Success Stories

Jeff & Julia Woods   |   portraitlife   |   Washington IL   |   Website

There's hardly a married couple working in the portrait/wedding industry who hasn't heard of Jeff and Julia Woods. Many of these couples would like nothing more than to follow in their footsteps by succeeding to balance a successful studio operation with an energetic family life. Who could blame them? The Woods' studio is glamorous; their images draw rave reviews; they enjoy sponsorship of major industry vendors; they travel throughout the county and around the world to photograph adoring clients; they are respected as dedicated and effective teachers; and their four home-schooled children are thriving. But both Jeff and Julia are quick to tell you that it was not always this way.

Without the financial plans that SuccessWare helped us to develop we would never have made the dream of a successful business a reality.
Julia Woods

Today the Woods' work in a chic contemporary studio, located on the square in Washington Illinois, but it's a far cry from their first business location, which was housed in their modest mobile home residence. As the family grew larger and their earnings increased from their part-time photography business, they managed to move into a single-family home. This made serving clients easier, but they were still forced to make do with a family living room that also had to serve as both camera room and sales area, which had to be rearranged with each different client transaction.

Growing Pains

By 2001, Jeff was still working a "real job," while Julia was at home tending to the photography business and raising the children. Now the couple's primary focus was building the business to the point that Jeff could concentrate on it full time. For Julia, this was a time when she had begun to feel that her world was hurtling out of control. "Even though time management and planning are a natural thing for me," Julia explains, "I was getting lost in the muddle of business and personal life. The business was growing so fast that it was becoming my first priority, which was in conflict with my true priorities: faith, husband, children... and then business. I was struggling as hard as I could just to keep my head above water."

A big turning point in the Woods' business and personal lives came in 2001 when Julia attended Ann Monteith's Guerrilla Management Workshop. "I mistakenly believed that the most important thing I had to do at the workshop was to learn how to use SuccessWare to make running our studio easier," she explained. "But Ann and Judy Grann kept confronting me with my SuccessWare financial numbers that showed changes we had to make in order to be profitable — and at that point, this just translated into more stress for me."

Making Big Decisions: Together

Several months later, at Ann's suggestion, Jeff and Julia came to another Guerrilla Management Workshop together, and together they confronted the changes that the business needed to make. "This made all the difference," Julia says. "We clearly understood that the only way our studio could operate successfully was to be structured as a low-volume, high-price business, and we had to make the changes immediately. We didn't want to reach success in the last year of our business; we wanted to move to a new level of success every year by understanding our numbers. What we learned at Guerrilla Management gave us the confidence to do this."

SuccessWare was a huge part of the Woods' newfound confidence. "What SuccessWare did was put the financial numbers right in front of our face so that we knew we had to dig down deep inside and make changes," Julia says. "The numbers made it clear that if we didn't do it, the business would die. It was clear that we had to adjust our pricing, and that was one of the first things we did. That change, plus a new marketing focus, began to pay off almost immediately, and within a year our sales increased by 500%!"

Tools for Success

With her natural gift for planning, Julia began to use the Success Planning module of SuccessWare as a tool to move the business to the next level of success, which at that point meant being able to relocate the business out of the house to its own space in a retail location — somewhere. They never dreamed that they would find — let alone be able to afford — the perfect location in the center of town, only a few minutes away from their home. The building would even allow them to create a playroom and study area for their four children.

By then, the Woods' were clients of PPA's Studio Management Services, which helped them to review their SuccessWare reports and their overall financial position to make certain that using their hard-earned savings and cash flow would make purchasing the building a sound business decision. By providing some of the renovation labor themselves, and with Julia holding tight reins on their budget, the couple was able to open their beautiful contemporary studio in 2005, and they did so without disrupting their financial progress.

Planning and Tracking Financials

"Without the financial plans that SuccessWare helped us to develop," Julia declares, "we would never have made the dream of a successful business a reality. And the beauty of SuccessWare is that it allows you to make the plan then track your progress against it, so every year you can grow to the next place. This is how you gain the business stability you need to spend time with your family and to enjoy your life."

Julia also points to her relationship with Studio Management Services for providing her with insight into her business. "I truly did not fully comprehend what we were accomplishing until I joined SMS," she recalls. "Jeff and I were afraid that we might not be able to sustain success in a small town, but the SMS staff could immediately see that all of our financial indicators and trends were positive. Most importantly, they helped me to understand much more about what my SuccessWare reports were telling me, so that I could recognize red flags such as spending too much in my Cost of Sales area. And I also learned to see the success signals, which is a great stress reducer."

Sharing Their Knowledge

"Sometimes the best thing for your business is to spend time away from it working on your marriage," Julia says, when she encourages couples to schedule a regular date night for themselves. This emphasis has resonated with other couples in their audiences, and she and Jeff began to consider creating a workshop just for couples. They did just that last September when they hosted "One," which they billed as the "business + marriage conference." Julia was ecstatic about the turnout: "We had 20 couples, and so many were in the same life situation that we learned a tremendous amount from each other." Several couples are planning to return for the 2009 version of One.

A New Business Venture

Only a month before the first One conference, Jeff and Julia saw another personal project come to fruition. It is a venture that happily reconciled what could have been a sticky business situation: The tenant to whom they rented a space next door to their studio skipped town. So in a fine example of turning lemons into lemonade, the couple decided to transform the empty space into "Venue," which they describe as "a hybrid of an art gallery and wine bar that combines some of our favorite things . . . wine, art, and live music." Like their studio, the new space mirrors the sophistication of big-city galleries, with exposed brick and ductwork, and modern furnishings that give it the look and feel of a fashionable loft.

They have rented the space to two schoolteachers who now schedule a weekly Friday night event as well as other activities ranging from yoga classes and wine tastings to foreign films and wedding receptions. In addition to replacing the lost rental income, the new venture has created an additional space in which the Woods' can do photography and conduct workshops for photographers, and it has produced a lot of positive buzz and publicity in the Peoria area, which also helps to focus attention on the studio.

So what's next for the perpetually on-the-go couple? As usual, Julia confirms, Jeff has his mind on some new projects ("I think he likes the building phase better than the maintaining phase," she confides), and Julia is interested in some new forms of marketing. And, as always, she has her eye on the numbers, looking for danger signals that could emerge from a softening economy. And for the Woods' as a couple and a family? They'll no doubt be leading the ongoing search for balance... and most likely they'll be finding it. 

Learn about their educational and product offerings for photographers at theneedtochange.com.

For information on Ann Monteith's Guerrilla Management Workshops, visit AnnMonteith.com.

Next: Sandy Puc': A Commitment to Success

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