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Photographer Liza Lentini Relies on Lessons Learned to Build Better Business

Photographer Liza Lentini Relies on Lessons Learned to Build Better BusinessWhen Liza Lentini made Liza Lentini Photography ( her main source of income at the start of the recession, she was well-aware of the risks. For this creative freelancer, jumping in with both feet is the name of the game. Having already made her share of mistakes in business, she decided to go forth anyway – with eyes wide open. Here are some wise words she had to offer to ShoestringVenture readers.

Why did you start your company?

I have to confess, I never really thought I would make photography my main business. I had spent a lifetime (literally) building a career as a freelancer writer. However, like many freelancers, I wasn’t prepared at all for the recession and the impact it would have on our jobs and rates. I simply couldn’t survive that way. I also felt as though the entire definition of journalism had suddenly changed, and I wasn’t willing to make those compromises in my work.

All that said, I knew I needed a product or service to sell. I had been studying photography ever since I was young, loved everything little thing about it, and knew more than I realized. I knew I wanted to take pictures of people. So, for me, it was more about switching my focus and being smart about what little investment funds I had initially, creating a conservative, smart budget, and really going for it.

How did the recession impact your business?

I officially launched in September 2008 when the entire country was horrified by the announcement that the economy was on life support. I countered that horror by listening to customers’ needs, and, without any compromise to my own vision, trying hard to beat out the competition. I started out by setting my price (very reasonable market rates) and strategically offering periodic limited time “offers” which would serve double duty getting the word out about my business.

In some ways the recession really helped. I knew I would have to rely on lots of barters at the outset, and it seemed many people were more than happy to accommodate this, considering they were pinching pennies, too.

What was the biggest transition you had to make?

First thing I had to do was move my business. I decided to leave New York City (where the unemployment rate was so high) and go home to Boston, where I had an instant network.

But there was another important transition I had to make. Until I moved to Boston I had been focusing on actor headshots, but in Boston, this wasn’t the work that was coming to me. I was being asked to take pictures of kids and pets! Since I love them both, it was a welcomed change.

How was it financed?

Photographer Liza Lentini Relies on Lessons Learned to Build Better BusinessLuckily, I had a very good camera at the outset. But I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to compete with other photographers with $5,000 cameras. I had several good lenses, but they were nowhere near up to snuff. Here’s where the recession once again was a great help. I found the most amazing deals on rentals—equipment, studios—and this made starting my business more than possible.

With the equipment issue under control, I decided to devote my humble start-up costs to marketing: website, beautiful cards, etc. After carefully researching all of my vendors, I was surprised at how much profit I could make after every shoot. Because I believe in it, I made a conscious decision to use all local vendors who were small-business owners like me. They were all willing to make deals.

What type of marketing or advertising do you do now that you’re officially up and running?

As of today, I don’t purchase advertising. I get most of business through Facebook and word of mouth. This isn’t always enough for most companies, I know, but it’s working great for me.

What is the best advice you never got?

Take care of yourself first. I invested absolutely everything in a previous business, cashing in my pension for start up funds, and working extra jobs to keep it afloat. I was happy to make as many sacrifices as I had to to make it work, and I do believe it would have succeeded if not for the economic downfall. Regardless, that’s no way to live. In reflection, I tell people, “I put the oxygen mask on the baby before I put it on myself.” While my heart was in the right place, it’s not a smart way to start a business, simply because anything (like a recession) can happen at any time. And, when push comes to shove, if there’s no “you” there’s no business. Period.

What advice do you have for others hoping to pursue a creative business?

Photographer Liza Lentini Relies on Lessons Learned to Build Better Business

Liza Lentini

Be as creative in your business strategy as you are with your work. So many talented people take the “if you build it, they will come” strategy to selling their goods and services, sitting at home, waiting for buyers. It would be great if the world worked that way, but it just plain doesn’t.

To really make things work you sometimes have to consider the current climate and trends and work with them. Without compromise to your ultimate vision, of course.

Why do you think you’ve been able to survive in a creative business in this rough economy?

Even though I made a gigantic switch from writing to photography, I couldn’t have done it without the expertise I’d acquired as a hardcore enthusiast since girlhood. Sometimes we have to switch focus in order to survive during this tough times, but by all means, please pick something you know something about! If you don’t know where to begin, start with something you love and have been interested in for a really long time.

When I really committed to photography, I began to understand that, as with my writing, I have a voice all my own. It was unique in New York, but it was even more unique in Boston, a city I truly love and feel at home in. A move to another city is a very big change, and I think it did my business a world of good.

I also truly think that my mistakes in business, as painful and heartbreaking as they were, were a real help. I forced myself to take a good hard look at what I’d done wrong, and took a few entrepreneurs that I knew and respected out to lunch to pick their brain. I listened to their advice, and took what worked for me to heart. I admit I have a lot to learn, even still. I’m really open to helpful advice. I’m open to criticism, too. I’m secure enough in what I do to know I can only benefit from it all.


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