Building Your Brand The Right Way With Christa Elyse
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
Building your brand is critical to growing your business and making a name in your industry. But how do you do it, and where do you start? Here to help enlighten us is Christa Elyse, Founder and CEO of Houston Studio, a full-service commercial and marketing photography studio. She joins hosts Renee Williams and Camille Davis to give her expert advice on how to build a brand from the ground up the right way to ensure you have a reputable and scalable business. The three discuss the importance of having excellent and proper branding and what that covers. From trademarking to brand experience, Christa breaks down the essentials of building your brand, including the right mindset to do it with. Listen in and gain valuable insights and practical advice that will elevate how you do business.
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Building Your Brand The Right Way With Christa Elyse
In this episode, we are here with miss Christa Elyce with Houston Studio. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you so much for having me. This is exciting. You are my first show ever. I'm excited about that. To be on one, I'm now like, “I'm one of those.”
We're super excited to have you on the show. I want to start with Camille before we get into your story, Christa. Camille, you met Christa, which is how I get all of my connections because Camille Davis is like the networker extraordinaire. I think that you met Christa several years ago. Is that right?
I know that when I had my third baby, I remember because it was 4th of July. She invited us over to her house and I have a picture of Sydney, who's number three. I have four. She was only probably eighteen months old. She was sitting on my lap and had a little baby. I know it was a while ago. I hadn't even started real estate then. Was I in real estate?
Yes, I remember very vividly, like, “This is what I do.” I was like, “She's a boss b*tch. I love that.”
I had this started. I think Sydney was a baby and Sydney must have been about a year and a half when I was at your house. She was like maybe three months old when I got into it. Yes, I did have homes by then.
You're like a silent killer, though, Cami. You're like, “I do this. I did that.” What you come to find out is that you're like this hustler doing all kinds of amazing things. I knew there was something under the super sweet exterior, which you are, but there's like so much hustle. There's so much knowledge in there.
I'm figuring that out as I go. I'm more confident now than I was then, but I am a little quiet and not exterior.
Let's talk about the opposite. Let's talk about Christa not being a calm, quiet exterior. She is fire on the outside, fire on the inside. Christa, tell us about you and how you started on your entrepreneurial journey.
My story is one of those that I feel like it might be something that a lot of women face. We do things when we are faced with extreme situations such as divorce or being our husband's past or something to that effect where we are surviving. That's how it started. I haven't shared that ever. I try not to give energy to that negative part. It did start from not knowing what I was going to do. What was the next step?
I had just gotten divorced and it was my first. I had two kids and I didn't know. Out of survival tactics, I had a camera. I'm going to go and photograph the heck out of everybody I knew at church. I honestly didn't even know it could be a business. I had people at that point going, “I'll give you $100 for this.” I'm like, “Okay.” That's something. I was living with my father again with my two kids. That started the entrepreneurial side of it.
I was doing weddings for $100 an hour. You can never find that deal, not even on Craigslist anymore. I was on Craigslist. I was Craigslist, my photography skills out. That's where it began. You do what you have to do to get the portfolio that you need. That's for pretty much every industry is having the experience, the portfolio, to be able to ask for the money that you want, that you feel you are valued at. Little by little, a couple of years went by and I started doing a lot more market research and going, “My work is as good as such. I could start charging a lot more.”
You do what you have to do to get the portfolio that you need and have the experience to ask for the money that you want, that you feel you are valued at.
The going rate at this point was like $450 an hour, $500. I started pricing it out and started offering the same things and sourcing out things. It became one of those things where it grew on its own, but I didn't know what I was doing. I knew what I had to do. I feel they came naturally because I never questioned any anxiety about it. I just loved what I was doing and it stuck. I've never done anything else other than photography and marketing and branding.
How did it morph into the branding, though? I knew you when you were doing photography. How did it switch to, “Let me build your brand? Let me build your website?”
Very interesting because as a wedding photographer and doing a lot of courses in education myself. I’m trying to learn as much as I could. I noticed people starting to use the word branding. I was like, “What is that?” I knew that there were certain photographers whose style or their websites or something about when I visited their website stuck out to me and it resonated.
I was like, “I love this. I love their whole aesthetic. I know of what's coming back.” I realized that it is a brand but not only the way that the logo looks or the photography. It was the process behind it, the way that they took care of their clientele. That's part of the brand, the quality and afterward, working with a client.
That's part of the brand and that brand experience. Sometimes I work with people that are saying, “I need a new logo. I need to do this,” but I want to take them up further back and go, “Do we have all the right things set in stone where you have pricing, you have structural stuff or who are you sourcing with? What are you bringing to the table for your clients?”
You want them to essentially come back to you or use you and build that relationship for long-term. The branding side of things developed as I was developing my wedding photography business. I didn't rebrand too often. I knew that I liked what I liked. As people started taking notice, I became an award-winning wedding photographer. People were asking me to come to their events and be a part of their events.
I realized that my brand was catching on. I was staying very busy. When people knew what they were getting because the brand was very cohesive, then it became very popular, very on demand. I knew that I was onto something. People started seeing that and they wanted a little bit of help with that. I worked with a lot of companies early on as a wedding photographer, helping them develop their brand, helping other photographers develop their brands.
Another thing that happened was I was working with a lot of brides. I connected a lot with the women from my wedding days. Still, a lot of them are my friends. We’re friends on Facebook, but they were evolving from their wedding to having children to going back into the career field. They needed new headshots. They were starting to be entrepreneurs themselves. They wanted to have branding content. That became big in around 2014. I would say, around there, the branding content became huge.
We didn't have to buy stock photography from wherever stock photography was. We could make custom stock photography for our business. That's how it evolved. Not by accident, but I loved it. It flowed with who I am. All about that girl power. I had a Spice Girls poster in my room since I was fourteen. I love Spice Girls.
I love it. The way that we connected with you or at least that I did. Sounds like Cami started with your photography side years ago when you were doing photography. The way that I connected with you was that Camille and I were building a real estate, this Wealth BuildHERS brand for the show. The point that I'm trying to make to our audience is that if you're an entrepreneur and you're building any business in the Houston area.
Christa can help you with that because we are doing a show, real estate investing, coaching, and there are all kinds of things that go hand in hand with Camille with real estate. Christa, you set us up perfectly with the aesthetic board, the logo, and all of the things we need to do to go with the brand. Do you specialize in any particular type of business or is there pretty much any woman that has a business who can come to you and say, “I need help?”
I love finding out new things, I grew up all over the world where I was an army brat. For me, learning new exciting things, stuff I didn't know about. It invigorates me. I love learning about people's businesses. I feel as if their business and knowing what they do and how they structure things also helps me with my business. When I meet someone new and I don't know their industry, I want to establish and understand the best of what they do. Are they business to business? Are they direct clients? Are they a product? Are we doing eCommerce? What do they need?
I do a complete discovery and audit of their business. What do we have? Where do we develop this? What's the aesthetic? I want to make sure that before we ever get to the photoshoot, that's like the cherry on top, that we have certain things in line. A lot of this stuff is boring stuff. I'm going to be honest. It's boring. It's like, “Are you registered? Do you have this? Do you have that?” I want to coach them into a place where they're comfortable and know what their brand is because that's going to help them further down the road than anything else.
Establishing your brand is going to be one of the number one tools you'll always use moving forward. I don't specialize in one business. I was talking about this at a workshop that I was I put on. I met with a client and she's a good friend now. She's over every other day. She has an Airbnb business and her business, she hadn't thought about a lot of stuff, but she did know she wanted to have a YouTube channel and teach other people to have their own Airbnb.
In my head, I'm already thinking for her what this shot list looks like. I'm thinking we've got to talk about cleaning. We've got to do this. We got to do that. I did not know that she already had an established YouTube channel. It wasn't branded. After I got off the call with her, I went on her YouTube channel. I watched every single video that she's ever made over the last few years. I was now obsessed. I now know a lot about Airbnbs, probably more than I want to. More about clients and people that book and things that are crazy.
It helped me when I went to the photoshoot and helped her with branding projects down the road and what things you need to address. It doesn't matter what business it is. I've worked in the oil and gas and medical and dental and all kinds of stuff, craft and arts. I try to learn who your target audience is, what your aesthetic is and what are your business goals. That way, I can help you achieve that through your images. Most times, it's optics. It's about getting you to the place that you want to be and not where you are at.
That is so true. I think I remember the photoshoot you showed us from the lady who did the Airbnb one part. The example that we used because it's so closely related to what we were doing in real estate investing. Sometimes in real estate investing, people underestimate the power of marketing and having a brand.
When you're trying to sell yourself as an investor to private lenders or you're trying to build your audience so that you can get other investors to go in on a deal with you. If you are established and you look good, like your brand is well put together, then it goes a lot better for you. You have a professional look. It's clean. The work that you do is crisp. The photoshoot was so much fun. Camille and I enjoyed it. That was so much fun.
You're so good at it. You had us bring props. You had us do things that would bring out our personalities. Also, you felt comfortable. I felt comfortable. It made it fun. Something that's very stressful for me, you took that load off and made me feel like, “This is fun.” Enjoyable.
It should be. That's one of my biggest things when I go into a photoshoot and when people work with me. That's been something that they've said back to me is, “You've made it fun and it was easy. I didn't even have to worry about posing because you pose us so well. It's professional and strong.” I understand your brand or help you develop that at that point. That way, it is fun. You're not thinking about anything or going, “I wish I had brought that or darn.”
We've already thought about all those things ahead of time. We have a lot to work with. We can cover a lot of different topics visually that you would use. I usually do that by going through the website that you have and going, “What does the contact page need to look like? Let's have an image for that. What is the about page? What is the services page?” Making sure you have visuals on that and unique stock photography for your company does help your SEO in Google ratings.
Getting yourself to the top organically up at Google, it's hard to do. There are little things you can do by having unique stock photography because Google's going to crawl to it and make sure you name the photos something in the general vicinity of what you do. Like RealEstate_CaseyLiving or WealthBuildHERS. That does help. That way, when people go into Google images real estate, Houston, that's one of the things that come up. You're putting yourself up there with your imagery or videos that you're in the search. That's one of the things I try to keep in mind when I'm going into the photoshoots.
We hired you to help us, me and my husband, on a separate brand by ourselves. He is geeking out on all of it. He's going to your Instagram and it shows how you set up your Instagram page or how you brand it so it looks good? He went step by step. Put in all the Instagram things that you had recommended to do. You're doing the website for us.
You can help us on social media, website and pictures. It's been amazing. Even when we first started, we realized that the LLC name was already taken and we thought it wasn't then we had to shift and you helped us do that. There's also that thing where you have that attorney. It's not patented, but what's the name?
Trademarking. It has become a huge part of Houston Studio as well because I'm in the business industry of helping business developing. Having the connections to be able to get you in other businesses to legitimize your business through registration and trademarking that's going to protect your business further down the road. You're going to work your butt off doing everything you do, building your empire to find out someone is sending you a cease and desist because you have the same name or similar name that it's getting confused amongst your similar target market.
I recommend Ackaway Law. She is an amazing attorney. She is my business attorney and helps with all that and making sure that she looks out for you and your business. Helps with contracts as well. That's important. If you're coming up with the name of your company and you go into USPTO.gov, look and search the database.
Make sure that your name's not taken already because you don't want to have to do a rebrand. That's where I come in, further down the road. That's more expensive. You're going to spend anywhere between $5,000 to $20,000 doing a rebrand on your business all because you didn't start with making sure that your name's aren't already taken and you haven't trademarked already. I highly recommend that when you're starting your business.
You're this one-stop shop.
If I don’t know how to do it myself, I will find you, somebody else, how to do it.
We have a truck we want to get the logo and brand on. We're like, “Do you know someone that wraps trucks?” You refer somebody that does that. You have connections. They said I'm a connection person. Christa Elyce is a connection person. Go ahead, Renee.
I have a question, a couple of things. The show will likely be picked up around the world. Like we end up with readers everywhere across the globe, but not everybody is in Houston. They can't directly come to you for headshots. Are there some other things that you can help with if a person lives in Alaska or if they live in Europe? Can they work with you or is there a checklist of items that maybe they can take to their local person and say, “Can you help me with these particular items for my branding?”
This is pretty much the expansion of Houston Studio. What I love is that I do get the opportunity to work with a lot of non-Houstonians. I've worked internationally as well as out of state here domestically. Sometimes if it's a product, they send it to me and I'll photograph, but my other services also are very digital. They don't have to be here and I don't have to be there. I do websites. I can do logo design. I can do brand design.
We'll go over everything. That could also be virtual. There's copywriting that we also do for websites and for other elements, for marketing brochures, so everything. It's on my website HoustonStudio.com. We have a list of our services. The majority of them, other than the production and photography, those are all ones you can do from anywhere.
That is so helpful. The other question that I have for you is about a team. Is it just you, Christa, or do you have assistants and other photographers? Who else is on your team?
I love this because I talked about this. I realized a long time ago I cannot do this on my own. I'm especially not good at everything, so I think the most important thing as a business owner is realizing you're not going to be the person that's going to do everything. You're not good at everything as much as you want to be. I struggle with that. I want to be perfect at everything, but I can't. There's not enough time to allow it. I started delegating a lot of my work to people that specialize in that.
The most important thing as a business owner is to delegate and realize you're not going to be the person that's going to do everything. You're not good at everything as much as you want to be.
Houston Studio has a brand consultant. Her name is Shavee. We have a social media director. She handles a lot of our accounts. She does Instagram and Facebook and you name it. She does posts and engagement and you're Google my business, which is super important as well as doing the engagement on your social media. Going to other people in your target audience and going, “You did awesome there.” Showing up that way.
If you have a bad review, she makes sure that she handles that as well because you do have to respond to those. You can't let it fly. You have to get in there and be responsible. We also have someone, her name is Phe. She does brand packaging and web design. Let's say you do cookies and you love these boxes. You want to figure out how you can make that part of your brand and deliver cookies in these branded boxes. She does that whole thing, packaging and wraps and things like that.
There's a lot that goes into it. I'm proud to say this. My daughter on payroll. She's happy. She worked in the restaurant industry and she was over it. I knew it wouldn't be long but I was glad that she did it because I've been asking her to utilize her talents and work with me. I think sometimes you have to try something else to realize, “I have a pretty cushy job waiting for me at home.”
I also outsource quite a lot. I have two VAs and they help. VAs are virtual assistants. They help me a lot in doing tasks that I would've spent literally a month trying to do and they know how to do that. It's usually, “Can you update the website here? Can you fix this little glitch there? Can you help me with my newsletter? Can you do this?” things like that to help with automation. It's worth its weighting gold. I can't do it by myself at all.
That's one of the hardest things to do as a business owner. I don't know if it's a woman thing because we want to do it all ourselves or if that's a normal thing for everyone or the too many hats like you're the bookkeeper, the accountant, the marketer, the secretary. It's important to learn. Renee helped teach me a lot of that. Renee helped get me an administrative assistant. She helped me get somebody on the team and that's cool.
It was funny when she first met me at my business. She was asking me all these questions. Most people ask me all these questions like, “How do you do real estate?” They want to know about real estate, and then they're trying to get in tell the details. That's what I started telling her, but then I realized I was like, “She wants to know how my business functions.”
How do you run your business?
Who does what?
Cami was doing everything. All the people you named, Christa, Cami, was all of those people.
I've been there. I know.
I still do way too much. I still need another assistant. I'm going to transition that when school starts again but with different minds. Renee and Christa Elyce remind me of each other in that they can take any person, any business. They can grab all the details quickly, which is a talent to do that. To see the big picture and funnel it down into workable steps and processes. That is a management gift, genius to be able to plug the holes, solve the problem. It's amazing to me that you guys do that.
I enjoy when my friends come over and we talk about each other's business. When I hear that, “This is bothering me. This is irritating. This keeps happening,” I love taking those things and going, “How can we solve that?” One time my girlfriend had an Airbnb and she kept coming up from this one because there were a lot of holes. She wanted some help, but she had an issue with her cleaning lady. As you know, as you have Airbnbs yourself, Cami, you rely on your cleaning people.
Number one is the cleaning person. They are your head of that business.
They make or break it. You can't function without it. You can try to clean yourself, but you're going to break your back. You got other things to do. Why do you spend jobs? You have someone else do it. She was talking about this. She wasn't happy with her. She'd been working with her for a year. She's slacking. She's doing this and I said, “Have you created a standard guide of operations? Do you have that?” She's like, “What?”
I was like, “If you're planning on growing your business any bigger, you're going to have more Airbnbs. At that point, you're not going to be able to have a conversation all the time. You should have a checklist of standards of what needs to happen for each one of your Airbnbs.” Her mind went boom, the emoji and everything, I could see it.
She was like, “That is growth. That does help.” Now she does that for everything. She questions it. “What would Christa say?” We have a problem, let's fix it, but it does come from you being a CEO. You have to look at yourself and say, “There's a problem here. It's not the main. It's you.” Sorry, Claire, but it is you. Sometimes I've had those issues where it's hard to look at yourself and go, “That's on me.” It's easy to go, “No, that's you.” That's one of the things I've learned about that.
Any business, you're the one that gets in the way. I would say 90% or maybe 100% of the time, it's you getting in the way because you're afraid to get someone else to do it or maybe they won't do as good a job as you could do.
When I learned how to scale, I had to go through a master's class and learn how to delegate. Honestly, I feel that and my daughter and my husband will probably attest to this. I'm a little bit OCD about some things. My shoes are in cases and they're labeled. You can see them, but I still need to label them. When it comes to things like that, I realize I'm trying to do everything. I had anxiety about like, “I can't help my client because I've got to do this other thing. I've got to do this other thing.”
I learned through this masterclass that I need to be okay. If someone can do 80% of a good job as I think I can, then I need to let it go. That was like my emoji moment. I have to be okay with it, then I can train them, the other 15%, 20% to where how I would do it. That was one of the parts that I had to let go of. It’s when it came to the delegation.
If someone can do 80% of a good job as you think you can, then you need to let it go.
Now, I have more time to make more sales. I have more time to work on my craft. I have more time to balance my family and be home with them. I love cooking in the evening for the family. That allows me not to do it with animosity, like, “I got to cook and clean.” I enjoy it. It's been a great transition for me since I've let some of that go for myself.
In fact, I have two things to say about that. The first one is your business won't grow if you're doing everything. If you're like thinking, “I want to grow and scale this business,” then you are doing the opposite by doing everything yourself. You're stifling the growth of your business because one person can only do so much.
We have to own the fact that we need to get good help, which is hard to find, but once you take whatever processes you need to take to find good help. Whether it's getting someone else to hire those people for you or whatever you need to do. Hire good help and once you do, then it's done and then you can move on so then you can grow. You can do the highest and best use of your time.
Your dollar productive time is worth so much more. For you to be doing everything is not good. The second thing is that everything that you say yes to, you're saying no to something else. If you're saying yes to cleaning your own Airbnbs or packaging your own products, then you're saying no to going my kids' soccer game or no to spending time with my husband because my significant other or my spouse, because I'm saying yes to all of these things that I should hire somebody for.
That's where the mindset is. As entrepreneurs, as women, we feel like we need to do everything, but you've got to shift your mindset. Christa, you alluded to being a CEO of your business like you almost went down that rabbit trail. I want to talk about that, even if it's a small business with like you and one other person. You're the CEO. Can you talk to us about the mentality that you've seen with women that you work with on that?
That was a struggle. I started this business. It's a startup and I'm the founder. What's my title? I was hustling it. It was Christa Elyce Photography for such a long time, a one-woman show. You get stuck in that mindset. When I realize that I am not running my business like a CEO, I'm not running it to the scale I want it to be. I need to start thinking like that. It happened. I feel that it happened somewhat overnight when I listened to a podcast to something like this. Where I was like, “I have been doing this wrong. I have dreams of this, but I don't know how I get there.” For me to start delegating, that's when you started putting yourself in this CEO realm. You're running the business. You're not being a part of the business like you're a part of it. How do I say this? Do you know what I mean?
You're not in the business.
You're above the business. As you’re saying, you’re running it and not in the weeds, but you’re above the business.
Being in the business, you’re going to break your back trying to do it all on your own. Running it, working with different people that you have to work with delegating, now you are at the CEO’s status. You can put yourself there. All four, like the founders, I was there for a long time. Founding is where you are doing it on your own. You are laying down the groundwork. That’s great. Everyone’s there.
It’s a process. You have to learn how to do it yourself before you can teach somebody else how to do it and then there is something about saying, “I'm the CEO.” There is something about like saying, “I'm a real estate investor.” Renee did it to me when we went to our first women's group meeting. She had a little slideshow about me. She's a real estate developer or she had all these huge titles and I started saying those. I was like, “Is that me?” When you hear it and you say it. You think, “I do that.” There's something that transforms in your mind that makes you behave.
You're right. I see this a lot with my clients being that I work with so many businesses and especially women-owned businesses. They suffer from imposter syndrome. We self-doubt. We are going, “Am I though? Am I?” We second question ourselves, are we really there?
When we notice people are starting to gravitate to our knowledge, we realize that we do have a lot to offer. Even when I was at the workshop and people were doing the Q&A section, I had already introduced myself multiple times. They're asking CEO-type questions and I was able to answer every one of them. I'm going, “I did know that. I'm impressing myself.” I knew these things and the process of things.
It's eye-opening. I feel like even when you get to the CEO status, you're still going to go, “I'm here. It's eye-opening. I'm still here.” It's a mindset that you have to place yourself there. Usually, other people will tell you, “That's where you are at now.” That's what happening with you. You're like, “I guess I am because I'm not like here. I'm like here.” You get to that point where you realize that's where you're at.
I keep telling Cami she's Beyoncé of Destiny's Child. You're like the rockstar of real estate investing and you’re so unassuming and mild-mannered and sweet. She said she got this empress of real estate. She's got this empire going. She's got all the things. Cami, give me a quick list. I think you've got five businesses that you're running now that are real estate related. Is that right?
I have technically twelve, but five that are the main operating because we did start a handyman company. It’s morphing into a remodeling design your home type company. We've run into some amazing designers. I think that puts us on the next level. I have a team of workers underneath me. It's a high-end remodel. I have the contractor for that. If it's an investor flip remodel because you want to stay on a budget. I've got the investor or the team for that. It's been fun. My husband's a real estate agent now. We've got that side where we can come remodel your home so that you can sell it.
We'll put the money in. We'll get paid at closing because a lot of people don't have the money to fix up their homes. I love it because, Christa, when she was helping us do this website, she's like, “You are like the concierge.” The word thing. I was like, “That sounds great.” It's been fun to get to a certain level. That's where the WealthBuildHERS comes in. Let's share the wealth. Let's bring in other women. Let's teach them. We don't even have to teach them. We have to awaken in them because all of us are powerful. All of us have different gifts and we don't even realize how much impact we have and how much we know and how good we are at what we do.
We have to hone in on those things that we're good at. I'm way different from Christa Elyce. I would have a hard time going and making someone's business look beautiful, but I can go make a house look beautiful. Honestly, I don't even do that. The designers do that and my workers do that. I go find the house and find the person. Renee is like Oprah Winfrey. She's like the show, perfect interviewer. She's also a business consultant, just has this gift. I think we find our gifts, what you love, what makes you happy, what energizes you, and let's all empower each other. Let's all help each other.
Be each other's hype girl.
Christa Elyce, you have children. Do you mean to tell me that you can be a successful entrepreneur, a CEO, you can own and run a business and can be a mom at the same time? That's doable?
It is doable. It's doable at a pace and end in seasons. I mean to say that my daughter, my son and my youngest, Molly, when they were younger, it meant maybe I take a little bit of break, like a three-month break, to be able to spend that time that I want with them but scheduling to come back at a pace that I can enjoy without resentment. Resentment towards my family, my business and my passion. As a photographer in that stage of my life, there was always outsourcing my editing or certain elements of my business.
That way, I could spend time with my family. There are always ways to do that. It’s about time management. If I couldn't finish what I needed to do during the week, I had set boundaries to make sure that my weekends are mine. That's what I do now. I never work on the weekends and I don't work past 5:00 on the weekdays and I love that. Being in the wedding industry and if any wedding industry people are reading this, they do not have weekends available. I missed a lot of my kid’s life during that time. I photographed 40 weddings a year for at least ten years. That's a lot of weekends. I've missed birthdays because of that.
I recommend making sure that you're aware of your time. Especially if you're balancing that. If you're single and you're doing your own thing, you can have all the time in the world. Go and make that money. Honestly, this is the time to do it and make sure that you already start thinking about scaling. That way, when you're ready to build that family and balance that life that you want to have, you have that availability because that's not always going to work from day in, day out like down the road. You want to retire too. That's the plan.<