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Vendor Mamas: Meet Jess

Jess Onesto - Destination Wedding Photographer

Jess is a California-based wedding photographer serving couples from coast-to-coast and abroad. Her approach is emotional and honest, showcasing what it feels like to be in love.

I first met Jess in 2017 when she sent me an email asking to meet for coffee. There was something about her energy that drew me in. From our first meeting, we became fast friends-- in and outside of the event industry. Her bold use of color, creative vision, and go-getter attitude instantly resonated with me. We collaborated on such fun, creative shoots; shared in each other's milestones; and rooted for each other every step of the way. I have always valued Jess's approach to business, her commitment to love and weddings, and her unwavering optimism. I was so thrilled when she became a mama and was eager to have this conversation with her!

K: When we last spoke, before you were even pregnant, you had built a team of associates and were growing quickly. Is that still the trajectory, where are things now?

J: I still have an associate team and occasionally pitch them for events, but the impact of COVID on engagements has affected how many weddings come through my door, so I’m still the primary photographer in my business. One day I hope to dive back into growing my team, investing in their training and booking out their calendars.

K: What were your priorities before? 

J: Everything has shifted. Before I had my son most of my daily attention was on work. Even when there wasn't a pressing to do list, I was hustling hard and working 8-10 hour days in the off season. Motherhood has introduced interruptions. I went from having extended blocks of uninterrupted time for work to jumping between business-mode and mom-mode — it felt like whiplash to me for a long time. You're trying to fit loads of work into very short chunks of time. Now, I have to be so intentional about my time. I have to make sure I have everything dialed and know exactly what I am doing for the week. When one of those things changes it kind of throws a wrench into things and you have to re-do the whole plan. When a client is a no-show on a call (something that didn't used to be a big deal) it really makes a difference in my day-to-day, mental well-being, and even impacts if I can get a shower in!

J: When my son was just born, there was this emotional dissonance when he would wake up mid-nap and, having just got to my desk, I would have to leave to tend to him. On one hand I would feel so frustrated that I had to leave my work, but on the other I would feel so fulfilled that I am the one person in the world that can do this [soothe him] for this baby. It was a trip to feel two very different emotions at the same time and it was challenging learning how to reconcile the two conflicting emotions.

K: I could not reconcile those conflicting emotions. I felt like I couldn't uphold the expectations I had for myself as a business owner OR as a mom. I felt like I had to pull away and give 100% of my attention to being a mom.

J: Absolutely, I totally get that. You would go from advancing your business, staying creative, booking clients, creating content for social media, to keeping this baby alive and fed and bathed, etc.

Personally, I have such a feeling of fulfillment in doing that. I never really knew how much I would love it. Motherhood is super fun for me. So now my priority is building a relationship with him and being a safe place for him to land, always. Those are the thoughts that permeate my brain more often now. Having a baby monitor next to my screen is also different!

K: Has your preferred client changed?

J: Yes! My goal has always been to expand my team so I could shoot less, make just as much, and spend more time at home with family. Now, I am looking for a higher caliber of wedding, which means a higher price point so I can work less weddings. I also want clients that need less of me-- either they have their own planner that is taking care of them or they trust me and know that based on my work, I have them covered. I find the middle market is more hands on and I don't have as much time to support them in the ways that I used to.

K: Do you feel like there is anything you wish your clients understood about motherhood or your change in workflow? Is there anything you have to explicitly say?

J: I feel like people really don't always know that I'm a mom. Not because I intentionally don't share about my personal life but I really only have a few touch points with the client and don't feel like motherhood affects their experience. I sometimes wish that other vendors understood on a deeper level. I think sometimes vendors want things to happen quickly and lack the understanding that there are often times I cannot turn things around in a couple of hours. There truly is no way to understand parenthood, or what your life looks like as a parent, until you are in it.

K: What are some of the biggest challenges now?

J: I'd say time. I am doing the same amount of work but in 20% of the amount of time that I had before. I am looking forward to the next season when my son is in daycare. Although, I do want more kids though so we will just be repeating this cycle again lol. It feels a lot harder during the first year. Now that we're past the one year milestone, I feel him becoming more independent and we are in more of a rhythm.

K: Is there anything else you wish people were having a conversation about having a family or pregnancy?

J: Yes! The struggle of finding resources for self-employed maternity leave or benefits in CA. I also actually would love to create a space in SoCal for mothers to come together. I have found that my best working relationships and friendships have come from having something in common. I would love it if other industry moms could get together for lunch or a playdate in the park and create networking opportunities without having the need for child care in order to attend an industry event. The reality is, parents don't always have the ability to meet up for a Wednesday night networking event or to attend a four day conference, and so it would be great to not have to miss the opportunities to make really important networking connections just because you're a mom.

K: Not everything will be done at the extremely high standards we set for ourselves and that's okay. Giving ourselves grace is okay.

Please show Jess some love by following her on Instagram and keeping her in mind for any of your future events!


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