Through email and Instagram I receive a TON of questions about how I started a business. There are so many parts to business and every time I email or message back, I always have to give short answers and don't have the opportunity to go into much detail. I decided to throw together a little post with Frequently Asked Questions about how I started a business. I will continue to update this page as questions come in. Also, please know that I am INCREDIBLY humbled to be self-employed and I know I am SO lucky to be in love with my job. I am not an expert but I am honest, I think most blogs and social media influencers tend to give a tiny bit of info and then you have to pay for the rest or they never talk about the behind the scenes of building a business with in depth information. I hope this is real and inspirational/encouraging for whatever step of life you are in. This blog post is just a quick glimpse into my thoughts, I am releasing a downloadable guide in the coming weeks for details into small business and where to start with steps, resources, and more! Be sure to check back for that guide.
Until then...here are a few answers for my creative entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams and chasing their side hustle:
How did you get started? My photography journey started while I was in college. I always had a passion for photography and loved to take photos with my DSLR. I can't tell this story without three incredible people, Matthew (my then boyfriend and now husband), Garrett (one of Matthew and I's best friends who was starting a photo journey as well) and Kagen (my college roommate and best friend). I saved up all my money and went and bought a semi-professional camera. Matthew and Garrett drove two hours at 8:00pm when I decided I wanted to take the plunge and buy my camera, they are absolute rockstars. I will NEVER forget the jitters and excitement but most importantly the love and support I received from both of them. When I left Best Buy, I had $5.26 in my savings account. To say that I took a risk would be a large understatement. It often looks like business owners have over night success but the truth is, I really had to trust that I had a passion for photography and a passion for people and KNOW that it was going to pay off in the long run. And to be honest, I did not intend to make a living off of photography. I thought it would be great to have a nicer camera for all my travel adventures and to document college. And maybe, just maybe, I could take some photos and be paid one day, even if it was just a little extra income for once I graduated and got a 9-5 job. But incredibly, there were different plans in store.
I called Kagen the day after I bought my camera and asked if I could take some photos of her (Kagen is one of the most stunning humans I have ever met & had modeling experience). By her kindness, she said yes and we explored through the mud and rain to try to get some photos. As I started to post more of my photos on Instagram, people took notice. I had a girl message me on Instagram a couple of months after taking Kagen's photos asking for my prices and I screamed. I said, "I AM GOING TO BE PAID FOR THIS?!" It was the biggest honor. And knowing how many other photographers there are, I was and still am incredibly humbled to take photos.
From there I started picking up clients here and there for graduation sessions and I started shooting roommate sessions for girls who wanted photos with their best friends. I started to shoot some events for sororities on campus as well and the summer after I bought my camera, I started interning for North Point Ministries. (I was not interning as a photographer, no one knew I even took photos!) One day, the woman in charge of social media was talking about one of the photographers they hired frequently taking an incredibly long time to return photos and some other frustrations with photographers. Seeing an opportunity, I said, "Just in case you ever need me, I take photos." Her face lit up! She was so ecstatic and asked me to send her some photos of my work. And really, from there, the rest is history. I am still one of the contractors for North Point Ministries and I absolutely adored my whole experience with them and their trust in me was one of the biggest "Ah-ha" moments of my photo journey. I continued to take more opportunities and eventually began to shoot couples. That is my passion and love, I adore portraits and being able to capture love in a photo, from there I started aiming to have more couples and weddings in the future.
I absolutely love my job but I knew from the beginning, I was approaching photography in a unique way. My focus was 75% on the client having an incredible experience and 25% on the actual photos. Meaning I aimed to help clients realize I wasn't in it for the money but in it for creating a comfortable and enjoyable experience behind the lens, which isn't easy to find with most photographers. (And I am still not in it for the money, it is my job and my income but I do it because I believe and know I create a unique experience.) Having that confidence stepping into my first paid session was one of the reasons I think my business was a success and clients began to trickle in. Knowing your intentions for business and making sure they are in the right place resonates with clients whether they consciously or subconsciously realize it.
What are some ways to know starting a side hustle or full-time business is right? Because I was a student when I started my business and had multiple means of income, I had a peace of mind knowing that photography was another source of income, not my ONLY source of income. It gave me a huge relief to know that I could take time and build my little dream step by step and not rush into owning a business, figuring out taxes, creating a brand, building a website, designing a logo, etc. If you are a student or have a full-time job, I would definitely advise you to start your business slowly and let it grow, spend time doing what you love, finding clients, building a skill set, before diving head on into full-time self employment. And to be honest, there are thousands of people who try to start a business, and the reality is, sometimes they fail. Whether the market is saturated or their passion burns out, failure can come. It is important to do something consistently for a few months and reevaluate, then you can decide if you love it and want to go full time. Or maybe you love chasing your passion but would rather keep it on the side. Learn what works best for you and try to chase after that.
Everyone is unique in their life and their journey to entrepreneurship, there isn't a clear road map. Understand that concept and know that your journey could look extremely different than others (mine is incredibly unique since I left college and went into self-employment). Don't compare that journey and look at it as a negative. Enjoy the ride, it's cheesy but true and can help you determine what your next few steps can be.
What are some steps to starting a business? If I can just communicate one thing, it takes WORK to own a business. It isn't something you can spend a few hours on a week and hope that it grows. It takes time and money and just plain hustle to get a business up and running.
I worked three jobs in college while being in school full time and starting Morgan Leigh Photo, LLC. It is not an easy journey, I think every person in my life laughed at my schedule and told me they would have a headache if that was them. But the thing is, I knew that I was called to take photos. I knew my "why". And I knew I was meant to be doing exactly what I was doing.
But to start a business, I needed money and experience. Which meant multiple jobs and school. I didn't study photography in college, I graduated with a Business degree in Marketing. Marketing is where my love lies and I could talk about it for hours. Having a predominately left-brained mindset with a lot of right brain strength, I knew I was unique and that I had a rockstar combination. Please know, I do not mean I am a perfect, magical creation, what I mean is I knew I had the hustle and drive to learn about business but also the creative mindset and heart for clients.
To start, I took every opportunity I could to take photos. Whether it was an event on campus or for a session. I fully believe in knowing your value, a.k.a don't sell yourself short. If you are investing in $2,000 of equipment & $100 software, know that you are better than an iPhone and your services shouldn't be totally free. This also goes for any other creative outlet. Calligraphy, wedding planning, copy writing, videography, makeup and hair styling, etc. Now, understand that someone should NOT pay you $300 on your first day because you would totally be scamming them. But research pricing for your services and then you can build up from there.
Some first steps:
Figure Out Your Why
Learn Your Value
Take Every Opportunity
Market the Heck out of Yourself
Obviously, there is a LOT more than goes into running a business, but this is a great place to start. Also, starting with a mindset of being the next big ______ (florist, blogger, etc.) is really setting yourself up to fail. It is totally okay to have long term goals and I encourage you to have them, but if you are trying to start something just for gaining attention or trying to get free stuff off the internet from companies, I promise those motives won't drive you when the nights get long and the going gets tough.
How did you expand into more markets? Like I mentioned above, take any opportunities you can get. Figure out how your talents fit a market. For example, maybe you are wanting to pursue blogging, figuring out how much content you can write in a certain market (food, fashion, travel) will help you determine what markets to tap into and what markets to stay away from. Niche markets are there for a reason, finding yours is the key to finding your perfect clients.
Weddings are SO fun but they are also a ton of work and shouldn't be taken lightly, I mean...you are photographing someone's biggest day, it is a huge deal! I would really encourage any newbies in the wedding industry (florist, photographers, videographers, etc.) to shadow any and every person in your field that you can. That is the best way to learn. I would also encourage you to dig deep and really think about what you want to do and why. (Refer back to finding your why in step #1). It is important to remember you don't have to be like everyone else or TRY to be in the wedding business if you hate weddings, there are plenty of opportunities (and money) in other areas. I had a dream since I was little about owning my own business in wedding planning, so I have always loved the hustle and bustle so it was only natural for me to drift towards the wedding industry when I became a photographer.
If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be? Be you. No, seriously, that is the best advice I can give. Be who you are, do what your heart is calling you to. Whether that is a side hustle painting business or a full on wedding planning team, follow your dreams, not someone else's. Social media is one of the biggest blessings and curses. It can give you insane opportunites but it can also shift your view on what is really important, a.k.a. chasing what your heart wants. I don't care how much you THINK you want something, explore your heart and understand what your talents and abilities are and make sure you are willing to chase that dream for years to come because building a business takes time. And like I said, when the hours get long, make sure you have passion and are doing something you love because it makes it a heck of a lot easier and more enjoyable.