Today's guest post is by Ashley Jones, founder of Love Not Lost. LNL is an incredible organization that provides free photography sessions to those facing terminal illness, along with grief resources for the people supporting them.
Ashley has made two shifts in her business model over the past few of years, and has done so by listening to her heart and her community. I think she has some valuable lessons to teach us all about change, and how to evaluate our organization's long-term success. Both nonprofits and social enterprises will relate to her inspiring story.
And as you begin the New Year, take her desire for feedback and education to heart and see how you can apply it to your own organization.
The New Year mindset can be full of vision, dreaming, and wonder. There is a whole new year ahead to grow, hustle, and reach your dreams. But what if your year doesn't go as planned? What if there is a new direction you need to take?
As a business owner, your business is your ship and you are responsible for steering it and taking it on the journey you desire. At times, certainly in the startup phase, it can feel overwhelming. Waters are rough, and the path to success may not be as visible as it once was, but you're not alone. You have feedback from your customers or donors, mentors/advisors, and your relationships within your network to help guide you. Have you been cultivating these relationships? Are you asking for advice? Are you listening to what they say?
Launching a Business
After losing my daughter to a terminal diagnosis in 2011, I started my own photography business to help get me out of bed every morning. I knew just enough to get me out into open waters, but quickly realized I was in trouble. I spent way too much money and effort on marketing, and I didn't have a good pricing structure. I knew I needed help. At that time, I didn't have any mentors or advisors and felt like I was alone. But I dove into business resources like GrowthLab and CreativeLive, and read books like Good to Great by Jim Collins and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
In the first year, I learned a lot of hard lessons and grew into a better person while navigating grief. Brene Brown, Ramit Sethi, and photography experts like Lindsay Adler and Jerry Ghionis became my online mentors. And I asked my clients what I could do better, and truly listened to their complaints. It was really hard, but I was better for it. I also looked to my network to build relationships where we could help each other succeed. Each connection and relationship propelled me forward.
Over the next several years, I would continue to grow as a person and a business woman, which included donating sessions to people facing a terminal diagnosis as a way to love it forward. Although I was doing wedding and portrait photography, and was successful with it, my heart ached for more. I knew that the sessions I gave away to suffering families filled my soul in a way nothing else could. I new I needed to change direction.
It's not always easy to change direction with business. It's very likely people will challenge you, they might even get upset, and it will take some time to establish the change as your new normal.
Keep moving forward.
A New Direction for My Business
I had a vision for a nonprofit that would photograph people facing a terminal diagnosis to preserve memories and support people in grief. I knew this would be an amazing gift for so many people in the world. Some of my clients were upset that I was no longer going to be able to photograph their family. Some photographers told me my idea would never work. Some really successful people told me it wasn't a smart business move and that I should just keep doing what I was doing or do something else altogether.
There will always be people telling you why things won't work or how dumb something is, but it's up to you to prove them wrong. I started Love Not Lost anyway, and launched in the spring of 2016. With the help of some friends in the event industry, we pulled together a launch party and were able to raise $20,000 to get started.
We've only been gaining momentum since then. The first year, I traveled all over the nation to photograph people to prove this was a valid concept and show the need for it. In 2017, we worked on building a scalable model that we have implemented in Atlanta. Our focus is on building a network of photographer volunteers, partnering with hospices and hospitals in the greater Atlanta area, and adding a Director of Operations to our team to manage the photographer program. As we've been doing this and serving applicants, we've been listening to our feedback.
Expanding Our Focus
Everyone loves the photo sessions and books, but people we photograph tell us their friends and family often have a hard time supporting them, and they're left feeling alone and abandoned. We've heard our supporters and donors tell us they want to help, but they don't know how. We have seen and experienced this huge gap in grief support and we want to make it better.
In 2018, in addition to continuing our photographer program growth in Atlanta, we will be adding grief resources and tools to help individuals show up for the people in their lives who are hurting. We'll have empathy cards, photo gift sessions, and a few other things offered on our website. This wasn't a part of our original plan, but it's a new shift in the direction because we listened to the people we were serving and the people in our community. It's a need that is not being met that we can meet.
As you go forward, no matter what it is you are doing in the world to bring value, I challenge you to listen to the pain. Listen with empathy, not judgement or defensiveness. Where are people hurting or suffering? Where are there problems within your business and industry? What can you do to make them better? Where are you uniquely gifted to meet the needs that aren't being met by anyone else?
And remember, growth is usually never easy. As a business owner, it's hard not to take negative feedback personally. Expect the growing pains and know it's making you bigger, better, and stronger for the future. I wish you all the best in the New Year!
After losing her daughter to Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Ashley started two companies, Shutter Sweet Photography and Skylight Creative Group, to keep her going. She's always had a heart for serving others, so donating portrait sessions to people facing a terminal diagnosis just made sense after what she had been through. When donated sessions became a regular occurrence, Ashley realized the need was great and Love Not Lost was born. You can find LNL on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.