Hannah Terwin Interview: Bringing Personality to Your Business
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Hannah is the owner of the photography business Han Designed, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She specializes in weddings and elopements, supporting and celebrating clients worldwide with cinematic and magical visuals.
It was an absolute joy to chat with Hannah – accompanied on the call by two gorgeous Golden Retrievers, Keely and Goose – and it’s easy to see why clientele would come away from photography sessions happy.
To get started, we spoke with Hannah about her journey into photography and how the business has grown over the years, but we quickly spiraled into the impact fantasy has on her work and her experience with two website builders, Squarespace and WordPress. Let’s dive right in!
“I can’t leave myself at home when I go to work, I’m always showing up with these pieces of myself too.”
The Birth of a Business
“I had gone to school for film and cinematography, and then I switched to photography after graduating about four years ago. From there I started doing weddings, just as a way to pick up jobs, and then I realized I liked it. Before I knew it, I was getting referrals and stuff. So that then kind of snowballed into me having my own business.
I went full-time between two and three years ago, just on my own – so now it’s just me and then I’ll hire contractors sometimes to help out with some work. I shoot 20-30 weddings and elopements per year. Mostly in the Midwest of the US, and then a few abroad as well.”
Finding Brand Values
“I think one thing that sets me apart – and it’s a big philosophy of mine and my photography – is consent-informed posing. So I approach photography through a trauma-informed lens, which then kind of takes away – or I think supports people – to feel more comfortable with me.
“It allows us to create photographs without me making any assumptions about who they are, or what they want. Keeping the collaboration open.”
I started making monthly donations pretty early on in my business. Without mentioning it or telling anyone – it was a personal thing at that time. But I realized as I kept working with people that the clients I really enjoyed working with, and that were getting the most out of working with me, had a similar passion for supporting the community and we would lean towards supporting the same causes.
Putting it on my website is another way to communicate who I am as a person and also a way for clients to know what to expect from me and where my passions outside of work lie. I can’t leave myself at home when I go to work, I’m always showing up with these pieces of myself too. So I wanted to use it as another way to narrow down my clientele – to be people that knew what I stood for and that felt like knowing that I was a good fit for them. It’s also a good conversation starter too, and it also just feels good working knowing that I’m supporting these two places monthly [The Gentle Barn and The Innocence Project].”
The Magic of Fantasy
“I think as far as my niche goes, I think something else that sets me apart – and is very central to my business – is wanting to focus on, or take inspiration from, fantasy books and movies. Like folklore and stuff like that, and trying to incorporate that into my work. I work with a lot of people who are really passionate about fantasy movies and films, and different stories. So I find it fun to try to incorporate the things that they like into the photography.
I take a lot of inspiration from Celtic folklore, especially images, right now. That’s kind of like it’s less specific but I’m really inspired by the scenery and colors of Ireland. And the history of it – the Celtic folklore stories. And, as for films or shows, I would say visually that I take a lot of inspiration from the show Outlander – I think it’s shot in a way that I really like to emulate with the colors and the composition. And the same with the more magical elements of The Lord of the Rings.”
Bringing Personality to Your Business
“I wanted to avoid the more generic personality things that people will put on their websites. The first time I made a website and started writing about myself, I wanted to be very approachable to everyone and be kind of generic in a way. I wanted to have details that wouldn’t make anyone not like me, if that makes sense.
So when I redid my website over the past two years, I worked with a copywriter and she was really helpful, but I leaned into mentioning things that not every person can relate to – but are true to me. And I’ve found that I’ve met with and worked with clients that then align more with what I like because I’ll mention kind of obscure things, but they’re pretty important in my life.”
The Joys of Work
“My favorite thing about work is meeting the people that I end up working with and getting to know them and getting to know their families. Just being able to support them through a process that – I mean quite a few people may do more than once – but for a lot of people, it’s just one time and they’ve never done it before. It comes with a lot of emotions and baggage and stuff like that, so I like to be a support person in that way.
I also like to be able to empower people when it comes to trying to encourage them to make their wedding or elopement or portrait session – make it whatever they want it to be. So that’s really rewarding.
And day-to-day, I really enjoy editing, especially when I feel like I’m doing something where I have a little bit of artistic freedom. I’m able to really give people what they want, or what they hope that they could get.”
An Evolving Process
“My services and process definitely evolved, especially with things like permitting and the legal checks that come with destination weddings and more adventurous elopements in national parks and things. Because a lot of people – I mean, most people – haven’t eloped to a national park before. So how would you know that you need a permit in order to take photos on a mountain or need to get permission?
My first one, I had to do serious research and I realized that I wanted that to be a part of what I do for my clients and not something they have to do. I want to provide that education and, if I’m the expert in our relationship, I want to provide all of that. So that definitely came from learning and working.”
“It’s helpful now that people can know what to expect through my website, and it’s a reminder of what to expect of myself.”
Growing a Business
“Over the years, my business has grown and as it’s grown, I’ve had to learn more about efficiency and making sure that I’m hitting deadlines since I have more clients. And I’ve been wanting to maintain the personalization, the one-to-one process. Even having, you know, 50 clients a year, or however many, I didn’t want to lose that personal feeling.
So that’s been a learning curve and there’s been a lot of things I’ve had to learn as I’ve grown. A lot of it has to do with marketing and my website and trying to find ways to be more efficient in that department, but also learning when to delegate – or when I’ve hit a roadblock and need a contractor or professional who can help me take the next step.
I’ve also had to adapt my contracts a bit too. Going through the pandemic, I learned a lot about how to deal with cancellations and rescheduling – that kind of stuff that didn’t come up a lot before COVID. That’s when I had to learn about adding it to my contract and setting expectations early too.”
Planning Ahead – Preparing for Busy Seasons
“For me, fall is my busiest season, and summer is wedding season in the industry.
It’s something else I’ve learned over the years – I’ve had to be strategic about scheduling because I’ve learned that one of the best things I can do for myself is give myself breaks so it’s not back-to-back every weekend. And there are quite a few back-to-back weekends, but I’m still trying to be intentional about how far I’m traveling and giving myself time to decompress and get editing done in between. So that helps me seasonally.
Something else that helps me deal with the rush is trying to get as much backend stuff done as possible during the off-season. So that’d be December, January, February, March – I try to set up marketing as much as I can. I try to get ahead of any website updates and changes and do that when I’m not my busiest because then that takes something off my plate for future me.”
Pursuing Passions and Future Plans
“I have the goal of doing more destination weddings. I have one booked for next year (2024) which will be fun, but I’d like to lean into making more social media posts and blog posts with education about destination weddings and putting out more content that’s helpful to people. Trying to be more of a resource in the future for people, even people who don’t end up booking with me.
I just think that there are a lot of misconceptions and legal gray areas with destination weddings and some things that some photographers and vendors may skip out on learning about that I think are really important, so I’d like to lean into that education piece more in the future of my business.
And same for my more personal passions, like environmentalism. I’d like to do more in the sphere of eco-conscious weddings and elopements. So I think overall doing more education and maybe one day trying to host some kind of workshop or something of the sort would be on my goals list. Overall, I think just booking more adventurous National Park elopements around the US, I would enjoy too… so those are my upcoming goals.”
Advice for New Photographers
“When I was first starting out, I was accepting any client that inquired without getting to know them and without doing my full due diligence of making sure they were a good fit. I haven’t had any crazy difficult people but I’ve had clients that I’ve learned maybe I could’ve been more diligent about making sure that we were what was best for each other. And especially in shorter sessions, like portrait sessions, there’s less of a relationship-building element as weddings.
So I find that the more I know a person and the more we’ve spent time talking and feeling comfortable, the better. With shorter sessions, I think it’s easier to end up just pushing through, despite whether you think it was a good fit or not. Usually, I handle it by doing the best work I can for them and make a note to myself that down the road, if they wanted to work together again, I would probably point them in the direction of someone who I think would be a better fit for them. And just keep mental notes about stuff like that so that I can serve people the best way.
As much as you can, don’t work for free either. Especially in creative fields – you know, art, writing, theater, music, photography, all of that – I think it can be easy to say you just want to do it. So you’ll do it for free – and there’s definitely space for collaborations and exchanges and donating your time. I still do that, but I think that a lot of people just starting out in the photography field will do any work for anyone for any price. And I think that just does a disservice to the people working and is a quick way to burn out in the field.
So I would say to remember to honor what you need, so then you can do the best work for the people you work with.
I still need to work on learning when to delegate and outsource and when to push through – time is money, as people say, so you may be able to do something yourself, but is it worth the 40 hours of time spent learning and rewriting and reworking things? So I kind of wish at the start that I had reached out for more support, especially in a lot of the administrative stuff.”
Thoughts on Squarespace and WordPress
“I wanted a place where people could go to basically get everything they needed about working with me. So I wanted a place to put all of the photos and a place to have an FAQ – like a home base where people could access everything they needed to book me.
I was on Squarespace for my first year, and I think Squarespace has a great user interface and it’s really user-friendly but I did feel limited in customization after a point. So it was helpful in getting my website up really quickly and it looking pretty clean and straightforward in a short period of time. It felt super easy to use, but after that first year, I realized I wanted to do a bit more with altering my code and doing more with Google Analytics and tracking things. And overall, it just felt like it wasn’t easy anymore for me to make design changes, so I ended up going to WordPress because I’d worked with it a little bit in the past and had heard really good things from other photographers working with WordPress and how they were getting good SEO results from it.
I would say my SEO performance has been probably one of the better things I’ve noticed since switching, and I also really like how customizable everything is in WordPress. And the amount of plugins that they have available is helpful as well.”
Revamping The Business
“I was noticing that I was getting less inquiries of the sort that I wanted to work with and that I wanted to shoot. So I was getting more cold leads – people just messaging every photographer that comes up on Google. People who hadn’t picked a date yet, or weren’t really sure… less inquiries that were real leads of people that wanted to see if we’d be a good fit. When those leads got less frequent, I decided to revamp my website so that it reflected more of me and what I wanted to shoot. That’s what kind of drove the changes.
This year, I did a full overhaul of my homepage and my pricing page – for that, I hired a copywriter that specializes in elopements because I found that I wanted to lean more toward elopements. She was really helpful in getting that big chunk of copy done, and then I updated the other pages on my website myself, having that as an inspiration or framework.”
Website Building Tips
“My advice to someone who has never touched a website would be to start with the most user-friendly and straightforward experience you can find. Because with web building, I think it gets overwhelming really quickly, and there’s so much you can do with it. For me, a big part of being able to get a website up quickly was finding that Squarespace was really simple for me to use and then just running with that because it allowed me to get my first draft up, so to speak. Even as I was working on customizing it and working on my business overall, I still had that framework up.
Whatever seems the most doable for you, and you can always change down the road.
My other advice would be to watch YouTube videos and to read blogs and to try and learn as much as you can about it and how it works, because it can be very complicated.”
- Squarespace Review: See if Squarespace is a good fit for you with our detailed review.
- WordPress Review: Read all about the pros and cons of WordPress.
- Squarespace vs WordPress: We put these two website builders head-to-head.
- Best Photography Website Builders: Check out our list of the best website builders for photography.
- How to Build a Website: Use our beginner-friendly guide to help you get started.
- How to Create a Photography Website: Build your dream photography website by following these steps.
The key takeaway we found from speaking with Hannah is how important it is to connect with your clients or customers, and why bringing your personal values and passions to your work can help to build those strong relationships.
Every business faces hurdles, but you should always be ready to adapt – Hannah did just that by revamping her website and by letting her processes evolve with experience.
Finish The Sentence
I am happiest when… I’m reading a book outside with a cup of coffee.
To me, success looks like… serving myself and my community in the best way that I can.
If I could go back in time, I would advise myself to… travel more.
Having a business website has… been a very rewarding time suck.
Being an entrepreneur means… connecting with and sharing my skills with people.
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