Thrive Photo Conference in Santa Barbara, CA
I successfully took an entire week trip without my professional camera!
Today I’m recapping my experience at the inaugural Thrive Photo Conference in Santa Barbara, California hosted by Tyler Spier and James & Jess. First, I want to point out that I spent the first 5 years of my business NOT attending conferences and retreats. I always saw the ones I wanted to go to and I’d even block out the dates on my calendar to ensure I’d go but I’d always wind up with a good lead and book a wedding instead. The idea of flying out on a ‘wedding hangover’ or missing the first day of the conference didn’t exactly appeal to me, either. Then 2020 happened… the specifics of the aftermath of the pandemic on an industry that depends on large events and the gathering of people is… well… it led to a huge increase in fear, burn-out, and creative entrepreneurs closing their business doors for good. Full transparency: I was on the verge of being one of those people. I was in a place where I was referring out every wedding lead that hit my inbox for more than one reason. Then some friends whose business I admire and whose joy and enthusiasm is contagious announced that they were hosting their own retreat in 30A (Refuge & Co.). I didn’t even blink at the cost and signed up before it had a chance to be sold out.
It was at that retreat where I first met James & Jess and Tyler Spier among many other ahhhhmazing educators and fellow creative entrepreneurs. It was at that retreat I realized that these things aren’t just about education. Retreats and conferences are a golden opportunity to network, to meet new friends who all understand the ins and outs of running a creative business, to be inspired to offer new revenue streams in your business, and if for nothing else, to renew your love for your business and prevent you from burn-out! Not to mention that retreats and conferences are 100% a business expense (tax write-off); which means that you have an opportunity to travel all while spending tax-free business money! So, if you think you’re in a place in your business where you are functioning just fine and perhaps making plenty of money even, but maybe your mental health isn’t thriving… then I’d beg you to consider exploring some retreats and conferences to attend! If you’re new in your business and desperately seeking advice on anything from growth, marketing, sales, and more, then you definitely should consider signing up! Ok, now that you’ve attended my TedTalk, let’s get to the Thrive Photo Conference…
We checked into the Hilton Santa Barbara on Sunday after flying into LAX. You can fly into Santa Barbara but since Rick and I have never been to California, we knew we wanted to explore a few places; plus, we fly Delta who currently isn’t flying into Santa Barbara. I just go ahead and own the fact that I’m an over-packer and if this is you, the Delta Amex guarantees your first checked bag free both ways for you and also for anyone whose ticket you book on your Amex. Then there’s the points that we rack up AND the free buddy pass round-trip ticket we earn every year (with the platinum which is 100% worth the fee if you travel). The Hilton Santa Barbara has a quintessential luxurious coastal CA vibe! If you’re planning on attending next year, go ahead and find a photo-swap buddy and carve out time to have your own photo sessions because the Hilton is sure to inspire ahhhmazing content!
I caught up with friend and personal business coach, Hope Taylor and we shared an Uber with Rebecca Rice and Natalie Frank. This was my first time getting to know those two ladies but they did not delay in greeting me with a hug! We arrived to the venue to be greeted by James also giving away free hugs. I never turn down a good hug! It was wonderful to see some familiar faces – the more conferences and retreats you go to, the more you truly get to know creatives from all over the country! As we got our name tags, we were given empty bags and directed to go “shop” for our swag (free/included)! This way you got what you wanted and didn’t have to throw out what you didn’t want. When Tyler, James, and Jess’ names are attached to anything – you can bet your bank account that none of it will be cheap! Only the finest swag for the finest attendees! We had hand mixed pre-bottled Old Fashioned mixed by the crafter himself, James , VOSS waters, Vitamins E Eye Serum, Electrolyte drink mix, Advil, gold eye masks, and more! The chatter was all the same – every attendee LOVED ‘shopping’ for our own luxurious swag! After you filled your swag-bag you headed inside for mingling and craft coffee concoctions by the onsite barista along with a selection of pastry items to satisfy your morning cravings.
Then it was time to kick off the conference with an amazing speaker lineup…
First up Natalie Frank came in hot reminding us that our brand is not what we say it is but what our CLIENTS say it is! She encouraged us to improve our client experience and our own day-to-day to-do’s by surveying our past clients and with some introspection on what we each could and should be doing better. Because if your workflows and experience are a dumpster fire or even just a little less than – you may be headed to burn out – and in her words, “What a devastating blow to the world if you gave up too soon because of burn out”!!! I felt that in my soul!
Then the queen of passive income and online education took the stage, Hope Taylor. She reminded us all that first and foremost it took her 10 years to get to where she is currently. It’s so easy to look at someone who has ‘arrived’ and think they must have been some sort of over night success – but in reality, ‘over night success’ is very few and far between in our industry. Hard work, perseverance, and having a teachable spirit – that’s how you ‘arrive’ ! Hope talked about ways that even any creative who has no desire to be an educator can easily create and add passive income and it was an inspiring breath of fresh air!
We then had a hosted lunch catered by Omni Catering SB and the extra vacay pounds I came home with agreed – it was ahhhhmazing! The hosted lunch really made this event special because that meant everyone got to stay together, mingle, and truly form new relationships and bond over everything from personal struggles to of course, business. I had an inspiring conversation with a very successful photographer who was open about how his past depression is what actually launched his business! Without the hosted lunches, I may have never heard that story!
James and Jess took the stage next – again, reminding us first that it took them 10 years to get to where they are today! They shared the 5 Pillars of a successful photography business – which I found to be a straight forward and easy to implement strategy and a great reminder even if you’re already implementing these things!
Tyler Spier closed out the speakers for the day by reminding us that people book people, not services! You can be technically amazing at what you do, but technical skill isn’t the reason people are quick to sign your contracts – it’s the reason they inquire with you but your ability to connect with them is going to determine if you work together! I teach this in my Closing the Consult Course and it’s something successful business owners already know and understand. Tyler went on to encourage us to take the leap with TikTok and use it to connect and build trust – because there’s a 90% chance today’s bride is is on TikTok. And he left us with a quote by Theodore Rosevelt, “If he fails, at least he dared greatly”! … mic drop, anyone?!
The first night we also had hosted dinner: Tacos and Margaritas! When I say tacos, I’m not talking about any ordinary buffet line… this couple came in complete with a meat rotisserie, Blackstone grill, some extra spicy sauces (mild too, if you’re into that 😛 ) and were cooking up tacos to-order! Then, if you’re into margs, you found yourself having fun filling up your glass under the (literal) flowing margarita fountain decorated with mini piñatas! Later that night there was an open invitation to hang out in “the Funk Zone”; many of us met outside the hotel lobby and walked the mile or so together and looking back it just wouldn’t have been the same if we had Uber’ed over solo! 10/10 agree if you’re going next year – meet some new people and tag along with each other! We spent a couple of hours mingling in the Funk Zone, laughing, and creating memories! All in all – what a day!
Doors opened at 9am PCT, first speaker was on at 10am – for us east coaster’s it felt like lunch time; not gonna lie! Thankfully, the fresh fruit, local pastries and muffins were there to satisfy my rather confused belly (because it was 12pm back home). I will say, the best thing about this conference was that it didn’t start at 8am, like most – which leaves you waking up at 6 am to get ready after mingling all night the night before.
Laylee Emadi took the stage and if you’ve never met her in person – you need to! She may be the most down-to-earth, tell it like it is, and tell it with a good laugh – educator in our industry. The girl is seriously a gem! She brought the heat reminding us that if our identity is wrapped up in our business that we are headed straight for burnout (if you weren’t already). Notice a theme here? Burnout was mentioned more than once because it’s a real thing in the creative industry! Some tell-tale clues you’re headed there? Laylee mentions resentment of inquiries, overfilled calendars, irritableness, and missing family time or no longer getting invited to hang out because your answer has historically been “I can’t, I have work/wedding/editing” … sound familiar? Then pay attention! Thankfully, Laylee came just as strong with ways to prevent and/or counteract burn out. If you want to catch more wisdom from Laylee be sure to subscribe to her podcast, So Here’s The Thing. If you’re looking to step into the educator space or enhance your educational offerings, consider joining her at The Creative Educator Academy this January!
Ruth took the stage next; she’s a faithful believer and former wedding planner and florist. She challenged us to evaluate whether we are thriving or surviving in our businesses. She shared her own personal business journey evolution and how she truly found her zone of joy by helping other creative businesses get their lives back with her VA services. Ruth gave us specific and actionable steps to evaluate what is and isn’t serving us in our business and encouraged us to be honest about it (to ourselves, mostly). What an inspiring breath of fresh air!!!
The queen of minis, Rebecca Rice, took the and she threw out some numbers that should make you question giving all your valuable weekends away to weddings when there could be another way! She challenged us all to think “What if?” , are you designing a life you want to live? Rebecca covered everything from the “sweet spot” to effectively marketing minis, workflows, tiers, and even hiring associates to represent your brand. I will tell you, a short conversation with Rebecca about associates (which she is so obviously passionate about) will inspire you to think differently about any control issues you might have! 😛
Next up I was so excited to see Ryan and Anna on a stage for the first time myself! I’ve been keeping up with these two for years and even hired them a few years ago to photograph my family here in Atlanta! Watching their evolution and how they give all the glory to God while also being smart about seeking out their own coaching and leadership has been truly inspiring and heart-filling to witness! If you’re not already following these two – you should be! If you are following them, then you know about their newest addition to the family, sweet little AK! So, I’m going to go ahead and let you know, my heart was broken when I found out I wasn’t meeting little AK in person for the first time and wouldn’t get to hug Anna’s neck this go around. Momma-duties called, and the ladies stayed home in 30A while Ryan represented Refuge so well! Ryan testified about the freedom they now have with an associate team that was never a part of their plan – but how looking back they can see God’s hand on all of it. He also testified of a season where work consumed them and robbed them of precious time (theme again, anyone?). My favorite quote from Ryan was “Growth is uncomfortable and it’s time to get uncomfortable”! He challenged us to think differently, decide where WE want to be in our business, and to write out a vision plan of where we want to be. Because it’s only a dream if you don’t write it down and create action steps for it, right?!
Tyler Spier stepped up next and talked about working with a luxury planner! I let out a few “amen’s” when he was speaking. He preached again how people book people, not services! He talked about the three pricing types in weddings and knowing which one you are and being content with it. You can say you’re a “luxury photographer” but if you’re not booking luxury weddings, then you’re not – and that’s ok. Just own it. Not everyone is meant to be a luxury business just the same as not every client is going to be a luxury client. Find your sweet spot where God placed you and un-apologetically own it! But then, if you’re on your way to getting there – he shared about refining your art, specifically curating your website and what you share (and don’t over-share) on your social media platforms, and how to form relationships with luxury planners… hint, don’t ask them to coffee like the 100 photographers before you. They don’t have time for coffee with 100 photographers. He then let out soooooo much great wisdom about how to curate a luxury brand with less than luxury clients and if you want to know more, you’re going to have to sign up for next year!
Then James Whitty took the stage to talk all about albums and if you’re a photographer and we ever chat business together, you already know how much I preach how James & Jess’ system changed the way I think about and sell my albums!
After a morning full of inspiration, we had yet again, another ahhhhmazing hosted lunch – which many of us took outside to eat on the patio while the views and sounds of the waves crashing into the sand was just the icing on the cake. Did I forget to mention that the conference venue was on the beach complete with views of dolphins jumping from the first day?! After lunch, if you signed up for any of the luxurious styled shoots, you headed there. If you didn’t sign up for shoots, you had time to explore! I brought the hubs along and we decided to explore – but be prepared, if you take this option and later see the jaw-dropping image goodness that came from these shoots – you WILL have FOMO. If you’re attending in the future, don’t have FOMO – get content that matches what you came for!
After we all were on our own to find a great dinner spot (easy to do) and then get dressed up for the extraterrestrial themed dessert party complete with a bar, dj, styled table, out-of-this-world pastries, and LOTS of colored wigs, silver outfits, and sparkled faces! SO. MUCH. FUN. !
Day three was perfectly planned for doors open at 10am taking into consideration the themed party from the night before! Again, there were plenty of goodies and coffee on deck to satisfy your morning routine and by day three everyone knew everyone and the chatter was all about before kicking off the first speaker.
Shaun Gordon of KISS Books took the stage and if you’ve never heard this man speak openly and transparently about the struggles of life and family, then be prepared with a few tissues on hand. And, if you’re not the emotional type – then be prepared to think differently about how YOU show up for your own audience based on Shaun’s transparency. Shaun’s tagline to his talk, “Being Average Sucks”! He covered the 3 goals of every human, defining what success looks like to you, setting goals and allowing yourself to celebrate them, and being someone who is connectable – so you can connect with people. Because again, people don’t buy services… “Who you are is greater than what you do”, Shaun said; again also reminding us that our business is not our identity.
Last but not least, the man who kept us all entertained at the Extraterrestrial themed party the night before, a magician and all around nice guy, Jeff Kaylor took the stage inspiring us to find opportunities around us to impact someones day with a little more joy and laughter. What really resonated with me is something I already believe; he said, “You don’t do it to get something from them, you do it to create moments that will change their day”. … Yes, this applies to you as a photographer! Are you just delivering pretty photos or are you impacting the clients that God has blessed you with? He continued on with so many great nuggets that made us creatives question how we can “apply a little magic” to our own work! What an inspiring and fun twist on a photography conference! And yes, he performed magic live all while trying to prove his wonderful points!
Finally, Tyler Spier took the stage one last time to close out the speaking events and he pushed strongly with the notion that “Thriving in your business means nothing if you’re not thriving in your heart”! To wrap it all up, Thrive photo conference had an overall theme of Thriving (and not just surviving) in your business as well as your life. I was challenged to think differently on more than one occasion, inspired by raw-authentic testimonies of personal stories of both struggles and victories, and I was reminded that it’s a marathon, not a sprint!
After we celebrated the final speaking events and mingled a little those who were on the sunset sailing shoot headed toward the marina while everyone else had several hours to kill before getting ready for the Guilded Aged themed Gala. Rick and I spent a few hours walking around downtown Santa Barbara, the pier, and trying to spot the seal that Rick told me was swimming around the day before… sad news, I didn’t get to see him, even after another man working the dock mentioned he’s usually there in that spot 🙁 . We took sooooo many pictures (on our iPhones, lol) because everywhere you turn, everything is just beautiful! I’m not sure I would have ever visited Santa Barbara if it were not for this conference and I will now, never forget it! For that, I’m forever thankful for Thrive and the places God has taken me all because of Five Fourteen Photography!
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On to the Gala… ohhhhhhh my word! The glitz and glam were so bright you had to wear shades! Ha, ok, cheesy lines aside… all the ladies got dressed up in sequin and shiny gowns while the men adorned 3 piece breasted suits and some of them, velvet even! Tyler’s design was romantic and red! The ballroom had every single detail in perfection! Red and gold everywhere – including the walls draped in red velvet! Our final catered meal of the night was so good, many went back for seconds. The champagne was poppin’ and especially at the flute tower! Many spent the evening outside mingling, laughing, and sharing stories around the hundreds of candles that adorned the patio (I had so much fun I didn’t take many pictures). It was the perfect environment for us all to come together and just enjoy ourselves. And then there were those of us who will almost always be found on the dance floor… me, hi, – it’s me! Thankfully I could count on a few ladies (you know who you are) to join me! After the gala a handful of us (Cam+Tia, Britni+Jeremy, Emily) went back and stayed up in the lobby until 1 am laughing, chatting, talking all things life and business and I just couldn’t think of anymore perfect of a way to end the conference… oh, wait… all of us who were up till 1 am thought it would be a good idea to meet at 7am for breakfast! Ha! Seven of us piled in my Rogue Sport rental and headed to have one final hoo-rah and ate breakfast ocean-side before everyone headed out for their flights home. It was a perfect way to say goodbye.
Rick and I spent an extra Day in Santa Barbara and we drove down to Ventura to explore the beach and shops. We weren’t super impressed with the city of Ventura itself (when compared to Santa Barbara) so much so as we were the Botanical Gardens! We didn’t even know they existed until a shop owner told us we had to take the walk up to see the views (we must have obviously looked like tourists, lol). Let me tell you, this adorable walk (hike) up switchpaths lined with native desert plants leads to the most breathtaking view we had seen the entire trip! If you head to Thrive, take a half day just to go to the Ventura Botanical Gardens – I’m sure a sunset hike is to die for!
On Friday we said goodbye to the Hilton Santa Barbara and headed back down the coast line where we spent a day and evening in Santa Monica. But first, I was still on a hunt for seals! A quick Google search at breakfast led to an impromptu morning hike (and I didn’t pack any hiking shoes!) and we found the seals!!! We found a lookout spot at the Carpenteria Seal Reservation where you can watch the seals sunbathe in their natural habitat. After reading the google reviews, were able to find a path down to the beach for a closer look. I must note, if you get too close momma seals may abandon their pups – don’t be that person! It was actually easier to see them from above than a football field away on the same plane as them. But I will say, to be on the beach at the bottom of the bluffs just added to the spectacular views of the entire trip!
I’ve always wanted to see the world famous Santa Monica Pier; so, that’s exactly what we did! We rode the roller coaster and hopped on the Ferris wheel at the perfect time to watch the sunset dip below the ocean from above. It was truly the icing on the cake for the entire trip as a whole! We then spent the evening walking down the 3rd Street Promenade, which is downtown SM’s car-free streets of shopping and good eats. We finished our last evening with late night tacos waterside at Blue Plate Taco where we were also entertained by a variety of street entertainment as they paraded by.
All in all, Thrive Photo Conference was everything promised and more. Yes, there was great and inspiring education; however, the good times, amazing food, great company, and perfectly curated schedule were unlike any other conference I had been to. It truly felt like an intimate experience on a larger scale. If I could leave you with any advice if you plan to attend any TPC in the future: Put yourself out there and introduce yourself to as many people as you see and do not skip out on extending your trip a few days to explore the west coast for your own enjoyment!
If you want to see the video form of this blog post, you definitely want to watch Cameron and Tia’s Vlog, here!