Hi there! We're Luke and Cat, and we're so happy you're here. We hope you'll stay a while! We’re a husband and wife wedding photographer team based in Houston, Texas. Ranchers-turned-photographers, our world looks like this: a Craftsman-style farmhouse; our newborn, Knox, in our arms; coffee in the kitchen; Edison lights on the back porch; and a pair of English bulldogs at the foot of our bed. Read more...

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We Took On This Much Debt To Start Our Business

Nov 12, 2015 / Business

Gather ‘round, folks we have a tale for you that sports Old West charm, family legacy, a few sharp-as-a-tack women, and even a lesson or two.

It all started way back in 1882, when Cat’s great-great-great-great grandmother, Rachel Ann Hudgins, purchased 11,000 acres of land. It was the start of a ranching boom in Texas, a dusty era when bowie knives were as common as mustaches. But Ms. Rachel Ann managed to be a pioneer among pioneers, and a rare combination in late-nineteenth century Texas: a female landowner and businesswoman. The ranch she built, J.D. Hudgins Ranch, is still in existence today.

Fast forward to 1974. Texas was less of a wild frontier but still saw its fair share of mustaches.  And, the legacy Rachel Ann Hudgins had established was in full swing. Cat’s grandparents, Sloan and Mollie Williams, found themselves at a crossroads and decided to ride fast and hard away from the predictable. They sold everything they had in order to buy the famed V8 Ranch from cattleman Howard Parker in a $1 million deal — an amount that was just as impressive then as it is now. It was the kind of wild move that would have made Rachel Ann proud and, true to form, it worked out. The ranch has sustained four generations of our family. 

Now, don’t go thinking that it’s time to roll credits on this Western. We’re sharing all this family history because when we started helping out photographers who are establishing their brands, we noticed they had a lot of concerns about how to finance their businesses.

On this side of the new century, Cat’s sister and her husband took out a $300,000 loan to buy a herd of Brahman cattle right after they got married. (Our grandfather didn’t bat an eye. “Y’all can do it!” he told them.) And as for us? In our early days, we also took out a loan for $30,000 to finance our budding photography business. Though neither was quite the million dollar amount of our grandparents’ days, it was still risky…and still totally worth it.

If you’re just starting out with a new business, chances are good that you’ve done your homework about money and financing—and you’ve likely heard all the experts say “debt” like it’s a bad word. Most investment advisors or financial gurus sing different versions of the same old song: To build a successful business, you need to start and/or stay debt-free. 

But here’s the thing: As any Western fan knows, just because someone wears a sheriff’s star, it doesn’t mean he’s the good guy. And just because a financial expert tells you his or her business advice is the gospel truth, it doesn’t make it so.

We come from a long line of risk takers but (and this is key!), they were calculated risks. The property deals made by Cat’s grandparents and Rachel Ann were part of an overall strategy that paid off. The loan that Cat’s sister took out was a move that needed to be made to get her and her husband started in business.

We’ve only taken out one loan so far, but we’ve never regretted it.  We would even consider another one, if it came down to it and it was right for our business.  It’s important to note that our debt was “necessary” debt, meaning we didn’t spend it on extravagant trips to Vegas and a year’s supply of Sprinkles cupcakes.  We used those funds to purchase equipment, training, and professional services that would leverage our business and make us more money.  It was debt we knew we could easily repay, even if our business didn’t produce the results we anticipated.  In other words, we leveraged our business without over-leveraging ourselves.

The real question isn’t “How can I avoid debt at all costs?” but rather “If debt is necessary, how can I take it on responsibly?” That’s the kind of attitude that will lead to your own version of riding off into the sunset.


The Takeaways


  • DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN WHAT THE TOWNSFOLK ARE SAYING: There are a million books, lectures, and TV shows that will tell you how to build a successful business. Don’t dismiss the information (some of it is very helpful), but don't accept it as the end-all-be-all truth either. 

  • HEROES TAKE SMART RISKS: Don’t feel like you and your business can’t take on any debt — just do it responsibly. Consider all angles, pros, and cons, and act accordingly.  For example, government-sponsored small business loans have way better interest rates than credit cards.  If you’re considering debt, do your homework on the “best debt” you can take on.

  • TUMBLEWEEDS HAVE NO REAL DIRECTION: When they’re not signaling a showdown in a Western, tumbleweeds are pretty aimless. Don’t let your business be a tumbleweed. If you choose to go the responsible debt route, then you’ll need a lot of organization, direction, and vision.  Craft a clear plan for what you will do with the money, how it will help you leverage your business, and at what rate you will pay it back.

  • MAKE YOURSELF A WANTED POSTER: No, we’re not talking “dead or alive” descriptions. Once you’ve created clear goals for your business and determined how a loan could help you reach them, use that newly acquired debt as extra incentive to hustle.   Post your goals in a conspicuous place and remember that making payments larger than the minimum due and paying off that loan ASAP is like bounty hunting for free and clear profits.

  •  THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY: Examine your relationship with money.  Many creatives believe that dealing with money isn’t pretty.   We love money the way we love our camera equipment—it’s another useful tool that helps us do our jobs effectively. And, guess how we got our great equipment?  With…you guessed it….money! It really does make the world go ‘round. Surround yourself with people and resources who can help you think about debt, wealth-building, and the exchange of money in positive new ways. 

Lasso Your Own Future & Create A Plan,

Luke & Cat

We love to teach photographers how to hone technique, artistry and business acumen to create a life that improves your craft, and a business that supports your life. For a fast track to your authentic Life & Craft, check out more about our workshops we host on our cattle ranch in Texas.

If you like this post, be sure to sign up for our FREE Life & Craft Newsletter for photographers. You'll receive great content like this straight to your inbox every two weeks! 

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The Difference Between Dolphins & Unicorns

Oct 1, 2015 / Business

Nobody likes a hypocrite.  And we’re about to tell you a story that, at first glance, might seem a little hypocritical.  Before you judge, hear us out.  There are pretty big lessons here, and seein’ as how we’re Texans, we know big.

If you’re a regular reader of our Life & Craft newsletter, you’re accustomed to hearing us talk about cows and horses and maybe, the occasional pig.  But dolphins and unicorns?  What’s up with that?

You see, Dana (name changed to protect privacy), a fellow photographer and reader of our blog, was having a less than stellar time with her photography business. A former school teacher, she had cashed out her retirement fund to launch it.  She wrote: 

“In hindsight, I was utterly unprepared for what I was attempting.  I had no idea how to run a business! To be totally honest, my photography skills weren’t that great either.  (I shot on auto mode - what I now refer to as ‘put it on green and go’).” 

Yet, over the next several years, her business grew.  She and her partner booked over 100 weddings one year, but they weren’t taking salaries, just paying the bills.  She even sold her house to keep bankrolling her dream.  Then, suddenly, everything fell to pieces in one terrible month. In a strange turn of events, several clients all cancelled gigs for various reasons, leaving Dana with the realization that she wouldn’t have enough income to sustain herself over the coming months.

Knowing that we love dishing out advice almost as much as we love dishing out desserts, Dana sent us an email asking for help. What should she do?  Should she blog harder? Chase different clients? Or should she send us a check for emergency coaching that would turn her business around and save the day? 

Even though we were smack dab in the middle of planning a stellar business workshop for photographers, Luke took one look at her email, downed his coffee, and sent Dana a very surprising reply:

“Get a job - do it now! DO NOT even think about accepting another photography job or restarting your business, or I will come knock you upside the head! You need to focus your attention on survival at the moment - I know that sounds a little dramatic, but you do. You have been knocked down (we all have!) and you need to make sure you stand back up on the right two feet. ”

Dana was shocked by Luke’s reply, admitting to us later that Luke’s advice threw her for a loop! Didn’t Luke have the answer in his pocket, for the low-low price of $1900 dollars’ worth of coaching? Dana wrote: 

“In a world where everyone wants to sell you something I had become accustomed to hearing: ‘Just check out our amazing class/book/webinar/program...it's guaranteed to solve all your problems and make you a millionaire overnight!’”

But, you see, the way we operate — it’s more dolphin than unicorn.  Dolphins are REAL CREATURES.  They also happen to be highly intelligent and very sociable, which means they can be trained to do spectacular things with proper training, a lot of time, and plenty of hard work.  Unicorns, on the other hand, are mythical creatures.  They’re an elusive dream — wish for them all you want, but you’re probably never going to see one.

Our coaching is designed for people who have the desire, the ability, and the time to invest in their businesses. The trouble with Dana’s situation was that despite her strong desire, she didn’t have the time or the ability to work hard on her photography business. Not at that moment.  Bill collectors were going to knock shortly, and when they did, Dana needed to have a check for them (not one for us!). Trying to work on your business when you’re under that sort of pressure doesn’t lead to a careful curation of one’s brand and clientele - it leads to taking any kind of gig for a buck, just to get some gas in your tank. 

Dana took our advice to heart, and she got back to us with some great news - she applied for and landed a job managing photography at a local aquarium, a position that would let her use skills while receiving a steady paycheck.  She’s plans to relaunch of her business when she’s able. 

She wrote:

“Even if we both have to work other jobs for a while, we are committed to getting it right this time.  I’m working very hard on letting go of the past, forgiving myself for all the mistakes I’ve made, and focusing on the future.  Thank you for ‘shaking me awake’, thank you for your integrity, and thank you for just making time to lend a helping hand to someone who really needed it.”

Dana isn’t just working with the dolphins, she is one!  Instead of falling for the unicorn myth of fixing her business with one swipe of her credit card, this super smart girl will be flippin’ her business around Flipper-style. 

If you came to our Life & Craft Workshop, congratulations! — you know that you went to dolphin school.  If you decided to pass this time around, we want to applaud you too.  Perhaps, like Dana, conditions weren’t right, and your next step is putting a different business building block in place.  All we ask is that you do it — get that job, buy that camera, learn to shoot manually, create that website!  Facing reality (however it may look) takes a lot more courage than grabbing for a mythical quick fix.  Yes, we sell coaching programs, but that’s secondary to our desire to truly be of service to this community.  The way we see it, there’s nothing hypocritical about saying: “We have a great coaching program — and you shouldn’t buy it!”  ONE SIZE DOESN’T FIT ALL. 


The Take Aways: 

  • Unicorns Aren’t Real:  Beware of magic potions, unrealistic promises, and “opportunities” that seem too good to be true.  They usually are.  Chasing after a quick fix is akin to hunting for unicorns in your backyard.

  • Dolphins Are Super Smart:  Scientists agree that dolphins have problem solving skills and advanced communication capabilities, and it has been proven that some species are able to transmit knowledge from adults to calves, very much like we do.  Do you notice a theme here? Problem-solving takes time, ability, and training; so do good coaching and learning.  Dolphins are in it for the long haul!
  • One Size Doesn’t Fit All:  We all know such sweeping claims aren’t true.  One size may fit ‘most’, but it never fits ‘all’.  There’s no point in forcing yourself into any class, workshop, situation, or article of clothing that’s not a great fit. 

  • Setbacks are Like Lemons:  Wisely, Dana’s not giving up just because she had to take a detour; instead she’s choosing the best option for her at this time.  When life gives you lemons, you’ve still got lots of choices:  You can call yourself a ‘failure’ and eat those lemons like a sourpuss.  You can make lemonade.  You can grab some tequila and salt.  Or, you can throw them in your sweet tea! 

  • Practice What We Preach:  As the saying goes, ‘Practice what you preach or change your speech’.  We preach about the goal of building a business that supports the lifestyle you want.  And we don’t know anybody who wants to stress about paying their bills or live in fear of financial ruin.  Coaching is a luxury that can greatly enhance your business, but it’s not a necessity.  Investing in coaching was one of the best things we’ve ever done, but we didn’t do it at the expense of paying our bills.  There’s no shame in waiting ‘til you’re ready.  And when you’re ready, we’ll be here.

We love to teach photographers how to hone technique, artistry and business acumen to create a life that improves your craft, and a business that supports your life. For a fast track to your authentic Life & Craft, check out more about our workshops we host on our cattle ranch in Texas.

If you like this post, be sure to sign up for our FREE Life & Craft Newsletter for photographers. You'll receive great content like this straight to your inbox every two weeks! 

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Running A Business That Doesn't Run You

Jun 17, 2015 / Business

Cows aren’t exactly great listeners. In the beginning, it takes a whole team to drive them and show them where to go. Here’s the good news, though - if you put in enough good work when the cattle are still young, they’ll eventually learn the patterns and follow your lead with very little resistance. 

The perfect cowboy is the strong, silent type, for good reason. He can’t bend to the whims of his cattle – he’s got to be firm, and direct those cows with a steady hand and lots of clear signals.  There’s a dance to it. You’ve got to surround them from all sides and keep your eyes on each and every one. If you start letting the cattle turn left when you need them to go right, what you end up with is a bunch of runaway cows.  In other words, what seems like a minor concession can quickly snowball into a full-force stampede.  It can be tedious, exhausting work, but when it’s done right, you’ve got a great herd that moves just the way you taught it for years to come.

In our photography business, we apply the same approach.

Sometimes clients are a bit taken aback by our list of ‘don’ts’: for example, we don’t do Sunday weddings; we don’t do weddings after dark; we don’t schedule engagement shoots after hours or on the weekends.  Why so many constraints? Because we know the lay of the land, and we’re crystal clear on where we should be guiding our clients and our business.

Oh, we’ve made concessions before.  For example, we once worked with a delightful bride whose mother wanted nothing more than to be at her side during her bridal photos.  This required the mother-of-the-bride to make an 11,000-mile flight from Kazakhstan. The day of the photo shoot brought a torrential downpour, which meant we should have rescheduled - with our signature ‘Golden Hour’ outdoor photography style, we can’t make our magic if the sky opens up.

But the bride’s mom was in town from halfway around the world, and we didn’t want to disappoint the bride or her jet-legged mother. When they arrived at the ranch in the midst of a torrential downpour, we suggested indoor bridal photos and we converted our home into a makeshift studio. Although we went to great lengths and took lovely portraits, there was no way we could provide our signature Luke and Cat Experience of outdoor golden-hour photography. Our lovely bride liked the photos—they were beautiful—but they were also unlike anything she had ever seen from us. We could tell she was still craving the natural, sun-filled images she envisioned when she hired us.

One misguided concession (we really should have rescheduled!), can easily turn into a stampede of adjustments, corrections, ‘should haves’ and ‘could haves’.  In that case, we proceeded to trample all over our carefully planned itinerary for wedding day photos because we felt we should squeeze in make-up outdoor bridal portraits too.  Although the bride never demanded it of us, we placed extra stress on ourselves in order to deliver images that we should have taken at a different time.  Had we asked her to reschedule her bridal portrait, as we should have during that torrential downpour, we’re sure she would have been more than willing to do so.  

Why couldn’t we see it then?  So we could learn this: 

Part of running your own business is determining and setting boundaries, and then sticking to your guns so that you can create the experience you want to provide for clients while enjoying the perks of self-employment. To get our clients traveling in the right direction, we’ve got to “put up fences” early on, lest we find ourselves riding out again and again to loop in stragglers.

In the early days of our business, we were afraid to stand firm on certain non-negotiables.  We caved several times, making exceptions and changing our policy “just this once.” But time and again, we realized that we should have had the confidence to hold firm.  If a concession means a less than-optimal experience for our clients, or an imposition on our quality of life (Sundays are reserved for church and family time), nobody wins.  Our clients trust us to take care of them, and as any parent knows, taking good care of people doesn’t always mean giving them what they think they want.  Like moms and dads, we might occasionally get a little push back on our rules and policies, but the rules exist because we’ve learned what works best and what will ultimately make our clients the happiest.  As our parents used to say: “We’re doing this for your own good!”    

Our most recent bridal session had to be rescheduled due to weather three different times, but the end result was worth it!


The Take Aways:

  • Branding Isn’t Just For Cows:  The quality and consistency of your brand is everything.  If a compromise or concession conflicts with your brand’s image (like the portraits we created for our rainy day bride), don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. In the long run, it really is the nicer thing to do. 

    Sometimes, if it’s a question of money - it can be tempting, especially when you’re starting out, to grab every opportunity, even if it does conflict with, say, a “No Sundays” rule.  But, resist the urge and stand firm in the face of fear. Be true to your brand and your lifestyle decisions.  If someone wants something that you don’t do, kindly refer them elsewhere. Something better will always come along; it has for us.

  • Build a Good Fence: Take time on the front-end of each business transaction to give your clients the lay of the land. We spend a considerable amount of time conversing with couples, giving them a wealth of information in our Bride Guides, and sending regularly scheduled emails that cover a multitude of potential questions and concerns.  This shows our clients right away, that we are prepared to be their guides. We’ve worked hard to manage the process so they’re clear on where we’re taking them, every step of the way.  If a bride has a question we haven’t already answered, we consider that a failing on our part!

  • Pair Them Up, Move Them Out: On the ranch, young cattle can be paired up with more experienced members of the herd to guide them into the group. Similarly, we have a Facebook group, allowing new clients to chat with former brides and grooms who have had the Luke and Cat Experience.  Our seasoned clients can answer questions and alleviate one another’s concerns, freeing up more of our time for work.

  • Don’t Wait for the Cows to Come Home:  If you wait to get your business to a certain point before setting boundaries to protect your lifestyle, you’ll be waiting for a really long time.  You’ve got to define your values, set some hard and fast rules, and steer your business in a direction that makes sense for your life.  Saying ‘no’ feels scary.  But, you have to say ‘no’ to the opportunities that aren’t quite right, so you leave room to say ‘yes’ when the perfect ones come along.    

Lassos & Corrals (Metaphorically speaking, you need them in your business too!),

Luke & Cat

We love to teach photographers how to hone technique, artistry and business acumen to create a life that improves your craft, and a business that supports your life. For a fast track to your authentic Life & Craft, check out more about our workshops we host on our cattle ranch in Texas.

If you like this post, be sure to sign up for our FREE Life & Craft Newsletter for photographers. You'll receive great content like this straight to your inbox every two weeks! 

View Comments
Sharing is the Best!
We love your comments! We thoroughly enjoy reading what people have to say. So join our community and chime in by adding your comment below.
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