Episode 1 of 9

Courtney Slazinik

Teacher. Photographer. Wife. Mom. Blogger.
Words by Barrett Brooks • Photography by Caleb Wojcik

  • 62,000 email subscribers
  • Income of $179,000 generated in 2017
Courtney Slazinik

With her best friend’s fourth child on the way, Courtney Slazinik asked if she could photograph the delivery.

She wanted to be there in that moment when a mother sees her child and when a father holds his baby in his arms for the first time—to capture the tears, the challenge, the beauty, and the joy of the miracle of birth.

A few months later, Courtney got the call to be at the hospital, and soon she was in the middle of the action: “Breathe!” . . . “Push!” . . .  “Keep breathing!”

As the hours passed, Courtney captured each moment. She caught the face of the excited dad and the face of her friend as she labored to bring her child into the world. And then she finally captured one of her favorite photos she’s ever taken to this day: the moment a mother is handed her child for the first time.

It was in that intimate moment, just after the umbilical cord was cut, that Courtney realized just how much power that camera in her hand could carry.

It was the first moment that she saw him, and she’s holding him up and she’s crying, and it was just such a magical thing. And every time I look at that picture I get super teary-eyed. I think, “Oh my gosh I was there for that and this was a gift I have to give to you.”

That photo, and the thousands of other photos she’s taken over the years, are why Courtney started her business, Click It Up a Notch®. It’s the chance to give the gift of memories to other parents just like her.

Her commitment to helping parents capture those special moments as their children grow up is what’s turned her “little side project” into a six-figure business that was named one of the top five blogs for “momtographers” on the web by The Huffington Post.

If you were to look at the metrics driving Courtney’s business in 2017, you’d never guess that she never really thought about becoming an entrepreneur.

In fact, she’s still hesitant to acknowledge that she’s not just an entrepreneur, but also a successful one at that.

The Teacher

Growing up, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. That was always my dream—
to have children and be an elementary school teacher.

And that’s what she did. Coming out of college, Courtney became a third- and fifth-grade classroom teacher. And while she loved so much about her job, the most magical moments were when she saw a student’s eyes light up after learning something new.

One such moment in particular came after testing was done for the year; her
fifth-graders were working on a book project.

With the pressure of state testing behind them, Courtney got creative by asking her students to act as if they were Oprah (who, at this time, was still on TV every afternoon) by interviewing one of the characters from the book. Each of the kids performed their own interview. Afterwards, one student turned to Courtney and said, “This is the best thing we’ve done all year. I loved working on this.”

That was the magic of teaching: the transformation of learning something mundane into capturing imaginations.

Unfortunately, classroom teaching—the actual impact on the students—is such a small part of what a teacher deals with.

It wears on you.

And after a long, hard year teaching in Mississippi, it had definitely worn down Courtney. The stress was growing, and she was losing touch with what drew her to teaching to begin with.

So when her husband, Ian, got wind that his job in the Air Force was taking them on a new adventure in a new city, they decided Courtney should take a break before heading back to the classroom.

And then they got pregnant with their first daughter, Kate.

The Mom

The only thing that Courtney had wanted to be, other than a teacher, was a mom. Her mom was a stay-at-home mom and Courtney wanted to offer the same to her children.

So when they found out they were pregnant, Courtney knew there would be no going back to the classroom—at least, not for now.

She focused on becoming a great mom, just like her mom had been. Along the way she picked up her first camera, a point-and-shoot, and started using it to document the experience of raising her first child. The photos weren’t great, but they were capturing memories.

Kate was an easy baby. Courtney loved taking care of her little human so much so that shortly after Kate’s first birthday, they became pregnant with their second child.

Little did she know that Emma’s birth would also set her on the path to starting a business.

The Photographer

After an unexpected camera mishap with her husband and an ill-placed chair in the delivery room during her second daughter’s birth, Courtney upgraded from a point-and-shoot camera to a DSLR, the first step in professional photography gear.

With her new DSLR, Courtney went on to take almost 4,000 photos in Emma’s first three months of life. She saw a huge difference between these photos and the ones she had taken on her old point-and-shoot. But as she looked at one of her friend’s photos, she saw an even bigger difference.

Assuming a DSLR was all it took to take great photos, she asked her friend how she made them better. Her friend encouraged her to get a quality lens to start shooting on manual mode.

And just like that, Courtney was introduced to a whole new world of knowledge and information. She knew almost immediately that she had found the passion she wanted to dive deep on.

Her friend started coming over every couple of weeks and helped Courtney learn how to take photos on manual mode. She immediately started learning about the fundamentals of her camera: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

With her new knowledge, Courtney started something called Project 365 with a group of fellow moms online. Their goal was for each person to take at least one photo every day for a year.

To share her photos and her learnings, Courtney started a family blog to post her photos. And as her photos got better, her friends started reaching out asking how she did it.

Courtney brushed it off as her friends being kind. But then she got one email in particular that said, “I’ll pay you to teach me how to do this.”

Then she started putting two and two together.

I started thinking, “Oh there’s an interest? I love teaching, and I love photography . . . I could put these two together and get to help people, still learn about photography myself, and still get to teach people.” It was kind of the best of both worlds.

By that time, Courtney had been a stay-at-home mom for almost three years. She had started to lose her sense of identity and was struggling with the lack of affirmation and praise that comes from raising two children under the age of three. It’s a thankless job—and, as Courtney puts it,

Nobody says, “You rocked changing that diaper today.”

She loved her kids and she loved being a mom, but she needed more. She needed a creative outlet—something to give her a sense of affirmation and purpose.

Standing in her kitchen, Courtney remembers calling her best friend one day and sharing an idea.

I’m going to start a new blog, and I’m going to make money from it.

They both laughed. But it wasn’t a joke. Courtney was serious.

The Entrepreneur

On the advice from her parents, Courtney named her blog Click it Up a Notch®. She had a name. Now it was time to set a goal.

I remember saying to my husband, “Wouldn’t that be crazy if I made $200 a month?”

So that was her goal in the beginning: start a blog and earn $200 a month.

She started with a paper editorial calendar, writing down her ideas for blog posts that could help other moms like her take great photos of their kids. It was 2010, one year after her second daughter was born, and nap time became sacred.

I told my friends, “Don’t call me during nap time. Don’t try and make plans with me during nap time.”

She only had an hour or two to work on Click It Up a Notch®, and she didn’t want any distractions. But an hour wasn’t enough each day, so for the first year, Courtney stayed up late at night to work on the blog.

She would take the next post from her editorial calendar and type it up, making a list of the photos she needed to take of the kids the next day to illustrate the teaching in the post.

A few months in, wondering how long this was going to last while still being supportive, Ian said in passing, “Oh, you know, it’ll be nice when you go back to work when the kids are in school.”

Courtney, like any determined entrepreneur, replied, “What? I’m not going back to work. I do this now. If I can figure out a way to make this make money, I’d like to keep staying at home.”

It was important to Courtney to find a way to earn a living doing work she loved while also being a huge part of her kids’ lives. She read online that any blog takes at least three years to get to the point where it could create an income.

“I want to try this for three years. I’m committing to myself that I will not quit for that long,” she told Ian. She was determined to give this thing a real shot, and Ian supported her 100%.

Until she got pregnant with their third daughter and the morning sickness hit.

I’m Quitting

Due to the terrible exhaustion and morning sickness that came with her third pregnancy, Courtney had reached what she thought was her limit, but the universe, or God, wasn’t done with her yet.

TAMRON®, a Japanese maker of camera lenses, was recommended to check out Click it Up a Notch® by one of Courtney’s photographer friends.It was just shortly after Courtney declared she was quitting when she got an email from them asking her to partner with them to help promote a new lens.

“Okay, I’m not quitting,” Courtney immediately told herself.

Creating Her First Product

With the new momentum from the TAMRON® partnership, Courtney started working on her first product—an eBook, The Unexpected Everyday—that combined some of her top learnings into a cohesive guide to getting started as a momtographer.

When it was finished in 2013, Courtney knew she needed to promote it to her audience but had no idea how to “launch a product.” So she did what any normal person would do: she sent an email to her blog followers and said, “Hey, I made this eBook for you. Wanna buy it?”

Yes, they did. In the forty-eight hours after sending that first email, Courtney sold $3,000 in revenue from one eBook. That success is directly related to the genuine connection she made with her audience.

Courtney had spent nearly three years writing blog posts for free, sharing from a place of genuine interest and care for documenting her children’s lives. She had a deep desire to become a better photographer and share what she learned with others to help them do the same.

Courtney estimates that she took between 60,000 and 70,000 photographs from when she started the business to when she sold her first eBook.

This authentic approach resonated with other moms, so it was only natural that a subset of them would trust Courtney enough to know that her first product would have their best interest in mind. At that point, spending $22 on a product created by a person you know, like, and trust is not a big leap.

This marked another major turning point in Courtney’s story. She knew she needed to figure out how to do product launches as best she could to truly grow her business.

Reflecting on this time in the business, Courtney realizes this was when she first understood that this was about more than just a blog, more than just a creative outlet. She had created a job out of thin air, and it was becoming an engine for paying for vacations, Christmas presents, and savings for her family.

It’s a pretty crazy feeling to think, “Yeah, I just invented this.” I made it up in my head, and now I have a business.

As Courtney continued to build her audience through blogging and sharing tutorials, she saw new opportunities to grow the business with live online workshops.

These workshops would be a chance to take what she was teaching on the blog and in her eBooks and deliver it to a live group in an engaging way. She’d be able to interact directly with her audience and help them grow.

As she was getting ready for the launch of her first workshop, Courtney got the kids off to school like normal, reminding them to ride the bus home that day so that she could finish preparing for the sale to go live.

That afternoon she picked up her phone to hear the principal of the school on the other end of the line saying, “I have your daughter here at school. It seems you may have forgotten to pick her up.”

Mortified, Courtney rushed to pick up her daughter.

Sitting in bed that evening, Courtney started crying.

What am I doing?
Why am I even doing this?

That moment of questioning and reflection was one of many for Courtney. She had to take a step back and make sure she didn’t let her entrepreneurial side completely take over. The whole point of Click It Up a Notch® was to be a great mom and to do work she cared deeply about. It was a good reminder.

The workshop launch went off as planned. Courtney sold fifty spots in less than twenty-four hours, earning $30,000! It was a huge success and would become a blueprint for launching new workshops and relaunching existing workshops
over time.

I just remember my husband coming home from work and us both jumping up and down. It took a long time to get there, and I had sacrificed a lot. Obviously, you know, I left a kid at school one day, but it was a huge moment.

It was her proudest moment in the business, and she had created a model that would work for her going forward. Her eBooks and courses would become the core of what has allowed her to build a six-figure business. But the most valuable lesson of all was that Courtney knew she wanted a better sense of balance in her life going forward.

A Day in the Life

Now, a typical week for Courtney looks like  a repeating cycle of splitting her days between building her business and being a great mom. She never wants her daughters to look back and remember her glued to her computer.

To help with this, she’s set a rule for herself that she never starts work before getting the girls off to school.

Her day begins with packing lunches, making breakfast, and taking her kids to the bus. She then works from home through the day until they come back when Courtney shifts her focus 100% to being an engaged mom. She shuttles the kids to their activities, makes dinner, and then they play, read, and enjoy time together before bed.

She tries hard not to work at night anymore—connecting with her husband is more important.

She still has her hard days when she needs help. When those days come, she asks for friends or family to help watch the girls on occasion, and her husband is there as always to support and work side by side with Courtney.   

The Role Model

Courtney sees the secret sauce of Click It Up a Notch® very clearly: it’s how she relates to the people in her audience—because she has been in their shoes.

When Courtney got her first camera, she had no idea how to take good photographs, but she knew she wanted to capture those little moments with her kids.

It wasn’t always easy.

Courtney was lucky to have a friend who taught her how to get started, but most people don’t have that. In some ways, Courtney has become that friend for each person in her audience. She’s that friend one step ahead on the same journey, sharing what she’s learning as she goes, and that has made all the difference.

The business success has been great. She’s proud of it, and she has no plans of stopping any time soon. But when asked about what matters the most from her story and the story of Click It Up a Notch®, she summons a memory from the not-so-distant past:

I remember I was signing up for my first big class. As I was typing in my information, one of my daughters comes in and asks what I’m doing. I tell her, “I’m investing in my education because I own a business and someday you can own a business. You can do that.”

She tells me, “Mmm, I want to be a zookeeper.”

I tell her, “You can do that too! That’s cool!”

This business has changed how I see myself, how I see raising daughters
in this world.

To Courtney, being able to serve as a role model to her girls is more valuable than anything else. She shows them they can be strong and caring. They can work and be a mom. They can start something from scratch, or they can be a zookeeper. But whatever they do, they’ll never have to question whether their mom chased her own dream.

Follow Courtney

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