Learn how Photo Manager Shelley Murray balances family and entrepreneurship to achieve a flexible business lifestyle. 


With her iconic army-green Jeep, Shelley Murray comes to the rescue of photo collections in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In addition to her concierge service, Shelley offers training to DIYers to help people learn how to take care of their photo collections. In this interview, Shelley talks about her journey as a photo manager and what advice she has now for those just starting out.


How has your business evolved as you got to know your ideal client better?


When I was starting out, experienced photo managers often gave the advice to specialize your services. The problem was, however, that I didn’t want to say no to anyone and miss out on a potential client! I needed to start off offering a variety of things, and not turning anyone down, to get to a point where I recognized what I loved. Some call it sales, I call it service, but it’s that relationship-building with the client that I love. 


How have you approached the challenge of running a business as a single mom?


I was part of the team at Forever for seven years. So, when I left to open my own photo-organizing business, I left a salary and a steady corporate income. I was a little bit nervous and scared, being a single mom. Whatever I was doing next, I had to make it work. I was really motivated to bring in the same amount or more income than I was in my corporate job so I spent time looking at the different aspects of my business. In doing this, I was able to see which parts were the most profitable and what I was enjoying doing. 

Being a single mom with four kids, I’m on the go a lot but I always want to give impeccable service, so that my clients love me and refer me. So, I do whatever it takes to make that client happy, including being on-call and always available to them by phone or text. My kids know that I could receive a work call at any time, and I feel like it’s just part of the lifestyle that I have. I love it so much that it’s a hobby for me to work, I enjoy it! Because I enjoy it so much, I may need to learn how to put the brakes on working sometimes. But I love having the flexibility to do stuff with my kids, make meals, drive people around and do all those types of things.


How did you first get the word out about your business and how do you continue to do so?


I do things to elevate myself to be recognized as an expert in my area. This includes speaking engagements at my local library and for small group organizations. 

I continually educate myself and I would encourage others to become an expert in what they’re doing so that when they speak, they offer information that other people don’t know. For example, one topic I speak on is the truth behind cloud storage. I discuss all the differences between Cloud Storage options, data mining, free plans compared to paid plans, and more. Whenever I’m speaking, I feel like I’m sharing a lot of valuable information that the audience didn’t know about. This helps them to view me as an expert, tell their friends, and call me when they need something photo-related. 

I also try to be involved in Facebook groups in my community but never use these as sales platforms. My goal is to provide information. Rather than showcase what I’m selling, I showcase my level of service. Through these efforts, you can get to the point where people are calling you, rather than you trying to sell to them. 


How do you find speaking engagements as a photo manager?


You can often arrange to speak at your library, historical society, or other organizations such as a church. I recommend contacting your historical society because they often have a lot of information and items that need to be digitized and preserved. I have spoken at our historical society multiple times and actually joined the society myself. Now that the board of directors knows what I do, some have worked with me individually and they often refer their friends. Once you have a client that loves what you do, and you’ve provided wonderful service, they’re going to tell other people as well.


How do you use social media to help you find new clients?


I have tried many different social media platforms but getting to know my ideal client helped me realize which platform they are on. Now I know that my ideal clients use Facebook more than Instagram, so I focus my social media efforts there.

LinkedIn is also awesome. LinkedIn has more male users and is very professional. While many of our clients are women, it’s good to remember that there are also male clients who are concerned about their family history. Because the audiences on Facebook and LinkedIn are different, I do not post the same way on both. On LinkedIn, I focus on doing educational posts.


What made you split your business into DIY and concierge services?


Because I’m utilizing Forever, I recognize that clients have the option to use these tools themselves and have me as their ambassador, or I can do the work for them hourly and then give them their account completely curated and ready to go. 

Whether I’m doing the work for them, or they’re doing it on their own, I always provide my clients with training to keep them moving forward.


How did you know what you wanted to specialize in as a photo manager?


Sometimes you just have to try something to figure out what is that you like. 

A few years ago at The Photo Managers conference, I attend a breakout session with Kathy Stone. After that, I was so excited to do a photo organizing project! I wanted to get into somebody’s home, gather all their things, bring him back to my studio and do the work. Kathy did such an awesome job of teaching us and showing us exactly what she was doing. I took all kinds of notes and I felt ready. I was so excited!

So my advice is to go in there with confidence as if you’ve done it before! Even if you haven’t, you’re going to learn along the way. Although I was inexperienced, when I went into my first job, I appeared smart and professional (I had a good plan of attack because of the education I received at the conference and other training sessions). The client was very trusting and excited. Then it was just a matter of coming home, unloading everything, and getting at it. It was through jumping in and doing the work myself that I realized how I wanted my business to work. I learned that I would have to hire others in order to focus on what I love, which is being out front while others handle the behind-the-scenes work. 


How do you manage your time as a busy entrepreneur?


I’ve tried a number of things, including calendar-blocking my days. One resource that has helped me a lot is Calendly, which is the scheduler that a lot of photo managers use. In Calendly I offer different options for clients to choose from. I have spaces in my calendar for two-hour photo organizing sessions, as well as lots of places where I can do 30-minute intake appointments. Bringing in new clients is the most important use of my time, so I want to make sure that I have a lot of options for that. I also have times blocked on my calendar for my pickup services. 

Being flexible is important because I want to meet my clients’ needs before my own. I let them know that if they don’t see something on the calendar, let me know and I can rearrange my schedule. 

Being a single mom, I’ve got to be flexible both with taking on work and taking time off. This business allows me to do that. 


How has being a member of The Photo Managers helped you?


One way The Photo Managers has been helpful to me is education. This includes learning about the professionalism, the how-to’s, and the expertise of being a photo manager.

The second thing I appreciate is interacting with the other members, networking, learning what everybody’s doing, getting advice from each other, and asking questions. I so value the connections that I’ve made in The Photo Managers because whenever I have a question, I don’t even have to research it. I just can ask someone else and everybody’s so open and willing to share. 

An example of that is when one of my biggest clients had three journals that his grandmother hand-wrote in the late 1800s. One journal was approximately 157 pages and I needed someone to transcribe it. When I posted about it to The Photo Managers, I immediately got responses with recommendations and I found someone who is fabulous. I would never have found her had we not pooled together all of our resources and been able to share. There’s great value in the education, networking, and sharing that takes place in The Photo Managers.


Watch the full interview below to learn more from Shelley as she answers questions from the audience about pricing, community connections, and more.


Key Takeaways:

#1: Know your target audience! Knowing exactly who your ideal client is will help you to direct your marketing and social media efforts more effectively. 

#2: Do what you love! Shelley discovered the aspects of her business that she enjoyed the most and hired others to help with the rest. 

#3: A flexible schedule is key when managing both a growing business and a busy family life.