Katy Blevins was stuck in a job that was putting a damper on her creative energy. The day she picked up a camera was the beginning of new career for her. Today she and her business partner are creating unique ways to thrive in the very competitive world of professional photography. Read how she did it below…
Katy Blevins // US // The Studio Hampton Roads // Studio Rental, Boudoir Photography, Portrait Photography // 30s
WHAT MOTIVATED & INSPIRED YOU TO START YOUR BUSINESS?
About 8 years ago, I was stuck in a listless sales job that was boring me to tears. Being an artistic person by nature, spending day in and day out in an environment that lacked any sort of creative expression was pure torture. On a whim, I decided to pick up a camera and start shooting professionally. In hindsight, this is not what I would recommend to artists and/or photographers looking to jump into small business ownership, but it was certainly a learning experience, and my professional sales experience in the corporate world, general drive and determination, and a good bit of blessings resulted in growth and expansion over the next several years.
If my motivation then was boredom, my motivation now is affirmation of the beauty and character of the true woman. Focusing primarily on engagements, weddings and most importantly, boudoir photography now, I am blessed to do what I love and to be a part of something very special when it comes to a woman’s journey towards accepting her unique beauty. The Studio Hampton Roads is an extension of that love for photography and female portraiture, combined with the desire to meet a need in our local market and is my newest adventure, being just under a year old.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS…
The Studio Hampton Roads is our home base for our own professional and creative photography projects, but, as a standalone small business, it serves as a versatile rental space for local small business owners, other photographers, and artists. They are able to “pop up shop” in our studio, providing a professional environment in which to conduct their business. Fully customizable to their unique needs, and available for daily or hourly rental, it has provided those business owners who aren’t able to rent or own their own office space a home beyond meeting clients at the local Starbucks. Used primarily by boudoir photographers now, we are continuing to encourage and welcome other genres and small business owners to the space and have plans to expand in the very near future.
WHAT WERE THE FIRST FEW STEPS YOU TOOK TO GET YOUR BUSINESS UP AND RUNNING?
Having learned a great deal from having started my professional photography business the wrong way, it was very important that we follow all the proper legal recourses to start The Studio Hampton Roads. Making sure to file appropriately with the federal, state and local governments, seek legal counsel for operating agreements and contracts, and identifying a local accountant to assist with our record keeping and tax filings were key to making sure we set ourselves up as a small business properly and legally. Once the “red tape” was complete, we underwent a major renovation to ready the space and then hosted a local open house to introduce The Studio Hampton Roads to the community.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY OF RAISING AWARENESS OF YOUR BUSINESS AND GETTING NEW CUSTOMERS?
Before The Studio Hampton Roads was even a blip on the radar, my business partner and I were contributing to a number of local efforts to continue to build our professional and creative reputations. As founders and contributing writers to a local blog, The Hampton Roads Creative, which has now turned into a local community forum where we moderate small businesses, photography and other discussions, we spend a good bit of time establishing ourselves as trusted small business owners and knowledgeable artists. We continue to spend a great deal of time networking via social media and other local avenues to continue to grow our local presence and welcome new clients to The Studio. Developing a foundation of trust with our market has given new clients the confidence that our rental space will meet their creative needs and that our professional reputations provide a safe avenue for partnering in small business.
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES SO FAR WITH RUNNING YOUR BUSINESS?
The greatest challenge so far in running our business has been communicating the legal obligations of the contract and policies when using The Studio Hampton Roads. While we have the proper avenues in place to communicate clearly with our clients, we are not able to virtually “hand hold” them through reading and understanding their contract in its entirety. This has resulted in some damage to the site or other policy breaches that have ultimately cost us money in repairs that we would have liked to commit elsewhere. Likewise, a rental space also poses challenges of people simply not showing the care that they might show to their own property, which is frustrating but also the harsh reality of any sort of rental transaction. We have spent more time and money on site maintenance than we ever imagined.
HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THESE CHALLENGES?
We have found that any way we can automate our business improves the contact and awareness of our clients (and saves us time!). We use a variety of programs that assist with our operational structure and workflow, and most recently, we are working on putting an electronic contract into place that will streamline the booking process and also drive our client’s attention to the most important pieces of the contract. This automation will also take care of several main parts of the booking process on the front end and will eliminate the problem of late submissions. We also take to social media to share and further communicate site policies and the reasons behind the process at The Studio Hampton Roads, with our new blog just starting as the newest piece of the puzzle. Education is key and in this particular market, developing that trusted relationship with our clients only further improves their care of The Studio while on site and their attention to detail when booking.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
I love meeting a need. I love seeing supply and demand in action. I take great pride in the service we offer to our community, not only from a professional standpoint, but also from a creative perspective. Seeing our clients achieve quality results in their professional and creative endeavors while using The Studio space is incredibly rewarding. I value the trust and reputation we have built, both as professionals and small business owners who “know their stuff,” and as photographers who understand the technical needs of our competitors, provide a way to meet that need, and encourage and support their small businesses, while also growing my own photography business. It’s a unique position to be in, as a professional photographer providing a home in which competing photographers do business. It truly grounds us in our belief that the growth of our own photography does not come at the expense of others, but that we can truly support and encourage our competitors and still see our own niche in the market grow. In an extremely dynamic and competitive environment, we are really doing something truly unique.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER ENTREPRENEURS?
Do your research! Becoming a small business owner means so much more than simply deciding to do what you love and be your own boss. You have to take the time on the front end to really plan and design the hows and the whys of your planned business. Get your legal ducks in a row and spend some quality time with a lawyer and an accountant (especially if you have a business partner!). Draft up your business plan and get organized. Develop a workflow and process management system that keeps you organized and allows you to provide the best service to your clients and ultimately to yourselves. Don’t be afraid to fail and acknowledge and accept that you are going to make some pretty major mistakes at some point, but you’re going to learn and grow from them and seek to not make the same mistakes twice. And don’t make the mistake in thinking that “making your own schedule now” means life just got easy. This is going to be the hardest thing you ever do and if you’re not willing to log the hours, dig in with your whole self and put in some major elbow grease, don’t do it. There is no easy button.
HOW DO YOU KEEP MOTIVATED THROUGH DIFFICULT TIMES?
There are two things that frustrate us the most. 1. Damage to The Studio and 2. Not having the cash flow to buy a bigger space. When we have those moments where we feel exhausted or overwhelmed or just generally disappointed with the human race as we scrub the walls and clean the carpets for the umpteenth time, we work on acknowledging that damage is an inevitable experience in the rental business. Somehow acknowledging this “poor behavior” as somewhat normal to the industry makes us feel better and can help us to not take it personally that people don’t care enough about “us” to take good care of the site during their rental time. And when the newness of our business wears our patience thin and we want to move faster than our pocketbooks allow, we continue to remind ourselves that good things take time and that rushing the process is not our best practice nor in our best interests, professionally and personally. And we repeat “There is no easy button.” Having a business partner that I can trust and be transparent with is key to motivation. We balance each other and work in tandem in a manner that helps restore motivation quickly when someone feels defeated.
DO YOU HAVE A BUSINESS PHILOSOPHY?
I have a number of business philosophies as a small business owner for many years, but as it relates to The Studio Hampton Roads specifically, our philosophy is to provide the very best for our clients in every way. Beyond providing them a safe, versatile and modern space within which to conduct their professional and creative endeavors, we seek to support and network with them beyond our business transaction. Our philosophy is to spend the time to truly invest ourselves in the community, building relationships and supporting other small business owners, because ultimately, we desire that same support as well. We truly believe you can succeed and excel professionally in a competitive environment by collaborating and supporting those around you, even if they are your direct competition. We aim to hopefully serve as role models to encourage others to be kind, to be generous and to be involved.
When I face a big challenge I…
write out my action plan and tackle it one piece at a time.
My greatest fear is…
sacrificing family time more than I need to because I have prioritized my time poorly.
The most courageous thing I’ve ever done is…
carry my twin boys to 34 weeks, being on bed rest for the last 7 weeks of the pregnancy.
If I could go back in time to when I was 20 I would tell myself…
to embrace and pursue my creativity more (and to save every penny!).
that God has blessed me beyond measure and has opened doors, professionally and personally, that I could never have ever imagined or believed for myself without His guidance and love.
The biggest lesson I have ever learned is…
to take my ego and lock it in the closet. Humility goes a long way.
My favourite business tool or resource is…
my Google calendar. And the Hootlet from Hootsuite!
My favourite quote is…
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
– Jeremiah 29:11