Makayla and David Harris are the epitome of a photography power couple. They met by way of a simple photobomb, and have been inseparable since. Growing The Harris Company into a business successful in photography and cinematography, Makayla and David offer powerful advice on what it means to stay true to yourself and your business.
In this episode, Nathan Holritz of Photographer’s Edit discusses just what it means to stay true to yourself while running a successful business.
“Find yourself, and be like that” – a quote borrowed from Makayla Harris. The world is full of so many options today that it’s easy to lose perspective. Goals, values, daily tasks, our inner selves – they all get lost in the complicated hustle and bustle of this thing called life. So how do we dial it back and reconnect with who we are and what we represent?
Makayla, David, and Nathan tackle this with one key step: decide what your values are and define yourself with them. When you’re building a business, it’s important to decide what’s important to you and let that shine through in your work – especially in something so personal as photography.
“Your brand doesn’t always have to be perfectly polished. You can sprinkle in a little personality in there as well.” – Makayla Harris
Find out more about encompassing your personal values in your business by listening to the full interview. You can download the podcast from iTunes or on your phone.
Episode 34: Define Your Values, Define Your Business
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Nathan – All right, well, as I like to say, we are officially live. I’m live here with my friends David and Makayla Harris. Guys, thanks so much for coming back on the Bokeh Podcast with me.
David – Any time, we love hangin’ out with ya.
Nathan – It’s absolutely my privilege, and we actually had you on the podcast before, but for those listeners who aren’t familiar with you guys, with your brands, can you fill us in a little bit? Tell us a little about yourself and what your brands are about.
Makayla – We are wedding photographers and filmmakers. We focus the majority of our business in the wedding industry, be we also tend to end up shooting portraits and family portraits, and some intimate photography as well for other clients that come across our path with regards to getting married. So we do that for both photography and cinematography.
Nathan – And, David, are you doing primarily film or are you also shooting weddings with Makayla? How does the business break down?
David – Yeah, we love, obviously, to shoot together. We do shoot separately, so I will book just cinema clients, but we really try to make sure that we’re working together, ’cause that’s what being married’s all about.
Nathan – That’s cool, and I’m reminded, as you say cinema, I have to say cinema because these days film has a whole different connotation. So many people are shooting film in still photography. So yeah, cinema and then still photography. That’s really great. How long have you guys been in business, in photography and in cinema?
David – Jeez, six, going on six years or six years?
Makayla – Yeah, just over five, going on six years.
Nathan – Yeah, that’s right, and I actually remember our conversation, our previous podcast conversation, we talked about how quickly your business has grown. That’s really, really exciting, and speaking of which, you’ve gained a little bit of notoriety in the photography industry as of late. You’ve had some speaking opportunities, I think. What kind of things do you have going on, and what do you have coming up?
Makayla – Well, I myself just accepted a spot at Mystic Seminars, coming in January of 2018, so I’m excited to be a part of that community, because it’s kind of a closer-knit community, and the style of the conference is really exciting. And then we have a few other workshops coming up soon that we’re not exactly able to announce just yet, but hopefully all of that will be out there soon.
Nathan – Ooh, top secret, huh?
Makayla -I guess so.
David – Everything about us is very top secret, you know?
Nathan – Where did this so-called notoriety come about? How did you guys start to get exposure to the industry and begin to have these opportunities to speak and share and teach?
David – Networking, really.
Makayla – Yeah, we’ve always been a part of WPPI and expanded upon that the past few years just a little bit, trying to get an idea of what other kinds of workshops and conferences were out there. And we just love the community that we’ve been finding. Because we do this together, it’s nice to kind of connect with other photographers and filmmakers in that sense. I guess just as we’ve been checking out new places and new things, we’ve learned that maybe we do have something to offer other photographers as well. And because the speakers and the conferences heads have provided us with so much in our career, we want to give back and do the same thing for other photographers as well.
David – Yeah, and I think just to add, real quick, it’s amazing what happens when you kind of reach out to the companies that you work with day-in and day-out and introduce yourself and let them know what you’re all about. It just opens up so many doors when you do that.
Nathan – Absolutely. Well, there’s something to be said, first of all, for relationships. You talked about networking, the significance of relationships, I mean, it’s almost a cliche thing to say, to talk about, but this has become more and more real for me. As a single person, I spend a good bit of time working alone, and so the opportunity to be able to connect with other people, and more specifically, our wonderful photography community, is just so extremely fulfilling. I’ve had the opportunity to go to some smaller conferences recently as well, and there is so much to be said for that very tight-knit, as you were talking about, Makayla, in regards to Mystic, that tight-knit community, where you can sit down and have real conversation and then certainly learn from the various speakers that are there. But then, the opportunity to be able to add value to those relationships by sharing what you’ve learned. I think that’s an incredible opportunity, and I’m certain that you’ll see wonderful things come back in return. Now, I have a question about this, because this is something that I’ve struggled with a little bit, how do you guys maintain authenticity as individuals and as a couple and a business as you begin to get a little bit more exposure to the industry? Because I know, personally, owning a company and then having been a photographer as well, and had a little bit of opportunity to speak and have some exposure to the industry, it’s easy to go into professional mode and almost put on a show for the sake of the brand and maintaining a particular appearance. How do you maintain authenticity through all of that?
David – Oh, that’s a great question. It’s funny, and we don’t necessarily practice this, but in just you asking that, I think that if you go and write down the core, key values and philosophies of your business, and have that as a constant reminder to go back to, that might be a really good way to do that. So maybe we have some homework now.
Nathan – No, I think that’s actually a really great point. And in fact, this is a really great segue into what I wanted to have you guys onto the podcast for, which is a conversation that has a bit more of a personal slant. But to your point, before we move to that, David, I think the idea that we have established as individuals a set of values that we’re always striving for, and living by those, using those as kind of a guideline, our core guideline for how we do our personal life and our business life, I think that’s a really, really great idea. And I can’t recommend that enough to everyone listening. Now, let’s dive into really the meat of this conversation. I was really excited to have you guys back on to dive into, as I mentioned, a more personal conversation. That’s really what I was hoping this podcast would become. We’re certainly going to talk about photography and about running a business, but, ultimately, we’re all doing life, and I think there’s something to be said for being a bit more open and honest, and we use the word authentic a lot these days, but authentic about what we’re going through, what we’re learning, what we’re struggling with. And Makayla, you posted something on Facebook the other day, and it was just a very simple quote, and it says, “Find yourself and be that.” And before we dive into what all of our perspectives, our opinions, on what that can mean, I’d be curious to hear what that quote meant to you and why you posted it.
Makyala – I think as an entrepreneur and a business owner, it’s really hard to find yourself in your business. Sometimes you get caught up in the branding and this perfect curation of content and what you want your viewers to see you as. And I think sometimes your personality gets lost in that. In this stage, I feel like there’s so many options out there for couples and people, in terms of finding a photographer, that what really we like to strive for is making a connection with our couples. I feel like we were losing that a little bit when we were trying to put on this very polished approach to our brand. We want our business to be that way, but we also want to have an authentic connection with our couples as well as our industry peers. I feel like, for me, a lot of that came out when we segued into the education circuit. We wanted to be relatable. We wanted people to understand that we went through a lot of the same things that they’re currently going through in their business. That was our goal was to help them. But by having this perfect impression of being this business powerhouse isn’t relatable. It’s not authentic, and it’s not how it went. I mean, behind the scenes, it’s usually a hot mess over here. I think it was just kind of an inner struggle for me where I just wanted people to know that your brand doesn’t always have to be perfectly polished. You can sprinkle in a little bit of personality in there as well.
Nathan – And then I think that a perfect, it speaks very well to what we were just discussing a second ago, this idea of being authentic versus trying to put on a show, if you will. It’s so easy, and I’ll just speak for myself. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in maintaining a particular appearance for the sake of my brand, and ultimately, for the sake of my own presentation, my personal presentation to the world, because we all have that now. We’re on social media and different platforms. But this notion of coming back to our core principles, our core values, and ultimately who we are, and we’re gonna talk about what that might mean here in a second, but I think that’s absolutely vital just for the sake of authenticity. And I know personally, I feel much better about myself as an individual when I’m being, quote, myself. Maybe you guys have found that, and maybe that’s what you’re speaking to, Makayla. You were talking about trying to get back to that.
Makyala – Yeah, exactly. I think we’ve been trying to figure out what our education brand is going to be, and what we really want is for it to be us. For it to feel real. For people to be able to relate to the same struggles that we’ve gone through and hopefully join us on different workshops or things like that that we could help improve their business.
Nathan – That’s wonderful. I actually wanna read the comment that I made on that Facebook post. You posted that quote, and I love a good conversation and kinda dive deep into conversation about something that goes beyond the surface, if you will. And I just said, “This is an interesting conversation. “Do you think you find yourself or choose “who you want to be?” And then, David, you actually jumped on and commented. You said, “Personally, I think we find ourselves, “but with the caveat that yourself, quote, unquote, “yourself, evolves through time based on our “internal and external experiences. “Maybe at the subconscious level, we are choosing “based on those internal/external experiences.” And it was kind of a question mark and really a good beginning to a discussion that I find really fascinating, because there’s a lot of conversation these days about this notion of authenticity and, ultimately, being ourselves. But I’m not sure what that actually means. I think it means different things to different people. What does it mean to find ourself, and do we actually truly find ourself or do we have the opportunity to choose who we want to be? What do you guys think? I’d love both of your opinions on this.
David – Yeah, I mean, every time I think about this, I’m on like both sides of the perspectives. I do think that you find yourself, but I think it’s just this constant, evolving thing. So you’re choosing who you want to be, but then it evolves, right, like me five years ago, I would not be happy with myself five years ago. But I’ve evolved, and I’ve changed. But I was happy with who I was five years ago. I don’t know, it’s just this constant, evolving, perspective, I guess.
Nathan – Yeah, I like that word perspective. Makayla, what do you think?
Makayla – I think the process of finding yourself has to do with a lot of decisions, and I think that’s kind of where the choosing comes in. And I think that when you start to make decisions about who you wanna be or what your goals are, that’s ultimately the process of finding yourself, because you’re seeing a lot of your personality and your traits or your goals come out in that decision-making process.
Nathan – So are we actually talking about a balance, here?
Nathan – Could it be that it’s not one or the other? I tend to be kind of an extremist, and I go one direction or another direction. I tend to function in the best way possible in those kinds of extremes, but I’m continually reminded of the reality, which is that the world is a great place, and there is, in the end, most things, probably, require a balance for, well in this case, we’re talking about a healthy personal existence. So maybe, in this case, this notion of finding ourselves, there’s a balance between understanding who we are, or more specifically, when we were talking about the idea of who we are, what are strengths are, what are weaknesses are, what are goals are, and then, ultimately, exerting our ability to choose on our life. Choosing to become this person who we want to be. And I was talking about the idea of values earlier. I took some time, it’s probably been a year maybe two years ago at least, now, I had the opportunity to read a book called Awaken the Giant Within. And Tony Robbins is somebody that I talk about a lot. I’m a huge fan of what he does and what he’s about. But in that book, he talks about the importance of establishing values. So I actually took the time to do just that, six or seven big ideas that I live by, that I strive to be. And it’s not necessarily that I am those things currently, but I know, based on what makes me happy, at least at this stage of my life, and to your point earlier, David, at least at this stage, I know that these particular things make me happy. And so I strive for them, and I choose to be them. I do that within the context of understanding, again, this idea of what makes me happy. What makes me feel fulfilled. Do you guys have a list of values or ideas, kind of big ideas that represent who you are? Have you taken the time to think through those things?
Makayla – When we set up our business plan, we kind of did an elementary version of this. Because it’s both of us that are involved, we wanted to make sure we set, we took the time to talk about what are values were as a family and as a couple and as a business, so that way, we didn’t get lost in our business and jeopardize the other areas of our life together. But I think it’s definitely something that’s worth revisiting often because as time progresses, it becomes back-of-mind. And I think it’s one of those things that you have to be constantly reminding yourself of, because it’s easy to get lost in that.
Nathan – Yeah, for sure, and this is something, and I don’t do it consistently enough, but this is something that I try to do on a regular basis, which is to remind myself of these values. It might kind of seem odd to some people, the idea that you have to remind yourself of what you want to be, but I’ve taken so much time over the last three or four years kind of hashing these things out, and I’ve come up with this list, seven different items. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and read them off here, just for the sake of perspective and context of this conversation. One is the idea of being healthy. And just to be clear, these are personal values, being healthy, and I have that at the top of the list for obvious reasons, ’cause that, of course, translates to literally everything else that I do. Then being kind. Anytime I’ve been able to show someone kindness in word or deed, particularly through empathy. And then the idea of being proactive is the next one. Anytime I’m moving forward or thinking ahead. Another one is growing. I find so much fulfillment in constantly learning, and by this word I’ve put the definition anytime I’ve learned something new or always ask how and why. Another one is connected, anytime I’ve been able to engage with someone on an emotional level, consistent connection with a community of people. And we talked about the importance of that earlier. We all find some type of fulfillment in that. The next one if consistent, anytime I’ve been consistent in my values and/or emotional state. And then the last one is simple. I find a lot of fulfillment in simplicity. If you come to my apartment, we were talking about owning homes, and I’m currently in an apartment. if you were to look in my apartment, you’d almost think that I was a college student or something. There’s minimal decoration. But I enjoy living that way, because it’s fewer moving parts, less to keep up with, less to clean, and I can focus on other things. But simple, anytime I’ve been able to reduce an idea or process to its absolute minimum and most important parts, the 80-20 principle. So those are the values that I can outline for myself, and, again, it’s not that I am those things, necessarily, or not consistently those things, but certainly those are my goals. And we were talking about this idea of finding ourselves versus choosing who we want to be. That list of values for me, personally, it is my effort to choose. These are the things that I strive to be, and it kinda gives me a guideline to work toward. I like the idea, though, that you were talking about, which is that balance. You mentioned, kinda you separated, you contrasted between personal values and business values. When you talk to other photographers in the industry, and you’re speaking, how do you recommend to them to establish these values? Or, ultimately, I guess what we’re really talking about is the brand position, right? What the brand actually represents. How do you teach other photographers to most effectively establish that position?
Makayla – I think it’s something that begins when you start doing some goal setting and essentially your mission and how you want to position yourself, position your business. And I think a lot of it is reflected in your personal values, because it’s such a personal business, especially as a creative entrepreneur, a lot of your personality comes through in your work and your passion. So just in the beginning of the process, or anytime you’re looking to refresh and reset, I think it’s important to sit down and think about those values and establish that as you’re kind of setting your goals for your business so that you can keep all that in mind and be realistic about how much effort you’re going to put into which areas.
Nathan – For sure, and that very beautifully kind of brings us back to the original pointed conversation, which is this quote that you posted, the idea of finding yourself and be that. And it’s not just in your personal life, but you can let that then translate to your business life, and your business, your brand. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. We’re already in a field, in an industry, that we want to be in, because we enjoy photography or we enjoy cinematography, but then to let our personality shine through our business, I think that just naturally kind of ups the ante, enabling an even greater sense of fulfillment. So I think this has been a wonderful reminder both for me and for our listeners. Makayla, I can’t thank you enough for posting that the other day–
Makayla – Of course.
Nathan – And both of you for being willing to dive into a bit more personal conversation. I love these types of conversations. Where can everybody find you online? Talk to us about where your Instagram accounts are, your websites, et cetera.
Makayla – Yeah, so our business is The Harris Company. You can find us at theharrisco.com or at hcophotocinema on Instagram, and you can also find some of our educational content on hcoeducation.com.
Nathan – Perfect, that’s awesome. Thank you guys so much, and I’m sure many of our listeners are going to have to go check out those websites, your educational website in particular, to find out about these secret workshops coming Thank you guys so much for making time to sit down and chat again today, and we’ll talk to you more soon.
David – Thanks for havin’ us, Nate, definitely.
Makayla – Sounds good, Nathan, thank you.