A picture is worth a thousand words! And in today’s online world, it is worth a thousand stories!
I chat with Crystaline Randazzo. Crystal is a humanitarian photographer and visual storyteller for non-profits. She has documented agricultural projects in Haiti, women’s cooperatives in Rwanda, adoptions in Congo, and reconstruction in Nepal. Her greatest lesson is that we all want to build a better life!
Crystaline’s photography passion is just testament that you can make money ANYWHERE – from the African jungles to the Nepal wilderness.
- Crystaline’s upbringing and backstory.
- Her love for photography production – teams, locations, props, lighting, printings and post-production.
- The one natural disaster that put Crystal’s life on a different trajectory.
- In a moment of great chaos, you are forced to prioritise what is important to you.
- She moved away from commercial photography and photo-journalism to focus on progressive story telling.
- Her passion is to produce photos that contributes to humanity’s upliftment and hope.
- Individual stories are the most powerful way to motivate others to get involved in our causes.
- You are not as fragile as you think!
- The most frequently asked question – how do you ask a non-profit to pay you?
- Non-profits proactively participate in business activities.
- You are a professional – understand your cost of doing business and budget – when dealing with non-profits.
More about Crystaline Randazzo
Check out Chystaline’s amazing work and connect with her on her website.
Download this episode
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Speaker 1: 00:00 Welcome to Working Women’s Wealth, where we discuss what it takes to build real wealth, in a way normal humans can understand. Here’s your host, Lisa Linfield.
Lisa Linfield: 00:21 Hello, everybody, and welcome to today’s episode of Working Women’s Wealth. I am hugely blessed to be joined by Crystaline Randazzo who has recently come to South Africa via many different countries, and it’s such a pleasure to have you on board today. Thank you.
Crystaline R.: 00:38 Thank you. I’m happy to be here. Excited to talk with you.
Lisa Linfield: 00:40 So, Christine, tell us a little bit about your backstory. How did you get to land up as an American in South Africa?
Crystaline R.: 00:48 Yeah. So, I feel like it’s kind of a long story, but I grew up in New Mexico in the States, and got out of there as soon as I turned 18. I come from a pretty large, very conservative family, was second oldest, and I knew early on I wanted adventures. So, as soon as I turned 18 I moved to Texas and I went to undergrad there for four years.
As soon as I started school, I was in the creative field. Growing up, my parents tried very hard to make me be more technical than I am. They wanted me to do science and business, and I have always been a creative. I came out of the womb that way, and as soon as I was on my own, I just dove into art classes, and writing classes.
I was technically a writing major, but about halfway through my college experience, an advisor pulled me aside and said, “You know, Crystal, you’re on track for your writing major, but you’ve taken so many art classes, at this point I think you should probably just double major in writing and art.” So I did that. I finished up a dual degree, and then I decided to go get my Masters in photography. I went to Syracuse University at Syracuse, New York, and I got a degree in commercial photography at that point.
Lisa Linfield: 02:12 Did you go off straightaway to be a photographer? Or did you have a windy path?
Crystaline R.: 02:17 I pretty much dove right into photography. My first job outside of graduate school was working with a company called Feld Entertainment, and they, at the time, were running Barnum & Bailey Circus and Disney On Ice shows and Disney shows, and so I basically ran a team of photographers who were photographing these shows all over the US, but a lot of times we were in Florida but the shows were anywhere in the country.
So, I was working with them for a couple of years, and I always thought that was a great experience because it taught me a lot about photography, but it really taught me about how photos are used, and how to work with a team, and how to work with an art director. Because I managed not only the shoots but also the photography production of, say, the magazines and the products for the circus and for Disney On Ice shows. That was my first foray outside of the school world into commercial photography.
Lisa Linfield: 03:20 I always think that our first jobs are more influential in the direction of our careers than we ever give them credit for. We get out of school or university and we go, “Hey, I’ll just take this job.” And then actually it takes us on such a different career path in the tapestry. Was that the same for you?
Crystaline R.: 03:40 Well, yeah. I mean, I think I got this job, I loved photography, I knew that. I wasn’t particularly passionate about the circus or Disney On Ice but I was very interested in the technical. And this allowed me to do a lot of technical things, not just with photography, but retouching, and this creative practice of what comes out of the shutter is really different than what ends up being used at the end of the day. And I take that with me even now. I work with nonprofits, and it’s like, they’re a brand. Pretty much anything you create for someone at the beginning is different than what it is at the end.
Lisa Linfield: 04:19 Absolutely.
Crystaline R.: 04:19 So, I definitely probably took that with me from that first job.
Lisa Linfield: 04:23 Yeah. So, you’ve got this first job, you work in it for a while, what took you away from that?
Crystaline R.: 04:29 Well, I got married.
Lisa Linfield: 04:31 That’s what always happens.
Crystaline R.: 04:32 Right? I think it’s a very typical story that happens. I had met my husband in graduate school, and when we met, I knew he was joining the State Department with the US Government. In fact, everybody told me. All of his friends were like, “Well, you know he’s leaving. You know he’s leaving.” You know? From the moment I met him I knew he was going to go and do this thing. He had already signed a contract.
They helped pay for his school, and he essentially worked for them for six years. So, when I was working in Washington, D.C., he got his first assignment to go to Haiti. We had done the long-distance thing for a little bit, and then he came back from Haiti and he proposed, and I thought, “Okay, well, you know, he has no choice, he has to go and give these six years,” so I said, “Yes,” and I moved to Haiti, which was very interesting because there’s not really any commercial photography in Haiti. At least not at that time. There was not much going on.
Lisa Linfield: 05:27 What did you think, that you were going to move over with your new fiance, and what did you think that you were going to do?
Crystaline R.: 05:33 Well, I kind of knew that he had already been there a year, and he only had one more year. And I didn’t think it was possible for me to set up a business in a year. So I took a job at the embassy. I was working administratively at an administration job at the embassy, which was fine. We all have student loans, and we’re-
Lisa Linfield: 05:52 Absolutely.
Crystaline R.: 05:52 … being responsible adults. So I knew we were going to do that. So I started toying, then, with the idea of maybe I should, on the side, go ahead and start a freelance business. But it took me a little bit to get around to that. I was working full-time. There just wasn’t a lot of time. But I knew in the back of my mind, if I could get a business established, maybe my next tour, I can be a photographer and not work an administrative embassy job.
Lisa Linfield: 06:21 Absolutely. And then there was the earthquake.
Crystaline R.: 06:26 Then there was an earthquake. Yes. I got married in September, newlywed stage, and then January, the earthquake happened. I think most of us, when we see disasters, we see them from a distance, right? They’re far away. They’re on the TV, and they look awful, but they’re not our lives. So, for me, it was such a life-changing experience, because I was there and these were my friends, these were people I knew.
We had a lot of responsibility, right? We were trying to assist in the embassy capacity with the Americans who were trying to get out of the country. So we helped with one of the largest evacuations post-disaster. So, there wasn’t a lot of thinking time at that time. We were essentially finding formula, diapers for babies. We were trying to get MREs so that people had things to eat. And all at the same time, we were victims of a disaster. So, you have to deal with aftershocks, and very stressful things, when you’ve just lived through an earthquake.
So, I would say, at least for the month immediately after the earthquake it was all humanitarian work, essentially. It was about getting people the things they need, helping Americans get out of the country, helping our Haitian friends that we knew, in any capacity that we could because the country was really devastated at that point.
I had a lot of people calling me, right? As happens to you when you’re in the middle of a disaster. Many of them were saying, “This will make your career. Pick up your camera. Go out. Document it.” And it just wasn’t possible for me. I think there’s a place for journalism, and I’m very glad there’s journalists out in the world, but I could not imagine putting my camera in someone’s face right when they were drug out of a pile of rubble. I could not have taken the photos, and there were a lot of photos of dead bodies and things after Haiti, and all I could think was, you know, “Those are my friends. Those are somebody’s family. Is that the way they deserve to learn about this?”
It just wasn’t possible for me. I didn’t have the capacity for it. I couldn’t compartmentalize. And I really didn’t pick up the camera, and everyone told me it was a career mistake. But, you know, you can only do what you can do in these moments.
Lisa Linfield: 09:01 Absolutely.
Crystaline R.: 09:01 Disaster teaches you who you are, and I would rather be chasing down baby formula and diapers than I was to pick up the camera, which was surprising to me, because I thought I was a photographer, right? And then it turns out that that was not exactly what I was, in the moment.
Lisa Linfield: 09:17 I think one always has to face those moments. You never have been forced to choose until that moment. So you could be either or. You know? And it’s real life that makes you choose, in that moment, “Where do my personal priorities lie?” Because life is great theory until reality smacks you in the face.
Crystaline R.: 09:36 Sure. Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. And you learn who you are. And I think it was a good lesson for me, because I am not a photojournalist. I’ve actually never been a photojournalist. When I started graduate school, I was in a photojournalism program, which I quickly switched out of to commercial photography because I am not quick, or competitive.
I’m sure there’s lots of journalists out there who aren’t those things, but my slowness, in a sense, is really a great asset to me in my documentary work, because I get to know people and I have a cup of tea, and I think with Haiti, I couldn’t do that just then. But, later, once the earthquake was past, I did document some stories there and they were very different than what the people who’d come in on the ground after the earthquake had documented. So, in some ways, what your natural reaction is, I would say, don’t fight it. Just-
Lisa Linfield: 10:32 Just go with it.
Crystaline R.: 10:33 It’s teaching you something. So, I was being taught a lesson about myself, which has turned into an entire career. So you never know.
Lisa Linfield: 10:42 I’m so with you. You know, growing up in a country like South Africa, and I think it is that Protestant, Christian background and the way we grow up, it’s kind of embedded in you that there’s a sense of goodness. Feed poor children. Help the orphans. Things like that. And what I come to learn in my own space is that all of us were given different gifts, and different, as you say, natural talents, or natural inclinations. And my view is that if everyone went with their natural inclination the world would be perfect, because there are enough of us, with all different … You know, people with amazing gifts for photojournalism, that’s what they must do. And someone like yourself, with an amazing gift for the ability to tell a story, that comes out of much more of a documentary or a longer journey. That’s a fantastic gift, and as you say, go with it, you know?
So, you’ve come out of this really pressurized time of everyone surviving, and getting slightly a little bit of slack. How did you almost process or decide what your next steps were? Did you go back to the admin job? Or how did you actually process all of this?
Crystaline R.: 11:43 Yeah, so I kept the admin job, but one thing that happened was this opportunity came up in … The State Department offer these scholarships to spouses to help them with further training. You can apply for it, and they give a certain number a year, which is great. So, this came up right about that time, and I thought, “I should take advantage of this.” One of the people I knew when I was in graduate school, she was running these nonprofit photography workshops, and the one that I applied to happened to be in Uganda.
That was in, I guess, April. Then I applied to it, and I actually got it. I wouldn’t say I was super decisive. At that moment I wasn’t like, “I want to work for nonprofits.” But I thought, “Well, maybe there’s something here.” I didn’t know anything about the nonprofit scene. It was almost just this fluke that collided at the right moment. Right? Sometimes these things happen.
So, I applied for the scholarship. I got it, and then in April I flew from Haiti to Uganda, and I did a three-week workshop. I think, in some ways, it was the best therapy I could have done for myself as a creative person, to work through a situation with my camera. I wasn’t in Haiti at that time, but I was in Uganda, which was recovering from a war, and it was really interesting to see that just a few years after that war had ended, what people were capable of. What they could create.
Lisa Linfield: 13:12 Wow.
Crystaline R.: 13:13 So, I was really inspired there, and I thought people are so fascinating, no matter what they’ve been through, they come back and they fight for it. And we all want a better life. That’s what everyone here is trying to do. All of us are trying to make our lives better. Provide for our families. That was the beginning of my love affair. I mean, I say storytelling, but maybe just with people. I just felt like people are amazing, and these are the kinds of stories I would rather tell. I don’t want to tell those stories of just destruction. I want to show what people do after destruction, because it’s really quite amazing.
Lisa Linfield: 13:54 I think it is amazing. I had a fantastic quote, this weekend, I read, by a woman called Beth [Mure 00:14:00] and she said, “You’re not as fragile as you think you are.” And I think we all actually have no idea what a major thing like Haiti, or a war in Uganda, how you see the amazingness of humanity. Actually, when you have nothing to lose, how creative you can be, and how productive, and constructive people can be, and work together to create amazing, almost oases, out of complete destruction.
Crystaline R.: 14:28 People were resilient if nothing else. We come back from situations. I think we think our way out of things. You know, like what is our solution, here? That’s what I saw there, and it inspired me to maybe … I thought, “Okay, I’ll come back to Haiti and maybe I can tell someone those stories.” Right? So, I returned. I mean, I went to the workshop and then came back, and we only had a few months left. But I started actively looking for that kind of story.
I asked around. It was very casual, but I started asking all the people I know, “Who’s doing really interesting work? Has rebuilding started?” And eventually one of my friends called me and he was doing a fascinating project. So, what happened after the earthquake is there were whole sections of farmers whose land wasn’t damaged, but the food aid came in and devastated those farmers livelihoods because they just send food, whether it’s needed or not. So they couldn’t sell their crops. So, this nonprofit organization was actually paying farmers essentially the salary for the year so that they could replant the next year, because they knew that the next year, the food aid wouldn’t be there. That was the first story I told in Haiti, and I thought it was so important, because I don’t think people know that. They don’t know that when food aid comes into a country post-disaster, it can devastate entire industries, or in Haiti’s case, when all the free doctors came over from the US, that put Haitian doctors out of work because why would you pay a Haitian doctor for services when you can go get medical services for free at the clinic?
So, many doctors left Haiti, they went to Canada and the US to get better work. But then, the country’s left in a deficit. So, I found that in my last few months of work in Haiti, I really felt like, “Ah, these are kind of stories that people don’t really know about post-disaster.” And I think that was very healing in a way, to just be out there in the communities, and telling stories.
I’ll fully admit I had no idea what I was doing at that point. It was just like, you’re following these breadcrumbs, that are really according to how you feel and what you can get. Who will let me come along with my camera and document these stories? And who will pay me or not pay me and just let me go along? So that’s kind of where it started.
Lisa Linfield: 16:53 Whenever I coach people on how to find their passion and start their own work, so many people think that someone like yourself, who now, a number of years later, has a clear view of what she is and what she does, her mission, her passion, her purpose in life, and someone like myself, also, who has that for teaching women about money. People often think that the lightning bolt comes down and gets you, and you go, “Oh, I know exactly how the next 10 years are going to pan out.” You know?
I always said, it’s a process of, as you call it, following the breadcrumbs. You have something in your tummy which says, “Hey, I want to do this photography course in Uganda, and you go and do it. You have to take the first step, and then the next step becomes a little bit clearer, but it’s only a number of steps down that you realize you’re actually on the path. You know? It’s just something that you go with as you sense. And the more you step into it, the clearer it becomes. Then, now you’ve got to leave Haiti. What did you do?
Crystaline R.: 17:52 We were reassigned to Lusaka, Zambia. We were supposed to be there for two years, but we only ended up being there a year. I thought, “Oh, I’ll start building this portfolio of work,” because I knew enough about the photography industry to know that a few projects in Haiti just wasn’t enough for people to hire me. So, before I got to Zambia I was once again asking everyone I knew if they knew anyone in Zambia.
Lisa Linfield: 17:52 Zambia.
Crystaline R.: 18:19 You know, who was maybe doing a project. So I did a few projects in Zambia when I was there. I documented a library project, which was really amazing, and I worked in a volunteer bases for a couple of really small organizations, but my husband actually got ill there and we were med-evac-ed on quite short notice. So it was a very crammed tour for us.
I think in my mind I was just thinking, “I know I’m working towards something,” and all I could think was I had to get enough work to show that I could do this. And then, I was solely focused on photography, so I was only shooting photographs at that point. In Zambia, that’s what I was doing. I was slowly growing my portfolio, but I wasn’t being hired by anyone. And I like to point this out, because people often think, “Oh, you’re very successful.” And I wasn’t for quite a long time, because I didn’t really know what I was doing, number one, and I didn’t have the skillset yet. I was still learning how to have that skill. How to walk into a situation where you don’t speak the local language, and you’re trying to figure out how to document people, how to connect with people. But I think those growing years are really important. That’s how you learn how to be good at something.
Lisa Linfield: 19:33 How did you fast-track your learning? Or was it just a process of time?
Crystaline R.: 19:38 I don’t know if I fast-tracked it. After Zambia, we got sent back to DC, which I call my kick in the pants moment. I had this idea. I’m in the Foreign Service, and the Foreign Service is the reason I’m not very successful, right? Because I have to move every two years. It’s very difficult. And then I go to DC and I’m like, “Great, I know I can work in DC.” And I am working. I’m working every night. I’m working most weekends. I also was a photo manager at an architectural photography studio. My husband’s working swing shift. We hardly see each other. And this epiphany hit me that it’s difficult to be a photographer everywhere. It has nothing to do with the Foreign Service. It’s just a difficult career.
If you really want it, you have to understand that. You have to understand it’s not going to be easy, and you have to be scrappier and more inventive than the next person. So, in terms of fast-tracking, I think what I did is I just worked. I shot everything I could possibly photograph because that gave me the skillset that I needed. 10 years later, you can put me anywhere. I have photographed everything. I have been anywhere you can imagine, I’ve probably been there with the camera. I’ve shot conferences, and weddings, and family shoots, and nonprofits. I’ve photographed a lot of things, and that helped me build up the skill I needed.
I think the other thing … Maybe there is no fast-track. Maybe we need to be clear about that. Most people don’t fast-track into anything. We slow-track. Those of us who survive, we’re slow-tracking our way into a career. And in that epiphany moment, I said, “You know what I have overseas that I don’t have in the States? I have time. I have more time.” Right? My husband works. I’m on his insurance. You know? How am I going to fill it?
We get sent to Rwanda, and I need a choice. I said, “For the next six months, I’m not taking any weddings. I’m not taking any families. I’m not taking any conferences. I’m not taking any portraits. I’m only chasing nonprofit work. That’s what I want to do.” I changed my whole website. I was like, “I’m going to learn how to do this.” I had clients asking me for video. I’m like, “Fine, I’m going to learn how to do video.” It was not easy. I did not want to be a videographer. But I learned how to be one, and I learned I actually enjoyed it, which is maybe the more surprising of the two discoveries. I spent six months, I met with anyone who had any remote connection with a nonprofit in Rwanda.
Lisa Linfield: 22:20 What made you focus on nonprofits? Given that you’ve had this period in DC doing not nonprofits, commercial stuff.
Crystaline R.: 22:28 You know, I think that’s where my heart was. After I had done the workshop in Uganda and I had worked with several nonprofits in Haiti, I just felt like those were the stories I really wanted to tell. In my mind, that’s who I was going to work for. Sometimes you make a decision and it’s amazing the energy that comes with a decision. Right? You make a decision and you’re like, “Okay, that’s what I want to do.”
Lisa Linfield: 22:48 And you have to, sometimes, make that conscious decision, because if you allow yourself to be swept along, you would have still been photographing conferences and people in Rwanda as well. You know?
Crystaline R.: 23:01 Sure. That was one of the things I came to recognize, is that those weddings and family work, and conferences, they paid the bills, but they were just filling my time. They weren’t actually my life’s passion. I was holding onto them because I was too afraid to move into the deep end of this work, and I realized, “Oh, I could do that forever. I could just be sitting behind my computer editing people’s pores for the rest of my life,” and that would pay the bills, but is that the kind of life I want? Do I want to just pay the bills, or do I want to do something that I really care about? That I’m passionate about? So, I made that decision. I said I’d give myself six months, and my first job rolled in Month Four.
Lisa Linfield: 23:43 Wow.
Crystaline R.: 23:43 I was like, “Oh, I’m ahead of schedule.” You know? And after that the next job came and the next job came. And I think that’s really interesting. Right? It is fate, in some ways. I don’t know if you can make things happen in that way. But it’s funny when you start putting energy behind something, what comes back to you.
Lisa Linfield: 24:01 Absolutely. And you’ve got to take that step. If you haven’t taken that step, to focus on it, and to create the network, the things you talk about, and that need to fill that time with nonprofit, that first step is what then gets the next one and the next referral, and things like that.
Crystaline R.: 24:18 Yeah. For sure. Yeah.
Lisa Linfield: 24:20 Wasn’t it a concern … I mean, for someone not involved in the nonprofit sector, isn’t it a real concern on how do you actually earn money from the nonprofit sector?
Crystaline R.: 24:28 Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean, it’s ongoingly the most frequent question I’m asked. “How do you get people to pay you?” Right? I do think, in some ways, photographers have set ourselves up for failure in the nonprofit world, because we feel bad for a good cause to pay us. But a nonprofit pays everyone on staff who works for them, right? So, them paying you is not that different from them paying anyone else, and nonprofits are businesses. Now, they’re businesses who at the end of the day, have to show zero profit, but they’re still businesses. They’re brands. They’re participating actively in business. They’re just taking that money that they’re getting from donors and they’re putting it towards programs.
So, I think it took a while, but I also learned that medium, large nonprofits, not always small nonprofits, but they’re hiring people, and they need people to do this work. And more and more they need more people to do this work, because now we’re in the age of social media, and everyone needs videos and photos, and stories, to show what they’re doing. And it’s maybe becoming more important than ever.
But part of the problem with asking a nonprofit to pay you is that if you’re always willing to work for a nonprofit for free, they will never pay you.
Lisa Linfield: 25:43 Absolutely.
Crystaline R.: 25:44 So, it’s interesting, your boundaries change. And what I found is, over time, I’m very direct. Someone says, “We want you to work for us,” I say, “What’s your budget?” And I think that changes the conversation. I am so direct about money these days. I’ve calculated the cost of doing business, and that’s exactly how much I charge, and that changes every year. And when you treat yourself like a professional person, other people treat you like a professional person. It’s amazing. Right? I am a professional. I come into this space as a professional. I have professional expectations, and then other people treat you like a professional.
But if you go into this space like, “Oh, I don’t know if anyone will pay me. I don’t know. It’s such a good cause,” no one’s going to pay you. I mean, that’s what it comes down to. You have to know your own value.
Lisa Linfield: 26:30 Wow. I mean, that’s profound for me, because I think it’s been my hardest struggle as I’ve transitioned from someone who was paid a salary, where it was very easy to justify my worth, to someone who’s asking other humans to pay for me. It has been a huge transition, and I think you make the most valid point, which is that if you don’t handle yourself as a professional, why want you they?
Crystaline R.: 26:49 Why would they think you’re professional if you don’t think you’re professional? I mean, and that came over time, for sure, but it’s so powerful. And I tell … I mean, I’m mostly working with photographers, videographers, over and over again, right. You have to show your value. They’re going to see it, but not if you don’t even believe it. You have to believe in the quality of what you produce, and you have to believe that it’s worth something.
Lisa Linfield: 27:14 So, now you’re starting to actually set up a business, essentially, with customers that are paying and manage not to go under. What did you learn through that period of time?
Crystaline R.: 27:27 So many lessons. I’m like, oh. I mean, so many mistakes, too. I think, when you’re starting out in business, you are going to make a lot of mistakes. You’re not going to know that the tax deadline is that day, or exactly how to pull together your receipts, and the only way you learn is by doing it.
I learned a lot about what to say yes to, what jobs to say no to. That is a skill that’s grown over time as well. I almost have radar now. I’m like, “Nope, don’t want to work. Nope, been there.” I love working in nonprofit space, but I’m very interested in ethical media for nonprofits, which is sometimes a gray area because there is a lot of media made in the industry which is specifically made to manipulate people, right? I mean, the whole poverty porn mentality around media in the nonprofit space.
So, I think over time … And it started in Rwanda. I started learning what jobs to say yes to, what jobs to say no to. I learned a lot about storytelling. Before I was just taking photos. Then I had to learn how do you craft a story? One year I set a goal for myself that I was going to learn everything I could possibly learn about storytelling in the year, and that’s what I did. Every week I sat down and I researched the latest articles, and I built a database of storytelling articles.
I think in some ways I’m a little bit of a nerd, so I’m always like that. I will set a goal and then chase it. So if I’m learning video, I will chase that until I feel like I’ve accomplished it. If I’m learning storytelling, I’ll chase it. I’m probably a perpetual learner. I must enjoy it. Sometimes I’m like, “Why did I sign up for this?” But I must enjoy it because I keep doing it.
Lisa Linfield: 29:06 Yeah. And then, your husband got moved again.
Crystaline R.: 29:08 My husband got moved again. Yes. Then we moved to Nepal. Yeah.
Lisa Linfield: 29:14 Nepal. And what happened to your business?
Crystaline R.: 29:16 I have a US-based business, and then I also opened a Rwanda-based business. I had to close the Rwanda-based business, and then move to Nepal. It was a slightly different paperwork process, so, I didn’t have to open a new business in Nepal, but I did get permission to work there, and I started working in Nepal.
Lisa Linfield: 29:32 Was that starting from scratch?
Crystaline R.: 29:33 Well, yes, in the sense that I was once again meeting all the nonprofits I could meet. I was doing all the things I could do. I think the longer you’re in an industry, the more connections you make. So, people know you. The people who mostly knew me were all in Africa now, I’m in Asia. And so, people did connect me with other people they knew, which wouldn’t have happened had I not had my connections in Africa, but it was restarting over.
That’s one thing about the Foreign Service, is it’s kind of a hamster wheel. You could be on that hamster wheel forever. You could perpetually be chasing down new clients and rebuilding. You could be in the rebuilding phase every two years for the rest of your life. So, that’s when I knew that I had to make some more strategic decisions about the work that I was doing, because even though I love the work I was doing in Nepal and Rwanda, I realized I will always be moving and having six months before I make any income at this rate.
That’s when I started thinking about how do I, a photographer who works in the spaces that I live, make a location-independent business? I mean, that’s still a question. I’ve been in the industry years and it’s still a question I’m asking myself, and it’s still a place that I’m moving my business now.
Lisa Linfield: 30:52 What are the answers? What are your first thoughts on how do you make a location-independent business that by nature is physical? So it’s not like a person who does only the editing, can be editing from anywhere in the world so long as they have the actual material, whereas for you, your gift is the storytelling, on the ground, being there. So it’s by nature location-dependent, and your connections are local. So, what are your initial thoughts on that?
Crystaline R.: 31:21 It’s changed over time. One of the things that I realized, I read this great book that I would recommend to anyone who’s trying to look strategically at their industry, and it’s called Blue Ocean Strategies. It said you’re in this red ocean, and you’re all duking it off for the same business. You’re punching each other in the face, right, trying to get the same business, and then in a blue ocean, you offer so much value that your clients, they’re never going to go anywhere else. So I started asking myself this question. How can I offer more value? What can I do?
One of the things that’s come up over and over again, when I talk to nonprofits, and when I talk to photographers, is that there is a gap. The nonprofits say, “I hired this photographer, and they took a bunch of photos, but none of them are photos we can use. They don’t work with our branding. They’re not … They’re fine technically, but they don’t work for us.” And then the photographer says, “I worked for this nonprofit and they didn’t use any of my best images. Not at all.”
I realized that photographers see nonprofits as a good cause, and they’re really doing it because they feel good helping a good cause, but nonprofits are businesses, and they’re brands. They want photos and videos and stories that fit within a certain brand, and those brands also have very specific audiences. So before I knew it, I had taken a dive into the deep end of strategic communications, which I would have never guessed that I would have ended up there. I’m going to make photos. But I started working with medium-size nonprofits to do things like audience identification, where I helped them go through their analytics, and these different things, and said, “Okay, look, this is who your target audience is,” and then we could go to their data bank of stories that they could potentially tell, and I could start helping them craft which stories might resonate better with that audience that they were trying to talk to.
That’s still a portion of my work now, and that’s totally virtual. That’s just me looking at analytics and making recommendations and doing a website audit, things like that, where I tell people, “I’m the only person who’s probably ever read your entire website, and it’s filled with information, but people don’t care about information. They’re looking for connection.” So in a sense I started creating this advisory position for myself.
Another thing that helped that is in Rwanda I had met another photographer, filmmaker, named Laura Pohl, and she had already started this site called NGO Storytelling. She asked me to come in and assist. The purpose of the site is to inspire and inform other humanitarian communicators, I would say. And that project has been going on now for five years, and always in our minds we thought, “Well, we’ll provide this information to make the industry better, but maybe at some point we can turn it into a business.”
It’s only in the last two years we’ve started turning that into a business, in the sense that we can offer courses on pricing, and contracts, and different things like that to help other people who do what we do do it better. So, that’s another way, I guess, I’ve been slowly moving towards that location independence. And that’s one thing. It’s not one path. It’s multiple paths. I feel like I’m juggling multiple balls in the air, and I’m figuring out which ones work with the location independence piece of the puzzle. And there have been some failures there, but also, it’s really interesting when you challenge yourself to think, “How can I offer value that nobody else offers?” I understand good media, right? But I also understand what the nonprofit needs, and that has given me a niche.
Lisa Linfield: 35:25 Yeah. What’s fascinating about your story is now you’re in South Africa, in a country where you’re not allowed to work.
Crystaline R.: 35:31 Yeah.
Lisa Linfield: 35:31 So, unlike Haiti, or Nepal, or Rwanda, or even Uganda, where you could work physically in the location, you’re now not able to work in this location. So, it’s forcing you to explore this conversation in a very meaningful way. And has that, almost life forcing you down a tunnel, has that forced you to open up more opportunities?
Crystaline R.: 35:52 Yeah. I mean, I think it really does. Because you operate with this idea, I want this, but until you have to have it, right? When there is no other option, then you’re like, “Okay.” So I think moving to South Africa helped me fast-track some of these things, like our first product at NGO Storytelling, and now we’re already talking about our second product, because the amazing thing is, when you do a first product, people tell you what else they want, and then you’re like, “Oh, maybe we should make that too.”
I think that is important, right? To not wait for the perfect opportunity. Sometimes things force us to do things that we probably should have done sooner. I could have done this course sooner, but we didn’t, but now that I’m here, I suddenly have the time to do it. The other way I get work is I’ll write request for proposals on the continent. But I have this rule for myself whenever I transition that I have to have several projects on the docket, right? Because otherwise it’s bad news. I’m depressed. I’m not doing anything.
So, I had started a project in Nepal that documented the lives of what they call trailing spouses, which is essentially the spouses of diplomats who are moving and transitioning their life every two to three years. So, I’m working on that project as well, and once again, there is something about energy. If you are working, it’s amazing that work comes to you. Right? So, here I am working on NGO Storytelling’s first course, I’m working on this project, and even though I can’t take work in South Africa, I keep getting calls from people who want to meet for coffee to talk about if I can work with them in South Africa.
I think that’s sort of amazing, because it’s like, “Well, that’s interesting,” right? When we start working at something and putting our stories out there, sometimes the work organically comes your way. But if we weren’t, if I was sitting on the couch with my arms crossed saying, “This just isn’t going to work here, and there’s no way,” then there’s no way. Nothing would happen. Right?
Lisa Linfield: 37:55 No. Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. So, if you were to say, how long has it taken you to set up your business to be at this level where it has traction and trajectory?
Crystaline R.: 38:07 I would say 10 years. You know? Nobody wants to hear that. When I talk to people about it, people are like, “10 years?” Or young photographers who really want success overnight. But it’s not 10 years of me not doing anything. It’s work has come in. There’s been times work has been good. There’s been times work has been bad. But you just keep working at a goal. And the goal changes. Right?
I mean, sometimes I think I’m running out of goal. I’m like, “That’s what I want,” and I get to that goal, and there’s this weird pivot, and I’m like, “Never mind. That’s what I want.” Then, you know? You run at the next goal. So, it’s really a changing path. And it’s not going to happen overnight for anybody. I don’t know anyone in business who’s like, “Yes, woo, I’m a unicorn.”
Lisa Linfield: 38:53 Absolutely. And I think that’s the part that people don’t realize, is how long it takes to get traction. You know? We look at people who are successful, “Hey, she must have just stepped into it and it all happened.” But they forget, and even as much as you can tell them that these things take time, and focus, and many mistakes, and as you said, producing this body of content, there is no short circuit.
Often I think that the people who are successful are the people who just didn’t give up. You know? Is that many other people could have been successful, but they just didn’t have the staying power to just keep at it, even through the years, because we’re so ingrained in instant success, when there never is such a thing called instant success.
Crystaline R.: 39:33 Yeah. And I think anyone will tell you, anyone who’s worked on anything that’s been successful, the amount of time that goes into that kind of project to be successful is a lot of time. A lot of it is about getting up every day and putting yourself in the chair and working on something. I don’t think I have any more skill than the next person. There are plenty of photographers who are better than me and plenty of photographers who are worse than me. I’m probably dead in the middle. But you know what? I get up and I work at it every day, and I’m not afraid to learn something new, I’m not afraid to think about something in a different way, and that, I think, is more an indicator for success than anything else. You can figure anything out. Just put your mind to it. Work at it for a while. Fail a few times. You’ll figure it out.
Lisa Linfield: 40:17 Absolutely. I so appreciate you sharing your story, because it’s real and it’s human, and I think it’s all the steps that all of us should be taking, is just to go out and keep going, until a path does become clear. And as you said, the minute it does become clear, you find that there’s another goal and another path and another way that’s opening up. And that is the journey of lifelong learning. It really is the journey of lifelong learning. And I think that if you’re not stepping into that space of lifelong learning, the comfort zone is wonderful, and it’s lovely to park off in a comfort zone, but it’s not where you’re going to grow and learn.
Most of us aren’t forced to grow and learn like you’ve been forced to grow and learn, by changing location, but it’s that mindset that has given you the success that you have. So, how do people see more of your work and learn more about what you do?
Crystaline R.: 41:06 Sure. People can visit my two websites. One is www.CrystalineRandazzo.com and the other is www.NGOStorytelling.com.
Lisa Linfield: 41:18 Perfect. Well, we’ll also have those links in the bio, but thank you so much for coming. I really appreciate your time. And thank you for sharing your story.
Crystaline R.: 41:25 Oh, you’re welcome. It was really nice. You’re not often invited to talk about yourself. So, this is great.
Lisa Linfield: 41:29 That’s wonderful. Well, it will teach and help many others just from your story. So, thank you.
That was Crystaline Randazzo, and I really enjoyed that interview. It just always strikes me as amazing how our paths, when we are thrown out our comfort zone, just find their way to what we are supposed to be doing.
I wanted to also reflect on the thing that struck me was when she was talking about feeling brave and charging what you’re worth. As I’ve said many times, this is a part that I still struggle with, and it challenged me again and again, and it’s a conversation that seems to be coming up a lot this week in terms of understanding what you’re worth and going for it, and separating that whole thing of Lisa the product from Lisa the person. That if someone cannot afford to pay for your services, it’s not necessarily a rejection of you, and also that people will take cheap or free any time above having to pay for anything.
So, it did challenge me so much. So for those of you who are struggling in terms of your finances and in terms of just making ends meet, or are wanting to start thinking about carving some time out to make some extra money, go along to our freebie on the website which is all about how you can make extra money sitting on the couch. It just starts to get into that whole thing of creating a financial freedom so that you can do what you want to do in life.
I’m Lisa Linfield, and this is Working Women’s Wealth. Take care, have a great day.