When it comes to taking the leap and creating a life of your dreams, there are few better examples than destination wedding photographer and HiveTribe member, Maxeen Kim Duncan, of Maxeen Kim Photography. Having built her photography business in the UK, she made the move to the Greek islands, where she now spends half her time shooting weddings and soaking up the Mediterranean sunshine (with the other half based in cosmopolitan London). It’s an idyllic picture, but behind the scenes, there’s plenty of hard work, creativity and hustle. Along the way, Maxeen has learned some big lessons about business, balance, and her definition of success, and we’re delighted that she’s sharing them with us here!
How did you get started in the wedding industry?
Before photography, I used to paint. I exhibited my work in London galleries and I loved painting animals from my home country, South Africa. However, art is subjective and not everyone will love what you create and that can be really disheartening. So I began looking for another creative outlet to explore. A friend suggested photography. I fell in love with it almost immediately. I loved the fact that even though it was someone else’s wedding, family, love story, I still got to be creative and tell their tale in my own unique way. I started out building my portfolio doing portraits for friends and family, second shooting for more established photographers and attending all the workshops I could afford. Over time, my work developed and eventually I started shooting weddings of my own.
From the beginning I loved wedding photography. The colour, the creativity, the varied venues, beautiful people and their incredible love stories… It all spoke to my heart, and my heart most definitely answered with a resounding ‘YES!’. However, I first felt I had found the right place and community when I attended The Editorial Wedding workshop; run by B.LOVED’s very own Louise, Gaby from SouthBound Bride and the talented Anneli from Anneli Marinovich Photography. Both the speakers and the attendees were amazingly supportive, inspiring and creative. I knew then that this was a community I wanted to be a part of for many years to come. And I’m glad I continued to build my business, because it’s completely changed my life.
What mistakes have you made, and what did you learn from them?
In the beginning I shot anything and everything. I had no idea who I wanted to work with and the type of weddings I wanted to shoot. I found myself getting drained, feeling unappreciated and generally didn’t enjoy my work much. This is how I learned that knowing who you are, what your value is and who you want to work with is so important. If you don’t know these things, finding the right jobs is like firing a shotgun into the dark and expecting to hit the bullseye… it’s not going to happen! I also used to do a lot for free. This often left me feeling underappreciated.
The best advice I ever got was on the Bohemia Gathering Workshop, where the speaker advised that you should make a small list of people who you would do free work for, and then another small list of people you would give a discount to. If the person asking for you to work for nothing isn’t on that list, then you need to get better and braver when discussing money and charging your worth.
What advice would you give someone about to make the leap to being a full-time wedding pro?
There is never a ‘right time’ to begin. You could always get more experience, do more networking, save more, before making the jump… but if you keep waiting, you will never do it. Be clever, save a bit to tide you over, make sure you have a few bookings for the year ahead and then just do it! It will be scary. You will experience doubt and stress. I cried a number of times during that first month of making the jump… It’s not always roses – and I wish someone had told me that back then. But it was so worth it and things got much, much better. The truth is, if your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough. It’s supposed to be challenging. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
What support and advice have you discovered, and how has it changed your business?
The best business advice I ever got was from my grandfather. He told me to work hard, under-promise, over-deliver and always keep my word. The second best advice I got was from a friend who told me to play the long game, and always remember that the hard work I put in now will probably only pay off in six months to a year. In terms of support, I have a small network of amazing wedding suppliers who keep me grounded, inspired and encouraged. Find your own set of cheerleaders. You don’t need an army – you just need a handful of people you can trust and you will be all good.
Do you think women can ‘have it all’ when it comes to running a successful business and having a fulfilling personal life?
Yes! I personally believe that anyone, man or woman, can have it all. I was raised with mainly male cousins around my age. I was never treated differently. I was brought up to think that I could have whatever I put my mind to as long as I worked hard. The older I get, the more I realise that the only blocks between me and having all that I want are the ones I place there myself. There will always be some negative little someone there telling you that you are the wrong gender, under-educated, lacking in experience or understanding, or come from a broken home (this was a big thing when I was growing up – as if your parents being divorced made you ‘broken’ in some way). We are not statistics. Just smile when people come with their negativity, and go and make your own magic.
How do you find a work/life balance?
There was a time that I had absolutely no balance. This made life really impossible. I became lonely and grumpy and unhealthy. It didn’t take me too long to decide to make some changes. I now try to take Mondays off in the summer months and always take Sundays off in the winter. In the winter I also generally stick to working 9am–5pm, Mon–Fri, and 9am–12pm on Saturdays.
While my schedule is flexible in the summer season, I try to spend at least one day a week with my boyfriend. That day is usually spent largely ‘unplugged’ and, because I am largely in Greece in the summer months, we can usually be found swimming somewhere beautiful. I find setting working hours and having one day aside to spend with friends and family makes life feel so much more balanced and rewarding.
What’s your definition of success?
Success is different for everyone. For me, it’s having a life that leaves me content. It’s having a partner that makes me feel loved, a healthy body and a close collection of trustworthy friends. It’s the ability to travel and explore. All with a business that thrives, challenging me and letting me develop my creativity every day.
What’s your number one tip for new wedding pros?
Don’t be afraid to be you and work on things and with people that really excite and inspire you. There is no point having a creative job and being your own boss if it ends up making you feel just as bored and stressed as it did when you were going into an office to work for someone else. If you are doing what you truly love, in a way that makes you feel on top of the world, you will feel more productive, confident and energetic – this makes finding the right clients easier. Just be yourself.
What’s next for you and your business?
My business is based between the UK and Greece, but I do take bookings all over the world. While last year was a great year for the Greek side of my business, this year I am focused on growing the UK side. I have some exciting styled shoots in the works, as well as some gorgeous weddings based in the UK and Ireland.
Ready to design and create a life that you love? HiveTribe membership provides you with all the support, advice, and community you need along the way. CLICK HERE to find out more.