She sent me some interview questions the other day and I responded to them yesterday...in my usual fashion they became very wordy answers, but it was really nice to be forced to sit down and think about my responses and really put into text how I feel about various things.
Halfway through the novel I ended up writing her, I realized that there might actually be some interesting info in here that others might either get a little inspiration from or just be interested in reading in order to learn a little bit more about me and my business. So I decided I was going to post my answers here for all to see. :)
Once she finishes with her project, I'll also post that here to share with everyone! :)
Happy reading. :)
1. Why did you start your own business?
Once I was old enough for a job, I realized that I really didn’t like having a boss for the most part, I didn’t like being on someone else’s schedule, and I really didn’t like working my butt off to make someone else money. I also loved the thought of working from the comfort of my own home and being able to walk away from my desk whenever I felt like it.
The real drive to push even harder for my own business came once I had children though. I knew that I did not want my children growing up in a daycare or with a babysitter. I wanted to be involved with their school and classroom once they started. I wanted to be able to take vacations with them and not have to worry about whether I could get the time off from work. I wanted to be able to take a day or two off to take care of them if they were sick without feeling guilty for abandoning anyone at work with deadlines, etc.
And lastly, I wanted a future that I could be really proud of. To be able to provide for myself and my family by the work of my two hands and my own brain power. To be able to introduce myself as a successful business owner. There’s definitely a sense of pride in having your own business.
2. Did you create a business plan? If so , where did you go for advice regarding business development?
I did not create a business plan per say. I’m really not the most organized, Type A personality...so a written business plan just wasn’t my style, nor would it have really helped me personally. I suppose if I needed investors or anything like that then I would have needed one though.
With that said, I did create somewhat of a business strategy in my head. My brain never stopped thinking of ideas, processes, long-term goals, short-term goals, etc. I was constantly planning things and changing plans and figuring out better ways to do things. I feel like I need that flexibility to change things as circumstances change or as results don’t come through the way they’re expected. I don’t know how much I would be tied down by a written business plan if I had one that I tried to stick to.
3. Did you do any market research prior to starting your company? Do you do market research now?
I did a little market research prior to starting, but not a ton. I didn’t really know exactly, specifically what I wanted to do at first, and with my line of work, it was more important at the moment to perfect what I was doing before I worried too much about what everyone else was doing. I really focused in the beginning on taking as many photos as I could of everything and everyone.
Once I started getting a little work under my belt and a portfolio halfway put together, then I started doing a lot more research into the industry. I started looking at hundreds of photographer’s portfolios to get a better idea of the quality level I needed to strive to be at. Ideas as to different promotions, different prop ideas, different locations, poses, styles, etc. I soaked up everything I saw and then tried to figure out how to take all that knowledge to make it my own.
I also did a lot of research on industry standard pricing and package options. It was a little more difficult with this because a lot of photogs do not post their pricing directly on their website. And there is also such a huge range when it comes to pricing – all based on experience level, quality, location, and clientele. In general the prices were VERY high for a lot of custom, family photographers (which is what I had at this point set out to do), but their quality was also very high and they had worked themselves in with a clientele that could afford these prices without blinking an eye. This type of clientele is not the majority of America though, and I wanted to come in lower with a larger pool of clientele to work with.
4. How did you identify/evaluate the opportunity to no longer work the average 9 to 5 but to work for yourself instead?
The opportunity pretty much presented itself to me. My work load with the photography was getting extremely busy. I was working a full time job, practically a full time photography job, plus I had a family at home to take care of and give my attention to. Just as things were becoming overwhelmingly stressful and too much for me to handle, I found out that my boss was moving to another state. That past year I had been working so hard with the photography, but was scared to make that jump into doing it full time for financial reasons. I felt like I had needed someone to basically push me into the deep end so that I could sink or swim. When my boss announced he was moving, therefore leaving me without a job, I realized and believed in my heart that this was that push I had been waiting for. From that point on, I started preparing for the life of a full-time photographer, and when my job officially ended, I jumped off that deep end ledge and have been swimming ever since. :)
5.How do you handle the potential risks and the possibility of failure?
I have to be honest, much of the way I handle all of the risks is through my religious faith. I know that’s not the most business-minded answer, but it’s the honest truth. I’m aware that at any day everything could go under and I would have to start over or go back to working in the corporate world. It’s a real fear that is always under the surface, but that fear is also what motivates me to work harder, find new ideas, better my work, and network more. When things get really overwhelming and uncertain, I literally sit myself down and pray about it, I ask for help, and I accept the fact that my future is always uncertain and that I will need to find a way to provide for myself and my family no matter what the outcome.
I think the key to handling risks and the possibility of failure, is to accept that it’s possible, but to also know that if you’re confident in what you are doing, and if you want it bad enough and can work hard enough at it to prove it, then anything is possible. You need to reinvent yourself sometimes to keep up with the changes around you. You can’t be so stuck in your ways that you think there’s only one way to do something. You need to constantly be looking around you to see where the consumer tide is headed and then point your sail in that direction and follow the wind.
6. Have you ever failed in a venture?
MANY times!! I honestly couldn’t even count them all. Although I don’t know if I would say that I “failed” at them...more just “admitted defeat” and realized that either it just wasn’t meant for me, or that I could already see that it wasn’t going to work out long term and wasn’t worth the time/money investment in it. Prior to the photography business, I usually had at least 1-2 different business ideas going on in my life at a time. When I decided to drop one idea, I was already thinking about the next idea. I’ve done the mainstream businesses like being an Avon representative and a Notary Public...then I’ve also had smaller ideas that I tried to start on my own – photo editing, website building, jewelry making, catering/bartending services, talent management, blogging, candy/soda sales, babysitting, travel agent, etc. You name it and I’ve probably either attempted it or thought through the idea pretty thoroughly before I decided not to do it.
I’m not afraid of failing, I’m more afraid of running out of new ideas.
7. What have you experienced that was a major event or issue?
Thankfully I haven’t had to experience anything overly horrible or extreme...yet. I think the most difficult issues I’ve had to deal with, mainly when I was still working full time at my previous job and trying to juggle the photography and my family on top of that, is when things got REALLY busy around the holiday photo season 2 years ago. My rates were very low because I was still starting out and playing around with pricing, but because they were so low I had a LOT of clients coming to me for holiday photos. I also was giving a lot in my packages which was resulting in a lot of post-processing work...hours and hours of work per client. If all of the work had been spread out over 6 months or so, that would have been fine – but since they were holiday photos, everything was being condensed into a 2 month period with many people waiting till the last minute to do photos and then needing an immediate turnaround. Needless to say I was bombarded practically overnight with photo shoots, post-processing, client delivery, and lots of difficult to meet deadlines....plus still had to be to work at 7:30am, get off at 4:30pm, commute 30 minutes, pick up my son from daycare, have dinner, then spend a couple hours working on photography before going to bed, then waking up and doing it all over again. All of this resulted in having really long turnaround times for each client, causing them to get upset and causing me to be stressed out, plus not spending as much time on the pictures as I would like to be able to in order to produce better quality work. All around not a great time for me.
8. What is your definition of an entrepreneur?
Someone who has vision, drive, and a hard-working personality that can actually take the steps needed to make their dreams reality. It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s a whole other realm to have the motivation and dedication to do everything that needs to be done in order to make it possible. You need to be able to take very calculated risks...throwing one’s time and money around at every opportunity that presents itself does not make an entrepreneur, it makes for a foolish man. Not every idea is made for every person. You need to find something that fits YOU and your personality. You need a product that’s going to sell itself. You need a plan that is feasible and will not leave you in debt for decades with absolutely no return. And you need a backup plan in case it doesn’t work out.
An entrepreneur, to me, is someone who can visualize a business, service, or product from the ground up and can see its future vividly. Someone who wants it bad enough that they’re gonna give 110% to making it work, but that’s also smart enough to walk away, cutting losses, when they know it’s not the right thing for them.