✨Today is my SWEET SIXTEEN! ✨
I have officially been in business for 16 years! Still hard to wrap my head around this milestone. All I can say is “I have been blessed”. Here is my story of my humble beginning. Have you heard it said “It doesn’t have to be perfect, you just need to start”. How true that statement is for me as I look back on when I decided to “start”.
It was January 3, 2007. I drove down to the Kalamazoo County Courthouse and got my DBA (doing business as). I remember thinking “well, if it doesn’t work out, that’s ok”. I really didn’t know what I was doing. Serious.
I watched my mom start her own business and run two businesses for several years. I remember asking her some questions along the way, but it really came down to me walking the bumpy path of starting and building my own business. It truly was an act of faith as I just knew God’s approval was in the decision.
For two years, I ran my little business out of our small home (with a toddler in the home….so you can imagine the challenges there).
This was before social media was a huge factor in small business marketing. So my business grew organically from my natural market and word of mouth. As I look back at that time, I shake my head and just think how God had His hand on those early years as I was trying but really didn’t know how to start and run a business.
In 2009, we knew it was time to move the business out of our house. Another huge leap of faith. My sweet photographer friend and mentor, Holly, already had an established photography studio in downtown Kalamazoo, and knew the area well so she helped me check out a couple places. The first place we looked turned out to be THE place. It was in the historical Rose Street Market building and the price, location and space was just right. We decided to go for it. In all the years I have had a studio, I never had a month where I wondered “how am I going to pay for rent”. Which is everyone’s fear when the sign that scary lease to start their business in a retail space. God always provided a session or a wedding when we needed it.
In 2016, we made huge move to another studio space. The Rose Street Market building was sold and all of us tenants were asked to leave. Another opportunity to trust God because I had no good leads on my own to find a new space. I remembering praying for two weeks, “God this is in your hands, where do you want me to go”. I actually found a retail space on Craig’s List (remember Craigs List??) It was actually in the area Jayme (my husband) was driving by at that time, so I called him and asked him to check it out. He called me and said “Melissa, this place looks good, I think it could work”. So the next day, we were able to tour it and I KNEW. I knew this was it. It needed so much work. But I knew it was the place. We spent five weeks working so hard to transform it into the beautiful photography studio it still is today. We LOVE this space and everyday I walk in I feel so much gratitude knowing God led me to this space.
I have photographed so many weddings, events, births, newborns, babies, high school seniors, families, businesses, vacations and so on. Today, the business specializes in maternity, newborn and family photography. In the Summer months, we also love to photograph high school Seniors!
I have learned so much about myself these least 16 years, I have learned how delicate and fleeting owning a business can be. I started and grew my business in 2008 during the recession, I was able to push pause and not panic when we had to close the business due to the COVID pandemic, and then handle the increase of business once we were able to open back up again.
I love how my business allows me to have slow months in the Winter to recoup, rest and remember the last year, and then reset and get ready to start the next year.
I thought it would be fun to list some challenges, victories, highlights and tip of running my business….
- Saying NO to people. It is so hard to say no, but I have gotten better learning what I can and can not do.
- Turning the business off each day. There is no clocking in and out when it comes to being a business owner. Running a business is amazing, but honestly it is a ball and chain around your neck 24/7. Any small business owner I am sure can attest this this.
- Proper book keeping and taxes. Two things, I learned quickly I do not like to do. However, for the first 7 years, doing my own book keeping forced me to learn how a business works and how taxes work. I now have an amazing bookkeeping and accountant so I do not have to do this chore I dreaded and can focus on more fun parts of the business.
- Accomplishing a technique to skill that I wondered if I would ever master! (Such a great feeling)
- This is a huge one that I never want to forget. Five years ago, we paid off our home mortgage. We were working hard to pay it off a year later, but due to the growth in business that year, I was able to pull off a huge surprise and save enough money to gift my husband on his birthday to pay it off. That is still a favorite memory of ours as a couple and my. business. We set a goal, and met it!
- Serving and blessing people with my photography above and beyond doing it for a living.
- Two years ago, I was able to purchase my “dream car”. I wasn’t exactly sure what that car was for a couple years as I was saving my money to replace my then current car. I then decided on one, and it took me two years to save up for it and then pay cash for it. That was really fun!
- Never going into debt even $1 from the start of my business to present.
- Pick my own schedule. Sometimes, I hate myself for that…but I have no one to blame but myself. 😉 However, picking my own schedule, especially in the Summer, is awesome. I work hard when it is time, and then I play and rest hard when it is time.
- I was able to purchase an 1952 vintage Ford pickup truck for my business and it is looking super cute sitting at the edge of our woods. I just love that little truck and so do my clients!
- I get to go to some amazing places for my job. My favorite is the beach for family photographs. I just love our beaches here in Michigan. I love getting up really early and meeting a family at Lake Michigan and have the beach to ourselves and just start the day in such a beautiful place.
- This is been our family value since we got out of debt in 2004. Live debt free. That included our business. We run it debt free and always have.
- Know that you will make mistakes, it’s part of life. I feel horrible when I make a mistake, but I have learned some of my biggest lessons in my business and in my life on not just how to fix mistakes but how I handle them, and treat others in the process.
- Find joy in your day to day job. I may be doing my dream job….but it is still that …. a job. Some days are harder than others, always find joy and remember why you do what you do. I also find looking back at how far I have come is very encouraging. Gratitude and thankfulness in the journey is key!
- Don’t devalue yourself. Just because someone can not afford you doesn’t give them permission to devalue you. I see that often in this industry and on social media where people will criticize a small business owner and their pricing because they can not afford them or do not see the value. Don’t let that affect you. Set your pricing to what you need to be to survive and THRIVE. It is totally ok to THRIVE….even if people may not understand, agree, or value what you do.
I need to thank each employee who has been a part in helping me build this business the last 16 years. Life and time has allowed me to have some amazing employees through these years and I am so grateful for their time working along side me.
I also want to thank my husband and daughters. They know the sacrifice it takes to run a business, they always have been incredibly supportive!
It’s been an amazing career, and it’s not over yet. Here’s to year 16. So so grateful.