Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Working Within A (Photography) Business Partnership

When I first began shooting portraits of people, I worked alone. I loved it on that level - working one and one (or one on three, four, five, if you're talking about a group or family) was really fun for me. However, when I booked my first wedding I had a mild breakdown - how would I ever pull off shooting an entire wedding, aka one of the biggest events in many people's lives, by myself?

I asked my friend Ashley, who is my now business partner, to help me out. She happily agreed, and we had an awesome time working together. Shortly after shooting this wedding I moved out of state, so Ashley and I didn't work together any longer. We were each still shooting, however, and when Ashley booked a three-day Hindu wedding and asked me to come back to Alabama to help her shoot it, I was all over it.

Between the booking and the shooting we ended up moving back to Alabama, and starting a business with Ashley seemed like a natural step to take. We both loved our jobs as wedding and portrait photographers, got along well (we went to high school and have known each other for nearly ten years, off and on), and brought different perspectives and styles to the mix. We now equally own and operate White Rabbit Studios. While many people may balk at the idea of working with a business partner, we both love it. Here are a few things I've learned from working with someone in a business partnership...


Keep your dialogue honest and frequent
One of the best things Ashley and I do is to maintain total honesty within our business. We have so far been able to quite easily separate our personal and business relationships. If one of us takes issue with something the other one is doing, editing or shooting wise, we bring it up. If we love something the other one is doing, we bring that up also. We're very good about complimenting and constructively critiquing each others work. It's vital to our business that we're able to discuss anything and everything related to it in an environment that is wrapped in trust, otherwise we'd always be second guessing one another.

Make sure your principles agree
There are a few things that are mutually very important to each of us: we always want to offer our clients a DVD with all of their full-resolution edited images from their event. We want to always offer an affordable, but locally competitive wedding package - no matter how high the other ones go. We also both always want to maintain a sliding scale option for couples and clients who need it. While we want and need to make money from this job, we both believe everyone deserves awesome photos, and we love to be the people who provide those. While not every photographer or business owner will agree with our practices, the two of us do, so it works for our business.


Learn how the other one works
I am a VERY visually-oriented person. This is important because Ashley's husband, Andy, does all of our design stuff. Logos, business cards, website - you name it, and he builds or creates it. Ashley and Andy have the luxury of being able to work on these things together in their house... but I can't always be there to see what they're creating. Instead of just forging ahead with what they imagine, Ashley has been awesome about making sure I have hard or digital examples of every single thing they're working on before it goes live. It's incredibly important to make sure you're following one another when you're talking about something as important as how your business is presented.

Support one another
I have a two-year-old son, Jasper. He was just over four months old when Ashley and I shot our first wedding together as White Rabbit Studios. He was also breastfeeding, and I didn't have a pump. Since weddings are usually at least six hours, this meant my husband and son came with us to every single wedding we shot until Jasper really started eating solid food which was somewhere around seven or eight months. While this was awesome of my husband, it was also incredible of Ashley. Unless we were right in the middle of a crucial moment, I'd have to disappear every two hours or so. There were even a few times that I had to leave a wedding a little early, and Ashley never said a word. Instead of asking me why I couldn't just feed Jasper something else or discouraging me from bringing Jasper, Ashley encouraged the integration of my family into our business. One blissful result of this is that my son absolutely adores her and now he sometimes even comes along just for fun. Ashley's support of our parenting decisions (nursing, etc.) is something I'll never forget and immensely appreciate.

Keep your professional and personal goals current and active
It's important to both of us that we get to spend time with our families. Ashley and I love our job, and we adore traveling to new places for weddings, but neither of us wants to give our lives over to always being on the road. Making sure we have weekends off to be with the people we love the most has always been mutual intention. We both also have other jobs and hobbies - Ashley and her husband own a record store, and she's incredibly active in local bands and a theater troupe. I am also the Managing Editor of the website Offbeat Mama and have hobbies (such as writing and yoga) that are also very important to me. We both agree that we want to be successful as wedding photographers, but on our own terms.

And finally... make sure your business senses agree

Ashley and I are definitely more non-traditional businesswomen. We pay our taxes (I swear!), but we don't do a lot of other things that many professional photographers do. Our goal is to celebrate as much love as possible with as many amazing people as we can, and we've found a perfect little pocket of the wedding world that helps make this happen. We also want to always grow as people and professionals, and we incorporate this goal into every business decision we make. I think our business partnership is successful because we have many personality traits in common, but a few key differences: Ashley is a micro-manager, which is awesome because... I'm not. I am however, awesome at keeping up with money, profit-loss sheets, and client receipts. So while she's planning our next event (we hosted a wedding fair in January 2011), I'm making sure our ends are meeting. It works great for us that we have these personality and skill differences.


Bio: Stephanie Kaloi is a photographer, blogger, and the Managing Editor of Offbeat Mama. She currently lives in the SE United States with her husband, son, roomies, and crazy mutt.


Links:
White Rabbit Studios: http://www.thewhiterabbitstudios.com
Blog: http://www.casadekaloi.com
Offbeat Mama: http://www.offbeatmama.com


*P.S.- We've swapped posts today and have an article on the Offbeat Mama site about camera options for kids. See it here.