Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Warning: This Success Story contains illegal doses of gloating and self confidence !!!

“You must have always wanted to be a photographer? How’d you get into this business? How’d you get so good?” (very flattering!)

I’ve got my success story down to a quick 20 second quip when asked by my curious clients. Why the curiosity? I’m not sure, but I give the response several times a week. “I’m like a VH1 storyteller’s story”, I tell them. “Complete with all the sex, drugs & rock & roll!”

Here’s the abbreviated version: After several stints with ’80’s hair metal cover/original bands, and a cast of characters that clearly fits the VH1 Storyteller criteria, I needed to get a real job. (I still haven’t found it!) While “rocking”, I had also worked as a photographer/sales person/studio manager for almost nine years prior to opening my business. A wife, a mortgage, two children, plus child support payments from a previous relationship made it evident to me that “workin’ fo’ the man” ain’t gonna get me too far.

Knowing the industry and carefully developing, and this was key, a clear, concise business plan for SBA approval were the small, but super effective building blocks for my success. I do have one more “Super Power” that I’ll share in a bit.

Photography by JAY , see , was born in November of 1996 and has become one of the most popular, if not the most popular photography studio in Northeast Pennsylvania (My customers say I am the best. Again, very flattering). We specialize primarily in high school seniors, family, children and even pet photography amongst other things. As of the Fall of 2010, I had photographed perhaps my last wedding ever (never say never?) after photographing a significant amount of weddings in my career which is really and truly how I carved my reputation and “street cred” in my ‘hood.

Rewinding for just a quick moment, I had mentioned two building blocks for my business creation. It is no exaggeration that these elements had been absolute gold for my business startup, aside from that “secret super power” which I’ll still get to. If I could offer any advice for a startup, it would be to use these two components. Be a sponge. Absorb every drop of information you can and retain it so you can put it to use later. Learn from the good and especially the bad. For my SBA loan, I had an old Nikon camera that technically qualified as some sort of industry owned gear, even though I never used it because it was so old and amateur; and maybe $500 in cash. Maybe. Actually that’s a stretch. My wife and I were incredibly poor at that time. A McDonald’s Happy Meal was a treat. But my business plan was so solid, that I was prepared for the worst case scenario which would still put me ahead of the game. I had the numbers down, inside and out. I knew what my expenses would be, I had a marketing plan, and had “low ball” projected income, and more. With some reviewing and tweaking from my SBA loan officer I was able to secure a loan and never looked back.

Aside from the digital revolution, which proved to be a HUGE learning curve in many ways, one of my biggest challenges had been the ability to effectively handle massive growth spurts. Good problem, right? But think about it, the bigger the engine, the faster the car, the quicker the crash! I’ve chosen to work smarter, not harder. More quality, less quantity. If we offer a great product and excellent service, we should be able to photograph fewer sessions for a premium price. Depending on how motivated I’d like to be, our annual revenue is usually between $250,000 and $300,000+.

We have found ourselves to be not unscathed by the recession though. There is an absolute trickle-down effect. My costs are definitely up, meaning my credit card charges are up, and I have to be much more flexible and creative with marketing and sales approach. In fact, as far as marketing goes, I’ve marketed and advertised my studio as much in the past three years than I have the entire fifteen of Photography by JAY’s existence. We’ve even undergone a cosmetic studio makeover to be more appealing and validate our perceived value. Big expense, so far, proven to be well worth the investment. What I’ve learned? Don’t be complacent or take anything for granted.

Currently, I have four to five part time employees and a very supportive wife and children. Finding BALANCE in life and business is monumental, hence the whole retiring from the wedding biz deal.

Oh yeah, the secret, super power.

There are dozens of photographers (and even non) in my area that know more about f-stops and f-gears in a camera than me. But guess what? They have the personality and people skills of a door knob. Like real estate: location, location, location. Service Industry: People Skills, People Skills, PEOPLE SKILLS !!! Did I mention personality and people skills? I’m not sure you can learn it or buy it. And if you don’t have it, don’t kid yourself, try something else where you don’t talk to humans.

Does your favorite doctor or restaurant know more or have better frying pans than the others? Not necessarily. But I bet they can sure relate to you and offer some great service with a genuine smile.

And for all you gear heads out there, I am quite aware there is no f-gear in a camera.

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One Response to “Warning: This Success Story contains illegal doses of gloating and self confidence !!!”

  1. Lee Devlin says:

    It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true. -Bear Bryant

    Jay is the real deal, and his work speaks for itself. I’ve followed his business since the beginning where he took a shell of a building that was falling apart and remodeled it until it looked like a palace, doing the construction work himself. Most importantly, he’s got the creativity and artistic ability that make his work stand out and that is something you won’t get from a person who simply knows how to operate a camera.


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