desai | Freelance Wisdom

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