An interview with Jessica Ajamen, owner of Jessica Ajamen Photographer
This week I’m featuring my interview with Jessica Ajeman – owner of Jessica Ajeman Photography. Jessica started her career as a wedding photographer, but recently moved into product photography to support small business owners. Learn how she made the pivot and why it rekindled her love for photography.
More Small Business Interviews
Looking to start and grow your own business? Well, there’s a ton of inspiration right here. Read more small business interviews to hear stories of why they started, how they overcome obstacles and unexpected challenges, how they fuel their creativity, and much more.
In previous interviews, we’ve met entrepreneurs who took their existing expertise and applied it in a new way to start a business. For example:
Jenn (Wildlings Toy Boutique) had no experience in retail, but she brought her expertise in child development to curate a differentiated experience for kids and parents.
Gus (Gus Dean Coffee) had no experience internationally sourcing coffee, but he brought a passion for problem solving and science to build a coffee roastery business.
At the time, they were all at the beginning.
Well, in this case, Jessica already has an existing photography business, but she lost the spark for it – at one point she even considered quitting altogether.
So, her story isn’t about making a leap into a new field. She made a strategic pivot, giving her craft a new sense of joy and excitement.
A strategic pivot is when a business makes a major change to their strategy, which might involve shifting to new industries, serving new customers, or rethinking operations. Like, when Netflix shifted from a model of DVDs by mail to streaming.
She shifted from working with couples doing wedding photography to working with small business owners doing product photography.
In today’s social media and e-commerce driven world, great product photography is essential to reeling in potential customers. And, critically, it’s not as easy snapping a few images.
Sure, you’ve got to take all the usual factors into consideration: lighting, framing, and more.
But, with a wedding party, you’re there to capture something special that’s in motion – the emotions are there in front of you, waiting to be captured. With a product, you’ve got to creatively find a way to capture the spirit of a brand in a photo of an inanimate object.
And, understandably, for Jessica, it felt a bit like starting over.
HOW IT STARTED 📷
Jessica started cultivating her photography skills early. She was constantly taking pictures, experimenting with settings, and geeking out over new camera upgrades.
How did photography enter your life?
“I think I just always had an interest in it. I started in middle school and I always had a camera in my hand; I would set up photo shoots with friends, and I would take my camera everywhere – I have five little sisters, so they were always my subjects.”
How did you land on photography as a career path?
“In high school, I failed all the career tests they make you take – I just wasn’t really interested in anything. I’ve worked since I was 14, but, I don’t know, I liked working for myself. I’m a very independent, determined, and passionate person. I felt like I was being pulled back. So, I just said, ‘okay, let’s go with it.’”
Eight years later, through the twists and turns of life – including getting married, becoming a parent, moving states (twice), and more – she’s still at it.
As mentioned, Jessica started in wedding and family photography…
“It’s very stressful, but I really liked it. It’s such a chaotic and stressful day. I liked being able to relieve the stress of the family and the bride – and just producing a product that they were so happy with.”
…but after a while, she was craving a change…
“It started getting to me, now that my two kids are older, that just giving my nights and weekends away was really hard. I wanted something a little more flexible and with a little bit more consistent income. And, that’s kind of when product photography took off.”
This part of Jessica’s experience is consistent with all of the small business owners I’ve interviewed: something about the status quo wasn’t working, so they set out to make a change. And, by doing so, they expanded what was possible and shifted their lives in a more intentional direction.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s a pattern that’s available to all of us. If, like Jessica and others, we have the courage to claim it.
MAKING A PIVOT 🚀
Change isn’t easy – especially when it’s a personal change.
Change starts with noticing your thoughts and feelings: How is the status quo making you feel? What’s the impact if things stay the same? What do you want?
What clued you into needing a change?
“I’m the type of person that gets bored really easily. I like to reinvent the wheel. Like, ‘okay, I have to pivot.’ I was just thinking, hey, I really have to love what I do and I have to make it worth it.”
What made the pivot easy or difficult?
“It wasn’t really quitting anything. It was kind of just putting more emphasis on something and saying that there was a need for product photography. So, yeah, I kind of just went for it. Everyone was like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ No one really believed in me. They’re like, ‘stick to what you know.’ It’s definitely a leap of faith. I bought a class and educated myself and spent hours just trying to learn it – it was kind of like starting over, which was hard because it had been seven years since I had done that.”
It’s not easy to start something new when the people around you have doubts. At some point, though, you’ve got to bet on yourself.
You don’t need to go all-in either, you just need to run a few experiments to see if it’s something you’d like to continue.
A desire for change compels a question: Are you going to do something about it? If so, that requires acknowledging uncertainty and acting in spite of fear. In short, that’s courage. Identify your concerns up front, then commit to monitoring them. That way, you can allow yourself to begin and collect evidence to either validate or alleviate your concerns.
“I can’t really – in the moment – think about it too much. I kind of just have to go with it, I have to do this for me because I want it – I can’t do this for anyone else. So, you’re just having to ignore all the self doubt. I think I just had to believe in myself first.”
What did the first experiment unlock for you?
“It honestly just started with one client. They shared my work – they just believed in me. They loved the service I provided them. And, in two months I had like 30 or 40 clients. That just got the ball rolling. Once people believe in you, it’s like, ‘okay, we’re doing this.’”
What has made it easy to stick with the change?
“I really just became passionate about solving problems for those small business owners, giving them back their time with quality content where they didn’t have to think about it – they could just stick to what they love best, which is creating their product, whether it’s candles, shirts, I mean, I do everything.”
“I don’t know, I kind of just hit a wall – I mean, it’s a long time to do the same thing over and over again. So I just took a leap of faith and it’s been really fun.”
Action makes change possible. Results make change stick. What new thoughts/feelings are you noticing based on your new actions? What’s inspiring you to keep going?
It’s hard to start something new – especially when what you were doing is so comfortable.
How has this pivot stretched your comfort zone?
“A lot of it was just starting over. Like, it didn’t come as muscle memory. I just started small, like, ‘here’s this quality video that you can use for an Instagram Reel.’ They were just so grateful. And, it gave me practice. I would catch myself, like, ‘okay, remember this setting’ or ‘don’t forget this pose.’ It definitely came, but it took a while, probably like six months before I was super comfortable.”
Change also requires patience. Give yourself permission to test and learn – to get it wrong and iterate your way forward.
GETTING THE RIGHT SHOT ♥️
Curiosity can be a superpower when you’re jumping into a new space. And, before you’d ever jump into a shoot, Jessica wants to learn as much as she can about your business.
How do you set up the right shot for a product?
“I really would get to know their passions and their causes. Besides the technical colors, your mission statement, a big thing is what are your needs and wants for the shoot? What do you struggle with? If you’ve already had photos taken, what did you like and dislike? Where are you going to use these photos? What are three words you want people to use when they think of your brand? I spend time on their Instagram account and their website, and I would just do that on my own and really look at what their product was, what it meant, what they had already posted – and what they wanted the world to know.”
Taking the time to listen and stand in your client’s shoes is a game-changer when you’re a service provider. You need to make them feel seen and understood, so you can create something that serves their specific needs.
It’s not just about the picture for Jessica, but the service around the picture.
“Sometimes I had big jobs that I was shooting really expensive stuff for, or like, food is really hard to do. My first food shoot was really intimidating. Luckily, I had a really awesome person – we had so much fun doing it.”
There’s one word that kept popping up in our conversation: fun. We should all be so fortunate – to find something that brings us joy and also just so happens to turn a profit.
It’s clear to me that Jessica Loves the Process…
“Yeah, I guess it was really scary in the beginning. I mean, even 30 product shoots a month – that’s 30 different business owners’ products. Picking it up, dropping it off, like, taking care of it, finding models, locations, it’s just a whirlwind. I forget how crazy it was, but it was so fun. I think that would be draining to someone else. But, I don’t know. It was because I was doing it and I was successful at it, and people were super grateful, and it was just fun. It gave me back that confidence that my talents and everything were appreciated.”
To Love the Process is to have a Growth Mindset. It’s having a cheerful resilience in the face of obstacles, approaching them with curiosity. It’s finding joy in problem-solving, learning, and improving.
DEALING WITH OBSTACLES 😰
I’ve been able to meet so many impressive small business owners over the years – whether as clients or in interviews like these. They’ve told me stories about all kinds of challenges and roadblocks they’ve had to overcome. But, there are three, in particular, that keep coming up in various ways: overwhelm, distraction, and avoidance.
How do these obstacles resonate with you? You’re invited to share your experience in this brief survey.
How have these obstacles shown up in your story?
“A lot. I have definitely felt them a lot more at certain times than others. But, I really had to put my foot down when I started products because the amount of people and clients and getting things straight was overwhelming.”
I feel this too. There are so many things to juggle – multiple clients, multiple projects, multiple discovery calls to book new business, marketing, etc.
Sometimes, I need to step away to reset and get my mind ready to juggle again. When I’m ready, I’ll be standing at my whiteboard, writing the big categories of work and listing 2-3 next steps to advance each.
To help her juggle, Jessica tried HoneyBook – a client management software.
“That was the first time I had ever done that and it has saved me so much from a lot of this! I can hone in on, ‘oh, this is them, this is their products, these are the tasks I need to get done for them.’ This really helped a lot with just being super overwhelmed and, I think, the avoidance of ‘there’s too much to do, so I’m not going to do any of it.’”
Jessica’s story is a great reminder: someone somewhere was also overwhelmed and they figured it out. So, (A) you’re not alone, and (B) you can use any number of different market solutions to improve your ability to juggle, Honeybook being just one example.
Of course, tech-solution or not, overwhelm creeps in from time to time for everyone.
What else have you tried?
“It’s really hard to clock out mentally. You’re thinking of this or that project. I would dream about shoots, I would dream about missing things. It’s just on my brain, 24/7.”
“Telling people no and realizing – a lot of these people with businesses, they are busy with their own things. So, getting back to them a few hours later, I had never done that. I know that’s insane, but I had always gotten back to everyone every second of the day, immediately. I just had to shift to a mentality of ‘someone’s urgency is not your emergency.’”
In some respects, this is a great problem to have – Jessica has enough business where juggling is a necessary skill to be successful.
At the same time, there’s a risk of getting into an unproductive mindset. Like, for example, if you’re telling yourself a story that every ball has to be in the air at once or that you’re a failure if you drop something or that every ball has equal weight.
As Jessica shows, you’ve got to know which balls in the air are the priority and which can, for now, be set aside. Most importantly, when to simply stop juggling altogether.
“I’ve always been a working mom. So, when I’m at home, I really try to be at home. It’s just always a balancing act. And if it’s always on my mind, then it’s something that I’m pretty dang close to achieving every time.”
What about distraction?
“Knowing that it was something I loved, I didn’t have an issue with distraction. With the product photography, 99% of the time, I was so obsessed with it, and I was so excited about the shoots I did. I think, now, because I batch this or that, I can put 100% of my focus into that one thing. Set a mental timer and just give it your all for a little bit, especially with editing and stuff like that.”
It helps, of course, to have people in your corner that know that’s what you need in order to focus and get stuff done.
“So, I can tell my husband, ‘hey, heads up, I need to go edit this or do that.’ And, then he knows not to bother me with things if he can. Or, I wait until kids go to bed or I will go do it at a library or somewhere else. I either physically remove myself or put earbuds in to be like, ‘no, this is time for work.’ It’s a lot of trial and error and every day is different. And, I think that I wouldn’t have it any other way. So, yeah, the distraction is not as big of a deal, but it’s because of all those things I’ve learned throughout the years.”
Experimentation is a critical pathway to escape overwhelm. You need to be willing to break big things down into little things and try new ways of working to get it done. And, that’s exactly what Jessica has demonstrated!
She tried batching tasks, going to a different physical location, using questionnaires to process new clients, using earbuds, having boundaries with her spouse, and more.
Those are all great examples of experiments. Remember, small changes can make a big difference. Feeling overwhelmed? What experiments could you try?
TAKE A SHOT WITH JESSICA 📸
Jessica Ajeman Photography is open for business!
“This is what I do and I love it and it’s not hard to show that. So, yeah, I think what would set me apart from other photographers. I’m always willing to educate myself and keep pivoting and improving because I want the best quality for everyone with their content. When they’re investing in me, it’s an experience. We’re going to level up your brand.”
Be sure to follow Jessica on Instagram @jessicaajemancommerical for product photography and @jessicaajemanphotography for wedding/family photography. You can learn more about working with Jessica on her website at jessicaajeman.com.
I’d like to give a huge thank you to Jessica for sharing her story and giving us a window into the lessons she’s learning while growing her business.
BOOK A DISCOVERY CALL WITH MICHAEL 🚀
Hi, I’m a Small Business coach.
Starting a business is exciting and ambiguous – and that’s the fun. It’s a time of possibility, experimentation, imagination, and showing the world what you can do.
But, it can also feel slow, frustrating, and full of traps and distractions, leaving potential entrepreneurs to question their self-worth and to wonder why they started in the first place.
As a small business coach, I’ll help you cultivate an entrepreneur’s mindset, so you can start and grow your businesses with confidence and step boldly into the role of business owner.
- MBA & Certified Professional Coach
- +14 years developing leaders in Fortune 50 companies
- Small business coach in Phoenix, Arizona