Mindy Sue Cleveland Photographer

Mindy Sue Cleveland Photographer


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Starting my photography business out of my closet.

This is a story of how I started my photography business out of my closet. To begin,  we were really poor.  Crazy poor.  My husband worked full time - half of which was an unpaid internship - and was going to school full time getting his Ph.D. and writing his dissertation.  He was never home.  We had three wonderful babies ages 6, 5 and 2.  Our house was a two bedroom, seven hundred square feet apartment.  I was a stay at home mom that was an expert couponer and budgeter.  I remember on more then one occasion paying our bills and having a hundred dollars left in the bank.  I knew that my husband was doing all that he could to take care of us and create a life for us and I wanted to help.  But what could I do.  I had three small children and no formal education.
Ever since I was a kid I had loved photography. My first camera was a digital nightmare.  I remember it held like 10 images at a time.   When I graduated high school, I trained under my uncle who is a photographer but that was all the experience I had.  So my husband and I talked and devised a plan and a few months later after saving all the birthday money our parents sent out for all the family birthdays (yes even the children's birthday money was used), we bought my first real digital camera.  A Nikon 400.
At first, I was so upset and frustrated.  I would take a million pictures and none of them were any good! I have this "amazing camera," and it wasn't taking the pictures I wanted.  I did not understand.  It was a $400 camera; it should be able to capture awesome images right?  Well, that is when I learned I was letting the camera take the pictures; I was not the one in charge.  I needed to learn how to shoot manually.
So I did what any good want-to-be-photographer would do; I got on the internet and began to teach myself how to to shoot in manual.  I knew that to take the pictures I wanted to take, I was going to have to be the brains of the camera.  So I got on websites like pioneerwoman.com  and Digital photography tips.  They changed my life.  Everyday I would check them to see what new information there was so that I could learn.
Thankfully I had four wonderful models to annoy the heck out of.  They got to the point that they rolled their eyes and hid their faces every time my camera got pulled out.  But whatever.  I now have a million  pictures of my beautiful babies, and I learned how to take pictures as I went.
Learning to shoot manually - I put the camera in Aperture priority.  That means the camera was deciding the shutter speed by the aperture that I chose.  I practiced and practiced with the camera set like that.  And guess what, my images were better.  But not amazing.  They still were not what  I wanted.  So after a few weeks I made the leap and went straight into manual.  At this point I was understanding my camera a lot more now, and I knew how to set the aperture.  So the next big component was the shutter speed.  As I slowly got the hang of things my images became more and more like I wanted them to be.  When I first bought my "amazing" camera, I thought that that was all I needed to be good, a decent camera.  It was a hard hit to find that I was going to actually have to learn how to use the thing.
After I learned the basics of my camera such as shutter speed, aperture and where to set the ISO, photography started to become really fun.  I was able to start messing with sun flare, blurriness, depth of field, ratios, placement and style.  All the fun things that actually set you apart.
I began asking my friends and family if I could take their pictures.  So I had a handful of photo shoots and then I was like, now what?   How the hell do I do this?  I don't have money to advertise, and if I did I wouldn't know where to start.  What would I advertise? Where would I send it? How would I get mailing addresses? I didn't even have a website.  And if clients did contact to me then what? What would I say to them?  What would I charge? How would I get them their images?  How would they pay me? What would I package the CD's in?  Do I send a thank in the mail or email?  What about taxes and sales tax and licenses.  Oh my goodness!!!!!!
So I was mom by day and internet searcher by night.  I shot friends for free to get both practice and to get images for my portfolio.  I even accosted a gal in Target and told her she must let me take her picture because she was so cute.  The images were awful by the way.  When I see those wonderful friends that trusted me, I am forever apologizing for butchering their pictures.  They were over photo shopped, over exposed, with awful backdrops and just awful awful awful!! I was creating pictures for my portfolio that didn't represent me because I didn't know who "me" was, and then I bought a pre- designed website and launched it.  And guess what……..NOTHING HAPPENED!!!!!  I would spend hours, while my kids were crying at my feet, typing words in the google bar like local photographer and senior portrait photographer thinking my name would just pop up there at the top of the page.  I was devastated.  I had spent months taking images and then weeks setting up my website and nothing was happening; no one was finding me.  Google was broken!
So what did I do?  I got soooooo busy doing the wrong things.  I created CD templates for the CD cases that would I was going to give out to my clients, the clients that weren't coming.  I created cute stationary to write thank you cards on, for clients that I didn't have.  I wrote cute blog entries on my photography blog for people that would never read them.
And then I left my camera out in the Ohio rain……………..
A huge Ohio rain.  I did not have the money to replace my beloved camera so I did lots of praying.  I was inspired to take my camera to a man I went to church with.  Why did I take it to him?  I don't know; he knows nothing of cameras and rain.  But I did and guess what?  He is a mad genius.   He took apart as much of the camera as he could, and then he put it in a crock pot on low to get out as much of the liquid as possible.  And bam.  It was working.  Yes I am sure there was all sorts of damage, and I know I should have replaced it but back then, it was not an option.
I was back in business having no business.  Did I mention that we, my hubby and three children lived in a two story duplex that had two rooms a front room and an eat-in kitchen totaling 700 square feet?  It was small.  Our front room had a little closet in it and one day while I was out, my hubby went and bought a few pieces of ply wood and created a desk in the closet in our front/dinning/kitchen area.  It was awesome because when I was done sitting in my closet working, I could close the door and all was safely tucked inside away from little fingers.
So to review, I had the cutest personally designed business cards that I was too shy to hand out, a consistent blog that was full of who knows what and cute stationary with my name on it.  Oh and a website that was lost in the endless oblivion that is Google.  I then decided to take a little gamble and invest in my company.  We purchased Google ad words.  And that my friends, is how I began my business.
You can have AMAZING work.  But if no one sees you, it doesn't matter.  You must make yourself visible to the Google Gods. Whether you are purchasing Google ad words, or you are on Pinterest or Wedding Wire, whatever - you must be visible!  If your work is good and people can see you, they will come and they will buy.
So bit by bit I got a client here and a client there.  I began to receive referrals from these clients and then I raised my prices.  I think fifty dollars here twenty five dollars there.  And every time I held my breath,  but they still came and they still bought.  And my awful product got better and I grew more confident.  And my business was no longer in the "closet."  When in fact, it stayed in that "closet" for a good three more years.  So people, what I am trying to tell you is work hard and luck will find you.  You don't need the stars to align,  just a little office closet and a little faith and elbow grease.


Jenny G said...

Why have I never heard this whole story? I love it. You are awesome and you've earned it:)

Sarah Collum said...

I don't know why my comment didn't post?! Well, I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your encouraging story. I as well have small children youngest 18 months, and working on an office out of my bedroom closet! I had a fairly busy first year, however it seems I have plateaued and I think it is because I just jumped right into having a business and not bulking my portfolio, getting the experience, and self education... I am pretty much doing all that now!! So I am praying that it will all come together and be successful for me and my family!

Sarah Collum said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! I started my business a year ago roughly, and I think I totally did it backwards! So with a lull in clients I am taking advantage of getting experience, bulk portfolio, and self education! And like you have small children, just two, youngest being 18 months... and we are working on making our bedroom closet into my office... right now it is off my couch or living room table! I was blessed with a great first year, but just everything in the background I feel that I should have ironed out before becoming an official business. So thank you for the encouragement, and I will keep on trucking! I know it will be a successful business for both me and my family!

Lane Baldwin said...

Wow, that is a crazy inspiring story! So proud of you!

Clint Shaff said...

You can thank your lucky stars once your business prospers. But while you’re still a beginner, you shouldn’t depend on luck alone for it to thrive. Your story would be a great inspiration to many. Stay determined, work hard, and be wise -- and luck will find its way to you. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Clint Shaff @ Franchise Match