IMG_6204.jpg

Boss Branding - The Blog

atlanta lifestyle photographer | i spoke at catalyst magazine's unconvention! | lets talk disruption, growth and protecting your magic

So I gave my first keynote talk ever at Catalyst Wedding Magazine's {un}convention over the weekend. Public speaking is scary but I always like to say yes to opportunities that allow me to go outside of my comfort zone because only growth comes from it, and I prefer growth over being stagnant. So off to Richmond, VA I went! Its the hometown of the amazing ladies behind Catalyst and the cutest little town it is. Sidenote: the next {un}convention will be in London! I am also working on convincing them that Atlanta should be up next after that :) 

The Quirk Hotel hosted us and if ever there was a hotel that understands branding as an experience, this would be it. Also someone clearly invaded my brain one night while i slept stole my entire hotel concept and then made a hotel. Its ok though.

I met some absolutely amazing humans during my time in Richmond. I'm so glad that Carly had a panelist/speaker get-together at her house the evening before with all the wine so we could get to know each other and just talk about life, laugh, bond, and totally empty her stash of "Black Lives Matter" pins.

The founders of Catalyst (Carly, Jen and Liz) actually found me through instagram (hashtags work yall!) and invited me out to give a pep talk to 50 attendees about wedding space disruption. It was exciting because I do actually take the time to curate work and a portfolio that shows a rainbow of people because it is important to me that I don't let anyone else define me, or who I get to create amazing shit with. 

Thanks to everyone that came!! I hope that I was able to motivate at least one person to go out and kick some ass. And for those of you that didn't get to go but I just know you would've if you could, here is a little bit of what I said:

catalyst-magazine-unconvention-richmond-va-kelley-raye-atlanta-wedding-photographer-8.jpg

I never thought about what I do and who I choose to work with as a disruption to the wedding industry, but after taking a closer look I realized, yea that’s about right. I am a disruptor. Partly by choice and partly by just being me. I’m a woman of color and I’m engaged to another woman of color. So I feel like as a woman who never really liked following rules anyway, I have no choice but to be disruptive in this business and just life in general. Once I decided to turn my hobby into a business, I did set a clear intention. I just now realized that intention for a lack of better words was to show up, speak up and fabulously disrupt.

When I first started following wedding photographers and their work for inspiration, I noticed that a lot of them seemed to have a cute little box around who they worked with. I didn’t know if it was on purpose or if it was just kind of like a default, but I knew that I didn’t want any boxes around what I do or who I work with because that’s just not a reflection of my real life. I wanted my work to always represent people in my world and my reality. I purposefully set out to curate a diverse portfolio because my world is diverse.

I also grew up in an environment where there weren’t really boxes and labels. My mother always told me that it didn’t matter who I brought home to meet her, black, white, a man or woman, a purple elephant, it didn’t matter, as long as they treat me right. Our household was and is always welcome to anyone who is kind. I also grew up with the understanding that I could be whatever i wanted and friends with whomever I wanted.

Just like my mother I’m a leaper, a sometimes rule breaker, and a disruptor.

My rainbow of a community were my subjects. And when I decided to quit my job and attempt photography as a business, that community became my audience and now my client base.

I quit my job as a Director of Sales of a hotel I had been with for 5 years in October 2013. It was time to leap. Earlier that year I had started taking clients, I’d booked my first wedding and I just KNEW it would only take me a few months to actually be “in business” and start making real money so I wasn’t worried. That’s one thing about me, I just leap, most times with only faith that it’ll all just work out no matter how many odds are staring me in the face. Feel the fear and do it anyway, right?

I realize that there are people who choose not to be disruptive by closing themselves off to people who are different from them or by not trying to ruffle any feathers so to speak. But that just would never work for me anyway. So I gladly disrupt.

I feel like a driving force behind me and my business as a brand is my unique lens and the choices I’ve learned that it’s ok to make even if the majority wouldn’t. My photography is ‘my thing’, its mine. And although I never intend to go back to working for someone else, if I feel like I’m being pulled in too many directions I don’t want to go, or if I feel like the only way ill be able to make money is by taking business that makes me feel like shit, then I’ll stop sharing it. I will go get a mindless job before I let others control how I create, and who I get to do it with.

One way I stay sane while I slay is I absolutely keep my Pandora’s box closed. I know we can all use a little extra cash every now and then but honestly taking on an off-brand project is not always the best idea. Because once you do that project, that client will show other people and then before you know it you’re shooting dogs dressed like Santa for the entire month of December and wondering how the hell you got here. Look, if you don’t want to shoot dogs, don’t. All business is not good business especially the business that makes you regret ever answering that email. Its ok to say no to things you’re just not feeling.

I also always make sure I’m in control of my brand, and I don’t let others control it. Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. Whatever you want people to associate you with, show that.

And use your voice, your real voice, when you’re emailing, blogging, or thinking up instagram posts.

People like authenticity over gimmicks, so just be your fabulous self.

If you’re religious, great, if you’re not, great, if you voted for Hilary awesome, if you voted for Trump, we can't be friends, not gonna lie, but whoever you are, I encourage you to own it.

I strive to keep my brand inclusive. Working with and showcasing people from walks of life different than your own shouldn’t be disruptive, but it is. Working with a lesbian or mixed-race couple should be just a normal day on the job for all of us who claim to “love love” or whatever we put in our ‘about me’s’. But to some people its just not. It shouldn’t even matter what ethnicity or orientation I am, but I’m sure sometimes it does. But one thing I have realized is that I’m most successful when I make up my own rules.

Another thing I’ve learned while being a disrupter is that to be successful in whatever it is that brings you joy, its important that your intentions are clear, and its important to act through your fear, as I am doing right now speaking to you all today. Every time you yell out “I want this!” or “I’m going to do that one day”, those proclamation gears start turning in that direction and the universe starts clearing that specific path for you.

It’s important to understand that failures are really just disruptions that are required to be great. And I use the word ‘failure’ lightly because I actually don’t believe in failure as its defined and in the construct of entrepreneurship. I don’t really believe anything that I’ve done that hasn’t totally gone how I thought it would go, is a failure. Anytime something goes awry, I always, always ask myself

“What is the lesson here? And please girl learn it quickly so we don’t have to do this again.”

[One time a few unfortunate incidents that only conference attendees got to hear happened to me] :) But as I was rocking back and forth in the corner while I waited for [this unfortunate incident to be over],  I realized in that moment: disruption can be fuckin' uncomfortable……….but its needed for growth.

Once you start to realize that there's no such thing as failure, once you start to realize that you can always make another choice, what you want will find its way to you, but the path might not always be cute. Being a disruptor means going for things even when they scare you. Even if I don’t understand right off the bat why an opportunity has come my way, I just assume that I asked for it in some form and its for me and I just accept. Through my fear.

And you don’t have to be one hundred percent fearless…….because hell, some shit is just scary.

Just as long as you don’t let it stop you, you’re good. I’m not going to say no to something solely because I’m afraid of what may or may not happen. Because what’s for us is for us, and what is going to happen is going to happen. Whether that something feels like a success or a failure, there was a reason you were supposed to be in that space at that time. I find peace in that.

Disruption comes off as a negative word, but its actually much needed. Disruption isn’t failure. Failure is staying on the same path day in and day out with no signs of growth or change. Disruption forces people to find a new way, find a new path, create a new experience, and evolve. If you’re not experiencing disruption every now and then, you’re not growing.

This past week the ENTIRE country was disrupted and although at first it was heartbreaking, it has ignited a fire under so many asses……….and frankly, action just doesn’t happen when you’re comfortable. So I welcome the disruption. Disruption is not the end of the world, its a wake up call. Because those temporary moments of heart failure, whether in your business or life, should you survive, will always help prepare you for your next step towards success.

And to be a successful disruptor, I do believe that self care and holding space for your own evolution and growth is important. Something I’ve been currently struggling with and trying to get better at is understanding that

we don’t need to be open for business 24/7, 365 for other people.

As an entrepreneur sometimes we feel like we have to fit something into every single part of our day and night. If I’m not shooting I should be editing. If I’m not editing I should be updating my website. If I’m not updating my website I should be posting to social media. These are my thoughts 24/7 and possibly yours. And its hard to stop working, or marketing, or attempting to make money which is how we end up working way more than 40 hours a week. But you’re only one person. And burnout is a real thing. It’s important to control your schedule, protect your magic and not let your business or clients have access to you every single minute of every day.

If you’re super busy on Saturdays and Sundays, its ok not to take meetings or schedule shoots on Mondays or Fridays. If someone asks you to do something for them the day before thanksgiving, its ok to hit them with “I’m sorry but I’m unavailable” without any further explanation. Eat lunch, take breaks, black out one weekend a month, give yourself a minute sometimes. There’s a quote from author Brené Brown that I love love love that I feel sums up self care which is

“No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. Yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

The next coming weeks and months will be challenging for us all but I do truly feel that the recent turn of events is confirmation that disruption is needed. And it can start here with us in this room, self-proclaimed industry disrupters.

We get to show people how it’s done both through the work we produce and through our actions.

If you want to be a disruptor…….. you have to be willing to disrupt your life.

If you want to be a disruptor you have to be willing to do what is uncomfortable.

If you want change, equality, justice, or just simply representation on the front of a wedding magazine….…..you have to disrupt.

Sidenote: I did have a mic but I didn't drop it although in retrospect, I'm feeling like I totally could have.

Also big shoutout to my supportive fiancee who came with me (obvs) and recorded my first speech :)

Stay nasty my friends.