Jean Tully, Pearlescent Photo
Jean Tully had a career as a paralegal, but in 2012, decided to follow her lifelong passion of photography. She founded Pearlescent Photo, a photography business dedicated to helping women and girls look and feel their best. Jean and Sanjay discuss starting a business different from your day job, believing in yourself, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance while owning your own business to ensure your relationships still take priority.
Episode 31 – Jean Tully, Pearlescent Photo
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Today we're speaking to Jean Tully, the founder of Pearlescent Portraits based in Westerville, Ohio. Founded in 2012, Jean specializes in taking photos of women and girls to ensure they feel like their best selves.
Jean, welcome to the show.
[00:01:13] Jean Tully: Thank you.
[00:01:14] Sanjay Parekh: So, I'm excited to have you on because I feel like all of us take photos nowadays now that we all have cameras in our pocket. So, I'm hoping you can give us some tips later on in the show. But first, before we get into all that, give us a little bit about your background and what got you to where you are right now.
[00:01:33] Jean Tully: I am a Jersey girl at heart, born and raised, and I have been transplanted to Ohio almost 30 years ago. And I started photography in middle school, and I have always loved taking pictures of people, places, and things, and I took a little detour from that and was a paralegal for a little while and then found my way back to photography.
[00:02:01] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. What was your first photography job that you ever did?
[00:02:07] Jean Tully: I worked at a JCPenney portrait studio in the mall in high school, taking pictures of little kids and babies on a table in the mall.
[00:02:21] Sanjay Parekh: And I'm assuming this was in New Jersey that you were doing this?
[00:02:23] Jean Tully: Yes.
[00:02:24] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. So, you got to tell me, toughest client that you've ever taken a picture of when you were back there in JCPenney.
[00:02:32] Jean Tully: Oh my gosh. So many crying babies. So many crying babies.
[00:02:39] Sanjay Parekh: What did you do to get the babies to stop crying? Was there a trick?
[00:02:43] Jean Tully: It really depends on the kid. It depends on what they're afraid of. What the age is. And it's just like going to the doctor, you take them in and there's this stranger and you put them on this table and there's bright lights. It has to feel just like a doctor's appointment.
[00:03:02] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah. Of the adults that you had, was there anybody that was particularly difficult to deal with?
[00:03:10] Jean Tully: It's the dads. The dads don't want to be there. Moms just want memories with their beautiful family. And dads just want to be at home.
[00:03:21] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, I could see that. Yeah, that's definitely a dad thing for sure. Okay. So, when was the first time you did something entrepreneurial? Was it starting this business that you have now, or did you do anything entrepreneurial when you were a kid or something like that?
[00:03:39] Jean Tully: Yeah, I always had that bug. My dad had his own business, so I always had that itch to do something on my own. And I'm the oldest, so I do not like being told what to do or how to do it. So, I always wanted to be the boss.
[00:03:56] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. What kind of business did your dad have?
[00:04:00] Jean Tully: Tile, marble, construction, that kind of stuff.
[00:04:04] Sanjay Parekh: Oh, wow. That's awesome. And did you ever get to work in the business, or you just saw it from the outside?
[00:04:09] Jean Tully: Not really work in the business, but I was nine months pregnant, standing on a spackle bucket, holding the sheet rock over my head, doing the baby's room and there's not too much I can't do.
[00:04:22] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. So, for you, what was your first entrepreneurial experience. Like a lemonade stand? What was it that you did the first thing that you can remember?
[00:04:31] Jean Tully: The very first thing, I've done some direct sales stuff and buying and selling and from one thing to another, just those little things.
[00:04:50] Sanjay Parekh: That's awesome to be able to have those experiences where you're all over the place. I'm sure that has rounded out your skill set for launching this. Let's talk about this. How is it that you got to the point of saying hey, you know what? I want to start my own thing full on.
[00:05:10] Jean Tully: I think it started the way it starts for a lot of people. You're good at something and you want to do it a little more. So, a friend says, oh, I'll pose for you. So, you do it for her. And then she says, these are amazing. People would pay you for this. So, then I do a lot of boudoir photography, beautiful ladies in lingerie and little sexy stuff. So, then I rented a hotel for the weekend and lined up people, one right after the other. Did 11 photo shoots in one day and hurt so bad I couldn't even get into the car at the end of the night because being a photographer is pretty physical. Up and down, and crouching and climbing — there’s a lot to it. And then I found out, oh, I could rent a studio for less money for the month than I could rent a really nice hotel for the entire weekend. Then it moved into that, and then that got big enough that I got a bigger studio, a nicer studio in a nicer part of town, and then things got bigger and so on and so forth.
[00:06:15] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, boudoir photos, like that's an interesting niche to have for yourself. What got you to that niche of all things? Like why were you interested in be like, hey, I'm not going to do baby photos. I'm going to do these instead.
[00:06:32] Jean Tully: That was totally natural too. I was single for a long time, a single mom. And I was in a new relationship and my now husband had a woodworking shop in his basement where he fiddled around. And his dad always had a calendar, a tool girl calendar on the wall in the workshop. And for our first Christmas, I thought that would be adorable if I made a little calendar for his wood shop so that it was of me instead of these strange girls. So I did a cute little sexy calendar, and I gave it to him as our first Christmas present. And I just left there feeling like a million dollars. When you're a mom, you're taking care of everybody else, and you don't take that time for yourself. I had my hair and makeup done and had my picture taken and looked pretty. And then I thought, I know the camera part. I just need to learn the posing and making women feel comfortable. And I'm like, okay, I can do this.
[00:07:46] Sanjay Parekh: So, was there anything like in that process of starting the business that made you nervous or worried that you wouldn't be able to do it or, that you didn't know how to do it.
[00:08:00] Jean Tully: Yeah. Everything.
[00:08:02] Sanjay Parekh: Everything. Okay. Yeah. So how did you overcome that? That kind of fear, that trepidation of being able to start a business on your own?
[00:08:11] Jean Tully: Taking small steps. Not committing to a huge rent on a huge studio, starting very small. The rent on my first studio was $125 a month.
[00:08:24] Sanjay Parekh: Wow. That is incredible.
[00:08:29] Jean Tully: Yeah. It was one room and, okay, even if no one comes, I can afford $125 a month.
[00:08:35] Sanjay Parekh: Right, right. And so, in your story, you tell this a little bit too, because you just did the hotel room for the weekend and use that as your place to have everybody. Although I do, I wonder what hotel staff was thinking when you had this parade of people coming in and out of the hotel. Did they know? Or did you tell them? Or was it just you did your thing?
[00:08:59] Jean Tully: It's actually pretty common practice for photographers to rent hotel rooms for the weekend and do multiple shoots there. It's pretty common.
[00:09:08] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. So, maybe, I've obviously never worked in the hotel, so I don't know these things. I'm just wondering what they're thinking. So, that's an interesting small step that you took there. Was there a small step before that? Or was that your first one to be like, hey, maybe this might work.
[00:09:26] Jean Tully: That was the first one. I did one or two weekends in a hotel. And then, that can be expensive, a suite in a nice hotel. You don't want people coming to a Motel Six. You want to look credible and respectable, so it has to be somewhere nice. So, I did that and then got a little confidence. And said, okay, I'll commit to a studio.
[00:09:53] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, your downscale hotel or motel, that's a different type of photo than what you were going towards. So, when you went into this to start this did you go in full time right away or was this a side hustle? How did you manage this?
[00:10:09] Jean Tully: Total side hustle.
[00:10:11] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. So how did you manage this as a side hustle when you had a full-time gig on the side as well?
[00:10:18] Jean Tully: My day job was basically Monday through Friday. And then this was Saturday and Sunday.
[00:10:24] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. Okay. So, you had the weekends there. So, you were doing the paralegal thing during the weekdays. So, what about dealing with clients and signing them up during the week and all of that kind of stuff? How did you manage that? Or did you just do it after hours?
[00:10:39] Jean Tully: Yeah. After hours. Evenings were spent building my Facebook page and emailing and all those marketing things.
[00:10:49] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, on top of the 40-hour work week, roughly, that you were working, how many hours were you giving the side hustle during that time?
[00:10:58] Jean Tully: Oh, at least 40 hours.
[00:11:02] Sanjay Parekh: 40 hours between nights and weekends at that point. Yeah. So, it was a hard hustle. And how long did you go for as a side hustle before you went full time?
[00:11:11] Jean Tully: About two, two and a half years.
[00:11:14] Sanjay Parekh: Oh, wow. That's a long time to go for that. So, how did you manage then the stress of essentially working an 80-hour week between two jobs for two and a half years? That's a long time.
[00:11:28] Jean Tully: I really, really love what I do. It doesn't feel like work at all. I love to get up in the morning, whether it's sit at my desk or go to the studio. I love all of it.
[00:11:41] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, during those two and a half years then, did the day job start to feel like a grind? Because that wasn't really the thing that you love to do.
[00:11:49] Jean Tully: Yeah.
[00:11:50] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, how did you get yourself through that then?
[00:11:55] Jean Tully: My day job is very demanding. Legal work is, there's court deadlines and attorney deadlines. You do what you have to do.
[00:12:05] Sanjay Parekh: So, did it give you any time to even think about the side hustle or it was just like go, go, go.
[00:12:11] Jean Tully: Just go, go, go.
[00:12:13] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. That, that's tough. And so, then what was the thing that finally made you decide and be like, okay, it's time. I'm going to quit my full-time job and go all in on the side hustle.
[00:12:26] Jean Tully: It just, it was time. The stress of my day job, even though there was security and constant money there, my love for what I was doing and what I wanted to build with my own business was greater than that.
[00:12:49] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. One of the things and you, I think you kind of touched upon it with that answer. One of the things that people talk about a lot of times is that safety and security of having the job, right? You have the benefits and all of those things. Whereas when you're the founder and it's your own business, those things aren't necessarily true. So, how did you think about that? You're losing health benefits and all of those kinds of things and moving over to your own thing. How did you take care of all of that?
[00:13:20] Jean Tully: You just do it. If it's what you have to do, it's what you have to do.
[00:13:26] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Was there like any kind of like level of income that you're like, okay, I'm good now, or did you have savings when you made that leap of okay, I've got a cushion that if things go awry, I'm okay for a while.
[00:13:43] Jean Tully: Yes, I had a cushion prepared so that I knew I had a little bit of transition period to know that I had something to fall back on.
[00:13:56] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. How much of a cushion did you make sure you had at that point?
[00:14:00] Jean Tully: I had about two months that I knew that if I did nothing, I could survive with no income at all.
[00:14:09] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So now, looking back at it so many years later, did you ever need did you need that cushion or were you good?
[00:14:15] Jean Tully: I didn't need it immediately, but I have needed it over the years. There's peaks and valleys the whole time, all the time.
[00:14:25] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, now you've seen these peaks and valleys so many times. How do you deal with those? How do you manage those going forward?
[00:14:35] Jean Tully: I try to prepare beforehand. Like I know that when the kids go back to school, I get dead. Because moms are the driving force behind pictures, whether it's family portraits or senior portraits or holiday portraits, or the boudoir pictures. When the kids get ready to go back to school, moms are busy. They're focusing on something totally different. So, I get dead. So, I have to prepare for that beforehand. I have to have promotions and things running so that I can fill my calendar during that time.
[00:15:12] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, that's your approach now that you know that's coming every year. So, you don't use that for time off or anything else like that. It'd be like, hey, there's just no way anybody's going to. So, instead you try to fill it up and how successful are you in doing that?
[00:15:28] Jean Tully: Usually pretty good. Because right after this slow down, we're coming out of right now, we go into Christmas, which is, everyone wants fall family pictures and Christmas pictures. So we've already started Santa and we've already started Christmas card minis, and those people get discounts. You want to do it now you're going to get a fantastic deal with me. Because you're doing it early, you're getting it done, you're going to have your Christmas cards ready to be mailed out early.
[00:16:06] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Kudos to those folks that are planning ahead this much in advance, three, four months in advance. I can barely tell you what's happening tomorrow for me. So, kudos to them.
[00:16:22] Adam Walker: Support for this podcast comes from Hiscox, committed to helping small businesses protect their dreams since 1901. Quotes and information on customized insurance for specific risks are available at Hiscox.com. Hiscox, the business insurance experts.
[00:16:42] Sanjay Parekh: So, let's talk about the stress and demands of owning a business with personal life and family life and friends and all of those things. How do you manage all of those things together?
[00:16:55] Jean Tully: I'm lucky that all of our children are grown and out of the house. I mean lucky in terms of balancing my business and my family. It's much easier when your children are grown to just say, okay, today the kids are coming over. The phone goes in the drawer. We're not doing business today. And I'm going to focus on my children. If I had little ones running around, I couldn't do that all the time. I'm in a place where that makes my life much easier. So, it's just my husband and I, and he works during the week and that gives me time to get all my work done and when he comes home and we have our time together, the phone does go away. And we have our time together. I would much prefer to be up until 3 o'clock in the morning working and then sleep until 10 or 11, but he has a job that he has to be up at 5 and goes to work, and by 8:30, he's falling asleep in his chair. So, I go to bed with him, and I get up with him so that we have time together. Otherwise, we would be ships crossing in the night. And I don't want to do that. I want us to have our time together. So, I try to make those adjustments. So, we eat together and sleep together and get up together. And are together at the same time.
[00:18:21] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. That makes sense. And one of the benefits of being an entrepreneur and a founder is that you get to dictate your schedules like that. What about weekends? Now, when you started, obviously you were doing the weekends thing. Are you still doing weekends with the business now?
[00:18:37] Jean Tully: So, my Saturdays are always completely booked, but I try very hard to take Sundays and Mondays off.
[00:18:45] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. Okay, so you keep Mondays as well. So, that becomes your weekend, Sunday and Monday instead of Saturday, Sunday.
[00:18:52] Jean Tully: Yes.
[00:18:53] Sanjay Parekh: That's great. So, I think you've already touched on this on sleep at least. It sounds like you get a solid sleep because you go to bed at 8:30 and get up early in the morning. But what about, and that's fantastic by the way, I'm jealous. What about other wellness stuff? How do you manage your personal wellness as you continue to grow the business.
[00:19:18] Jean Tully: It gets harder and harder all the time. I'd love to know how other people do it.
[00:19:27] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. Like what's the thing that keeps you the most busy in the business? Is it the actual work or is it something else surrounding the work? Is it the photo shoots or something else?
[00:19:40] Jean Tully: It's about 50/50.
[00:19:44] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, 50 percent the photo shoots. What's the other 50 percent?
[00:19:49] Jean Tully: Editing, marketing, social media, the never-ending social media machine.
[00:19:56] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. And do you get benefit out of social media? Do you see clients come through as that as a channel?
[00:20:04] Jean Tully: Yes.
[00:20:05] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, what's like the tricks that you've learned for yourself that work for you?
[00:20:11] Jean Tully: Consistently posting. People love to see when I post their session pictures and then they share from there. That's how I get a lot of referrals.
[00:20:25] Sanjay Parekh: Okay, do you use any particular tools or are you just straight posting yourself or, are you scheduling with any kind of tools or anything else like that?
[00:20:36] Jean Tully: I've tried a lot of different tools. Scheduling, and everything I've used, I've just found the reach and the interaction goes way down if you don't schedule directly through Meta.
[00:20:51] Sanjay Parekh: Really? Okay.
[00:20:53] Jean Tully: That's been what I have found.
[00:20:55] Sanjay Parekh: Huh. That's interesting. Okay yeah, I've not had any experience with scheduling tools like that. That's an interesting insight. So, thinking back now, you've been in business for what, like 11-ish years. If there's something that you could go back in time and do differently, what would that be and why?
[00:21:21] Jean Tully: I would have started much sooner and I would have taken all of the, I can't do it, the self-doubt, the worrying what other people think, comparing myself to everyone else, thinking I'm not as good, thinking because I do it different, or my pictures look different, that they're not as good. That because I don't interact with people the same way everyone else does, that it's not as good. And I would throw all that out the window and just blaze my own path the way I want to do it. And just go full steam ahead.
[00:22:00] Sanjay Parekh: It's interesting that you mentioned doing it earlier. What do you think prevented you from doing it earlier?
[00:22:09] Jean Tully: All those other things I just said, the thinking I wasn't good enough and I didn't do it the way other people do it. So, it must not be as good.
[00:22:19] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, it's an interesting insight that you have there. And I think that's a thing that prevents a lot of people from doing that. Did you hear from people that doubted you when you decided you like started letting people know that you were doing this? Were there doubters or haters or did you have to deal with anything like that?
[00:22 41] Jean Tully: Just myself.
[00:22:42] Sanjay Parekh: Just yourself. Okay. Interesting. Some of us, me included, have had people that have told me that the thing that I'm doing is not possible. So, it's interesting. I'm glad for you that it was, I'm not glad that it was yourself. I'm glad that it was only yourself and you didn't have more to deal with. But such a great thing that you were able to do it. Okay. So, I've got two last questions for you. One, if you're talking to somebody who's about to take the leap like you did and launch a side hustle or take a side hustle and make it into their full-time business, what advice would you give to them?
[00:23:20] Jean Tully: I believe, which has taken me a really long time to learn this, is just because you try something, and it doesn't work, that doesn't mean it's a failure. Just keep going. Just keep moving forward. Just because you try something, and it didn't go over with flying colors. Tweak it, change it, say it differently, and just keep going. Nothing's going to land in the sweet spot the first time you do it. Maybe you just said it in a strange way that people didn't understand it. Maybe it wasn't the right color. Change the color, change the font. Facebook went through what 230-something shades of blue before they found the correct color blue for their Facebook logo because it had to be just the right color, so it resonated with people. Just change some little thing and try it again.
[00:24:20] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. That's good advice. You've got to keep going. Okay. My one last question and maybe the most important question, and I talked about it at the beginning. Okay, all of us have these cameras in our pockets, taking pictures. You've seen them. You're doing photography professionally. You've seen the things that all of us do wrong. Probably there's one major thing. If there's one thing that you could get us all to do differently to make our photos look better. What would that one thing be like? Give us a lesson here, Jean.
[00:24:55] Jean Tully: Well, the first thing I have to say is that camera in your pocket is amazing for capturing all those little moments. Your dog sleeping on your lap, your little one doing something silly in the living room. That's amazing. But there's nothing like the experience of going to see a professional photographer and creating some memories. Where you can relax and keep the phone in your pocket and create some memories with the people in your life that mean the most to you. Every time you look at that photo, you will remember those memories that you created with those people that you care about.
Aside from that, take a lot of pictures. Different angles. While you're taking those pictures, don't stand stagnant. Keep moving as you're taking the pictures. The longer you stand in one stagnant position with one stagnant look on your face, the more phony you're going to look. So, as you're taking those pictures, keep adjusting. Change your smile change your head change your shoulders. You have a much better chance of getting a photo that you're going to love of yourself if you're not standing very stiff and very stagnant trying to keep your eyes open and keep your smile.
[00:26:12] Sanjay Parekh: Oh, I can't tell you how many photos I've been blinked in or have been caught blinking in so absolutely. Jean, this has been absolutely fantastic. Where can our listeners find and connect with you online?
[00:26:28] Jean Tully: You can go to my website, you could send me an email, a phone call or text message.
[00:26:35] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. There you go. Jean, thanks so much for coming on the show today.
[00:26:40] Jean Tully: Thank you for having me.
[00:26:44] Sanjay Parekh: Thanks for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox.
To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit Hiscox. com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit hiscox.com/share your story. I'm your host, Sanjay Parekh. You can find out more about me at my website, sanjayparekh.com.