Iryna has always had a deep love of photography and even pretended to be a photographer as a child, taking pretend modelling pictures of her neighbour with her Dad’s camera.
However, photography was not deemed to be a suitable job for a woman in the society in which she grew up so she became a corporate linguist.
I’ll let Iryna tell you how she went from linguist to mother and photographer but she’s always been interested in communication and behaviour and that has helped her shape her business today.
How did you deal with the transition from corporate linguist to mother to running your own photography business given the societal definitions that you grew up with?
It was very hard. Where I grew up it was customary for women to marry young, and have children young, and I didn’t follow that path. I knew I would become a mum at some point in the future and I wanted to have children when I’m done with my ideas and my projects! But when it happened and I got pregnant, I still had lots of projects and ideas that I wanted to do! And soon after I had a child we made a big move. The change of becoming a mum, plus the house move was a real loss of identity for me. I was a person with a career, where people knew me as someone who had plans and projects. Then all of a sudden I’m not me – I’m someone’s mum, someone’s wife. My mother was sick and I became her caregiver. I had all these roles, all these hats, but where am I? The people in my new city didn’t know the old me. They had no clue who I was, what my interests were, that I loved photography. That was the hardest part of the transition from professional life to being a mum.
I had a conversation with a friend of our family and a mum of three. She said “just take a deep breath and let it go, because right now you might not be able to think clearly about what you want to do. You’re too focused on being a mum, and that’s is your main function. In a few years when your child is grown and less dependent on you, that’s the time when you will find your way. Just don’t stress about it right now. Do you what you need right now.”
The thing that helped me to get through was reminding myself that this is just a season of my life – not forever.
I also struggle to slow down and knowing that I had this tiny person who was completely reliant on me was so hard. I wish that I had that piece of wisdom! It took me a long time to remember who I was, apart from being a mother, and then to get that person back.
How did you go from mother to start up photography business? What did that take?
That took a sad story and courage. Although I have been interested in photography all my life, I grew up in the Soviet Union. It was very patriarchal and women had a very defined role. Being an artist or doing anything creative was not taken as a serious profession that you can make an income from or provide for your family. There were no real female creative role models. Although if I wanted to be an astronaut, there were female astronauts!
For a very long time I denied the idea that I could even be a photographer. When I was growing up I was very involved in the photographic community in my city. I worked with many guys, assisting them and modelling for them, but when I tried to take photos nobody took me seriously. Actually I lost quite a few friends because when they saw my photos they saw that I might be very serious competition if I keep moving towards my goal.
Then I moved to the United States. Again it wasn’t something that I considered as a profession for a long time until I saw an article in one of the mum blogs talking about mums becoming career photographers! I thought “real people do this and make income for their families?” This was a very strange thing for me, so I started looking at it more seriously. When my mum passed away I realised that the only things that my child would know about my parents, my family and my past would be the things that I tell him and things that I show him. For me that was my big “why”.
I have boxes of photos of my family which I brought with me, but I only realised how valuable they are after my parents passed away. So I have made it my mission to help people avoid the mistake of not existing in photos, so our children will have something to show to their children or grandchildren.
We are all guilty, especially mums, of constantly complaining that we need to lose weight, we have wrinkles, my hair is not done, my makeup is not done. So it’s very convenient to be the one who’s taking photos because then we don’t have to BE in the photos!
When we’re scrutinising ourselves in front of the mirror, because we are comparing to all this perfect images around us in the media everywhere, we must remember that our children love us for what we are not for our perfection!
So true! There is so much wisdom here. So tell me, what exactly did it take for you to decide that you’d reached the point of moving your deep passion and inherent talent for photography to actually setting up your business.
It took a lot of courage, especially to say “I am a photographer”. And I’m not just a photographer because I had a camera, but this is my actual job! That was a huge shift.
Back to my upbringing – I grew up in a country with a planned economy. Entrepreneurship didn’t exist and was in fact considered to be somewhat of a sin, something that you’re not supposed to do. Even if you’re doing something on the side, you’re doing it secretly – as if you’re committing a crime.
My grandparents had a small plot of land – they survived a famine in 1930 and the second world war, then another famine in 1947. So being hungry was ingrained in them. They maximised their crops so that they had enough food. Any extra food was taken to the Farmer’s Market and sold – but but it wasn’t spoken about publicly.
So that idea that I should not be “selling myself” was the hardest part to overcome. I realised that no matter whether I was going back into full-time employment after having a child or if I am hired as a self-employed person I still have to sell myself. I realised that it’s not a bad thing but it took a long time.
How did you get to that place where you felt ready to do it?
It was a long preparation! I prepared myself by reading stories of other people who had the same thing, I took the same steps. I stumbled on a book by accident which was a story about a stay-at-home mum and she made something like pillows or cushions. She built a multi-million business out of it! I was like “what? People can do this?” Then it was just like jumping with a parachute – you just have to do it! You just have to make the jump and fly!
How have you built up your business in the last four years?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes because I had zero clue what to do! I didn’t make a big jump, I started with little steps and I took it gradually. I stayed on the safe side so if I made a mistake then I won’t be devastated and it will not affect my family. It’s a controversial approach – should you do go slow or should you go big right away. One of my important goals that I had at that time was that I didn’t take any money for my family budget.
I chose intentionally to go slowly, but with more confidence, versus going all in and making big investments like opening up a studio.
The more I do, the more I realise how much I still don’t know, how much I still need to learn and how much things are changing around me. If something doesn’t work, it’s ok. I analyse why it doesn’t work and what can I do different instead of just giving up.
That’s so important! wWhen something doesn’t work, know it’s not catastrophic failure of your whole business, it’s just that one thing that wasn’t right.
And on top of all of this, it’s important for me that I’m still a mum. I want to be present in my child’s life and not only at dinner time! I want to be able to come to his school and volunteer on special days. It’s huge for the kids. I overheard several times how proud the children are when their parents come to school today to take a class today. The downside is my kids thinks that all I do for work is sitting in front of a computer at home!
When I had my corporate job in the city I didn’t take my daughter to nursery or pick her up for a whole year. It got to the stage where I was just coming home, then dinner-bath-bed. We hardly spent any time together. She didn’t even really want me around that much. That was a really big reason for me to leave my corporate job. Within two or three days of me leaving my 9-5 job and starting this coaching business I have my daughter saying “you’re my best friend, I love you!” Do you know what? Hearing that alone makes me know I’ve made the right decision
So – what are your goals for the next two or three years?
I want to build my own brand! Despite building other people’s brands I haven’t spent enough time to build my own! That’s one of my biggest goals. I’m also building a platform for business owners and entrepreneurs, to help them to understand what they need to do to be visible, to build their own brand. When people talk about brands, they talk about fonts, colours, logos and websites – the graphic design part. But they forget about showing themselves and and that’s a big issue. I am building my own community and putting together a course on how to be visible, not only online but in real life, so you make a good impression and you carry your message.
My newest goal is very new! You’re the first person I’m telling, so keep it a secret!! I’m planning a retreat for entrepreneurs to build up libraries of photos. The idea is to have a small group of entrepreneurs together for a few days. We will go sightseeing and all kinds of fun things and while all these things are happening I’ll be taking photos. Each person from this group will have a set of photos – not just headshots but things which show their personality and interests so they have enough images for promotions, social media and website!
Amazing! And you’ll weave in all your other human behaviour, body language and getting visible online strategies into it! That sounds amazing – maybe I should save up for a plane ticket!
So give us entrepreneurs some tips for getting more visible online then!
So when people think about online presence, they think about websites and the graphic design elements, but it’s not just that. It’s not enough to learn about the services and how much they cost. As consumers, we want to find something that will personally connect us with your business.
The best way to be connected is to be present, yourself, in your images
There are four main categories that you can use to start planning your visual identity:
1 – Headshots. They don’t have to be a formal headshot, but it can be something less formal including your head and shoulders.
2 – You at work. No matter what you’re doing, there should be a photo of you at work. How many businesses have you seen with a stock image of a computer, phone and a cup of coffee!
I was literally just thinking that – it’s so true!
It’s hard to be different if you’re doing the same things, and you’re taking the same photos from the same stock photography!
So, show how you work with people. It can be a light-hearted or more serious. If you’re creating something with your hands, like ceramics or making clothing or jewellery then show the creation process, how you do it how you plan it, how you design it, how you make it. It doesn’t have to be formal staged studio shots, it can be lifestyle shots so it shows how you are in real life.
3 – You not at work. So this is a collection showing your personality and your values. This is what helps connect you to your ideal customer. If as a consumer, you find several people with a style that you like the same and the cost is the same, then you choose the business that you connect on a personal level!
Think about what your core values are, and you want people to know about you. What are the things that will help people talk about you when you are not there?
4 – Tools of your trade. So perhaps you’re a business coach and you use particular planners or books that you recommend – then show that product in use.
I hate having my photo taken, but I have noticed that when I cringingly use a photo of myself on Instagram, it gets double or triple the engagement than a stock photo would. So despite my reluctance about the whole thing I am going to be doing it more!
Plus, as human beings we are drawn to faces first. We want to identify ourselves in someone else’s face – that’s why it’s so important to be in the photos! It’s not about creating your glamorous persona, you don’t even have to show your full body if you don’t want to.
You can find out more about Iryna by visiting her website: www.irynaishchenko.com
Following her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/irynaishchenkophoto
Or joining her new group “Visual Content Creators”: www.facebook.com/groups/irynacommunity