We recently connected with Alexa Machado and have shared our conversation below.
Alexa, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Do you have a hero? What have you learned from them?
I’m going to get philosophical here and say my hero isn’t a specific person, but rather a collective of people who’s specific piece of advice or ways of being shifted me in a profound way. I have a ton of people I could mention, but I’ll stick with those from the past two years:
Misty – Misty values authenticity and integrity- she’ll tell you that’s what she stands for, and her actions and way of living actually back it up. I admire that she lives what she preaches. I too, like to be authentic and I overshare a lot and whenever I feel like shutting down or like I’m “too much” for doing that, I think of her, and there’s no one else who is a better role model
Andrew – My healing buddy, we both started with debilitating illness and have “beat the odds” together so to speak. I don’t meet many people with that level of determination to get better. Also for being my first internet friend and showing me those friendships are just as legit as in person ones. And for coming to the other side of the country to meet me in the middle of the desert.
Pearl – My bestest friend and sister, both of us are growing and evolving emotionally and there’s no one else I’d rather be on this self-discovery journey with.
Ben – For the advice “before you ask, the answer is always no” it’s taken a few years to internalize that advice but it was the seed that eventually led to me going for opportunities and asking if people needed my services and truly being an advocate for myself without feeling like I need to play small or not pursue my dreams. Also thanks for encouraging me to start making Instagram reels (one of which went viral!) And just for being a beautiful friend to me. I love you!
Jason – Some random dude who interviewed me for a company launch – I don’t even know him other than that but we were talking about adversity and such and he mentioned that he also had a lot of grief and health stuff in his life, and he looked at me and said “we’ve been through all that, everything is easy compared to that. Business stuff? Easy compared to that” I literally felt a shift and have thought about that a lot, and after we had that talk my new modeling endeavor suddenly scaled to 4K that month (third month in business) without me feeling any resistance or usual mental blocks. His comment put everything into perspective for me.
Eileen – I work part time taking product photos for a golf apparel company. My boss is probably the best boss I’ll ever have, I just admire how she treats her employees and she is super chill! She’s always just rolled with my health stuff and ever changing schedule which I’m eternally grateful for! I don’t have many business friends or people in my life interested in entrepreneurship, so it’s been nice being around someone who runs their own successful business. It helps shift my own energy from my business goals being something that seems far out of reach to something that just seems attainable because I see someone else doing it every week! And also, I wouldn’t be a freelance product photographer right now without the experience I gained from working in the warehouse. I like my coworkers a lot too, and just the general environment. I feel at peace there.
Matt Kahn – my favorite spiritual philosopher who helped me redefine what spirituality meant and who God was.
I have to give my biggest thanks to God/the universe/whatever you like to call it. After adopting my meditation practice, my life went from overwhelming to a cool movie plot where lucky things happen all the time and I can’t wait to see what opportunities show up. Most of what I’ve learned was from tapping into and following my intuition, even if it makes no sense to me at the time, usually it always leads to something relevant even if it’s a few years later. God has showed me how to find joy on the inside and how to feel peaceful and content even with my specific circumstance and limits. It taught me not to expect a change of circumstances but instead a change of perspective about the circumstances, and a willingness to find the lessons in what I’m going through, and work arounds and creative ways to get things done. A big thanks for all of the amazing ideas and clarity that I receive during meditation, most of the credit for my work and business I have to give to God, I’m simply the vessel that creates the art from the divine inspiration. Without my spirituality I’d probably feel super lost, it has provided stability and a sense that I’m a little piece of something bigger and unconditionally loved.
Alexa, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
My name is Alexa and Im a professional photographer and freelance model. I’ve had a camera in my hands since 2013, after my friends took my senior portraits and showed me the behind the scenes of a photo shoot. After that I just felt in my soul that that’s what I wanted to do!
I offer creative portrait and pet photo sessions, photography and photoshop coaching, and product photography and modeling for professional brands and services.
I think the thing that makes me unique is my style of art, it’s very whimsical and colorful, and I also incorporate a lot of composite work (taking different photographs and creating an entirely different scene from them) I think as a person I kind of naturally match my art too which makes branding easy!
The thing I’m most proud of is being able to tap into my creative intuition and create from that space.I’m a very spiritual person, and I have a meditation practice that helps me connect to my intuition and creativity. Sometimes I’ll get inspiration for projects and create art from these meditations as well. During Covid, I especially missed participating in live theatre. One day while meditating, I randomly got an idea to combine photography and theatre and create a photography musical comedy teaching people how to use their camera. The entire plot and characters seemed to just drop into my awareness, and at the time it sounded absolutely absurd and didn’t make much sense to me, so I shoved the idea away for about a year. Eventually, it got to the point where every time I tried to meditate, the only thing that would come to mind was the musical and I knew that even though I had no clue what I was doing, I needed to make it. Because of the quarantine, I ended up playing all of the characters and doing everything mostly by myself. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, it would either be something unique or a huge flop. I had recruited a friend to help with voice over work but when I described the plot they were skeptical, which made me even more nervous. I still chose to trust my intuition and recruited somebody else to help instead of quitting. I taught myself how to film using my professional camera, how to record songs and voiceover, how to write a script, and how to write harmonies. By the time I was done, I had a full length 50 minute musical with 13 original songs, everything written, performed, and structured from the downloads I was getting from meditation. Nothing had made sense until it was all put together, and suddenly I felt like I was onto something pretty cool. I went on to launch it as a live mini course and crossed my fingers.
In the two times I ran the live course, it has organically generated over 6.5k in revenue and has received a lot of positive reviews and feedback, helping photographers learn in a unique way that clarified manual mode when they had felt stuck before. I get texts from past students updating me, some went on to take paying clients and others were proud of their improved skills. It has made my heart so happy and I’m incredibly proud of what was created.
That musical is basically my child and I’m so glad I took a gamble on it! It’s one of my proudest accomplishments because of all the people I’ve been able to help who went on to love and have fun with photography instead of viewing it as being frustrating. It taught me to lean in and follow inspiration and my intuition even if it doesn’t always make sense at first, and it taught me that I can learn the skills needed to get the job done, and that projects don’t have to be perfect to be successful!
I also had another idea for a funny birthday themed session that ended up on Good Morning America and the Kelly Clarkson show, then went on to win an art contest. When you follow the inspiration, things get pretty crazy and awesome!
I think that’s what I’d like people to know, not anything specific about me or my business, but that we all have this ability to tap into our creativity and gifts, and that we don’t necessarily have to follow any redetermined business structures in order to create something impactful.
Can you talk to us about how your funded your business?
I’m not sure if this is conventional advice as I’ve never had any formal business strategy training, but as someone with raging adhd who has tried a kazillion things before a few things worked- I definitely go by the philosophy of keeping startup costs low and foregoing fancy equipment or software in the beginning.
There’s three different offshoots of my photography business,
The photoshoots, the photoshop coaching, and the product photography/modeling
When I started, I was gifted a $350 canon rebel for my birthday in the summer of 2013 – I was just planning on doing it as a hobby but my theatre friends started paying me to take their headshots. Once I hit the threshold for the maximum amount I could earn before declaring myself a business, I used the money from those sessions to buy my first professional lens (the $100 nifty 50) and a $45 business license. After that I was able to start working with clients and charging more for better quality work, and the rest is history.
For coaching, I started with a $0 investment. I had done a lot of market research to see what people were interested in, and I launched a presale for a course before making any of the content, only the outline, that way if no one was interested I wouldn’t lose hours of my time making a product that no one wanted. But people did want it and I had 12 students enroll initially. Using this method, it’s easy to use that money from the presale to fund your course creation, but I’m extremely thrifty and didn’t want to do that so……
In order to fund the project, I had found an unused Amazon gift card and bought a $30 mic.
(For those of you who are thinking “well you’re just lucky and keep getting gifted stuff!”
I was also flipping at the time. I literally went to a garage sale one day with $5, bought a stack of magic the gathering cards and sold them to a game shop for $60, which would have also covered the costs. But might I also add that I tend to believe if you’re truly aligned with what you’re doing, the universe tends to have a habit of helping you out in mysterious ways so you may find things tend to fall into your lap a lot of the time too!)
Anyway, back to the $30 mic, that was my only expense. I used a free screen recording software that was already on my laptop to film the editing tutorials, used free IMovie to edit, and I launched it as a beta course in a free Facebook group. As it grew I was able to find a hosting platform that had one upfront cost and no monthly fees to host memberships, so I invested in that and now I run the entire coaching section of my business for only $12 a year 🙂 (not including ads or marketing)
My third endeavor, product modeling and photography, required $0 to start. I created a free profile on a freelance site mostly as a joke, because even though I love self portrait work, I didn’t consider myself a model at all and was mostly challenging myself to put myself out there after years of being bullied in high school for “looking nerdy”, I had no portfolio, and no expectations, but quickly realized I was onto something when my second booking paid me $300. After that, I treated it like another section of my business, not only is it doing well, but it’s my favorite part of the business right now because it combines everything I like to do and I’ve found it to be an extremely healing experience in working though some of my mental blocks like perfectionism and physical insecurities.
Two important takeaways I need to mention from this are
You do not need anything fancy to have a business. For photography, you can buy an older refurbished camera, a 50mm lens, and photoshop subscription and get started for $500 or less. I know I have a habit of jumping from one hobby to another so I never know which will “stick” and hold my interest long term, so before I know if something is a long term passion as opposed to a phase I do everything I can to keep startup costs to a minimum. This can be using free services like mailchimp and groovefunnels to using older or used equipment. Once you get a feel for things you can start using the money earned to upgrade your systems. I’ve found this to be the most effective way to start because it takes any pressure away that you have to stick with a specific thing just because of a high initial investment. There is always a way to make the money you need, even starting at 0. You can recycle bottles for $5, go flipping (buy stuff at garage sales and resell it) and earn the money that way.
Don’t just pursue a business because the startup costs are dirt cheap in the hopes that you can quickly make a profit or “get rich”. I’ve heard a lot of people mention they joined MLM’s because they “use the products anyway so might as well earn some money selling them too” and sometimes when I talk about how you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment for photography people are like “I should do that to make a quick buck!” And I have to say that the most important thing is to make sure you’re working within your strengths and passion – if you’re solely doing it for monetary opportunity, especially if you don’t have any help running things in the beginning, it’s going to fail because of burn out. Things get HARD, running a business is hard, there’s going to be mistakes and fails and it’s going to trigger every insecurity and limiting belief you’ve ever had about yourself, and if it’s not something you’re innately drawn to, it’s easier to throw in the towel than push through and do the difficult work needed to pivot and succeed. And if you’re anything like me, It also requires innovation and an almost unreal amount of ambition and resilience when you’re facing a bunch of resistance by starting things with zero dollars, chronic illness, and people telling you it’s a pipe dream. Your heart has to be in it, not just your wallet.
Is there mission driving your creative journey?
I do have multiple goals that drive my creative journey.
The first is using my gifts to make an impact on the largest scale I can manage in this lifetime. When people see my art, I want them to feel something, to escape reality for a moment and enter a headspace that’s more fun and peaceful. When I was first diagnosed with chronic illness and dealing with health related panic disorder, the only place I felt safe outside of my house was going to my towns nursery to take photos of the flowers. Photography is what got me out of the house and as long as I had a camera with me, it helped distract me from what I was going through. I want other people to be able to find healing and relief through photography,
Another goal is to help other beginning/intermediate photographers and editors connect to their own love for the craft and help them learn the skills they need to bring their own visions to life
Third goal: To be an example to encourage anyone who deals with discouragement and/or feeling like they don’t fit the stereotype of a typical businessperson, because that’s what I needed when I started.
I had (and still have) crippling social anxiety to the point where I would stutter and blank out every time I picked up the phone or tried to talk about my services. I despise formality and the idea that discussing your personal life as a businessperson is taboo and should be avoided. I don’t like the traditional business attire and having to look “high end” for people to take my work seriously. I just want to show up as me, a socially awkward shy bean who loves vibrant colors and makes cool art.
There were plenty of days when I thought to myself “how the heck is this even going to be possible” because I felt like I had to exist as a certain stereotype to move forward.
As time goes on, I realize more and more that that idea is just a limiting belief, and in fact the more I embrace my quirks, the smoother and more aligned everything feels.
It’s interesting going from my school and past bosses telling me I wasn’t allowed to dye my hair pink and that people would judge me, to being hired for modeling gigs because of it. And being in a leadership position teaching photography and photoshop despite the fact that I’m super shy with new people. So I’d like to be proof to other people who don’t feel like they quite fit in that you can still be a professional without having to fit a specific stereotype.
As for discouragement, I’ve had my fair share of that too. I like to think of the analogy of the caterpillars and butterflies. Some of us dream of being butterflies and others are scared of that kind of growth. If you’re reading this article and/or are an entrepreneur yourself, you’re probably either a butterfly already, or a caterpillar that’s excitedly getting into the cocoon to start the transformation. The family and friends who discourage us do so because they can only see a life as a caterpillar – the thought of being a butterfly is terrifying. Most of the time it comes from a well intentioned place of trying to keep us safe. And instead of getting upset (sometimes easier said than done) our job is to become a butterfly in front of those caterpillars and show them that it’s not so bad – help them expand their belief systems! Another analogy – so remember when you’d go clothes shopping when you were little and hide in the clothing racks (or was I just a weird kid? Lol) i imagine the negative opinions and resistance as being the clothes, and you see the light, the potential of your idea at the end of it, so your goal is to put your blinders on, keep your eye on that light, and push aside those clothes until you reach it. And as you do you realize that those clothes are actually pretty light, so you have a little fun flinging them (aka The negative thoughts) to the side as you race forward towards that amazing goal/idea! People’s opinions are just reflections of their own limitations and have nothing to do with your potential and abilities. You’re the one with the calling and the vision and you can’t expect other people to see it. As long as you see it and don’t give up on it, that’s what matters. And I think another important thing, especially for people who are more energetically aligned and believe in the law of attraction, is that you can feel like absolute poop energetically and triggered by these thoughts or people’s opinions etc., and still have good things happen in your business. You can feel all the negative emotions and insecurities without holding onto a belief that the negativity will somehow shut down the flow of your business. The only way opinions can affect you is if you stop moving. Feel sad or upset, but keep moving while you feel it.
And my biggest overarching goal, is to figure out the back doors to financial stability so that I can teach other people who have chronic illness or other disabilities how to do it too so none of us have to worry about our futures.
When I first developed health issues in late 2017 (POTS and SVT) I went from being healthy and normal to bedridden and struggling with severe anxiety and panic disorder from the sudden life changes. Besides having to go through an intense grieving process and identity crisis, I had to quit most of my hobbies, my job, and drop out of the biology program a year away from getting my degree. I couldn’t work because I could barely stand or go a week without having an episode, and I couldn’t adhere to a normal work schedule because my blood pressure goes crazy in the mornings, but I also wasn’t sick enough for disability. I also wasn’t sick enough for medication and there was hardly any research on my condition, so I was left entirely on my own to learn how to manage my symptoms which seemed like an impossible task while my life was crumbling at my feet! *dramatic*. So, I was hanging out in this weird limbo place which made me (rightfully) pissed at how our corporate systems were not really built to support diversity of remote work options, or people with disabilities. So I’m on a mission to build a long term secure business and passive income streams that focus on minimal physical labor, starting with $0 to invest, and don’t require driving, so that I can essentially map out some sort of blueprint that can help other chronically ill or bedridden people monetize their gifts in a way that works with their specific limitations and limited transportation and finances.
I’m getting there, I’m not where I want to be yet, but when I am I’d like to write a book and speak about my story, and encourage more companies to offer more accommodations and alternative job opportunities for people who have to deal with lesser known types of chronic illness.
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