Last year at this time I was struggling with a business plan. I had a dream but no fundamental roadmap to get there. I applied and was approved for a grant from Enterprise Brant. It's not as rosy as it sounds. I had to present to a panel of shrewd looking business men (think Dragon's Den) and try to win their approval of yet another local photography business. (When I conducted my research on competition, I discovered there was at least a photographer on every corner in this city. I know four just in the span of a three street radius to our home.)
They called me young and amateurish and my consultant said the passion in my voice when I spoke came across as flaky. I trembled in anger. Then I came home and cried. Sobbed actually. Then I do what I always do when I get kicked down. I dig deep within myself and find my inner warrior and I figure out how to claw my way out of the mess. She-ra style.
I equate starting, maintaining and forecasting a business in tandem with keeping up with my hours, reporting, courses and the planning that Enterprise demanded to the treacherous years of being in University and trying to maintain a part-time job. You remember those days right? I remember working at Holiday Inn cleaning rooms and trying to study at the same time. All-nighters to get a project done by the deadline, just as the ink would run out on my printer. An hour before it was due.
The business forecast for revenue reflected slow times. errr slow is an understatement. More like bleak and downright scary. This is to be expected in our industry as the bulk of business is in the summer and fall months. I had to explain to the panel that although my revenue for January, February and March was basically $0.00, in September alone I would bring in $10,000. Or this was my forecast. It's difficult to forecast when a bride will call you. Sometimes there is nothing. And sometimes in one day, I'll book three weddings.
The panel looked at me like I was crazy. Their words kept ringing through my head as I feebly tried to explain that Facebook indeed is better exposure than taking out a local newspaper ad. Word of mouth is not an acceptable plan for advertising they told me. Six months later, they were shocked to learn of my booming business and the same people who stared me down, let me know that my business practices were something they wanted me to teach their management team. I believe they actually want people to succeed and are preparing us to deal with the public; which we all know is a mixed bag of personalities.
I spent the winter months taking multiple business courses as well as watching photography related webinars. I planned for giveaways and donations; partly to get my name out there and partly to be a good Samaritan. I said yes to every event with the numbers in mind that I needed to present to the panel in six months time. In order to continue with the grant, I needed to achieve 50% of my projected revenues and things were looking slow. And then the deposits started rolling in. Woo Hoo! We were in the clear.
And then Michael lost his job.
Just like that our world was flipped on it's ass again. No benefits, no steady income and a new business basically hanging on to a wing and a prayer.
I tried to see the positives in this. We hated his job, hated that he drove all around the province in the middle of snow storms and barely got compensated for it. Hated the ten day a year vacation B.S. and most of all the mundane snoring boring salesman life. No disrespect to Willy Loman but I mean, how excited can a person possibly get over selling grout and flooring accessories?
We were hired to shoot a wedding in Mexico and spent 2 glorious weeks in our favourite part of the world. We made amazing friends, reunited with our wedding planner, and got to meet two families and a beautiful gay couple that I believe God sent to us.
We were inspired to write, photograph, live and travel. The summer brought forth a series of weddings. I second shot for some, hired an assistant for some and shot the rest with my very talented and hardworking husband. We started to take notice that working together as a team had it's advantages and that clients started to respond to the fact that we were a husband and wife who worked so well together and had their best interests at heart. He started to care about my business as much as I did. Michael's food blog took off and he was asked to contribute to a cocktail blog called The Boys Club. Weekly we are sent books, gifts and cooking paraphernalia from authors and chefs who want to be featured in Michael's writings.
We put together a cute video and made some changes on the website, blog and tried to ensure consistency across all branding including business cards, letterhead, invoices etc. When I could, I tried to add personal touches, such as hand written notes, little gifts sent and dinners at our home. Our clients were overall amazing to work with and although I had one nightmare experience, I was able to learn greatly from it, present the findings to the panel and realize that in every batch of beautiful apples there is always one rotten one. A rotten one that cannot spoil the bunch if you remove it, discard it and be careful to heed your own inner warning signs for the next time. For the most part, we have totally been blessed with lovely and generous clients who have treated us like part of their family.
The summer was fabulous. We had parties, went to parties, and shot weddings which felt like a party.
I saw the Beach Boys with my mom, I chopped my hair off and dyed it bleach blonde and had 25 people surprise me for my birthday at a nightclub. We went to the drive-in. We made some new friends and lost some old ones. Some neighbours on our street moved. Some divorced. Some friends stayed together. Others did not. I met a girl who is my soulmate. We are literally the same person and she has become my very best friend. Michael and I took a roadtrip to Ottawa where I finally got to see two of my idols: Madonna and Natalie Spencer. For three years we have been communicating online and she was the sole reason why I started my career in photography. She had a difficult time getting pregnant and when she was, I received the following text: Both our dreams are coming true. You're getting a D800 and I'm getting a baby. Photographing her maternity session was probably the highlight of my career. We spent the weekend in the Laurentian mountains recharging and being inspired. We drove to Montreal and soaked up the french food and scenery.
At the time Michael just lost his job, two of my maternity clients sadly let me know that they lost their unborn babies. I usually offer a no-return policy on deposits but I said to Michael, how on earth can I do that in this instance? Furthermore, how can I give them the money back that we don't have? I would have found a way. Except both became pregnant again and told me to keep the money. They were positive this time they would come to term. Faith. It's a beautiful thing.
We bought some pro equipment and probably spent more than we made this year. We had our photos taken by The Last Forty Percent and discovered what it was like to be on the other side of the camera.
The fall came and went. We shot two beautiful weddings in one weekend and I was above honoured to photograph my cousin and her amazing bridal party. We made lifelong friends with another and are spending New Years Eve with them. There were several family photo shoots and engagement sessions for next year's weddings. We were honoured to photograph four weddings of one particular family to whom we are forever grateful for their business and friendship. We came in the top ten for a wedding image we submitted for a cover contest. We spent the summer with my parents at their place on the lake. We've stayed in over 20 hotels and inns. We photographed 67 events. We had 3 couples lose their deposits with other photographers and book with us. We were only in the hospital a couple of times. Michael had a great year with his Addison's and I had a couple of minor mishaps requiring stitches and splints. We had a wonderful Christmas with our families and were saddened by the quick downward turn of a dear Uncle's health. At dinner, we all held hands and prayed. A dear friend's father passed away and I was reminded of my own mortality and our still healthy but aging parents. We prayed for the lives lost in Connecticut. On the same day we celebrated a bride and groom's nuptials. Death and life and death and life again. I'll never understand it.
Overall, 2012 has been great to us with a few hiccups along the way. We said no to a particular client because of the red flags I described above, some said no to us and 13 have now booked with us for 2013. We are fortunate enough to be shooting in Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Mexico for three destination weddings. We've raised our prices to $5,000 and are forecasting 20 weddings for next year.
If this happens I will be outsourcing my editing and Michael will be working with me full time. I've arranged a client appreciation party at a cool loft space complete with DJ, appetizers and drinks for early spring next year. I sent a Christmas card to my mentor at Enterprise Brant and let her know that what was once a nuisance has now turned into a blessing and I am thankful for her belief and persistence in me.
I never foresaw my life turning out like this. I'm reading a book on an introvert living in an extrovert world and I now in hindsight realize that was what was plaguing me all these years. But photography has helped me. I still get to hibernate when I edit instead of going to an office and being forced to participate in social committees that I dreaded. I get to express the creative passion I have in my soul, both in my photography and writing. I'm truly blessed to have a loving husband, great and loyal friends, a wonderful family on both sides and a booming career; none of which have come easy, without challenges, strife and struggle but all of which are proof when you live with passion, heart and conviction, you'll get where you always wanted to be. Somewhere in between miserable and content, I have found inner peace, happiness and have the life that I always dreamed of, but never knew I wanted.
2013 brings some exciting changes to our business and personal life but for now, I want to remember this year as one of the best in my life. Ever.
I wish you nothing but the best for the new year and I want to thank everyone who has touched me in so many ways. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful have inspired me beyond measure to keep going in these sometimes mad and confusing times.
Happy New Year! Stay safe and love madly.