Natalia Robert is a commercial photographer in Southern California and the founder of The Grove Studio, with the mission to increase the representation of women in architectural and interior photography through education and community support.
The Grove Studio now has a growing community of hundreds of female photographers around the world, as well as a large library of educational content and digital courses.
This is Natalia’s story of how she found her business soulmates and the value of finding community support for your brand.
How it all started
About four years into my business as a photographer, I decided to specialise in architectural photography. My background as an architectural designer made it an easy decision, but suddenly I found myself in a niche that felt very… lonely. With a lack of online resources and few local photographers willing to open up to a woman coming into their very male-dominated space, I went on a search for MY community. Surely, there had to be other women photographing spaces like I was, right?!
Fast forward five years and this search for a community of women who photograph spaces have turned into a significant part of my life. I now lead a Facebook community of nearly 600 female photographers. I have an online brand that offers learning opportunities to help uplift other women, and I have spoken at conferences about the role of women in my field. Plus, I have become the go-to person for conversations about female architectural photographers. At any moment, I can hop into Facebook and reach out for community support, advice, or answers to a question and know that I will find positivity and knowledge.
Finding my community has also shaped my business for the better!
Before finding my people, I was lurking in intimidating online groups, hoping someone would ask a question that I also had. My biggest resources were Google and YouTube. Don’t get me wrong; both those sites are incredible resources! When you’re looking for something very niche, though, and wanting to ask specific questions or get friendly feedback, Google and YouTube just don’t cut it.
Learning from your peers
Now, I’ve learned about how others do business. This helped me adjust my pricing, realise parts of the workflow that were missing or inadequate, realise that there were some things I was already doing well, and feel more confident in the decisions I made. I can change how I do business and know exactly why I’m changing things and what I hope to accomplish out of this change. The sense of control and confidence feels amazing.
Most importantly, though, I no longer feel alone.
The sense of being surrounded and supported by a community that wants to see me succeed is the most significant factor in my business’ success. My community of professional women has given me shoulders to cry on, listening ears when I’m frustrated by clients, and excellent advice when feeling lost. In other words, they have been the foundation of my business that I never realised I was missing.
How to find your community support
Finding others who relate can also feel impossible if you’re feeling a bit isolated in your current path. Trust me, though, that there ARE other people out there who are in your line of work and relate to your feelings! It’s just a matter of finding a way to connect with those kindred spirits. So how do you do this? Here are a few steps you can take to find those business soul mates:
Start with a social media search
It may sound simple, but often we overlook using social media to find non-clients to connect with.
Facebook is fantastic with groups, so search for a topic related to what you do. You may even find a local group that lets you find your community to meet with in person!
On Instagram, don’t be afraid to follow a few inspirational colleagues in your field and reach out to them from time to time. Replying to their stories is often a great way to get a reply and strike up a conversation. These one-on-one connections can be incredible resources. Once you’ve exchanged a few messages, you can even ask them if they know of online groups for your field.
If your business is more present on LinkedIn, there are groups there, too! Search within your field and start engaging. If you find someone who feels like they’re on a similar path and level as you, don’t be afraid to message them or ask to connect. As always, be genuine in your interactions, and you’ll most likely get honest responses.
Seek out in-person groups locally
This may take a little more effort, but it can be worth the trouble once you find the group that fits you perfectly! Once again, turn to online searches, but this time look for local events for your field. A great place to start is by seeking out professional organisations for your field.
Do you sell plants? Look for horticulture clubs or botanical garden events. Are you an interior designer or stylist? Look for architectural, interior design, or staging organisations. All professional organisations will have events that they host from time to time, whether they are still virtual or in-person.
These events will put dozens of people in your profession right in front of you. Approach them as if you’re looking to find your new Biz BFF.
Create your community
If you’re just not finding a group or those special individuals who are the right fit, then you can create a community of your own! Often, these moments happen because there’s a gap in what’s available, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to fill that gap.
This option is not for the faint of heart but can be incredibly rewarding!
Not sure how to start?
Find an organisation for your field, and ask if you can host an event geared towards a part of their audience. For example, you may approach an interior design organisation and ask if you can lead a subgroup for Black Male Interior Designers in your area.
Form an online community
If you’re not feeling so bold as to host an in-person group, maybe you start online! You can approach a local organisation and request to host virtual events, or you can turn to social media and create a group for your specific search.
For virtual events hosted by a local organisation, you get the benefit of the information for the event going out to all of their members, helping to ensure that people will hear about it.
Creating a group on a social media platform is more accessible but may require a little more work from you to get the word out. Once you’ve created the group, you can ask a few trusted friends to join as early supporters (nobody likes to be in a new group by themselves!).
Then it’s time to share the group! Let local organisations know about your group, and post about it on your social media accounts. It’s a great idea to strategically use hashtags to target the specific people that fit your group needs and let everyone you talk to know about this great new group you’re putting together!
Whatever path you take to finding your community, give it time. Trust that the right people will come to you once you put your efforts into the world, and keep searching until they find you. Once you do find each other, it will feel worth the wait.
You can find out more about Natalia Robert and how to build your own community support group on her website here.
Looking for more help with growing your community? Check out Creative Impact’s learning hub where you can access workshops, interviews and panel conversations and learn the most up-to-date skills from fellow experts making an impact online.
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Natalia Robert is a commercial photographer in Southern California and the founder of The Grove Studio. As a commercial photographer, Natalia’s work focuses on interiors and architecture. A previous career as an architectural designer, as well as extensive travels, have shaped Natalia's love for design and exploration. In 2019, Natalia founded The Grove Studio with the mission to increase representation of women in architectural and interior photography through education and community support. The Grove Studio now has a growing community of hundreds of female photographers around the world, as well as a large library of educational content and digital courses.