Hey everybody and welcome to this week's episode of Brand Your Passion. I am super excited today to be joined by the wonderful Sophie Timothy AKA Sister Scout - welcome to the show!
Thanks Hollie, happy to be here!
I'm stoked that you are here! Do you want to introduce yourself to the people and tell them a little bit about what you do?
Sure! I'm 34, identify as female, and I live in Melbourne, Victoria in Australia. I'm a Branding and Headshot Photographer primarily working with people who identify as female and run their own businesses. A lot of them are solo operators - in fact about 90% of them are individuals like your fine self! I also run events for the small business community and have a directory on my website for good people doing good things called the Sister Scout Hood. And this year I just started mentoring some photographers who are maybe a couple of steps behind in their trajectory, so that's been fun too.
That's awesome! Have you always been creative?
I guess so, but not in an artistic sense. I think when I was four years old I said I wanted to be an artist, but I am completely terrible when it comes to actual visual arts. I've always been into words and writing. Writing was my first passion and I went into journalism after school, but I always loved photography. My parents gave me a digital camera when I was around 17 and they gave me an SLR when I was 21, which was pretty exciting. I decided I wanted to spend a bit of money and bought a good lens - it became known as the "hot lens" because it made everyone look hot. It had a low aperture and I could make the background blurry and that was very exciting. I started taking my camera everywhere at that point, which was in my early-mid 20s. People started asking me to shoot their weddings and take their headshots, and it was kind of weird because I was like, “I have one lens guys... I can't do much over here!”
You're a little bit limited!
Yeah! But I decided to run a Kickstarter in 2013 because I'd had enough people ask me to do weddings that I was like, “Well if I want to shoot a wedding, I need at least 2 or 3 lenses to make it possible, and a much better system,” so I pre-sold some wedding coverage and prints through Kickstarter and raised enough money to buy a better camera and some lenses. That's where it all started!
Amazing! Is that how Sister Scout began or did that come a little bit later?
I started out shooting weddings because that seemed to be what people wanted me to do. I guess I was in that age bracket and weddings were kind of on trend. All the big wedding magazines were coming out and people were having cool weddings. So I started shooting weddings and then opened that up to families, but as I started thinking about having a baby, I started thinking, “Weddings are not so flexible, they're 12 hours days…”
Yeah, all your weekends gone.
Yeah. So I started thinking about what else I wanted to do. I've always loved the creative vibe of Melbourne and all the small businesses here, so I launched a side business that was just under my name at that point, Sophie Timothy, and I contacted some of my favourite artisans - hand crafters, people who did letterpress and macramé and people who had like physical work spaces. I just asked them, “Can I just capture you doing your thing?” At first I just did it as a free thing because I wanted to fill out my portfolio. I very soon discovered that a lot of crafters don't have much money and don't want to invest in photography so they were all happy to have free shoots! But it was interesting - the enquiries that started coming in were more service-based businesses, who knew they needed to put themselves out there to build rapport with their clients. I started getting bookings from florists, copywriters and graphic designers, and I very quickly fell in love with those clients.
Then I had my son. I was working in marketing and communications for a not-for-profit before I had him, so photography had been a side-hustle for years. Then I had my son and I was made redundant from my job, and I took that as a sign from the universe that it was time to just go all in. So I did. I was really torn between continuing to do weddings, because I was doing quite well in that industry and getting really great enquiries, but like I said, I wasn't sure about the lifestyle of being a wedding photographer and a Mum. I sort of hedged my bets and rebranded Sophie Timothy to Sister Scout. I kept my Sophie Timothy Photography going but shifted more to families and the occasional wedding. But when I rebranded to Sister Scout, which was around 2-3 years ago, I finally felt at home in my business. I think it was partly the branding and I think with my wedding and family photography business, I'd had this false belief that I needed to be fancy. Family photography is kind of a luxury and I wanted to price it high enough to live off that income. I was like, “I've got to look more professional than I am and be fancy.”
"I took that as a sign from the universe that it was time to just go all in."
Sister Scout was kind of an afterthought, my graphic designer just did it quickly and didn't put in as much effort as she did with my Sophie Timothy stuff! It was just funny because I actually really resonated with the fun and playfulness of it. My brand colours are pink and blue and she did a little Scout icon for me - I did Girl Guides for 18 years so I really resonated with that. I don’t use it anymore but it was just so different from my other brand, which was really formal and austere. So I just finally felt at home and things grew from there.
"When I rebranded to Sister Scout, I finally felt at home in my business."
Awesome! You said you had a graphic designer who helped you with that. What made you decide to get a designer instead of doing it yourself?
It was part of wanting to take my business seriously. My first logo was done in Canva like 8 years ago and it was terrible! Then I got a graphic designer to slightly improve it for me, but she really wanted to strip it back and start all over but I was like "No, no, no." Typical working with friends, I didn't give her enough creative control and I was still developing my own taste as well and had no idea. I was in my early-mid 20s, I just didn't really know what I wanted or what my brand was at that point. And then when my wedding photography started to take off a bit more, I did engage another designer who did more of a hand-drawn kind of logo, but he didn't supply anything else, he didn't provide me with a style guide or a font or anything. It was just a logo, which was a cute logo, but looking back, I think to really be professional you kind of need the full deal.
When I came to rebranding and relaunching after I'd had my baby, I was like, “Nah, I'm going all in, I'm just gonna do it all” and I found Amber Ladd, who is based in Victoria. She was still working under another designer but just starting out on her own - I’m so lucky I found her at that point because she's now inundated with enquiries and has an enormous backlog and is just somewhat of a cult designer - like Squarespace web designer and graphic designer. Because I worked with her so early on, she's just been so generous towards me and really loved working on my brand with me, so I'm really grateful to have worked with her. She is such a passionate advocate for typography so I feel really lucky to have had that contribution to my brand. I probably wouldn't have valued it as much if she hadn't taught me that stuff.
Did she do your most recent rebrand as well?
Yeah. Sister Scout was always supposed to be the side project and then when it became the main thing, she was like, “We never really did a full brand for you, I just gave you some logos and one font, but I feel like we need to really build this out and make it really reflect you and where your business is now, instead of it just being this on-the-side thing.” So before she had her baby, she very generously set aside some time to rebrand Sister Scout, which I am so grateful for. She's just such a legend.
"We need to really build this out and make it really reflect you and where your business is now."
That's interesting that she came to you to suggest a rebrand. Were you already feeling like you needed that and that was the last push, or were you not really sure?
I was still stoked with what she'd done originally. She as the designer really wanted to honour (I think) her own work and also my brand, and just bring it to the level that she was happy with - the perfectionist that she is! I was like, “Do you really think we need to do this?” And she kind of pushed me over the line. Then once we got started with a mood board and everything, I was like yesss! But initially I thought it was fine. She also gave the website a whole refresh as well because she's so multi-talented, so that was really, really cool.
And your website looks amazing now, it's so good!
Thank you! I should say as well, Amber's been on maternity leave and while she's been on maternity leave, I've also engaged Nicole from January Made Design who helped build out some of my newer pages for my mentoring and service offering pages. I've also done some work with Jena Marie who has done some of my social tiles.
I've used a few different people in the last 12 months to really help me out. I'm such a fan of outsourcing and going "I'm not the expert". These guys know what they’re doing and can do these things for me.
"I'm such a fan of outsourcing and going "I'm not the expert". These guys know what they’re doing and can do these things for me."
I love that. As creatives, it can be quite difficult to let go and let other people take hold of your little baby and create things for it, so I think it's awesome that you're like, "No, please, take it!"
It's taken a while but I'm now a real big fan of using specialists because there's a reason that you do. Similarly to trying to do your own brand photos, it's really hard to get your boyfriend or girlfriend to take your photos and use an Instagram filter and hope for the best! There’s a reason people do what they do and usually the investment pays off. I’m a big believer in that.
"There’s a reason people do what they do and usually the investment pays off. I’m a big believer in that."
So how do you feel about your brand now that it's all redone and all super badass and amazing?
I feel really proud of it. It feels really aligned to who I am, what the brand is and my values. I feel like I can step out with confidence as a business owner, which I think is a big part of having professional branding and branding photos - it just gives you that confidence that this is what I’m doing and this is who I am. Even just this week I've been talking to Bronwyn from Promoloco who's in my directory, she does branded merch. We were having a conversation about creating some Sister Scout branded stuff and even just thinking about that - if I didn't have a great visual brand it wouldn't work.
"My rebrand feels really aligned to who I am, what the brand is and my values. I feel like I can step out with confidence as a business owner."
It's fun to feel like my brand looks fun and nice and cool enough that I can put it into a product and it will still look good. It's got that integrity to it.
Yeah, awesome. And branding is not always just about logos and colours and things - it's about what you just mentioned, like your values and things like that. Did you intentionally go through that process of figuring all of that out? How did that go?
Yeah, it was definitely intentional. I signed up with a business coach a few years ago, Ami from Craft Coaching & Development, and one of the first things she does is get you to nut out your values and purpose.
That was really interesting. I've worked with Ami for two years now, I just finished off my last session with her (which I say with a tear down my face!). Over that period I've actually refined my values a couple of times and I did some work more recently with Serena from Speak Out Studio, who runs a program called Brand Plan. Once again, I kind of felt like I'd done my purpose and my values two years ago, but Sister Scout has grown and evolved so much in that time and it's become about more than just photography, so it's been good to have my purpose and values evolve with that.
"Sister Scout has grown and evolved so much in that time and it's become about more than just photography, so it's been good to have my purpose and values evolve with that."
I definitely feel like there are different types of brands in the world, but I think I really love working with other businesses who have purpose behind them and strong values. That’s what really makes my job satisfying - when I get to work with people who are really clear on that. At the end of the day, it's about what motivates you and how we want to operate.
"At the end of the day, it's about what motivates you and how we want to operate."
Definitely. How has it been transitioning from being all about brand photography to now mentoring and having the directory, and shifting your brand to include all those new things?
It's been totally unexpected and not something I put in a plan at all. Ami from Craft would laugh if she heard this, because for about 9 months she was trying to get me to write a business plan and I was just like - I'm allergic to this kind of thing! I'm very much just a go-with-my-gut kind of business owner.
"I'm very much just a go-with-my-gut kind of business owner."
I guess the whole community side of Sister Scout began a couple of years ago, just before International Women's Day. I wanted to run an event for other female business owners, so I put that out there and totally unexpectedly sold 100 tickets. I was like, “What is going on?!”
I think it was largely the quality of the panel that I brought together - they were really great people so they brought their people, but after that, people were like, “So when's your next event?” I had not at all thought about it as being an ongoing thing, but I caught the bug and I could see that there was a bit of a gap in the market, so to speak, for events that were actually coming from a place of authenticity and were about more than just networking - or the 'n' word as I call it. I hate that word, it kind of makes me gag a bit, so I guess I wanted to put on events that had actual purpose behind them and things for people to actually take away and implement, whether that's personally or in their business or both.
Over time I've just kind of fallen into that. And then through Instagram, which is such a powerful platform, there's been this community that's somewhat organically formed around Sister Scout and past clients of mine working with other past clients of mine - that symbiotic relationship that happens. I'd always sort of thought, "What about a directory?" because people were constantly asking me for recommendations for service providers because they knew I worked with a lot of people. I was like, “Oh maybe, should I, should I...” Then I saw COVID hurtling toward us at a rate of knots and I thought, “Just do it, Sophie!” So I launched the directory back in March and having thought that no one would sign up, it's done really well.
It's been a bit of a strange time to launch something where people have to pay on a regular basis because obviously everyone's struggling at the moment, but the feedback has been that it's really great to be part of a community.
"I wanted to put on events that had actual purpose behind them and things for people to actually take away and implement, whether that's personally or in their business or both."
Now's the best time. Everybody needs community, we need to feel not alone. A lot of other people are going through similar things to us, unfortunately, but it's nice to have a community of people around.
Totally, yeah. I know that I have leaned on the small business community so much. My pals in business are some of my best pals - we have DM groups where we just vent to each other or share new ideas or ways of seeing things. If it wasn't for them I'd be probably a mess, so I’m super grateful for that community.
For sure. You said that Instagram has been great for cultivating a community around Sister Scout - do you think that came from that being part of your values, what you were putting out there and talking about community? How do you think that happened?
I've thought about this and I don't really know if I could explain it - it just kind of happened.
When people ask me this kind of thing, I just feel like it’s showing up as your real self and being vulnerable and authentic online. I think that's somewhat refreshing. I have particular values and bugbears or things that I’m passionate about and talk about on the regular - lately I've been talking about body positivity, size inclusivity, self-love, self-acceptance and self-care. I've become known for talking about those kinds of things because I'm passionate about them. So I suppose naturally, you kind of alienate some people with those conversations, but then there's a whole lot of other people who are like, "I'm here for this".
My best pals in business are probably the ones with whom I have the most shared values, they're just great people, but yeah - I think it's the values that really hold the community together and running events that also align with those values. For example, I got Megan Luskin to come and speak about understanding self-sabotage, that was my last event before COVID. That was a pretty full-on event but it attracts a certain kind of person who's interested in self-development and personal development and being real and working through their sh*t.
"I think it's the values that really hold the community together."
If you don't shy away from those things then, like I said, you're going to repel some people but you're going to attract people who are into that. I think that's where the strength of the community comes from because people know what you stand for, rather than just flip-flopping around.
"That's where the strength of the community comes from because people know what you stand for."
I think it's awesome to just say, “These are my values”. Like you said, it might alienate people, but those are probably not the people that you want to hang out with and talk to anyway, right?
I didn't ever plan to stand out or anything, but I think maybe it's somewhat unusual for a photographer to speak about that stuff or put themselves out there. Often, photographers are a bit more like, “I'm just gonna share my photos. Book me because I take nice photos. I'm a really technically proficient photographer.” That's not my vibe. I want the real you to come through and here's the real me - there's an element of an exchange of vulnerability there.
"I want the real you to come through and here's the real me - there's an element of an exchange of vulnerability there."
Because people know I stand for certain things, they come to me knowing that and then they expect a certain kind of experience rather than just photos. I hope that it's a somewhat transformative process for them to get their photo taken, because hopefully I can create that safe space for them and they feel like they can lean into their uniqueness and their power.
"Hopefully I can create that safe space for them and they feel like they can lean into their uniqueness and their power."
Yeah, definitely. From seeing your photos, I think there definitely is a certain kind of magic in them, in that people just do seem like their whole, full selves in the photos that you take. I see so many pictures of people doing weird things in your photos and they’re just having fun and having a great time. I think that's a great testament to you and your brand and your experience, to be able to make them feel okay to do that and to be themselves.
Thanks Hollie. That's really nice. I hope that's the case for people! I mean, I'm sure not everyone has the same experience, but I think the ones who do have a positive experience are the ones that do kind of take that little bit of a leap and we find a dynamic between us that works.
With photography, I feel like there has to be an element of trust with your photographer to bring out the best in you, especially if you're someone like me who doesn't really like having their photo taken and doesn't really know what to do! The best photos I've ever had taken are with photographers who just make me laugh and tell me to do stupid things - people who I trust that will just let me be my goofy, stupid self.
100% yeah, and it's interesting you say that - I think probably 99% of my clients are like "I hate having photos taken" and I always remind them that there's very few people in the world who like having their photo taken and they're probably narcissists so… you're not alone, don't worry. Everyone finds this terrifying. Even people who are the most conventionally "pretty people" or whatever are sh*t scared of having their photo taken, so we're all in the same boat. I was meant to have my photo taken a week or so ago, but we're in full lockdown here in Melbourne so it's been pushed out to November - but I'm terrified! I'm all about body positivity and accepting yourself, but I’m still like, “Ahhh!” So, we're all on a journey.
For sure. Even though we’re all terrified of having our photos taken and we freak out a little bit, obviously you and I are both big believers that brand photography is important and something that is really powerful.
Tell me a little bit about why you think branding photography is important and something that we should be doing as business owners or creatives?
I think particularly for service providers, especially if you're working one-on-one with people, there's just so much trust involved in that relationship. I think in the same way that showing up on your stories is a way to build trust, so is having brand photos. They can really build that trust before people have even booked in with you and I think it's a really helpful way to communicate your values visually too. It is a cliche but a photo does say a thousand words!
You can use photos to communicate values in a way that is kind of subversive too, which is something I'm a bit new to and interested in. Over the years, photography has been used in some ways to oppress women, so I think if we can use photography in a way to liberate women, that's really cool - although that's probably not really relevant to your question!
"You can use photos to communicate values in a way that is kind of subversive."
No, I'm here for that!
It's not really about why we should get brand photos done, but I think putting yourself in a position where you can use it as an empowering experience rather than an oppressive experience can be really great.
I think it can also be a celebration of where you're at in your business and how far you've come. I do headshot days where people come and have a 15-minute snap with me, and recently I had a woman who'd just turned 50 and this was her present to herself. I just loved that. She was in a corporate job but she was wanting to move out of that and into her own thing. I don't discount that - part of it is just standing in yourself and in power and just owning. Completely unrelated to business but I think it can be a good experience!
"I think it can also be a celebration of where you're at in your business and how far you've come."
But so rewarding! Yeah, I love that. I never really thought about photography as a celebration but I LOVE that. If you do have branding shoots quite regularly or once a year or once every couple of years, it's a cool way to see how far your business has come. It’s a different snapshot of your life or your career or your business throughout those different shoots.
Totally. I think it does capture that evolution in the same way that getting your branding or graphic design done every few years does. You're like, "Oh okay moved on from that, I’m really in another place now!”
I feel like people should do the combo and update both every year or couple of years.
The other thing, which is probably really obvious but I'll say it anyway, is if you're on social media, it's just a hungry beast - you need content, so photos are a really good way to keep that beast satisfied.
I also think having your own set of photos means that you can really craft them around your story that you want to tell, rather than using stock photography. It creates a much more powerful story and authenticity around what you're doing, so I'm a pretty big advocate for that.
"Having your own set of photos means that you can really craft them around your story that you want to tell."
Yeah, I mean, I’m doing this podcast, obviously, and I have new episodes every week that I have to create graphics for and use photos for, so I'm powering through my bank of photos! But it's so handy to have a bank of your own photos so you know that anything you create is going to be on brand, telling the right story, sharing your values and all those amazing things - it's so helpful.
Yeah, especially if you're doing that kind of stuff and you're always needing graphics. Actually, in lockdown, because I haven't been able to do my face-to-face work, I've offered some flat lay from home shoots for service providers and it's been cool to see people using those in Facebook groups or whatever to put text over.
I wish I had enough time in the week to do it all the time, but it's just really great for them having a bank of photos that they can draw on, just from a practical pragmatic side of things.
For sure. Okay, so you started Sister Scout way back when you were doing weddings and things like that, and since then you’ve branded it several times throughout the journey. What do you think has been the best part about branding your passion and turning what you loved into a business?
With Sister Scout, it's been the satisfaction of meeting really amazing people doing awesome things and being a small part of their journey towards really growing what they do and growing as people. That's been really satisfying.
"It's the satisfaction of meeting really amazing people doing awesome things and being a small part of their journey towards really growing what they do and growing as people."
From the photography side of things, it’s being my own boss and keeping my own timetable. The freedom and flexibility that comes with that is really awesome, I don't know if I could ever go back to an office job! But yeah, I feel very lucky to be working in an area that I'm passionate about
What do you think has been the biggest lesson that you've learned about branding your passion along the way?
I think just the power of being yourself and stripping back all the "shoulds" - all that stuff that we tell ourselves we need to be. It wasn't until I really, truly stepped into who I am as a person and owned that, that my business actually grew properly and flourished, so I think that's been a huge lesson and blessing. It's given me so much freedom and a good vibe that I'm actually able to be myself and people still want to work with me.
"It wasn't until I really, truly stepped into who I am as a person and owned that, that my business actually grew properly and flourished."
I think there's just so much fear and shame around comparison - comparing ourselves to other people and feeling like, "I'm not like them", but it wasn't until I decided, “Stuff that, I'm just going to be me and put myself out there and do things my way” that it turned out a whole lot of people were into that.
The more you can do things with authenticity, the more people can see that and then you can find your people.
"The more you can do things with authenticity, the more people can see that."
And the things that you might compare against someone else are the things that are going to make you stand out, make you special and make people want to work with YOU as opposed to someone else.
Exactly, 100% yes. In my purpose statement now, I talk about encouraging people to lean into their uniqueness. I think that's just so important because the last thing we need is a whole lot of people who are the same. The world needs diversity.
"I encourage people to lean into their uniqueness."
Yes, we can all embrace our weirdness and it will be a great time!
Yeah that's right, embrace the weird!
I love that, that's awesome. Well, do you want to tell the people where they can find you online and what you've got going on that they can check out?
The Hood Directory that I launched in March is also there and that's open for anyone to join wherever they live, they just have to sign up to the Sister Scout pledge, which is a set of values that the directory is bound by. Other than that there's really no rules! The directory is something that anyone can join up to at any point, it’s always open, so I'd love to see some more people in there, particularly people in industries that maybe aren't represented yet. We've just got our first lawyer, we've got an estate planner, and I’d love to see female tradies or something. I just really want to see that directory expand, so keen for that.
Awesome! Everyone, make sure that you jump on The Hood.
Well thank you so much Sophie, it has been awesome to connect with you and hear your story and about the process of your business. I love hearing about where it all came from and I think people are going to love hearing from you. Thank you so much for joining me!
Thanks for having me, Hollie!
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