How to Start a Business with Nothing

Two Cameras, Two Flashes, and Plenty of Pluck was published in an online magazine, Shoestring Ventures. They asked me to write it and I am re-publishing it here to give you some inspiration on going ahead and starting a business even if no one supports you. Just kick your own ass!



Two Cameras, Two Flashes and Plenty of Pluck

I started my photography business 25 years ago in the center of Silicon Valley; Steve Jobs lived down the street in Palo Alto, one of the priciest places to live in the USA.

I loved photographing people and wondered if there might be a way to make money at it. Photography was my hobby and buying cameras, film, and processing just for fun was getting expensive.

So I put an ad in the local paper and we got a call. I was working with a partner at the time. Our first clients were a couple who wanted only candid photos of their wedding and reception. I was thrilled. It was just what I wanted to do.

But there was no one else shooting photojournalism for weddings in 1988.

Would I have to conform to the photography style of the times – rigid no fun portraits full of deadpan expressions?

But this couple did not want to pose at all – I was in heaven and they paid us exactly what we asked for which felt like a kings ransom at the time. It was $500 for an all day wedding.

I was off and running drunk on the ecstasy of being paid for what I loved to do – photographing people! It had been my passionate hobby for 15 years so I was ready. That year we shot 2 weddings and the next year we did 27.

I was on the crest of a wave surfing. And it was lucrative. Eventually the revenue was between $2000 and $10,000 per wedding. That’s a lot of clamshells. And we could raise our family on it and have days off during the week to go to the beach and take vacations when we wanted to – we just had to commit to having our weekends booked up a year in advance.

What did it cost to start it?

Virtually nothing more than the advertisement I put in the local paper. We had our cameras and yes eventually added lots more professional equipment. I’ve shot over 700 weddings all of them on film.

In the last 5 years I’ve converted my film to digital files and then printed. Film has a different look than digital but this past year I finally went all digital. And it’s loads of fun.

After the weddings I started traveling full-time doing photography and teaching worldwide. I took my business on the road. I’ve done many solo exhibitions in the USA and am grateful that my wedding clients who became my friends have showed up for these events and bought my photographs on canvas and photo books too.

I’ve had a lot of fun at these exhibition parties. I’ve been sponsored by and they started me down the road of high quality exhibition printing for my photography shows and making photo books for my clients to buy of my world travels. I am forever grateful to them for pushing me into this.

The one thing I did right was following my passion and my heart. When I told people I wanted to start a photography business they said, “Oh that’s highly competitive there’s too many people doing it in the valley.”

I didn’t listen to them. I thought I would try and see what happened.

Yes, many people starting businesses do fail but honestly I just didn’t consider that I would fail.

But I never thought it would be so successful so quickly. I had no expectations, as I loved doing photography. So I knew I would be shooting no matter what.

The same happened with writing. I wrote for 5 years and then I went to a writer’s conference in Maui and got a book deal for Everyday Naked, my first book. That is not supposed to happen, the public relations people told me at Celestial Arts, my publishers in Berkeley, California. (now they have been bought by Random House)

Whenever I told people I was writing before being published I’d only hear doom and gloom about how difficult it was.

So I stopped telling people I was writing until I got a book deal.

My slogan is: keep going and don’t let anyone stop you with negativity. That’s what I live by. Passion is what we all can access but sometimes those who are not enthusiastic will try to throw cold water on your plans.

Just dodge the buckets and keep moving.

What did I have to learn?

How to be a businesswoman.

I had to learn how to ask for what I was worth and stand by it.

Today I see many people on craigslist and other online venues wanting artists to do photography for free. I will only work free for humanitarian foundations. Why should a business that will be making money off photos I shot get free work?

It doesn’t compute. I’m good at what I do and I get paid for my skills. When people go to the doctor we don’t say why don’t you give me a deal expecting him/her to charge less, or if you asked an engineer at Intel to accept a lower paycheck this week I think they would say no. Same with creative work. It has a value.

I am proud to say I’m in the black and my son is now a professional filmmaker and photographer too. I’m enjoying my world travels and helping people on both hemispheres greatly improve their photography. I’m shooting for my magazine Vagabond and for businesses, and humanitarian foundations.

I love what I do, my work is my play.

Travel with me and Check out MaryTV on Youtube here

I am currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand writing my next book or its writing me.

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