On Starting A Personal Branding Photography Business
I’m Sandy Grigsby, a self-image and personal brand expert, personal branding photographer, TEDx speaker, and founder of Briofive, a luxe personal branding studio.
I help people transform the way they see themselves while creating a compelling visual narrative to enable them to show off their personality, with authenticity, radiance, and confidence. I began my business as a web design company working with entrepreneurs, and artists. and small businesses. I added personal branding photography to my business to help establish greater visual credibility for my clients. After that, I realized my clients required more than a great photo of themselves, so I evolved into personal branding to give them consistency in their message and a powerful first impression.
I now work one-on-one with high-profile individuals ranging from industry experts and executives to influencers and celebrities. Overall, I help my clients understand the importance of how people see them so they can positively, and proactively guide that perception. I’ve also created interactive online programs designed to build self-confidence from the ground up, helping people become more successful in their careers, relationships, and life.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
It all started when I was a kid. I was always interested in fine arts and wanted to be a Disney artist, but my totalitarian father had other plans in mind. He was very particular and wanted me to study international relations so I could become a foreign correspondent. In a way, his expectations drove me to become a perfectionist — and by the age of 17, I won an all-expense-paid scholarship to Germany and escaped my controlling father for an entire year. I briefly returned to the States to attend a California university before moving to Argentina to study radio and television broadcasting. When I eventually returned to the U.S., I decided to pursue my childhood passion, so I enrolled in a private university that specialized in fine arts and business, let’s just say my dad assumed that I was studying business!
I paid my way through college with a mix of commercial print modeling jobs, acting gigs, and trade show bookings, and graduated with a degree in visual communications. Fresh out of university, I interned for a few photographers who worked with celebrities, famous athletes, and big brands. Unfortunately, I ended up quitting after dealing with repeated sexual harassment. While those experiences gave me firsthand experience in retouching photographs, designing collateral, and building websites for public figures and major brands, they also showed me that I didn’t want to work for anyone other than myself. That’s where the initial inspiration for my own business, Briofive, sprang from.
I began doing pro bono sessions for women who couldn’t afford my rates as my give back to the community. This boosted my business even more because not only did I have more incredible before and after images to market with, but I felt invigorated and had a greater
passion for my work because I was able to transform the way someone saw themselves, to help them excel in their lives.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
It was 2005 when I decided to register Briofive as a business. I wanted a unique name and a reminder of when I began, so I selected “Brio” because it was different, and “Five” for the year. At the time I thought brio meant fire and energy, but later I discovered it meant with confidence — which ironically, perfectly aligned with what my business embodies today!
Once I claimed the name, domain names, and any other assets needed to have an official business, I began creating the logo and my portfolio website. Having worked as a graphic designer for years, I already had a portfolio of work that was strong enough to attract clients. I started by asking friends and family if they knew anyone who needed graphic design work or websites.
Slowly I started getting leads and I designed websites and collateral materials for small businesses and entrepreneurs. As my client’s requirements grew, I expanded my skill and learned how to do commercial product photography, eventually moving over to portrait photography and personal branding photography. Before I knew it my business had grown enough for me to onboard a team of makeup artists, graphic designers, developers, stylists, assistants, and copywriters. By 2016 I had entirely phased out web design and I focused exclusively on personal branding photography.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was unable to meet with my clients in person, as the majority flew in from around the world to work with me. That’s when I decided to create online programs to help guide people through my proven step-by-step process in a remote setting. Today, everything I teach is available on my website, from how to build one’s confidence, to how to look fabulous in photos, to how to create a personal brand that gets you noticed, chosen, and paid.
My first interactive program, Confidence Jam, really helps people who struggle with self-esteem and confidence issues – challenges that I’ve also struggled with. Confidence Jam bloomed into Reveal You, an interactive program that combines online video content with group coaching.
From there, we developed Personal Brand Focus, a one-on-one personal branding program that goes more in-depth, helping credible professionals leave a five-star impression on their brand. All of these programs and resources have helped my clients fully own their confidence, define how they want to show up in the world, and reveal how they can best represent themselves visually, online, and in person.
Describe the process of launching the business.
At the start, I was a freelancer who focused on graphic/web design and worked mostly with entrepreneurs and small business owners (chiropractors, jewelry store owners, designers, photographers, etc.) who were ready to take their businesses to the next level by establishing a polished presence online. After consulting with them, I designed websites that showcased the true value of their products and services.
However, during this process, I realized that you can’t just market yourself through nice graphics alone. You must also have compelling photographs to augment your brand and build a connection with your audience. People want to know who the owners and visionaries are behind
the brand. My experience as a model taught me that quality photographs and portraits could do more than just reveal what you looked like — they could help people gauge your personality, feel connected to you, and build trust. I knew that the intangible qualities that make each of my clients and their businesses distinctive, needed to be transmitted through their photos, which is how I started coaching them on posing, movement, and exhibiting confidence in front of the camera.
As time passed, I began doing pro bono sessions for women who couldn’t afford my rates as my give back to the community. This boosted my business even more because not only did I have more incredible before and after images to market with, but I felt invigorated and had a greater
passion for my work because I was able to transform the way someone saw themselves, to help them excel in their lives.
As more and more people came to me for photos I realized that the majority of them all had something in common, a deeper problem that couldn’t be addressed by simply taking better photos. That common problem was rooted in confidence or lack thereof. Their confidence issues went beyond how they looked, it was deeply seated in their subconscious no matter the success level. That’s when I pivoted and began addressing confidence itself as the foundation for all personal branding.
Thus began the third iteration of my business, where I now address the insecurities and hangups that can bottleneck many of my clients from letting their best selves shine through their offerings. I dig into their history and spend time understanding what they’re good at —which many people don’t know or can’t vocalize when asked. Thus, my work has involved asking the right questions, eliciting meaningful and marketable responses, and discovering what those hidden qualities and talents are.
Once we build that foundation, everything flows from there. I show my clients how to pose for photos with that newfound confidence, how to describe themselves and what they do, and how to communicate with confidence and presence. The results are truly remarkable. The personal brands of my clients radiate power, beauty, and authority and tell a powerful story that influences the perception of others in the right way. It’s been so rewarding for me to see this process work for people from all over the world, including Dubai, South Africa, and Australia.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Much of my early business came from word-of-mouth referrals. I would attract customers by asking friends and family, connecting with people at events, or mentioning my business to those I worked with in the modeling industry. As Briofive started to grow, I realized that I could build my client list more organically and efficiently by partnering with companies and other professionals.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that confidence comes with experience, not excuses. The ability to be confident did not come naturally to me — it was something I had to work at. The influencers you see owning social media didn’t do so by accident, they’ve been working at it non-stop.
I later joined communities like Tony Robbins Platinum Partners, which connected me with several new clients, who also happened to become my close friends. I also earned a lot of new business by ensuring I had excellent SEO on my website. I was writing/publishing articles, sharing pictures, and most importantly, leveraging strategic image tags — which would populate Google searches and drive new clients my way. I never did any marketing or ads, especially in the early days.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
While I still get clients through word of mouth, I also remain active within several organizations, speak onstage at events, and network with strategic groups. I also continue to use social media and influencer partnerships to offer my online and virtual programs: Confidence Jam, Reveal
You, and Personal Brand Focus.
As for the future, I’ve been receiving invites for live audience engagements, keynotes, talks, podcasts, and even online courses with established educational platforms. I’m also in the process of writing and publishing a book, which is very exciting.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that confidence comes with experience, not excuses. The ability to be confident did not come naturally to me — it was something I had to work at. The influencers you see owning social media didn’t do so by accident, they’ve been working at it non-stop. If you see their backstories, more often than not, they didn’t know what they were doing in the beginning, but they eventually figured it out and continued working to improve and elevate their image. When I began building websites and retouching photographs, I spent endless hours honing my skills just to obtain the experience and knowledge that I have now.
I’ve also learned that you truly need to experience things to be great at them — meaning, you must experience confidence to convey confidence. When clients come my way who are dealing with different insecurities and worries, I reassure them that I will be there to guide them through the learning process and help them tap into the confidence that’s already dwelling within them. They are then able to revert to those teachings and carry that newfound confidence through on their own as they continue along their journey.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Google Workspace for everything! It’s one of the easiest ways to share documents and work effectively with team members, and it’s super accessible from mobile so I can work on the go.
I’m also an avid user of Linkedin. I don’t think most people realize how valuable that platform truly is. It’s a great professional online networking tool that builds connections and is a trusted place where you can not only market yourself but also give/receive valuable recommendations from people. It’s a great source of credibility.
As a creative artist, I also have to say Adobe Suite and Photoshop are indispensable. They’re the top tools that I use to create all of the imagery for my websites. I spend hours on hours retouching pictures and designing brand imagery. The creativity they can capture is truly limitless.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Allison Armstrong’s books, The Amazing Development of Men and Understanding Women, gave me a much deeper understanding of how men and women uniquely operate, connect, and misunderstand each other — which has helped me connect and communicate with all of my clients more effectively regardless of gender.
One of my favorite podcasts is Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell, which not only captures historic soundbites but also conveys his unique insights and thought process. He makes you stop and think, “Aha! I’ve never thought about it like that!” and helps you understand things from a different angle and perspective, which is extremely valuable.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. So many entrepreneurs hide in the shadows — you would never know anything about them, all you see is the product or service they’re selling because they are hiding behind the brand. You don’t know what they look like, how they speak, or what they’re passionate about. As a result, their clients, customers, and audience have no connection to them, and their brand will likely not stand out from other similar brands. That’s why I advise entrepreneurs to put themselves out there. Let people know who you are, what you’ve been through, and where you’re going so that your customers can feel connected to you and inspired to invest in your journey.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes and no. We’re only looking for certain people who fit into our corporate ethos … people who are action-takers, self-starters, and add value to the team. If they can sell themselves and communicate their value in the same way we coach our clients, then yes, we would want to work with them. For now, we have a strong team and aren’t actively recruiting.
Where can we go to learn more?
Please visit my website or follow me on social media!
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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