Nearly 10 years ago my best friend and I inadvertently started a company together that would later be known as Evolve Workshops, the company and community for creatives that I still run today. However, about four years ago I parted ways with my best friend as my partner in the project, and because we kept the details of the separation private there has been speculation and rumors as to the reason why…but no more. Time to discuss.
Today on RAW WITH THE LANDLOCKED MERMAID I’m having my best friend Kortni Ellett on the podcast to chat about how this business was built, how and why we parted ways to find our own paths, and what a business divorce really looks like. We also share some pretty funny never told before stories about the number of times I’ve had to talk my way out of arrests or large fines, and how after all of that we are closer friends than ever.
Trying to Find Community in a Lonely Industry
When I first transitioned into photography it was a lonely world. I invited many photographers individually to shoot with me, to connect, to create and get to know each other. Kortni was one of the first. As they say, one time was all it took.
We quickly started planning styled shoots in my studio and inviting other photographers in the area, splitting the profits. It was an unintentional partnership that we called “Southeast Idaho Meetups” (a name we cringe about now), and we would hold content shoots every month or so to connect. This led to me teaching a lot of the photographers in our area how to grow their businesses including Kortni. Eventually I convinced Kortni to start teaching too, and as we served and scaled, Evolve was born.
Let’s be honest, we didn’t know how to run events. In this episode, we share a lot of funny, never before told stories of all the drama and near arrests that happened in forming this company. We also faced setbacks from other people in the industry who seemingly tried to sabotage what we were trying to create. Slowly, the vision for Evolve came together to create connection, community, and vulnerability in this otherwise isolating and competitive industry.
What it’s Like to Run a Business With Your Best Friend
When we look back on it now we were trying to get attendees to open up and be vulnerable, but really didn’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable with them. Any hiccup that happened during events (and believe me, there were a lot of them) we hid details from attendees, so afraid to leave the persona of perfection and professionalism behind.
“And it wasn’t until just this year, Kortni and I had a conversation about how much that hindered us in our growth within the community, because people were not able to relate to us, because we were so hell-bent on maintaining this persona of I’m the professional, you paid me to attend this retreat so I better know what I’m doing here.” – Jamie
We talk about how as women in our industry, it felt even harder to drop this persona because we as women innately feel like we have to prove themselves.
Despite this, we kept pushing further and further, mostly driven by me as the over-achiever and risk taker with Kortni following my lead and supporting me however she could to execute the vision I had. Our events eventually went international, then turned into conferences. Meanwhile we were burning the candle at both ends, leaving our kids/families at home to host 8-10 events per year, and really not able to show up as our true selves within our business.
Reaching a Breaking Point
On our European tour, Kortni reached a breaking point. She had a lot going on back at home with her marriage and kids and she felt pulled in so many directions it all came to a head. In fact, it all came crashing down in Iceland, when she had a panic attack during the middle of the night.
From Iceland we went straight onto Greece, trying to lead this event for attendees while Kortni was going through one of the biggest emotional shifts of her life. After coming home, we eventually sat down and came to an understanding about how much the stress of Evolve was weighing on Kortni, and how it had become my vision, not hers any longer. Kortni finally found her voice: Evolve was not her dream, it was mine.
“That was my point where I needed to kind of look in the mirror and realize what do I want for myself? Not what society wants or the photography community. The expectation that if you’re successful, you should be doing coaching and you should be doing this and you should be doing that. I needed to take a step back from everything and realize, well define what my success was, not what everybody else wanted me to be.” – Kortni
What a Business Divorce Looks Like
This became a defining moment in our friendship and business partnership,and really felt like a divorce of sorts. So much of our relationship had been built around building this dream together, we’d spent all our hours together talking about work, that we had to redefine our friendship outside of what we accomplished together.
We both had to own who we were individually, and support that change together. I realized I had this irrational insecurity of doing things by myself and was afraid of failing alone. But it was a big shift and awareness for me to realize that I had to be able to do things independently and define my own success.
Along the way, we learned how to become true supporters of each other and show up for each other in a much healthier way than ever before.
After walking away from Evolve, Kortni went through a personal transformation. She became more secure in herself as a person. She went to therapy to work through things as a mom, a wife, and just become more vulnerable and confident in herself.
Combatting Toxicity in the Photography Industry
We also end up talking about the toxicity that exists within the photography community. The need to be better and talk badly about others is rampant in the community, leading to a scarcity mentality.
If we can give more grace and support to our community and lift each other up, it will ultimately lead to more work and success for everyone involved. It’s important to remember that everyone is struggling in some form, no matter how long they have been in business. You don’t need to put other people down in order to make yourself look better. So here’s our ask for you today: Go find five people to give genuine compliments to. That’s how we change the industry together!