Women to Watch: Kayla Illies

By: Jessica Myers, CEO

This week’s woman to watch is Kayla Illies, owner of Kayla Illies Photography. She is a Southern California + destination wedding and engagement photographer whose passion is helping couples capture their most cherished memories and helping them create beautiful albums and wall displays in their homes.

Kayla and I met a little over a year ago at a networking meeting and since then she has taken deployment homecoming photos for me, as well as Digit Keeper’s team photos, and I have the pleasure of calling her a friend. Her passion for her business and helping others always leaves me inspired–read on and take some of her energy, drive, and business savvy back to your company.

J: When did you decide to start your own business? How did you know you were ready to take that leap?

K: I started my photography business right out of college. I went to college specifically for photography actually. The last month of school I interned with another photographer for my final credits, and I realized I didn’t want to work under someone else, so I decided to start up my own photography business and take the leap.

J: What has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur to date?

K: My biggest challenge as an entrepreneur has been learning how to market myself, find my ideal client, and go from being a complete introvert to an extrovert so I wasn’t so awkward when working with my clients or networking with other wedding vendors!

It’s been a struggle, but I’ve been taking as many classes as I can since graduating college to continue learning to help grow my business!

J: I’ve heard you talk about giving back to the community as part of your business model. Can you talk a little bit more about that and why it’s so integral to who you are as an entrepreneur?

K: Another wedding planner I network with, Chante from Forever Taeken Weddings and Events, really motivated me to start giving back when she told me of the Woman’s Sex Trafficking Rehabilitation Charity in San Diego she supports with her business! I knew I wanted to make an impact in this world, but Chante showed me how I could do it with my own business.

I’ve always been a horse lover—my grandpa introduced me to them when I was just learning to walk—and I’ve been riding since I was five years old. I want to help save the lives of horses going to slaughter or that are stuck in abusive homes and give them a second chance at life. After Chante pointed me in the right direction, I found the HiCaliber Horse Rescue here in Southern California. I absolutely love how big of an impact they make on thousands of horses’ lives each year and support them by donating 10% of every client’s investment to them! So far I’ve been able to donate $425 and am hoping to donate much more by the end of next year!

J: What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?

K: The first thing I’m most excited about is creating a brand new Resource Library for every bride-to-be to help them with the planning process. I planned my own wedding in 2010, so I really know the struggle of trying to figure it out on my own. Looking back, I know what I would’ve done differently, and I want to help brides using my personal and professional knowledge and experience.

The Resource Library is launching at the end of August and will be filled with downloadable guides, checklists, and resources to help give brides a starting point in their planning, including how to find different vendors and tips on making the most of their photographic experiences!

The second thing I’m most excited about is teaming up with another wedding photographer and videographer to offer an ultimate wedding collection covering the entire memory documentation side to weddings! I’m really excited to be working with some awesome wedding vendors and to have an amazing team to work with on the weddings I photograph throughout the year!

J: Photography is a very large community, but it’s more competitive than collaborative. How do you navigate that?

K: When I first started, I spent too much time comparing myself to other photographers, and I felt angry all the time because I thought they were more successful than me. Now I realize I could have been spent that time and focus growing my business, and with much less stress.

After I found the Rising Tide Society, I realized there are more than enough couples for every photographer as we all have our own unique style and ideal clients. So they’re not competition to me! We’re all in this together!

Since that realization, I’ve made a point to meet up with other photographers to become friends, collaborate, and refer couples to each other that we’re unable to take or aren’t the right fit. It’s been absolutely amazing! It’s also great to have other photographers to talk to about business challenges and opportunities, since friends and family can’t always relate, not being photographers themselves.

J: What’s your why? Why do you do what you do?

K: Growing up as a little girl, we never had any professional family photos taken, and our home never had any photos hung on the wall, so it didn’t really feel “homey” to me. I used to love sitting down in my mom’s room, taking out the box filled with the candid photos we did have, and just looking through them all. My husband’s family hardly ever took any photos as he and his siblings were growing up, so he doesn’t have very many photos of his childhood either.

Those are the reasons I offer a full-service experience to my clients instead of handing them the digital files and leaving it at that. Our memories and experiences in life are what make us into who we are and they’re what we live for! Photos are meant to be printed, hung up, and enjoyed, not sit in a box or drawer or on a computer.

I want to help my clients document the most special parts of their lives and then design and hang their photos in their homes or create an album so they can enjoy them daily and be reminded of all of their greatest blessings and happiest moments in life!

Thank you so much, Kayla. See what I mean? Her joy and passion for her craft, clients, and community always leave me feeling inspired and motivated. I encourage you to explore her beautiful photography and learn more about her giving back philosophy and community involvement on her website.



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