How we became Self-Employed with no knowledge - our story
I remember, when I first decided to become self employed- my daughter had just been born, and I had a masters degree in education under my belt. I had no idea how to start a business while staying home with a baby. I thought- “How hard can it be?” little did I know that it would be the most challenging and most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done in my life.
So I did what any entrepreneur does when they have no money and a lot of time, I searched YouTube. Wanting to take pictures of my family for my own personal albums, I decided to buy a $400 camera off of Amazon- and man I was in “business.”
I advertised on Facebook and had a senior shoot within a few weeks. I had no idea how to do any of the settings, use photoshop or pretty much anything about running a business.
I remember my first photo shoot. I literally had a camera set on web quality format. When I went to edit all the pictures in Photoshop, everything was so pixelated that we had to re-shoot the entire session. It was so embarrassing.
Because all of my network was within my church family, I was able to be pretty fortunate on work, doing two weddings, my first year of business- and shooting countless portraits in people’s basements, outside, and of course at my church. I learned on the fly in those days, taking thousands of photos that no one ever saw, because I immediately got deleted.
Things got pretty interesting when we decided to move out of the Washington DC area because it was so expensive. I literally had to learn how to market our small photography and design knowing no one.
Of course I could’ve paid for advertisement on Facebook, but we were a poor family living off of my husband’s minimum wage job and government assistance so boosting ads was not an option. Even getting my LLC paperwork was $300 that I didn’t have and had to save up for.
So how could I get my name out there without paying for ads an attracting the type of clients I would pay for my services?
Let’s just say, I had to figure out how to use social media pretty effectively. Most people in this situation, would join a marketing group with some local, small business women, and talk about their company. I couldn’t really leave my home very often without children because I was a stay-at-home mom. so I had to learn how to think-outside-the box pretty quickly.
I knew I just couldn’t post on social media and wait for people to come to me. I had to be very aggressive- talking about things online and creating workshops for people to join in and to be educated about the things I knew.
I remember setting up a little curtain in our two bedroom townhome to shoot and edit YouTube videos of me talking about simple camera settings, and how to use a DSLR for moms with cameras.
I remember getting really disappointed when only a few people showed up on the live broadcast- let’s just say, many tears were shed over not being able to work as hard as I could, and being very limited to the home.
I remember learning how to write blogs that people would want to read like “10 outfit combos to wear to family photo sessions” that I would put all over my social media and even send out as an email blast to my then 10 past clients.
The good thing was, I learned how to use a lot of tools and photography gear very quickly- the bad thing was, we were still living in a very small town home with no space to keep any of it. And I was limited to shooting in client’s homes because I didn’t have my own space. This created problems early on since my lighting would be an obstacle for people to trip on. Plus, I basically had to remove all the furniture out of their entire house to do a big family portrait.
So I did what any starting out photographer does, I started renting studio spaces- costing me anywhere from $35-$80 an hour. I found out pretty quickly that my clientele wasn’t really need to pay an extra $35-$50 on top of what I was charging them. My first year of doing this, I paid $5000 and $6000 in studio overhead cost.
So I had to think of a creative way to get a studio space without the cost. I had already been monitoring my own social media, and learning how to grab accounts, organically -using simple, graphic design tools- so I thought, “How hard can it be to learn how to manage other business accounts?”
So I started following pretty much every rental studio in my entire area- plus following all of their followers. I learned how to use hashtags that were popular in my area. In my discovery of what my local social media Network looked like, I stumbled upon a brand new studio opening up in Virginia Beach. They literally had maybe 40 to 50 followers on Instagram. I saw some of their videos and I thought, “What a cute little studio space”- 3 backdrop rolls on a stand with a side, desk and table and a tiny bathroom was being rented out for $45 an hour. The studio was smaller than my living room but clearly they knew it people needed it the area to open up shop. I knew it was gonna be a great idea and I was right. They ended up opening up a warehouse with 8 different studio spaces a few years after I left, because photographers were so desperate for space to shoot.
Back to the studio rental Instagram story- I messaged the owners personally to see if I could come in for an interview to be their social media manager - with a catch. I knew a business starting out wouldn’t be able to afford what people charge to manage their social media- (usually $500 to $1,000 a month). So I decided to use them as a guinea pig to run a social media page for a business in exchange for using their studio for free. I came in for an interview and talked to them about my story, and they were really impressed with all of the different skills that I was able to acquire over the years. Of course, they also resonated to my story because we shared the same faith foundation.
So then, I had a studio space and I was getting on-the-job training to grow a social media account that start under 100-to 3,000 followers before I left. I knew it would be a smart move, knowing that I would have seasoned business owners in my back pocket to learn from the inside scoop of owning a photography studio. As a bonus- I was able to come to any of their events to glean from all of the different workshops and teachers.
After that- I was able to boost my social media portfolio by showing local business owners, the growth that I had with that company. This skill was a very helpful and continues to be now. Our family is completely Self-Employed and rely on organic marketing through social media entirely to pay all of our bills.
When my husband became unemployed from his pastor job during Covid, I was able to take on 14 social media clients and be able to pay bills during that time. I was able to manage a band, brewery, several nonprofits, a church, a bakery, and ice cream store, and a whole bunch more that I can’t remember. My formula was simple, make a bunch of graphics on canva on my phone at night and pre-write the Content with targeted hashtags and put them in my notes page on my phone. Then in the morning at 6 AM, I would literally copy and paste all the content on the company’s Facebook and Instagram before 10 AM. then I would like and follow everyone that commented and liked the content to grow the accounts.
I was able to shoot content on my phone and use my professional Cameras for their websites as well (which of course I learned how to manage for extra add-on services.) let’s just say, if there was money to be made, and I could do it from home, I learned how to do the basics to get by.
Some clients were great. Other clients literally took advantage of all my skill sets. They made me work all hours of the night until four or 5 AM so that they could pile me up with work and not pay me what I was worth. These are lessons that one has to learn while starting a business. Failure and making mistakes are the best teachers in a lot of cases.
My knowledge on how to build an organic network continued, as we decided to create a handyman business for my husband. I had no idea the weight of having a good reputation would be for the success of a service-based business until we were in it full time. Apparently it’s really easy for “Handymen” to bid on a job, start the job and demolish half a bathroom, and then leave with little to no word to the client. My husband had to literally finish entire jobs the other company started for many of his beginning clients.
Because we have lived in this area for almost 10 years, our kids have grown up around the same environment, and church- therefore, many of our jobs even to this day, rely on the people that we met in that environment.
My husband and I laugh at the thought- that even though the church shut down during 2020, the people from his past church work have continued to hire Andrew to do work- mostly based out of his good reputation- so in essence, he continues to be paid by the church.
While I was handling 14 social media accounts during 2020, I learned pretty quickly that studio spaces were shutting their doors to photographers because of the scare of COVID-19.
Knowing that I couldn’t leave my house, because of being a stay-at-home parent, I thought of a creative way to use what I had in my hands to create an income stream. I had a 2 1/2 car garage, half an acre of land, and a bunch of bushes and trees.
My husband, learning how to be a handyman, was able to practice his skills on our garage and yard. We were able to create a beautiful mini studio with multiple sets and props plus tons of outside interactive sets for people to rent as a passive income stream- all while recording his process and using it for marketing
So now I am able to rent the backyard out, run social media accounts and help our family contracting businesses full-time with the kids. It’s busy, and it’s full of crazy moments- but would I do anything else? I can’t imagine having the overhead of an actual brick and mortar studio. I can’t imagine leaving my home for 9 hours a day and be away from my kids. and I can’t imagine paying someone for the marketing help that I taught myself how to do.
Even now, I am noticing on business groups on Facebook, that there is so much gatekeeping and knowledge hoops to jump through to learn any info. Even this week, I saw on a Facebook group that a beginning photographer just moved here from Guam and didn’t know how to get their business out in a saturated marketplace. So I spent a whole hour, giving her brainstorming ideas and connecting her with potential photo teaching jobs, workshop, studios, and creative leads.
There is so much business to go around that giving away my knowledge and showing people the mistakes I’ve made doesn’t take away business from me, but rather builds my networking around people that will share me in groups and cheer me on for ads that they see. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve been tagged from past photographer mentees by a post of someone who wants multiple small Business services bundled into one package for their start up- all because I did a simple phone chat or a one hour workshop for a beginning photographer.
Whether or not I get a job or my husband gets a job for our family, building our network through growing allies in our community is a win-win for everybody.
It reminds me of this verse Proverbs 27:9 - "Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice."
I’ve always been passionate about mentoring and coaching, because I never had a business mentor in my life. It would saved me thousands of hours and dollars to try to figure stuff out on my own.
So even now, we’re constantly talking to young business owners in the community and giving them resources, tools, and helping them to grow their own businesses. We’ve given away vehicles, entire sheds full of tools, furniture, Cameras, computers, software, techniques, e-books, and courses all for free.
We are very aware of the verse that says “you reap what you sow”- therefore, we are, and have been sewing seeds through connecting with others throughout this entire community for the last decade.
Our goal is to be able to have social media platforms and passive income streams that will allow us financial freedom to travel, work more on our own schedule, and to be able to see our future grandkids and pass out businesses and knowledge to our children.
We would love to have a training school that we can teach all of the skills that we know and help other people start their own businesses. A dream of mine personally, is to have a beautifully staged house that I can take all of my Content and do workshops and women empowerment conferences to train and coach- so I don’t have to rent Airbnb’s or conference rooms.
Hopefully our businesses will continue to grow in the future so that we are able to pass them down to future generations.