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Exploring Life & Business with Christi Johnson of Christi Johnson Creative

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christi Johnson.

Hi Christi, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers?
My business journey began in 2009 as a high school senior. I started doing photo sessions for my graduating friends for $50 each and also shadowed another local wedding photographer. I continued to photograph whatever I could and landed my first solo wedding for a friend in 2011.

I remember hand editing 4 different versions of every photo because I wasn’t sure which one the bride would like the best. I had no idea that it was my job to make those creative decisions as the artist. I am eternally grateful for that first couple taking a chance on me!!

I’ve always been someone that enjoyed staying busy. I’m a type 3 enneagram, so I tend to do as much as possible. I kept my photography business up while also studying music in college and graduate school, swim coaching on the side, and teaching piano to about 20 students.

Continuing to learn & grow is a huge part of business ownership. I try to take at least one course a year on a new skill. There were two educational experiences that were the most influential to me. The first was in 2014 when I attended a workshop by an incredibly talented and creative photographer named Hunter Leone.

He was the first person to tell me to only showcase work that inspired me on my website, and that if I didn’t have any clients that were giving me that type of work to go out and make it happen for myself through free shoots or styled shoots. That was revolutionary for me, and I began branding myself as more of a high-end wedding & engagement photographer.

The second was a workshop by Virginia-based & nationally-renowned wedding photographer, Katelyn James in 2017. She was the one who encouraged me to focus all of my efforts on just photography. At that time, I was still teaching piano and coaching swimming in addition to photography.

She said to me, “imagine how your business will grow if you take all of the time you are focusing on teaching piano and coaching and put that into your photography business. What would happen?” I knew that she was right. That’s when I went all-in with my wedding photography and tried to book as many clients as possible.

Of course, life had other plans. In 2018, my husband was laid off & began looking for work. His job search eventually took us to the Bay Area of California where we lived for 2 years. My photography business had to be put on hold, so I launched a new business in 2019 editing photos for other photographers. It was a skill I already had and something I could do from home. I quickly got more work than I could handle and missed having work that truly inspired me.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic brought major uncertainty for small business owners & I saw the need to pivot. In March of 2020, I began brainstorming ideas for an online business for creative small business owners. After multiple iterations, tweaking, and a move back to SC, I launched my current venture, the Crush Your Goals with Christi Podcast & Christi’s Biz Besties where I give creative entrepreneurs actionable tips to build a life & business they love.

Everyone talks about the perks of business ownership: setting your own schedule, being your own boss, and doing work that lights you up. But most people don’t talk about the trials that inevitably come along with business ownership. Setting your own schedule is difficult when you’ve never had to do that before.

Being your own boss is not as easy as it sounds. And doing work that lights you up is easier said than done. Not only that, but it is, at times, very isolating and lonely. As a solo entrepreneur, you don’t have coworkers that you see every day. You don’t have a supervisor telling you if you’re on the right track. And if your business fails, you feel like a failure yourself.

Through my work in both my business & also with an organization called The Rising Tide Society, I help people feel a little bit less alone. I show them what is possible with the right planning & the right strategies in place. I want them to be able to come as they are.

To be able to process all the emotions that come along with entrepreneurship and to do that in a safe space with fellow like-minded business owners. To feel like they belong and to believe that they will be successful. Having a community that lifts you up when you’re down, celebrates you during the highs, and encourages you to keep going is invaluable.

While I absolutely love working with other business owners online, I still couldn’t keep the photography bug away. So in February 2022, I got back into the photography business with my sister-in-law, Stephanie. She & I are co-owners of Stephanie & Christi Photography where we photograph weddings, portraits, families, and more.

My story hasn’t been a straight path. It’s been lots of twists & turns & stops along the way. But I keep coming back to my love for photography, my love for people, and my love for helping others. I’m truly grateful that I get to do that every day!

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
The road has definitely not been smooth. One of the biggest challenges as a photographer is finding clients in an over-saturated market. There are countless talented photographers out there. So how will you stand out to potential clients?

For me, I always go back to creating an amazing experience for each and every client so that they can’t help but rave about my services to their friends. But sometimes, you can be doing that and still not finding the success that you want. In 2018, I was afraid because I had just decided to go all in on photography but I wasn’t booking weddings like I should have been.

But later that year is when my husband got a job offer in California. Since I didn’t have a full wedding season, I was able to be fully on board with moving without worrying about what would happen to my clients. I think that was definitely an act of God. You never know what may be going on behind the scenes.

But probably the greatest challenge for me was from the fall of 2019 to the end of 2021. I truly love being a business owner, but for those 3 years I didn’t feel like the work I was doing inspired me, and I wasn’t sure where I fit in. Should I go back to piano teaching? Should I keep editing photos for other people? Should I go back to photography? I wasn’t sure.

Again I mention being an enneagram 3 because I tend to put so much of my worth into what I achieve. I felt like I wasn’t achieving anything, so I felt worthless. And like many other small business owners, I also had the worst year financially that I’ve ever had in business in 2020. The first launch of my online business in mid-2020 was a complete flop. I made 1 sale. I almost threw in the towel.

But I didn’t. I kept going. I kept trying new things to see what would stick. I kept listening to other business owners to get inspiration. Amy Porterfield said in her podcast Online Marketing Made Easy, “Action creates clarity. And clarity creates confidence.” That became my mantra in 2021 and early 2022. I had to keep setting goals & keep going after them. I had to believe that they were going to come to fruition.

That’s one of the hardest parts of business ownership. You have to believe in things that you have no idea are going to succeed. But if you don’t have confidence in yourself, you’re destined to fail from the start. So I had to have a big mindset shift and believe that I was going to make it even when I felt like quitting.

And sometimes that’s a daily occurrence!

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
I help business owners feel less alone in their business journey. I offer a monthly membership community where women creative entrepreneurs come together each week to set goals & brainstorm with each other. We focus on mindset & setting goals that are aligned with your values.

We learn, strategize, and plan togehter. Then, we get to work. We have virtual work sessions together & keep each other accountable. As solo entrepreneurs, the community is so important. And that is what we are! The membership is called Christi’s Biz Besties & it truly is like a group of best friends supporting each other!!

I also host a podcast called the Crush Your Goals with Christi Podcast. I focus on giving my listeners actionable tips so they can see success right away. I help them streamline their processes so they can have more time to do what they love and don’t feel like they have to work all the time. I help them find the freedom to see their businesses flourish beyond what they thought possible.

I keep things real, authentic, and honest, and that’s what I’m most proud of.

I get vulnerable with my audience because the truth is, business ownership is not all rainbows & butterflies. Sometimes it’s dark clouds & mud pits. I want people to know they aren’t alone, and if they want someone to hop in the mud pit with them, that’s what I’ll do to help them get out.

What do you think about luck?
Remember those two incredible educational experiences I told you about earlier? Both of them almost never happened. Truthfully, I signed up for the one in 2014 because I had just gotten out of a relationship and I was not in a good place. I wanted to do something that would inspire me.

If I had still been in that relationship, I know for sure I wouldn’t have gone to that workshop. And during that workshop was the first time I actually believed that I could have creative control over my business. It was really invaluable.

The second workshop in 2017 I went to because a friend needed someone to go with and there happened to be a sale that day. If she hadn’t asked me to go, I wouldn’t have even known about it. That workshop was the first time I believed that I could actually be wildly successful if I wanted to be.

The leader of the workshop was a real person, just like me. Do you know when you meet one of your heroes & you realize you’re more alike than you realized? That’s how it was for me at that workshop. She encouraged me to make some decisions I wouldn’t have made otherwise.

I’m so grateful to my friend, Nichole Lauren, for inviting me to that workshop! Thank you Nichole! Truly, the best things in my business have happened because of community, and that’s why community is so important to me. I want to create that for others in everything I do.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Sara Touchet Photography Katelyn James, and Sarah Marko

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