Tuesday, July 1, 2014

So You Want To Open A Shop: Melissa Brewer, Photographer

I recently decided that I wanted to open up a shop featuring homemade goods this summer, since Josh and I both have a huge break off work (bonus for both working in the school system). I got in touch with some blogging friends and a friend from back home that have shops on Etsy, Store Envy and local markets to get an idea of what I wanted to do. I asked them some questions and will be featuring them throughout the coming months. If you are on the fence about opening your own store, I hope this will give you the insight you need to get the ball rolling as well! Check out the first in the series post here.

Next up is Melissa Brewer. Melissa is not only photographer in Columbia, South Carolina, but a preschool teacher, mom and wife (Seriously all my friends are amazing at juggling five thousand things).She and I have been friends for years and I am so so so very excited to see where her business is going and to hear her insight on starting my own. Check out her website or her facebook page to see more of her awesome work.

How did you get into photography? I come from a family of artists; my mom and dad actually met in 1982 at art school in Kentucky. My mother has been a full-time artist and teacher my entire life, and although my dad found a job in sales management soon after art school, he never lost his passion for art. It was his favorite hobby up until he passed away in 2008. His passing when my oldest daughter was 8 weeks old is actually what made me decide to purchase my first DSLR. I wanted to use what little inheritance there was to not only further my college education, but also to make a purchase that I felt he would approve of, so I bought a Nikon D40. Seeing as how my parents  gave me my first [film] camera when I was 8, and my dad bought me my first digital point-and-shoot when I was 17 (followed by a few others, since a new camera was pretty much always topping my birthday wishlist in my early 20's), I knew he would approve of my investment.

To backtrack a bit, my interest in photography goes back as far as I can remember. I have always been fascinated by old family photos, particularly the ones my maternal grandfather took of my grandmother when they first began dating in 1943. In those photos, she was posing with his car at the time (no idea what kind of car it was...but it looks awesome in the photos, of course, seeing as how it was a gorgeous late-30's automobile). Her hair was dark, her eyes sparkling, and I could just imagine their voices sounding like young, clear versions of the grandparents I knew, as she threw her head back laughing at what I'm sure was a very good-natured joke from my grandfather. I was just as fascinated by pictures of my parents when they first met, my mom with her friends in highschool and college, and photos of my sisters and myself as babies. I know it sounds cheesy, but looking at a photograph is like having a direct view to the past. Even when you recognize the subjects or the location, little details will be different, and it's all part of a story. 

Hurdles when starting my business: PATIENCE & MOTIVATION IN SLOW SEASONS -- A successful business doesn't happen overnight! However, with new photography businesses popping up on Facebook and other social media almost daily, it is easy to become frustrated and feel like everyone else's business IS created overnight, while I was plugging away and feeling like things were very slow-going for a couple of years. I've had to really dig deep to keep myself motivated at times, and I'm glad that I have, because it pays off!
GETTING MY NAME OUT -- This is a personal hurdle, because I am not very good at "tooting my own horn", and the marketing aspect of running a photography business was a struggle at first.  Again, patience comes in to play here big time! I learned that social media and word of mouth are the best way to let others know of my business, so I work hard to keep my pages updated and always give the best client experience possible.
WORKING MULTIPLE JOBS -- I think every artist struggles with this in the beginning. There's a reason for the "starving artist" stereotype! I have two small children, who were only 1 and 3 when I began this venture, and my husband works 60+ hour weeks, while I also teach preschool Mon-Fri. There have been MANY late nights, many tears, and even a couple of times I've had to go on hiatus because of lingering family illnesses, school obligations (both mine and my children's), or any of the number of things that go along with being a young family. 

Favorite things about taking photos for a living: 
    > Making my own schedule
   > Sharing my art with others, and seeing their enthusiasm when they receive their images
   > Actually shooting sessions! I love meeting new people, getting to know them, and shooting high-energy / high-anxiety events (like weddings). I'm a very talkative and social person, so it comes as second nature for me to chat with clients and make goofy jokes to help them relax during a session so that the images I take capture their true personalities and relationships. Marketing work, taxes, and website updates are definitely my least favorite aspects, but they have to be done! :)
   > Making people feel fabulous --  in almost every engagement, bridal portrait, and headshot session, my client feels anxious and insecure in the beginning. All you ladies out there know the feeling to an extent, I'm sure! I have clients who email me day and night before a session with concerns like "How should I wear my hair?" "What should I wear?' "I'm not very good at makeup..." "I hate my arms...", so I have started offering makeup application as an add-on service, and I always send clients a wardrobe suggestion guide weeks before their session. I love watching my client transform during her session from anxious and unsure in the beginning to finally relaxing and feeling confident and fabulous by the time we finish shooting. All it takes is the right posing and lighting to highlight each individual's best features, and I like to show my clients a little sample on the back of my camera so that they can see how beautiful they look while we are still shooting the session. This gives them confidence not only in my abilities, but more importantly, confidence that they ARE fabulous! 

Advice for people starting their own business:

Never stop learning -- Join webinars online; read tutorials for new techniques in all aspects of photography from the first client contact through editing and workflow, and the final presentation; meet other professionals in your area to work with and learn from, and ask them if you can second-shoot or assist on weddings for free -- watching and observing a few different professionals before taking on a massive job (like a wedding) is CRUCIAL!!
Join a camera club (check meetup.com) or your state's chapter of PPA. Joining PPSC is one of the best investments I've made in my business!
Get an accountant! Don't forget business licenses, contracts, taxes, etc. It keeps you safe from any lawsuits or IRS audits!
Make a website and blog. Wordpress is great for developing a blog if you're not sure where to start!
Decide what you enjoy shooting the most and stick with it! Don't try to market landscapes/events/school pictures/infants/newborns/families/studio/natural light/pets/commercial all at once! It makes you look unprofessional, and doesn't allow you to really hone your skills in any one area. 

Where do I see my business going?

Hopefully continuing to grow! I have 3 weddings booked in the next 9 months, and while that may not seem like much, it's a HUGE sign of my business's growth seeing as how just one year ago, I had not begun shooting weddings yet.

My ultimate goal is to profit enough from my photography business that I can leave my "day job" and have more time for my family.  Right now, I spend a lot of nights up working until 2 or 3 am, and then I have to be up at 6-8am for school/work. Not only is this not healthy, but it's a sure-fire way to get burned out! Burn-out is the #1 reason new photography businesses fail in the first year.

Thank you so much Melissa! I love what you had to say about being patient. When I get excited about something I want it to happen now, instead of watching it grow organically. I am inspired and I hope you are too! * Note these are not sponsored posts! Just shops and people that I love getting ideas from!

What about you? Are you thinking of opening a shop or starting a business? What would be your dream job if you could do anything?

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