Well hello there! It’s been a minute. Blogging has been on the bottom of my to-do list these days but I’m hoping that will change in the coming months when I figure out my schedule for incorporating my new business into the rest of my life. Yes! You read that right. My new business. It’s official. I’m legal! I have officially started my photography business and am taking clients using my newly developed business model. I want to take a moment to tell you the story of how this happened, and just to have it logged for myself as well. This new venture I dove into has been a wild and exciting ride and I’m super stoked to see where it goes in 2021.
I want to preface the story with a little bit of information about myself. I am a full time teaching assistant in an Upper Elementary Classroom at a Montessori school. This is my fourth year working in the field of education. It’s a wonderful field to work in. Being with kids every day is truly a gift, giving you a joyous new perspective on the little things in life. Their excitement and joy, relentless kindness and inclusivity, support for one another, quirkiness, etc. not only brings me happiness every day but gives me hope for the future of mankind. (Because we all know we could use a little more of that in our lives these days.) However, despite the joy this position gives me, I knew pretty quickly that teaching was not something I wanted to pursue. With that in mind, I have always seen my current job as a sort of “stepping stone” into “what’s next.” I just haven’t been sure what was next. The idea of running my own photography business has always appealed to me. But where would I start? I didn’t know anything about business and I had no money to invest. So I weighed my options and started dipping my toes in other areas to find out if there was a spark of interest in something more feasible. Time moved on and I did not. That is until COVID hit.
Let me start back in April 2020, right around the time COVID hit our area. You see, I was one of those people keeping my eye on the virus when it first started spreading in China. I would nervously talk to my coworkers about it and their responses were often, “What’s COVID?” This was just weeks before our school was shut down due to the virus reaching Marin County. I was that person – predicting shut-downs, weary of having a deadly virus spread across the world… all while my boyfriend was still casually planning our trip to Portugal just a month or so out. Things were happening fast. Every hour of every day, new information was coming out. Before we knew it, we were entering our first lockdown, or stay at home order. I’m sure you remember your experience vividly. For us Californian’s living in the Bay Area, we were some of the first affected.
Fast forward a month or so. I was working from home, quarantining with my brother and boyfriend. I was trying to keep myself busy. Neighborhood runs, baking bread, creating interesting things to share with my students. But it didn’t take long for me to get bored. I had all this free time that I couldn’t fill with happy hours or hang out sessions. Parks opened up again and small outdoor group gatherings were allowed. It suddenly dawned upon me one day that I could be practicing my photography and working towards building a business.
You see, this idea has come to me before. But fear of failure, not being good enough, and to be completely honest – FOMO (because I knew I’d be super busy all the time!), kept me from pursuing it. I don’t know if FOMO was the leading factor in me not taking the next step but I suddenly realized it no longer existed throughout this pandemic. There were no longer weekend concerts I was afraid to miss. No more happy hours. No more game nights. I had all this free time and I was just doing the same stuff I always did. Cook, clean, bake, run, read, watch tv. Maybe the pandemic helped shift my mindset. “You only live once” kept ringing in my head. What was I doing? I’ve been working at this school, in this stepping stone position, and I’ve just been given an abundance of free time. My fear of failure wasn’t as strong anymore. Now I was fearful of being complacent in my life. I was stupid not to go for it. So I decided to take action.
I posted a blurb on the Nextdoor app about free photo sessions, hoping to gain experience and build my portfolio. I got a lot of responses. I could hardly keep up! I started messaging people and setting up times. I photographed families, couples, graduates, dogs… To be honest, a lot of my photos were kind of terrible. I didn’t know how to direct people or pose them. I was learning about lighting and what lenses I preferred to shoot with. (I prefer a fixed lens. Move your body to get the shot!) I was practicing editing in lightroom, trying to discover my “style.” Did I prefer light and airy or dark and moody? I was constantly watching videos and reading photography blogs. I shot thousands of photos and would deliver online galleries with over 100 high res images! (Like, wtf was I doing?! HA!) But it was great. I was learning! I was DOING. I was moving forward and I got better.
Then around August or September, I came across Sarah Petty. Sarah is a boutique portrait photographer based in Illinois and author of the book, Worth Every Penny. You see, I first saw an instagram ad about her book. She was giving it away for free! (She still is, I believe. Just pay a little for shipping and handling.) Here I was hungry to learn about the business side of photography. So what did I do? I got the book! And I signed up for her email list. And when the next opportunity for a business class came along (one that I had almost signed up for six months prior), I…looked into it.
Hahaha. Yup. I looked into it. It was expensive, almost $3,000. I’ve never spent that much money on myself. My laptop didn’t cost that much. My camera didn’t cost that much. I didn’t have that kind of money!
I realize I may be stretching this story longer than it needs to be. I DID sign up for the class. But I was NERVOUS. I pulled money from my Portugal trip that never happened the year prior. Along with all the extra savings I had from not going out during COVID, I was able to pull it off and took the class. And the class was HARD. It moved fast and I was working full time at school. I would watch the lesson videos on my lunch break and do homework in the evenings. Within the first week she told you to “get legal.” Get legal?!
What? How? I don’t know where to begin! It was honestly one of the most intimidating things for me to do. Once I became legal, that meant I had to pay taxes. There was no more goofing around or taking my sweet time. Once I became legal, it became real.
The class was moving on whether I became legal or not. So I did my due diligence and started researching. I made phone calls over lunch breaks, submitted applications for things I didn’t need (ha!). I signed up for an LLC only to realize I made a HUGE MISTAKE because in California you owe a fat amount in minimum taxes per year. So then I had to figure out how to cancel my LLC. It was such a headache. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I was DOING. I was moving forward. Despite setbacks, despite mistakes, despite being behind in the class, I was still moving forward.
I’ll fast-forward through all the other nitty-gritty things I did to get here today. Really, I’m not very far at all. I’m still beginning. I may be legal but I still need clients. But I have my business model and am prepared to deliver beautiful wall portraits to my clients. COVID has definitely thrown a wrench into some of my plans but the most important part (for me) is to keep making progress. Keep learning. Keep getting better.
Despite the difficulties I’ve faced and am still facing, I’m proud to have taken the leap. I’m proud to have started my business. I’ve made mistakes along the way and I’ll make plenty more. But now there’s no more wondering what if? Now it’s simply what’s next?
If you’re a small business owner, I would love to hear about some of your hiccups in the beginning stages. What do you wish you knew when you were just starting? What hurdle was the most difficult? What are you most proud of overcoming?
Stay healthy and happy holidays, everyone!
December 9, 2020