In this week’s episode, we speak with Jake Belvin who is a freelance photographer, videographer, and small business owner from Denver, Colorado. Jake specializes in travel, tourism, and documentary story-telling. He’s been shooting professionally since 2013. He talks about how he sees the world while traveling through his camera lens and gained success with photography and videography. We asked him how he started his journey as a boulder in Colorado and how his upbringing shaped him into what he is right now. He tells us how he started with photography as a hobby studying at the University at first then turns into shooting photography professionally while gaining experience and support working with people of the same hobby. He answers questions on how networking helped him to have a better stance as a professional photographer.
Jake’s website: https://www.jakebelvin.com/
Katie Brinkley 0:02
Hey there. This is Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado based small business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode. Welcome back to the podcast. My guest this week is Jake Belvin. Jake is a freelance photographer, videographer and small business owner based right here in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in travel, tourism and documentary storytelling. In 2003. He graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder before serving as an officer in the US Navy and went on to study photography at the Art Institute in Denver. He’s been shooting professionally since 2013. Jake, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Jake Belvin 0:51
No problem. Thank you.
Katie Brinkley 0:52
So Jake, let’s start back at the beginning. Tell us where you grew up and what life was like growing up?
Jake Belvin 0:57
I grew up in Maryland, right on the coast near Annapolis. I don’t know pretty normal life, I guess just was a kid went to school. Late in the woods. Yeah.
Katie Brinkley 1:09
Awesome. So you did you come out here to CU Boulder? And that’s kind of what brought you out to Colorado?
Jake Belvin 1:15
Yeah, and I sort of was gone for a few years, but then I’ve pretty much been
Katie Brinkley 1:20
there ever since. Awesome. So how do you think that your upbringing impacted your eventual career and professional journey?
Jake Belvin 1:25
I mean, I do something I like. And my parents were always very supportive of me doing whatever I wanted to, like, they wanted me to do all the things you’re supposed to like the college, you know, which is part of the reason I did I mean, maybe I would have otherwise. But you know, I did some photography projects, courses when I was a little kid, and kind of just like, did, you know a ton of different activities all the time. But, you know, that’s what I’ve always come back to. And I always made, you know, video projects with kids in school, you know, making little films on a VHS camcorder and editing them on the computer screen and a computer and graphics and stuff. So I mean, I’ve done that for a long time, and, you know, sort of got away from it for a bit, you know, a school and everything. But, you know, it’s always something I’ve liked. And you know, it’s was always supported or was never not supported. So I mean, you know, I’m sure that had an influence.
Katie Brinkley 2:21
So can you take us through your career journey and where you started out and the different professional stops that you’ve taken along the way?
Jake Belvin 2:27
Yeah, I started to kind of before I started to go into photography, I was between jobs, and wasn’t sure what I was going to do. So I was traveling a bunch and just kind of, you know, doing random work in Boulder for people I knew and things like that, you know, I was taking a lot of photos while I was traveling. So I decided maybe I would try that out for a few years and see it, you know, could be a job, which I didn’t really think would work out. So well. I mean, it could but you know, it’s not common that someone can do that, you know, full time or whatever. It’s kind of like kind of anything. And then I also debated going to culinary school because I like to cook too. But it’s kind of one of those things where like, if that becomes your job, you might hate it, and not ever want to do it unless you’re working. So it didn’t do that. But I looked at schools and ended up going in Denver, instead of moving somewhere else for that the school had a good faculty that was like working and you know, not just teaching and all those things. So I kind of made the decision after all based on that went to school, did an internship and school did a pretty good with a previous degree, the school was pretty sorry, it says my internet connection is unstable. But he was saying the school has a pretty rigid curriculum. Like it’s hard to change it. But already having that was a bachelor’s program already having a bachelor’s I kind of had most of my requirements done. So I was able to take a lot of you know, upper level or whatever courses, photography specific courses, which was nice, definitely helped with, you know, learning more, but more of that was about different classes that involve like photography projects, where you go shoot for a different client or something. And that being able to do that real life working stuff was helpful to you know, sort of let me know how to do it or how it was done in the real world before I finished so then when I finished I was, you know, just shooting a lot of different random stuff, shooting weddings, shooting, you know, portrait stuff for clients and everything. And I just reached out to a lot of people who did sort of what I wanted to do, which was, you know, travel and tourism related stuff. And they, you know, I got some work from some of them and I’ve been continued to shoot for some of them for a while or that recommendation for them for other people. And then I guess I mean, pretty much that’s it. It’s not, you know, that big of a story. The other big thing I’d say though, is when I was in school, I did you know, some of those Friday flexibility to kind of have a course load that I wanted. But I also took some time off, at least twice was in school for about six months. And I went, you know, and traveled for most of that time. And then while I was traveling, I shot photo projects that I either had set up beforehand, and rare case are just kind of found as I went, and you know, it was not really a job. So I wasn’t working for, you know, a job, you had a career or whatever. So I wasn’t working for free, but I would trade for, you know, room and board, and different things like that, while I was traveling, and that, you know, more than paid for itself in my situation. So that was nice, too. But awesome. Yeah. That’s, that’s about it.
Katie Brinkley 5:44
So you brought up that you kind of Ray able to reach out to other travel photographers and be like, Hey, this is this is what I want to do, did you find that you were able to get a lot of support from other people in the industry?
Jake Belvin 5:57
Well, I didn’t necessarily reach out to other photographers, I’ve found generally there is a lot of support, like on jobs that I’ve shot with other people that are there for, you know, maybe for a different client or something on the same project. But you know, sometimes the same, and people are generally very supportive, who I reached out to was basically people, you know, like production companies making films, basically people that would need to hire me. So I was like, Hey, here’s my stuff, here’s what I do, I do similar things, if you need anybody to edit, to shoot or anything, and just try to kind of like, get in the door. That way, I did an internship with one company that was kind of just like an editing internship for how our price six months or something, you know, off and on without too heavy of a workload. And then after that, you know, I’ve been doing stuff for that company ever since. So I think the biggest thing there is just meeting people networking, and, you know, as much as they always say, networking, but I mean, like, if you know people and meet people and you know, get along with them, then that seems to work out well. And then the more people you know, when you talk to somebody else at a trade show or something, they can be like, Oh, do you know, so? And so you’re from Denver? And if you do, it helps the conversation?
Katie Brinkley 7:02
Absolutely. And I think that a lot of businesses, networking is so important, how is networking really helped you and your business succeed?
Jake Belvin 7:13
I mean, just finding funding more work, being part of the networking, I think that’s important. And part of the reason I chose the school that I did, just with the faculty that you know, was experienced, and also doing real time, you know, shooting for Apple and stuff like that, they weren’t just people I can had, could teach something, which is pretty much anybody. So that, you know, sort of pre production network, as far as like, if some job came up, that was big, and I was gonna apply for it, I could just reach out to somebody I knew through that, you know, alternative traffic instructor and say, Hey, this is what I’m thinking, this is what I’m gonna do, you know, let me know what you think. And then, you know, at some point, it becomes, at some point, it’s not knowing anything, and having to ask questions and everything. And then, you know, it kind of reaches a point where you know, how you would do it, and you’re kind of just bouncing ideas off other people, maybe they get something out of it, maybe you get something out of it, but that exchange and kind of different ideas, because you always forget things or miss something or say like, oh, that’s a really good point, you know,
Katie Brinkley 8:10
now, as a photographer, and you know, being in the military, what do you think you learned a lot of the business tips and tricks that kind of helped you create a successful business? You know, the freelance journey is always up and down. How is any of your schooling? Or did you have a mentor that really kind of helped you helped guide the way for you and navigating your small business path.
Jake Belvin 8:32
I pretty much hate business a lot. I switched my I majored in molecular biology at CU, because I enjoyed it in high school. And I think it’s neat. And I still do, but didn’t really plan to do anything with it, just because that’s like big pharma companies and all this stuff. And like really, just because you’re stuck in a lab under fluorescent lights all the time. And when you leave your project for a couple of days, and someone else takes care of it, inevitably, everything dies, you have to restart. So it’s just not kind of stuck to, you know, the lab or a desk or whatever, which is not what I wanted, and didn’t expect to be able to do something else. Really. I switched the business for a semester in college. I was like, Oh, this is practical. I can use the future though. So my MBAs and stuff and you know, this would be back around a half regardless of what I invest in understanding the economy and stuff. And I had some great instructors that semester that I was really impressed by, I went to probably the first class of every class, and I was like, wow, this guy really knows his stuff. And he’s charismatic, and he’s really into econ economics, or, you know, whatever other aspect and then I just didn’t like it at all, regardless of the instructors. So I sort of didn’t go to class went into the testament, it was all you know, one on one entry level stuff. So it wasn’t hard. But I finished that semester with a lot of free time and switch back to biology afterwards. So I don’t really like business. I mean, that being said, I do like I I tried for the longest time to get somebody to My taxes and I had a few different accountants and stuff. And it’s not really worked out that well, because it wasn’t worth the money I was paying them. And I talked to some tax accountants to try and get it figured out. And they were like, show me what you got. And I showed them and they were like, this is pretty good, you probably shouldn’t pay us. I was like, Alright, fine. So then like with TurboTax. And like, I mean, one recommendation I have for freelancer and a small business owner, that’s, you know, a very small business. Sell for just a few people is QuickBooks self employed, like, which is from the TurboTax people, it’s just an app. And you can track mileage and receipts and expenses. I mean, it’s Yeah, I mean, it’s great, makes things so much easier. So I don’t usually like to use things like that, because there’s always other ways to do it. But that’s kind of a good product and getting better. So just, you know, through that, and then that links everything. And of course, they’re trying to like keep you in a little fold of TurboTax. And everything gets you can not use someone else use their product, but good decent job at it. And I mean, you know, I think I have enough of an understanding if I kind of keep on top of things and follow it, which I don’t like. But it’s also nice to know why things are happening like they are with your money, and what you can do to change them sort of in real time. So to that extent, I care about it, because it kind of matters for like, Okay, what do I need to do to get more money basically, and like more jobs that I want more clients, you know, that I like to work with do good projects,
Katie Brinkley 11:23
and saying that that brings up my next question here. What do you do? What for marketing for your business? How are you finding new clients and customers these days?
Jake Belvin 11:34
Well, except for it’s mostly word of mouth stuff. And then there are several people that I work with, that I have worked with for a long time. So maybe I’ll shoot for them all the time, or just sometimes. And some of that actually, too, is other photographers that I’ve done some work for, just collaborated with. And now reach out to me and say, this way, Hey, are you in town? I have this project. This weekend. I have this project in two months, but it’s going somewhere in Colorado, somewhere in the west or something, and I need somebody else to come on the property, you know, come shoot with me. So that kind of just those connections makes that work out. And if I had available for that, that’s good. You know, and it’s a good, short little good job. And then yeah, I mean, I guess another avenue, I’ve gone down as even recently, sort of just pre COVID is just looking on job sites, as I’ll be there.
Katie Brinkley 12:25
Oh, there we go. All right. Yeah, I, I lost you there for a little bit.
Jake Belvin 12:31
Okay. Yeah, sorry. My internet just reconnected. I didn’t realize it. It just connected
Katie Brinkley 12:36
it. So you said you find it go on to a different a lot of job sites to try and find different different clients. Yeah.
Jake Belvin 12:42
Yeah. So much. Yeah. And what happens in the job sites is you’ll get a lot of stuff that’s $10 an hour for newborn photography and stuff and things that you know, aren’t really all that appealing or worth the time. But you will also get things that actually look pretty good, pretty cool, you know, and you can look up the companies, you don’t have to actually subscribe to the job sites or anything. I mean, I should fell on my profiles there and do more like that, which I really do need to do more of. But you know, a lot of times if you see, or when I’ve seen something that I felt like interesting, you know, video production and photography shoots, I just go look up the company, and then contact them and say, Hey, I heard you were hiring crude. You were looking for somebody, here’s my website, here’s my portfolio, can send your resume if you want. But this is what I do. This is what I’m interested in. Let me know if you have anything. And then they usually get back and say, oh, yeah, hey, that looks great. Let’s sit down. And they usually have a meeting over coffee or something. And just kind of like they ask the same stuff is this is questions about you questions, you know, how you work and stuff and try and like, you know, fill you out through an interview. And then you know, January, that turns into shooting a project, which is an individual contract, but at that point, you still made the contract, or it might be something more on one. And then if you do a job for them, and they you know, it’s always good when you do a job for someone, and you fairly obviously do it better than people they’ve worked with in the past, because they’re like, oh, okay, we need to do more things. And I have some ideas I want to bounce off you and how would you do this? What do you think about this? So I mean, I guess just looking for stuff and getting out there. I mean, there’s one thing I haven’t done there also, you know, like marketing companies that I guess aren’t necessarily strict marketing companies, but they’re, you know, marketing companies for photographers. So they’ll find jobs for you or look for basically, they’ll send you things you can apply for kind of, and I don’t necessarily know, it seems like a good idea. And I don’t necessarily know how those type of companies work and what the costs are and everything, but that’s the kind of thing that like, especially having some more free time now it’s like I need to spend a little more time and you need to, like dedicate more to my marketing and advertising budget and get more work out of it than the little that I do now. And that, you know, is one of those business things I hate like oh, let’s Let’s actually use that and spend some money to find, yeah, new clients basically, by paying people to do that as a job.
Katie Brinkley 14:56
So talk to us a little bit about your website and your social media, how are you utilizing knows to act as a, you know, an online resume for your company and your services.
Jake Belvin 15:08
I, I’m not a big fan of social media, I have all the pages. And you know, I keep in touch with people there, and I’ll send people stuff and everything. And you know, I’m not on there all the time looking through stuff, but you know, I’ll use them sometimes. And then website for, you know, I guess any Freelancer that does something you can look at is a good source, because people can actually just go there and look at it kind of like the same thing as Instagram, you can have stuff on Instagram and use that as your website or portfolio because all it really is they’re looking at it, in my experience and saying, like, hey, like your stuff, let’s talk, you know, it’s not, they’re not interacting. I mean, I’ve done some client interaction stuff on the website, and people can log in and everything. But I do that so infrequently. Because I’m not even shooting something directly for a single person or for, you know, organization that needs it delivered the it’s like, I guess the family portrait kind of style stuff is the thing where they want to log in, and they want to look at their image. Can you see me?
Katie Brinkley 16:03
Oh, there we go. There you are.
Jake Belvin 16:06
Cut off again. Um,
Katie Brinkley 16:09
go ahead and finish. Sorry.
Jake Belvin 16:11
Yeah, basically, just, you know, it’s good to have, you know, I guess, a good looking website, whenever you look at it, or think about updating it, you can always do something better, and something you want to do. And I’ve even looked at it last week, and been like, oh, I should make this this, this change. But, you know, just having portfolio available online, and, you know, an easy way for people to get in touch with some of those people see your website and get in touch with that, and not be spam. But you know, I think I just like to have it simple and clean, and way people can, you know, see what you’re doing. And then, like I said, sort of just as like a stepping point for an actual conversation, whether it’s, you know, on Skype or zoom or the phone, you know, what,
Katie Brinkley 16:52
what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? And how has it impacted your business?
Jake Belvin 16:58
That’s a good question. It’s probably don’t work for free.
Katie Brinkley 17:01
Absolutely. If you always need to charge what you’re worth. Now, we’ve finished up is, is there anything that I didn’t ask you about during today’s discussion that you think is important to share?
Jake Belvin 17:12
No, I think your your questions are pretty good. important in terms of what’s like what kind of another way your audience for this is like what you’re kind of looking at on the marketing small business side or whatever, what kind of direction in trying to take this?
Katie Brinkley 17:24
Oh, yeah, just, you know, if there’s anything that, you know, someone said to you along the way, you know, don’t ever work for free, and, you know, any other types of important things that you learned, you know, like I said, you business, business school wasn’t your thing, but you realize, now you need to use business for a variety of aspects for for your job. And, you know, networking is super important. I mean, you hit on a lot of important parts during today’s episode. So I mean, if there’s any other thing, we’re like, oh, you know, what, I need to make sure I say what my professor talked me about and in college, or I’m one of my
Jake Belvin 17:59
good. Yeah, I mean, I would just say, one thing, I thought of his extension of the don’t work for free thing, but it’s more, you know, as far as specifics of how to do that is just, you know, don’t, part of being I guess, don’t work for free. And from the same person is, you know, they’ll basically give away anything for free, which is sort of, you know, photography for freelancing, but I mean, this business negotiation style stuff, or whatever, like, which is, I guess what you’re doing when you’re, you know, negotiating a contract is, you know, if they’re like, Oh, can you also do this, can you throw in this too, while you’re there? Can you do this you need to be like, you easily can most of the time, but, you know, give, have it be beneficial for you to say, Yeah, I could do that. But we’re going to adjust this or like, I can do that, but it’s going to take this much time or we’re going to take off this much time kind of thing. So you know, negotiation style there. And I mean, besides that, I mean, maybe just you know, people talking about you know, working for clients that you want to work for, you know, and basically not doing which is you know, tough cuz you got to make money but you know, it’s the kind of thing too, I mean, I have worked for people that I don’t really enjoy working for them I don’t want to do that work or I don’t like the environment you know, it’s didn’t prevent me working for them because I didn’t know or maybe had a suspicion but you know, definitely good to kind of cut those ties appropriately and you know, as nicely as you can, if possible, and not just get stuck and doing that and I mean, I guess along those lines, too, is just kind of keeping keeping your time I don’t know available or keeping your options open as far as which isn’t really the right way to say it, but maybe more so not being tied to a specific client or not letting someone monopolize your time and say, Hey, we’re going to do this and you know, having a big because you mean if you’re working freelance you need to be making enough that you can work freelance, you know, because you’re not doing At nine to five every day at a desk and getting benefits and getting, you know, you’re paying self employment tax. Yeah. So you know, you need to have basically to pay a lot more for a shorter amount of work. So somebody is trying to monopolize your time and not pay that much, then other jobs come up and can’t take them where you don’t have time to find other jobs. That sort of just means you’re working a nine to five and you’re paying taxes. Yep. So
Katie Brinkley 20:26
no, absolutely. And I think that a lot of small businesses and freelancers both, it’s so hard to say no to money, but finding the right client that fits you and your you know, business practice is part of the whole reason why you started your own business and why you freelance. So I think that that’s a very important thing to bring up. Well, Jake, this has been such a great conversation. Where can we find out more about you and your business online?
Jake Belvin 20:49
At Jake Belvin. com. Great, awesome. Well,
Katie Brinkley 20:52
thank you again, so much for coming on the show today.
Jake Belvin 20:55
All right, great talking with you. Thanks.
Katie Brinkley 20:57
And if you’re ready to take your social media to the next level for your small business, head over to my website and check out my free video training the three biggest mistakes small businesses make with social media and how to avoid them. Discover how to make your social media marketing stand out from the crowd online. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Rocky Mountain marketing. As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at www.nextstepsocialcommunications.com or connect with me on LinkedIn. Just look for Katie Brinkley. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights.