biz ladiesinterviewsLife & Business

Biz Ladies Profile: Joy Thigpen

by Stephanie

Biz Ladies Profile Joy Thigpen Photo by Jose Villa

Today’s Biz Ladies Profile comes to us from creative director and stylist Joy Thigpen. Joy’s journey began in the freelance world – stress upon “free” – by doing various projects for friends and family to help establish herself.  She soon figured out that her strengths and passions lay in the styling and creative direction realm and eventually decided to pursue those opportunities full-time.  Today Joy styles incredible environments for wedding and events and she is sharing a bit of her journey with us.  Thank you, Joy, for giving us this glimpse into your career process. —Stephanie

Read the full interview after the jump…

Biz Ladies Profile Joy Thigpen

Why did you decide to start your own business?

The photographer I was working for was a wonderful person and artist and horrible business person. I started working for myself when he volunteered our services for free or nearly free a few too many times. I liked what I was doing and the flexible schedule, I just wanted to get paid for it, too.

When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?

I started as a wedding and portrait photographer because that’s what I knew. I liked it but for a number of reasons I wasn’t feeling satisfied with the work I was producing. I realized I liked parts of what I was doing but not all of it and that I was more interested in creating a beautiful image than the photography, particularly the technical parts. I made a list of my strengths/parts I loved and weaknesses/parts I didn’t like, plus a list of what I’d be doing in my ideal job. That list of my strengths, what I love doing, and ideal work became my business. I just decided: this is what I must be made to do–surely it will work out! This kind of (continually evolving) definition has proven to be a much better course.

What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?

My mom said she had started out by doing things for free for friends and suggested I do the same. As much as I wanted to get paid for my time and work, even from the beginning, it turned out to be great advice. I was able to gain valuable experience without the high stakes of a high paying job and since I was doing it for friends I was happy to help them and they were very gracious with any hiccups due to my lack of experience.

Biz Ladies Profile Joy Thigpen

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

It was scary!! Especially once I left the safety of photography. I was drawing lines around what I felt I was made to do rather than the known lines/job descriptions already existing in the wedding industry. I was just making up a career. I didn’t know if anyone would hire me. But I also had to bring in an income to support my little family (I had a 1 and 3 year old at the time and my husband took a job as a high school teacher so he could spend more time with our kids so I could start my business). Other than the feeling of walking off a cliff, the next hardest part was explaining to potential clients what I was offering. It took a good bit of effort, and still does, to define what it is I do and how it all works.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

You have to focus on your strengths and learn to manage your weaknesses. Every market is competitive. You’re only going to pull ahead if you are able to work in your sweet spot. It’s nice because it’s your best shot at both success and happiness. I work to enrich my life as much as others. I love doing what I do…and it helps others achieve their dreams — even better. When I have to spend too much time doing the parts I don’t like everything suffers — the work, my attitude, etc. And me, struggling to work in my weaknesses cannot compete with another person who is rocking it in their zone. At the beginning you have to do everything yourself and that’s fine and good. You need to learn a basic understanding of how every part works. But at the very earliest moment possible start outsourcing the things you don’t like so that those things can be done better and you will be freed up to do the things you do best.

Biz Ladies Profile Joy Thigpen

Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?

This can be chalked up to “lessons learned” as well…beware of doing “favors” for strangers. I have tried on a three separate occasions to do things for free or nearly free for people I didn’t already have a friendship with and they have not ended well. Each time I thought: these people seem so great…they can’t afford it….that’s ok. I want to help them! But for a lot of reasons it doesn’t work. The common thread between the events I have done that, well, I would not call a success, every time have been when I have agreed to work for strangers for free or at a deep deep discount. Its sad and frustrating and I don’t want it to be true but it is. The people who have paid the most have been the happiest. I have worked as hard or harder for people for free and they have not been happy. And I hate that.

Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?

Hmmm….I’d say there are two moments in each job that are most exhilarating to me: 1) This certain moment in a Creative Session where a client who has been feeling overwhelmed and lost sees the vision of their future wedding coming together and says something along the lines of “oh my gosh! yes!! that’s exactly me/us! I didn’t even know it but…yes! this is what I want my wedding to be like” and then 2) the day of the wedding when I see it all coming together and that dream has become real. I feel like a fairy godmother and it all really does feel quite magical.

What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

I don’t know. I bet there are some great ones out there and I’ve heard of some but I just ask business-y friends when I have questions. Or I Google things to try to get a little context so I don’t sound completely clueless when I talk to my business friends.

Biz Ladies Profile Joy Thigpen

In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?

1. What do you love to do? (What do you get lost in and don’t realize it’s 4am? What makes you feel alive?)

2. How can do that for others? (Who needs that done and is willing to pay for it?)

3. How do I manage my weaknesses? (What are they? Who can help me?)


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  • Thank you for sharing such a wonderful interview and great advice. I’ve been a fan of Joy’s for years! She is a truly gifted fairy godmother!

  • “You have to focus on your strengths and learn to manage your weaknesses.”

    This is a pearl of wisdom! So true in so many contexts!

  • The part about doing favors for people you don’t know– SO TRUE! Every free-lancer starting out needs to read this interview.

  • Seriously, working for free for people you don’t know or have a relationship with. So true– I’m on my third round of this turning out badly and am wondering when I will really learn! For me, it’s just not a good idea unless it’s a small job that doesn’t require time investment. Such a good article.

  • “When I have to spend too much time doing the parts I don’t like everything suffers — the work, my attitude, etc. And me, struggling to work in my weaknesses cannot compete with another person who is rocking it in their zone.”

    Brilliantly stated and SO true. Thank you for your insight and wisdom!

  • I first saw Joy’s work in a 2009 issue of Southern Weddings and have been a fan ever since. Her vision is magical and by the way, she now has four children!

  • What a lovely post this is. It’s great to feel how Joy came through her decision of opting and working around her strength, and what she loved most. And definitely great advice from the mom. Thanks for sharing.

  • I was so happy to see that you profiled Joy. Her work is breathtaking. I worked in a bakery after I graduated from college, and when I found out one of the bakers went to high school with her we spent the whole day geeking out about how inspiring her aesthetic is.

  • Wow. I really love her top three list. So insightful for someone like me that struggles with figuring out what it is that I want to be doing and how to accomplish it.

  • Joy…what can I say. She IS Amazing.. Insightful. Genuine. A true Gift…to all us…to me!

  • I loved this- I interviewed Joy Thigpen when I had a wedding blog- she was so lovely and gracious – she really is the founder of “the look” in the wedding industry.

  • Thank you for introducing me to Joy–what an inspiration! Lots of words of wisdom, too.