BABE #194: EMILY TEBBETTS, Wedding Photographer, Educator, Airbnb Host
After winning a nationwide Sony photography contest (including starring in a commercial with none other than T-Swift herself), Emily decided it was about time to pursue her dream of being a photographer. Fast forward a few years (hobbies, and passions,) and today she’s a wedding photographer, Airbnb host, financial educator, self-love advocate and all around business guru. TL;DR: Emily’s incredible eye for photos, enthusiasm for helping others and determination to succeed in her own endeavors is made apparent by her multiple thriving businesses. Her story is one for the books and we're stoked to be sharing it today.
Hometown: Westfield, New Jersey
Current city: Boston, Massachusetts
Alma mater: Northeastern University
Degree: B.S., Communications
Very first job: Manhattan Bagel Cashier/Sandwich maker
Hustle(s): Wedding Photographer, Educator, Airbnb Host, and Self-Love Advocate
Babe you admire and why?
Cheyenne Gil. She’s a body-positive boudoir photographer in Philly and the first person who introduced me to body positivity. She’s an incredible entrepreneur, she’s an amazing person, and she’s inspiring AF both professionally and personally.
How do you spend your free time?
Gardening, listening to podcasts or books, hanging with my two cats, my pup and my husband Joe, seeing a band play, enjoying yummy food and probably researching and geeking out over some random new interest of mine (I’m currently into learning more about cooking and astrology.)
Favorite app, website or blog?
The podcast app! I love podcasts. My current faves are “She’s All Fat,” “The Mystery Show” (it’s from 2015 and there are only six episodes, but episode three is one of my fave podcast episodes ever), “Revisionist History” (season three just started), and “Food Psych.”
What is something you want to learn or master?
I really love learning new things and get really intensely into a lot of stuff. But I think I would most like to master balance in my life. I always wish I had more hours in a day and more days in a week and endless energy to do everything I want to do. Finding balance has been challenging for me, but I’m getting better at it.
What’s something most don't know about you?
I’m a bit of a financial geek. I know tons about personal finance, investing, real estate, etc. (Though, my behavior doesn’t always match my knowledge of the “shoulds.”)
Three words to describe yourself?
Enthusiastic, warm, multi-passionate.
Tell us about your hustle.
I started out as a wedding photographer, and quickly found I loved the business side of it just as much as the art and personal connection side. I took wedding photography from a side hustle to a six-figure business in just a couple of years, and I’ve been geeking out about all-things business ever since. I became the go-to business guru for all my friends, and I had so much fun doing it that I realized I should probably be trying my hand at teaching. I have an online shop with resources for my photographer friends, which I plan to expand on soon. Back in October, my husband Joe and I bought a second home in the White Mountains in New Hampshire to try our hand at a new kind of business venture—Airbnb. We spent four months renovating and redecorating it, and Vienna Lodge was born. Though Joe’s been awesome at helping out with the reno/decorating process, it’s mostly my project, and I do all the behind-the-scenes work of keeping it running. It’s been a fun challenge, and we just reached 100 percent occupancy in July, with enough revenue in that month alone to pay the mortgage for six months. It feels great to have that hard work pay off.
What does your typical workday look like?
I’ve become much more intentional about making time for rest and play and self-care in general, which means I’ve been pushing myself to think really critically about what I’m spending my time on. I’ve learned that when I find something interesting, I can work on it pretty much nonstop with endless energy. But when I don’t find something interesting, it’s like pulling teeth to get it done. So, I’ve been outsourcing as much as I can to my awesome team. They take care of things like sorting and answering most of my emails, Pinterest, doing preliminary culling and most of the editing, blogging, sending out galleries to vendors, scheduling, etc. That leaves me time to focus on shooting, finishing touches on culling and editing, putting together educational info for other entrepreneurs, building my course, business coaching, strategizing for all of my businesses (my fav) and answering messages on Airbnb. I also do spend a lot of time learning, engaging and making sure I’m posting things that feel real and meaningful to me on Instagram.
How long have you been involved with photography? Where do you think your passion for it stems from?
I’ve loved taking photos since I was a kid. Pretty typical, but my dad was the family documentarian, and I think I must have gotten it from him (though my mom was interested in photography, too). It became an important outlet for creative expression and community in my teenage years with websites like DeviantArt and Flickr. Some of my very best friends are people I’ve met through photography over the internet. My mom died when I was 19 after battling breast cancer for 10 years, and I think it was around that time that photography took on a different importance to me. I treasure the photos and videos that show the ways my mom loved me when I was too young to remember, or tell me a little bit about who she was before I knew her, or just show me different dimensions of her personality that I didn’t know as well, etc. And, of course, I treasure the photos of us together that remind me of good times, too. My drive for wedding photography especially is capturing those moments and relationships for others.
How long have you been photographing weddings?
I first really got into weddings after winning this crazy nationwide photography contest, flying to Nashville to star in a Sony commercial alongside Taylor Swift. Winning that contest was a wild experience (it still feels like some sort of dream), and when I got back, I knew it’d be silly not to give my dream of photography a try. I convinced Northeastern (where I was attending) to allow me to work for my own business for my final co-op. The first thing I did was make a list of all the things I loved and was good at, photography-wise, and all the things I loved and was good at in general, and then looked to see what genre of photography matched best. Weddings were a clear winner. I loved all the opportunity to capture real emotion and relationships, all the beauty already set up, with the chance to practice some creativity as well. I felt like I was doing something emotionally important for the people I’d serve, which was important to me.
As a business coach, what’s your process for discovering the underlying client needs and wants?
One of the most important things to me is that whatever we’re doing, it aligns with their values and their passions. I like diving deep right away, so we start out with a questionnaire and a conversation so I can get a feel for them as a whole person. You never know when someone’s interests or seemingly unrelated talents could lead to their next big business venture, so it’s important to me to get to know each of my clients well on a personal level—not just the business they currently have.
As an entrepreneur, when and how do you choose to “turn off” and maintain a work-life balance?
This is an ever-evolving process for me—finding that delicate balance between hard work and hustle, and self-care and enjoyment of life. Organization is a struggle for me, and I really prefer being able to work freely rather than in time constraints, so a fixed schedule doesn’t work well for me. I’ve noticed I generally don’t like working during the day. I procrastinate, because I’d rather do a million other things, then I get nothing done. So, when I do have to do one of the things that falls under that 20 percent of things I don’t enjoy, I allow myself to do whatever I feel like during the day, and begin work on the stuff I don’t love to do in the late afternoon, working into the evening. That seems to be much better for me. I think it’s all about noticing and respecting your own natural rhythms, and working with them as much as possible.
How have your past internships, education and work experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
I went to Northeastern, which is known for its co-op program. You work full-time for six months at a time, up to three times, while you’re at school. I did my first co-op at Harvard Medical School in the Annual Giving department, then created my own co-op at Susan G. Komen North Jersey (after raising nearly $13,000 and shaving my head for a fundraiser in honor of my mom, who died shortly after my fundraiser), then got special approval to make my photography business my third co-op. During college I often had two to three jobs at once, all while maintaining a 3.8 GPA. I think it prepared me for the entrepreneur life because I was often wearing so many hats at once. Learning how to juggle those things has been helpful, for sure. The connections I’ve made through the jobs I’ve had and through high school and college have been huge for my business. So many people I’ve met or gotten to know through school or work have either become clients of mine or have referred clients to me, which I’m so appreciative of.
What’s been your biggest career milestone and why?
Hiring my associate photographer and office manager, Hillary. She was my first employee, and it was a huge shift to think of my business as more than a one-woman show. Outsourcing tasks to her and letting her take ownership of what she’s responsible for has been hard and necessary and wonderful. Taking that first step of hiring her signaled the shift into a different mindset—one that dreamed bigger and had space to try new things.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Karen Kelly, a Boston-based wedding and family photographer who takes service to a new level. Lucia Dinh Pador of Utterly Engaged, who has some incredibly meaningful projects in the works and who has a heart of gold. And Jenna Kutcher, whose business mastermind I’m in right now (and every single one of the women in that group, who I’ve learned so much from.).
What does success look like to you?
Facing down my fears and insecurities, finding balance, making a moral and positive impact on the lives of people who know me or work with me, passive income streams, feeling lit up by the work I get to do and outsourcing the rest. Ultimately, I want to be working 20 hours a week or less, focusing on my family, friends and community and spending a lot of time offline and in nature.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Your business is in many ways a reflection of your own self. Your blocks and issues and insecurities that contribute to difficulties in your life will do the same for your business, but magnified. There’s nothing better you can do for yourself or for your business than to focus on healing yourself and your blocks and your past traumas. I can’t recommend therapy enough. Listen to what makes you uncomfortable and dig nonjudgmentally into the why. Aim to get there through kindness and nonjudgmental care toward yourself instead of relying on self-control and willpower. I know it feels scary to do and counterintuitive, but, weirdly, the former will get you much further than the latter—personally and professionally.
In collaboration with:
Founded by Sara Blakely (named the world’s youngest, self-made female billionaire by Forbes and one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People,) SPANX specializes in comfortable and slimming undergarments, with a mission to shape the world by helping women feel great about themselves and their potential. Shop the SPANX end-of-season sale for up to 30% off AND free try-ons and returns on all bras.*
*This is an affiliate partnership. That means when you shop using the links we provide, a portion of your purchase comes right back to us, so we can (1) keep the lights on and (2) continue creating content for you. Of course, we only promote brands and products we genuinely stand behind. Thank you so much for your support!