Welcome to The Leap! For this IG Live series, Wethos CEO Rachel Renock sits down with entrepreneurs who took the leap toward working independently or starting their own project.
In this episode, Rachel chatted with Alexus Roberts, Founder and Creative Director of TrellVision Studio. The full-service creative studio produces bold and eclectic product photography and content design for brands and product-based businesses who are looking to elevate their brand and connect with their audience with clarity and confidence. For eight years, Alexus has dedicated her work to helping small businesses gain revenue and stay culturally relevant.
Watch the full episode here or read the interview below to learn more about Alexus’ journey to founding her own studio, how she navigates client inquiries, and why it’s important to say no sometimes.
Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
RR: I’d love to start by hearing a little bit more from you directly about your journey to start your business and how that’s evolved over time.
AR: What I include in those eight years is a lot of side hustling — the grind of just trying to make ends meet and also doing it on the side of a nine to five. I’ve been a photographer and graphic designer since early on, starting in my teenage years, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it. I started off there and I don’t think I knew that I could do it full time.
I started to develop my craft, trying to figure out what really I wanted to hone in on. I said yes to everything, just to try to figure out what exactly I wanted to do and then the pandemic hit and me and the job I had didn’t see eye to eye on how COVID works, so I was like “I’m out of here.”
I ended up getting another job and I got fired from that job, so I said, “You know what? I think the universe is trying to tell me something. I think I need to go full time, and just give this my all.”
So I started to experiment a little bit more with product photography and other things in design, not just logos and branding. I also started to go into product design and presentation design, and that’s what I’m actually getting more into. I started to see a little bit more of what my capabilities were and what I could actually do and what I could be hired for.
RR: I noticed on your website you’ve got several different packages and pricing. And I really appreciate that level of transparency, both as somebody who hires freelancers and somebody who’s been a freelancer. Can you talk to us a little bit about how you thought about pricing, your offerings, the strategy behind that? How do you communicate the value to prospective clients while navigating that process?
AR: I took a course on how to run a product photography business (shout out to Darden Creative — she has a really great program called The Photo CEO). One of the things she touched on was finances. She said, think of it to the point of how do your expenses work? What does it take to run your business? What do you need to survive? I analyzed all of my expenses, looking at what it really costs to run my studio — whether that be subscriptions, photography equipment, or gear. I also looked at how much value I bring to the table; my skills and my expertise.
The way that I explain [my pricing] to clients is, how much is this going to cost you by *not* having really compelling visuals? Because you’re competing with a lot of people when it comes to all these digital platforms. If your visuals are not standing out, how much is that costing you every day? The value comes from there.
RR: How do you navigate the initial call with a client? What questions do you ask? How are you thinking about vetting them versus understanding what their challenges are?
AR: The first thing I did was stop calling my calls a “discovery” call. Because what are they discovering? Some people will just get on a call to pick my brain and that’s usually for free. Sometimes I don’t mind if it’s a person I really want to work with and they’re just trying to figure things out.
But how I vet now is, “Is your product done?” “Is it ready to be shipped out?” “Are you ready to go?” “Is there a budget that you have,” and “Do you have a marketing budget?” Sometimes, since I work with small businesses, a lot of them don’t know a lot of the verbiage or what goes into creating these things. So I do have to teach a little bit and if it’s becoming to the point where I’m teaching too much, it might be that they are not ready for me.
I also ask questions around how strong their brand is. Have they sold to anybody? Is this what you need right now? The whole point is solving a problem. And if I’m not solving a problem, you’re going to blame me and I’m going to blame myself too because I shouldn’t have taken on this project knowing that’s not what you needed.
RR: In terms of saying no, can you give us some language you use? Or is it like, “Not a good fit at this time?”
AR: The way that I approach it is that I have a network of creators that I keep in contact with, and if I’m not the person for them, somebody else may be. I’m going to refer you to someone else that may be more affordable or maybe they’re a better choice. Maybe we don’t work right now, but maybe later on when you’re ready, we can revisit this. Not everybody is ready to work with you, but they want to work with you which is admirable.
If there’s something that can help them, I’m going to direct you there because the whole point of you coming to me is so that you can solve a problem and I’m going to help you solve that problem. That’s really what I love to do — help people. In wanting to help someone, I’m going to figure out how I can help you, and then I’m going to move you along.
RR: I feel like saying no is one of those really intense growth inflection points that feels a little weird for a business owner, but it’s actually a really great thing to be experiencing because that’s how you know that you’re growing.
AR: I had to learn how to say no. It was to the point where I was taking on so many things that I was like, “This doesn’t even align with what I want to do or who I want to help.” Literally time just goes by and you’re like, “Why did I take this on?” It’s a skill to say no, it doesn’t come easy.
RR: This actually segues great into my next question, because I’ve talked to a lot of folks who are also at this sort of growth inflection point and getting lots of requests. How do you handle the growth? It sounds like referrals is a big place that you play in terms of referring work out if you’re at bandwidth. How do you handle requests that are either outside of what you typically focus on or if you’re just fully at bandwidth and cannot take any more work on?
AR: As far as how I manage requests outside of what I do, most times, like I said, I have a network of people that I can tap into to be like, “Hey, this person is probably the best for this right now.”
I honestly just got a good hold on managing how many clients I want to take each month. I know how it feels to take at least five, six, whatever clients in one month. Now I want to know what it’ll take to manage my business where I’m not feeling stressed or overworked and also what my anxiety can handle. I think not comparing yourself [is important] like, “Oh, this person is grinding and hustling and I got to do that too,” But if you’re at your capacity, then you’re at your capacity.
So maybe that means passing along to someone else so they can make a buck. Or maybe that means, “Hey, I have another spot open in the next two months. Does that work for you?” If not, then, “Hey, so sorry. Maybe we can get together at a different time.” But I’m going to set that capacity for myself because no one’s going to get me out of my element or get me out of that good state to actually do the work. You’ve got to respect that for yourself.
RR: How do you manage different aspects of your business? What’s your typical day to day look like?
AR: Every day looks different. I’m diagnosed ADHD, so if something isn’t exciting or flashing I will get bored quick.
The way I manage my business day to day is basically just breaking things in increments like okay, you have this due in two weeks. How do we get that done in two weeks? Let’s take five, maybe 10 to 30 minutes a day to work on this and figure out how I can get to the finish line with each task.
I have a board right here in my office where I’ll write down each goal that I want to complete for a quarter. So managing the day to day just looks like creating small goals for myself that are going to reach that bigger goal.
RR: There are a lot of folks thinking about taking the leap to freelance or maybe they’re even dabbling in it now. Any advice for those people who are going to take the leap?
AR: Take your time. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon. Save your money if you need to get to that point where you feel comfortable, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to take courses to become better at a skill that you already have. Don’t be afraid to learn more.
Also, show up and show out. Be on these platforms and show what you can do.