April 29, 2024

Small Business Owners: Part I – My Journey & My First 3 Tips

small business owners

How do small business owners succeed or even survive? This is not a photographer specific blog. I’m first and foremost a small business owner. Last year, I was invited to be a part of Square’s point of sale advertising campaign (image above). This recognition along with achieving my sales goals, receiving awards, speaking engagements etc. I want to share some insights of what I believe helped my small business succeed.

A Quick Recap Of My Journey

Before opening my photography studio in 2017, I worked in corporate accounting for almost twenty years. The image below is from 2005 (omg! lol). I was in my prime, working as a Director of Financial Planning for Calvin Klein. I enjoyed my journey very much and beyond grateful for all the amazing experiences, lessons learned, people I met etc. However, for so many reasons (too many to list here) it was time for me to pursue another journey.

During my years as an accountant I picked up photography as a hobby. I became obsessed with it and was traveling all over attending workshops, refining my skills and meeting other amazing photographers who were pursuing their passion as a career. Inspired and motivated, I put myself on a five year plan. I was going to become an entrepreneur myself and pursue my passion – photography!

My First Five Years…

Starting a business is not easy!! These first five years were the most challenging. I also had the pandemic mixed in where my studio was closed for almost five months. However, from what I hear, it’s common for business owners to face an extraordinary challenge or tragedy in the first few years of business. So let’s get to it, these are my first three tips on how to survive during these challenging times.

1) Network

I’ve done it all. BNI, LeTip (the more corporate networking groups) to chamber of commerces, meet and greets, community events, women networking organizations etc. Sure, you are often greeted with business cards and people trying to sell you their services or product. Sure, it can get exhausting and feel like the return is not worth the investment (both money and time). However, I am constantly reminded by my clients who met me years before, followed me on instagram and now booking a shoot or who referred a client to me, that that effort generates a return. I am also constantly reminded by the amazing support and opportunities I receive e.g. podcast interviews, presentations, panel discussions etc. that I am not alone as a solopreneur.

You have to get out. You have to meet fellow business owners, peers, your community and start engaging. Only through engaging do you make connections, build relationships, support groups etc. It is through this group, your network, where referrals are made. Referrals that also go both ways. I’ve referred many to businesses in my network. I’ve even referred potential clients to peers (aka competitors) who I felt were better suited. “When you give, they will want to give back”. Organically, your network will help you in more ways than you can imagine whether through support, clients and knowledge.

My personal strategy that proved even more beneficial: Don’t expect to make connections with everyone. Identify the individuals who may benefit from getting to know you and vice versa. Follow up with a one-to-one meeting whether zoom or coffee. Get to know them and see if there are ways where you both can support one another. We’re all familiar with the quote “it takes a village to raise a child”. I also believe that for small business owners, it takes a village to make your business succeed.

2) Online Presence

You have to be present. Not just in person but online. The world is constantly on their smart phones watching, researching and getting influenced. We might not be those influencers with millions of followers but we need to be able to influence our viewers. Our clients view our posts, websites, social media etc. Most of my clients tell me they read my google reviews and how that influenced their choice to work with me. My clients also tell me that they went through my entire instagram account lol. It can just take an instagram photo of myself and my dog Lula to influence a client. What can I say, animal lovers love to work with animal lovers lol.

Online presence is a very involved topic, however, my point here is this: we are constantly being researched. Square researched my business and also read my google reviews. Because I was present online, I was interviewed, then ultimately chosen as part of their advertising campaign.

Be active in obtaining testimonials. Be active online with social media even if you make one post per week. Especially as a small business owner, we need to be in the forefronts of peoples’ minds. Share informative posts that allow clients to learn more about you and/or your business. Share posts that allow viewers to connect with you. More on this topic to come in another blog, stay tuned…

3) Find Mentors

Most small business owners have mentors when starting their businesses. Whether through acquired technical skills, influence etc. We learn to set goals, build business and budget plans. Some small business owners work with business coaches while some work with mentors specific to their field. For me personally, I’ve invested (time and/or money) in various types of mentorship – in person, workshops, online, facebook groups etc.

When I first had the idea of possibly becoming a photographer full time I asked my photography teacher out to dinner. Yes, these types of ‘arrangements’ can be be tricky. However, I had taken many courses with her and had developed a very respectful teacher student relationship. I wrote a professional email asking if I could take an hour of her time, treat her to dinner and discuss her photographer journey. She was kind and generous enough to oblige and we had dinner together, a few times. Each time, I came with a list of questions lol and was in complete sponge mode learning various lessons she was kind enough to share with me. She was my first mentor and since then I’ve always valued mentorship. It’s important to be proactive and open(!) to learning.

I believe mentors come in various shapes and forms. Whether you pay for a dinner or pay for a formal training program. Or perhaps you’re paying with your time and expertise in exchanging information with a fellow peer. During the pandemic I connected with so many photographers or peers who I would also call mentors. We shared ideas, supported each other’s work. We helped one another through a very difficult time and that is another reason why my small business was able to persevere. My mentors have helped me achieve my seven year anniversary. Therefore, my third and final tip in this blog is to hold yourself accountable, be proactive and continue learning from your mentor community. They too are a part of your village.

Conclusion – Small Business Owners

Some small business owners achieve instant success overnight and others take a few years like me 😉. Everybody’s journey is different however, I strongly believe that the three tips I share above were necessary for my business to survive, persevere and succeed. I hope this was helpful and if so, I will be sharing more tips and stories on my experiences as a small business owner. Please make sure to subscribe or connect with me on instagram! Thanks for reading and have a great day!

small business owner

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