I've tried to write this post a zillion times. Rehearsed it in my head. Written a pad full of notes. No matter what, I've come to the conclusion that it is impossible for me to write this without emotion. I sat in silence for so many months. Fearful to write the truth (because I've witnessed retaliation). As time has gone by I've realized two things. First, it's not right for me to make snarky comments unless I plan to back them up with the full story. Second, unless we encourage one another to speak up, I feel we bare a bit of responsibility toward our peers. I would be upset if someone I knew had a rotten experience and allowed me to make that same investment without any warning I might not get any return.
My story is nothing out of the ordinary. I was naive enough to invest a great deal of time and energy into a person who I believed had the talent and had found the recipe for success. Many will perceive me as a fool for allowing this, my only defense is I go through life trying to see the best in people...I suppose to a fault.
In February-March 2011, I stumbled on a Texas photographer, Amanda Holloway Photography. Every area I was struggling with, she seemed to have mastered. Her style was consistent. Only shooting what she really loved. Touting average sales of $4000 per session (for high school seniors). Amanda had the Kool-aid and I was dying of thirst. I finally approached her in April 2011 about a 1:1 mentoring. She was already offering her Kitchen Sink Workshop, but I wanted more. I needed someone to sit down with me and work specifically on MY business. Creating a successful business model was my priority, followed by posing and editing. I agreed to pay her $750 and we scheduled our weekend for late August 2011.
May 2011, I found myself struggling with editing workflow. I liked my work, but my formula for the finished product was weak. Editing was eating up my time. I emailed Amanda and paid her to help streamline my workflow. The following month I drove from Houston to Huntsville to meet at her home. She made some fundamental improvements to my editing flow. Amanda really helped me see how over-focused I was in details that would never appear in print. For that, I will be forever grateful. We ended up going to dinner and chatting the evening away. There were a lot of similarities in our backgrounds and we seemed to form an instant connection.
A week or two later Amanda told me she wanted to work on a posing guide for photographers and sent me her first few pages to critique. My thoughts were it was too basic and looked exactly like every other guide that was offered in the market. I printed what was sent, made some recommendations and it eventually became the PurPOSE Senior Posing Guide. What most people don't know is that guide was co-authored by me. I spent the next few weeks making several trips to her house and working on the guide. Endless hours of editing. Developing the concept of teaching it in a 3 step process to help photographers break down and memorize the steps of each pose. Hours of phone calls. Hours on Skype. An enormous amount of time and energy on a project that would eventually earn Amanda over 25K (last update I received was 09/11).
*Disclaimer: I never asked Amanda for any form of compensation for my participation in her guide. Sadly, she never credited my role, nor did she offer a proper thank you.
As our friendship developed, I witnessed some personal attacks on Amanda's character and business ethics. I always rushed to her defense. Friends look out for one another and at the time, I saw nothing that would lead me to believe the allegations were factual. Women are notorious for being catty. I interpreted the accusations as acts of jealousy. Amanda had suddenly become a "Rockstar" with incredible talent and she was reaping the financial rewards. People were both curious and skeptical. There were so many warning signs I chose not to see. Constant cries of 'people are trying to ruin me' and other claims of so-called 'bullying.' Where there is smoke, there is fire...those words were never so true.
The admins at Clickin Moms began to question Amanda's rise to fame. On July 8th, Clickin Moms wanted to know if the content of her teachings were original or if she had simply ripped them off from two photographers (Tara Staton McGovern and Amii Wrobleski). It was awfully coincidental that she had just attended their workshops and had suddenly set up shop to now teach her own. Plus, she had been in business LESS than one year and it appeared that her income was being derived from teaching...not actual paying clients. Amanda did provide Clickin Moms with an Excel spreadsheet to try and validate her business. Not long after this Amanda disappeared from the forum. I don't know if she left, was asked to leave or if this had any connection to their initial inquiry.
*I don't know if Tara or Amii ever formally complained to the admins. To my knowledge, neither photographer has ever spoken publicly of their grievances (if there are any). I know recently, Amanda addressed a private Facebook group and told them Amii knew Amanda had plans to teach and gave her blessings.
Over the summer of 2011, we shot together a few times. Typically, on the second day of Amanda's mentoring she has several models lined up to shoot. She invited me to come up. While she was instructing the student, I would take the model not being utilized and snap a few images for my portfolio. It was nice to shoot purely for fun and creativity...something I hadn't really done before. (I highly recommend it!)
August finally came and it was time for our mentoring. Generally Friday evenings is a meet & greet. Obviously since we knew each other, this wasn't necessary. Honestly, I didn't have the extra funds to just blow on a room I didn't really need. Amanda told me to come up and stay in her room. I agreed if she would let me buy dinner and the movie. Amanda had wanted to do a ballet/dance theme shoot with my daughter and said my weekend would be the perfect time to do it. I wish I had thought it through more, because it was an awful idea. Part of her mentoring/workshop is she guarantees images to use in your portfolio. When she does a model call, the models agree to pay for their own hair/make up. This meant I would be the one footing the expense...duh. It also meant my husband would have to bring our daughter to me 100 miles each way.
The morning should have started with getting down to business. Instead, Amanda handed me a few questionnaires (apparently she emails them ahead of time to be completed before teaching) and told me to look through them and see what I didn't already know the answers to and we'd discuss it. Huh? Well, I guess since a large part of my original thoughts and writing were used in her Kitchen Sink Workbook, she didn't think I needed any training. For me, I am an over-thinker. I will think something to death before I will make a move. I'm sure it's fear of failure, but it paralyzes me quite often. As I started reading the questions to engage the discussion she grabbed her laptop to start reading Facebook and emails. Very frustrating. While I certainly didn't expect business talk 24/7, I was paying her to TEACH. I had been waiting all summer to talk about MY business. MY expectations. MY needs. MY goals. NONE of it seemed to matter and without a doubt, I was hurt. Before I knew it we were leaving to grab lunch and wait for my family to arrive.
We picked up the family and headed to shoot at Sam Houston State University. Their dance studio has gorgeous natural lighting to work with...I was pretty stoked. We got set up and ready to go. Amanda wanted to go first...getting her settings, positioning, ect. Sure, no problem. I knew this was how she worked. But then it led to moving her here and there. I was struggling to grab a shot. What is wrong with this picture? This is MY training. This was MY kid and I couldn't even get a picture! I reached the point of exploding and decided I needed to recompose my thoughts. I set my camera on the ground and walked away. When Amanda decided to change lenses, I seized the moment to get my own shots. Unfortunately, for a dancer who is newly on point shoes, the pain on your feet can be quite excruciating. I could see the grimace on my daughter's face and the welling up of tears in her eyes. I couldn't ask her to continue to stand there.
We took a short break to change clothes. During that time I told Amanda I needed more instruction. She was irritated and reminded me to use the posing guide. Well, I know how to break down poses...I NEEDED her to get outside of her head. To think out loud. To tell me what is going through her mind as she moves from pose to pose. I told Amanda for months that while I totally grasped the mechanics, there was no fluidity. She made it seem so easy. Teaching is a huge responsibility. Not only do you need to have the technical aspects, but you must be able to articulate the information to your students. This was important and she failed. She failed in a huge way. You should never ever ever have to FIGHT a teacher to get time with a model. They are supposed to be the expert. They have a complete portfolio. We finished and went to dinner. After filling my tummy and having my husband to encourage me, I was ready to have a heart to heart.
Amanda and I went back to the room. Since we had already covered editing in June there was no need to discuss it again, we worked independently the rest of the evening. We talked a bit, I AGAIN reminded her that I needed her instruction on posing and she agreed. Ok, great. Tomorrow is going to be fantastic. Not really.
Sunday morning came. We discussed pricing. Admittedly, I'm a numbers geek. I totally dig Excel spreadsheets. I have my own system of crunching numbers and wanted to compare it to hers. Her collections are heavily discounted which means she needs to inflate her a la cart numbers. No problem. Plenty of people do it this way. It's not for me and I wanted to discuss how to create a slightly different pricing model. My opinion is that you have to BELIEVE in the structure you adopt in order to effectively sell it. Maybe that's just me. As I began to show her my numbers, she became frustrated. "Just do it like mine." If you can't explain to me why you do it that way, why would I follow your lead? This my friends is a HUGE red flag. Beginners should not be teaching beginners. When you seek education that profoundly impacts the success/failure of your business, go in search of someone with TRIED and TRUE methods. You need to hear how their pricing evolved. What worked and what didn't. It's been said a zillion times that you shouldn't price yourself a certain way just because your competitor does it. So wouldn't the same hold true with a teacher's model? You HAVE to know (and see proof) that their advice is sound and will work. Finding out that Amanda only had TWO sales sessions using her pricing model was crushing. I was devastated that everything people had been criticizing her for was 100% accurate. I trusted her. I believed in her. I enjoyed watching her succeed and be rewarded for her hard work.
We shot two models Sunday afternoon. Again, very little instruction or input. More of the disappointment. The shoot could not have ended fast enough. All I wanted was to go home to the comfort of my family and clear my head. Amanda knew I was upset, but she has this way of making you feel like it's your fault. Always the victim, never the villain. I ran through the details over and over and came up with the same conclusion...she had failed me. Period. A few days passed with me ignoring her calls, texts and emails. Amanda even called my husband. He told her it would be best to give me some space and I would come to her when I calmed down. We finally talked, she agreed that she had let me down and wanted to schedule a shoot. This time she would NOT bring her camera so it would force her to instruct and think out loud. Ok, fine. I figured if she was going to teach this was imperative to the success of her students.
During the summer I had agreed to help Amanda (and I was paid) with her September Kitchen Sink Workshop. At this point, I had already contributed greatly to the production of her Kitchen Sink Workbook. More countless hours spent on her business endeavors. Again, my own fault. I allowed the friendship to continue to be one sided. I had allowed her to continue to use me. My role was mostly that of gopher. Helping the lesser experienced people keep up and grasping the material. Mostly, I was there as a cheerleader and encourager. By this time, I was so mentally drained, I should have just made an exit and washed my hands. But I had already formed some friendships and was excited to put faces to names. I was so on edge there were a number of times Amanda and I had disagreements. I was snippy and bratty with her...and then my hard drive crashed, which in my mind was a HUGE sign I shouldn't have been there in the first place.
One of the participants had a panic attack the night of the meet and greet. Sometimes when you're on the brink of a breakthrough you have a setback. I think this was her case. She treated her so poorly. I was instructed to go tend to the student's needs because Amanda 'isn't the nurturing type and couldn't deal with her.' Ok. I'll agree the whole event felt a bit dramatic, but talking about her, making fun of her and ignoring her wasn't going to solve anything. While I would not expect Amanda to spend a lot of time trying to ease her worries, a little compassion to encourage her would have gone a long way.
That weekend made it easy for me to exit our friendship. Listening to her tell students the entire story about how the admins at Clickin Moms were unfairly treating her. Rallying them to all go and report what an awesome weekend they had to prove she was legit. Showering select participants with extra attention in hopes to further her career. Amanda wanted to expand her audience to other forums and by being extra nice to prominent members (and admins/owners) she improved her chances of teaching some of their online workshops. At one point she even began to BCC one of the admins from the Bloom Forum on some of her correspondence with the admins of Clickin Moms. Slick business move to make the Bloom admin feel like her new BFF. Well played, I'll admit it.
I think the slimiest thing I witnessed was reviewing other photographer's work. Trashing her direct competitor. Accusing her of copying all of her locations, poses, and other untruths. Not a good use of to those paying you to teach. Amanda has her own beautiful talent. Why care about what others are doing when you are offering something so different. Energy spent dwelling on criticizing what everyone else is doing is wasted. Invest the effort into furthering your own business endeavors.
I feel strongly that I communicated my unhappiness with my Amanda Holloway experience. After being told explicitly I felt ripped off, I think a refund should have been offered. Unfortunately, she was not in agreement. I openly admit to giving her a rather nasty piece of my mind. Some deserved, some better left unsaid. I'm human. Being subdued has never been my strong suit.