In 2009 I started a part-time portrait photography business while working as an attorney. After getting laid off, I'd spent the previous year photographing my daughter and improving my skills while looking for a new attorney position. I'd been an amateur photographer with professional aspirations since high school, but somehow I'd ended up an attorney instead. Losing my job turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Although I found another job, I had friends and family asking me to take their portraits. And because I knew better than to work for free, I decided to start what I thought would be a "small part-time business" that would help me pay for new camera equipment.
Over the first two years my business grew slowly but steadily and I found that I knew next to nothing about running a business. There was sooooo much I needed to learn! And there was so much work to be done in every aspect of running a business, from marketing to pricing to customer service to workflow organization. But the more time I put into my business, the more it grew.
I began reading business books and blogs and taking every workshop I could afford. My appetite for education was voracious. Meanwhile, as my business grew, I was shooting on weekends and editing, marketing, strategizing and taking care of my clients every night. My husband and daughter barely remembered what I looked like. They only saw me with my nose in a book, or my back to them as I worked on the computer.
My busy 2011 holiday season was ending, and I was exhausted. Not only was I exhausted, but I was also pregnant! I knew there was no way I could do it all anymore. I had to choose. I could stay with a safe job at a law firm that I didn’t love but provided a regular paycheck, or I could make the leap and go full-time with the business that I loved.
As I was struggling to make this decision, I received an email from a client that made me more sure than ever which path I should take. I had shot her family for a holiday session in November and just a few days into the new year her husband passed away, leaving her and their two little boys. She emailed me to ask me to make prints for the funeral and told me how thankful she was that they had these photos taken, the last photos of them all together as a happy family.
Although what I did as an attorney was valuable work, it could never be as valuable as the images that I was able to create for that family. That email helped me to choose to spend my life doing the work that I feel so passionately about. It helped me to decide to have faith in myself and believe that I could make my business a success.
I spent the first few months mostly recovering from my holiday season, getting bigger and more pregnant and napping a lot. In April my son was born and I spent the next 12 weeks or so just learning how to be a mom of two (turns out two is soooo much harder than one). I went back to work in July, but soon learned that when you are running your business all on your own and take a few months off marketing you end up hearing nothing but crickets for a few months afterward!
I managed to get the business back up and running by the holiday season, and holy cow, what a busy season it was! I was fully booked and had three straight $10K+ months. I knew I was succeeding, but I also felt like I was drowning. I had worked every single day, 10-12 hour days, for three months straight. I knew I couldn’t do everything myself anymore.
I hired a studio manager later that year and spent the next year working on giving more of my duties to her and learning how to work more efficiently. Having let go of much of the day-to-day administrative work and customer service has allowed me to work on building a profitable, sustainable business. I’m now in a place where my calendar is consistently fully booked and I am able to bring in high average sales and monthly profits that cover my costs, support my family, and pay my staff.
My success has come from my willingness to work hard, take risks, and to spend every free moment learning as much as I possibly can about running a business. Very few photographers understand the importance of business education. They love photography and therefore spend their time learning their craft rather than building their business knowledge. That’s why I mentor, to benefit other photographers with the education that I’ve spent the last five years devouring. I want to save you from making some of the mistakes I made, and get you to a place where you’re able to earn a living doing what you love.
For me, learning, practicing, and teaching business is fun! I know, I’m such a nerd! So, while I still work long hours and six days a week, I rarely feel like I’m working. And while, yes, I’m a very busy mama, there’s more to me that just my business.