A PHOTOGRAPHER’S SNAP SHOT OF A WORKING LIFE
Internationally published portrait photographer Melinda DiMauro gives us a little expert advice about finding success as a solopreneur.
When did you know you wanted to pursue your business or venture? When I was only thirteen, my parents gave me a high-end camera as a Christmas Gift. I give them so much credit for seeing something in me; I just knew how to use it and naturally loved it and don’t really remember ever having to pore over manuals. I took as many photography classes as I could in high school and college. Initially I thought I might want to be a fashion illustrator and studied advertising art direction, but I ultimately realized I loved the photo conception part of advertising the most. I met a commercial photographer through my work and he offered me a job as an assistant. He was so patient in showing me the ropes when I had no idea what I was doing! I had so many ideas in my head and he taught me how to technically make them happen.
Did your former career prepare you for running your own business? After college, I worked a few temp jobs that eventually led me to working with the editor of the Siemens Corporation Annual Report. She was an incredibly valuable mentor to me. She taught me business etiquette and how a woman executive should carry herself. I think that you can learn something from any job you are in.
What has been your biggest challenge to date? Keeping up with equipment. Photography equipment is constantly changing. And when you upgrade cameras, you need to upgrade computers. It can be a full-time job just keeping up with what is new. I miss the days of film and polaroid and darkrooms!
Entrepreneurs often say that “you can’t do it all.” What three things do you always outsource? For me, staying soft is a challenge. When I’m in task mode and carrying the weight of work and the kids and the household, sometimes I feel I need to be tough to get things done. When I have help around the house it frees me up to work to my full potential and then be present with the kids when I’m home. Having a housekeeper is essential for me. I have more headspace when my house is tidy. Having a great accountant to look at the numbers and keep track of taxes is also invaluable. Between my husband and me, we file for three businesses in four states. I also work with a marketing company. They send out email campaigns and direct mail cards, send me reminders about what’s going out, and help me track the success of each promotion.
What business book would you recommend to someone who is about to launch or is in the early growth stage? Two books that I think could both be helpful: The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz and The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. I’m also reading one now called Greater by Steven Furtick.
My best advice to a woman launching a venture is… Establish yourself as much as you can before having kids. Starting a business takes a lot of time and energy. It’s really great to be able to pour yourself into it when you are starting out. Having kids has made me streamline what I do as my business has evolved, but I had a foundation to build on.
How long were you in business before you started to see real growth? What do you attribute that to? My business has ebbed and flowed with having kids, but my biggest growth has come from setting goals and analyzing them often. I’m constantly looking at where I’m at and where I’m going. What’s amazing is that when I have reached to set the bar higher, it has always come to pass. You need to know your destination but enjoy the journey.
How do you organize your day to best optimize your time? Describe a day in your life. I have a million thoughts and to-do’s running through my head all the time. It’s hard for me to separate work and home. This is an example of the loop running through my brain on any given day: My son forgot to bring his cello to school (again), I need to order a new laptop, but first I need to research which laptop to get, I have to pick up the dog’s tick medicine, we are out of coffee, I absolutely must catch up on bookkeeping, I need to schedule a model and test out my new lighting system, did I remember to send those final edits? And on and on. My system is to just get it all down on paper so I don’t get stuck and overwhelmed – I jot everything down in my 99¢ Target composition notebook. I usually have a new page each week of “Home To Do” and “Work To Do”. I also get up every morning to journal and pray. I find that if I do that, anything that’s bugging me emotionally is at least acknowledged and assessed and then I have a clear head to organize my actual day. I go through my laundry list of to-do’s and copy the things I can accomplish into a detailed schedule in my daytimer. It may seem redundant but I can easily get distracted and doing it this way helps keep me on track hour by hour and be more productive.
Tell us about a time when you thought you should throw in the towel. What kept you going? Mixing creative and business is both really great and really hard. When I decided I wanted to be a photographer, I decided that it was who I was going to be for life, which has made the ups and downs easier. There are so many times when I’ve gotten discouraged and my husband has been my biggest fan. He’s really been there to encourage me and remind me that what I have to offer is valuable.
If you could have a one-on-one meeting with any woman, who would it be and why? What’s the first thing you would you ask her? Grace Coddington from Vogue. I would ask if we can work together!