Thursday, December 1, 2011

a look back at becoming a business owner

oh my! Handmade Goodness is hosting an amazing giveaway and  I have to say that the timing of this giveaway could not be better. I've been chattering away about my re-branding and blog re-design for a week but it's been mulling in the back of my thoughts for the better part of a year.

Taking the time to look back at how far I've come in this short time and look ahead to the things that I want to do in the future is just the thing to be doing right now, plus winning this giveaway would pretty much be the most amazing thing for my business. To get that professional, polished look would give me that edge that I need to be the best solo photography e-class provider on the web.
When I was little I was that annoying kid at the door selling monogrammed stationary, Christmas cards and wrapping paper only instead of getting one of those cool prizes for participating in the program I always choose to get a check and would deposit it strait away into my kids-only savings account at the local bank.

At the dining room table my Dad dreamed aloud about countless entrepreneurial ventures, we dreamed up more movie scripts, novels mysteries and business plans at that table than I will ever be able to remember. In summary: I liked the idea of working for myself and I liked making money.

But growing up has a way of making you set aside your dreams, at least for awhile. I got married young and we got busy with the business of making babies, and while I had the itch to get out and work I could never make it work around my husband's busy work schedule. After our fourth child had grown up a little I took a part time job but while I enjoyed getting out and earning a check I didn't love standing behind a cash register. I knew I wanted to something more, something more creative, something that I could be passionate about.
I started thinking about going to college, maybe taking some classes online. My oldest two children had started school and I started looking ahead to when all of the kids would be in school and was talking about possibly trying to get certified to teach at their school.

Then our local economy went down the drain. Property taxes dropped, houses were foreclosing left and right and the schools were struggling to pay their teachers. Friends who were trying to get jobs with their degree and teaching certification were working in daycare pre-schools. The thought that the only job I could get would be working in a daycare made me feel depressed and a little bit sick to my stomach.
Around this time two things converged - I read an article about a single mom who supported herself solely by blogging and so I started working on my blog, which I had started just for the fun of it as a creative outlet. I gave myself until my nearly two year old entered school to turn blogging into something profitable.

At the same time my friends were encouraging me in my photography. I took photos for a friend for her music page on MySpace, I took photos for another friend for her online shop. It felt like I was on to something, but making a career out of photography was proving to be a lot harder than I thought it would be.

I struggle with depression and one of the things that this effects is my ability to maintain momentum. One day I might be doing well and totally excited about my photography and working hard but then  another day I might have a hard day or week (or month) and would loose the all the traction I'd gained.
Sometimes the best ideas come out of the worst circumstances. I was coming to terms with the fact that, at least for now, a professional photography business wasn't a viable career option for me and was feeling really low.

Then one day as my littlest kids were taking a bath I sat beside them with a notebook and I started writing down a bunch of ideas. One of them was "I wonder if people would want to take photography classes from me?" and I put up a survey on my blog to see if there was any interest.

I still remember the first email I got from PayPal saying that someone had made a payment for one of my classes! I jumped up and down and did a happy dance. Teaching that first class was so much more work than I thought it would be but I also felt so validated and encouraged by the positive feedback I received from that class.

I've been teaching photography classes online for a year and a half now. I've written four photography classes and started offering photography mentoring. My photography business has made nearly ten thousand dollars over the eighteen months I've been in business and my blog has grown from less than a hundred hits a week to an average of a hundred hits a day.

Since launching my photography class business our family has also grown by one bright smile and while my pregnancy and having a baby has made teaching photography classes harder I am so glad to have a job that is flexible enough to fit around a baby's schedule so that I could continue working even with a new baby.

I'm glad to have a job that both helps me with my depression - since I always have a project to work on and always have something to keep me moving forward - but also makes allowances for it. If I have a bad day or week it doesn't effect my business too much. I can take the time off when I need to and make it up later.

My classes are done 100% online via email and interaction on Flickr which means that it doesn't interfere with my husband's busy work schedule. I can work no matter what his hours are and don't have to stress about babysitters. I am so glad to have a job that lets me stay at home with my kids. I work mostly after the kids are in bed and so I can be there for them whenever they need me.

The thing that keeps me going though, during the tough spots, late nights, discouragement and insecurity is knowing that what I do helps other people. A few of the moms who have taken my classes have gone on to launch their professional photography careers. Others have been introduced to the wonderful community of photography bloggers that I am involved with - most have gained confidence and learned how to use their cameras to enjoy their hobby even more than before.
I've got lots of ideas for the future of my photography classes, at least for the next year. I plan to launch my first e-book in January. It will be a .pdf version of the tutorials in my SLR eclass. I'm currently writing and testing my fifth class which will launch in February for product & blog photography. I'm currently researching for an advanced SLR class I hope to launch sometime in late spring or summer - September at the latest. I also hope to write an ebook on camera phone photography based on the model in this post.

I hope to venture into design a little more in this upcoming year as well. I really enjoy the design work I've done on my blog and for my friend's blogs and I would like to learn more and offer some blog design services.

As far as a business plan - I'm finding that most of my business comes from word-of-mouth referrals and repeat customers so I'm going to focus on engaging and expanding my audience. I want my blog to become more and more a place where photographers and especially momtographers can engage in a community of fellow photographers and find what they need to grow their skills. I plan on launching an ad campaign in January on some of the bigger lifestyle blogs and also engage in sponsor swaps and provide giveaways. Places I engage with my readers: Twitter   //   Facebook  //  Pinterest

So there you have it. - the story of how I've come to be in business and a glimpse into what I hope will be a really bright and happy future.

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