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Meet Niki. Here she is in an amazing Halloween costume!
Niki and I met when I was on a three-month road trip through Canada and the US. Niki is the first person I ever met who had given up working at a job and had started her own small business so I am pretty sure a seed was planted that day!
Niki is the owner of Snickerdoodle Photography, which specializes mainly in portraiture, engagement portraiture and wedding photography. She is currently living in Nova Scotia, Canada.
I hope you enjoy her story!
Niki, tell us what you were doing before starting your business?
To begin with I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I floated around throughout my 20s and my early 30s trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up. I traveled, worked at a lot of odd jobs and taught ESL in Japan.
After working with the SPCA I decided I wanted to be a veterinary assistant and began a program to become an Animal Health Technologist. I moved to Alberta from Nova Scotia with my future husband because there was a college there where I could finish my training.
I had to wait a year to get into the course so I took an administrative role. One of the managers asked me if I would be willing to take a graphic design course for them. I ended up taking several courses in graphic and web design. I often needed photography for my job so I would buy images but I’d also take some photos myself. That led into me taking photography courses too.
What made you think of starting your own business?
It was just a gradual transition. I’d always been looking for a career that was equally artistic and practical. I was really enjoying taking pictures. One day a professional photographer saw some my work and said “You have a good eye.” And that’s all it took. I decided to complete a photography certificate and switch my focus, no pun intended, entirely to photography.
My husband pushed me as well. I wouldn’t have thought that I would have been confident enough to run my own business. He’s always been encouraging, telling me that I have more potential than I know. In the end I thought what’s the worst that could happen? If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go get another job.
How did this turn into Snickerdoodle?
Initially, I thought to myself there’s no way I would ever photograph people. And the least suited job for me would have been wedding photography because I am quite introverted.
I assisted another photographer for a little while, she did a lot of stock photography and some commercial work. She also did wedding photography and I worked as her second shooter on wedding days. The second shooter typically assists the main photographer and offers some different angles of the events of the day so it’s not as much pressure.
Then one year she said to me “I don’t think I’m going to do it next season, I’m too busy with other projects”. I thought I would try it for a season, just do a few weddings on my own and there you go. I ended up being a wedding photographer!
Tell us what have been your challenges as a business owner?
Definitely the book side of things, I find it difficult to do the accounting side so I get a lot of help with that. I also find the marketing side challenging. I’ve been really lucky up until now as my marketing was very casual in a small town. I had a lot of referrals from other photographers whereas now I’m looking in a very different market.
As I mentioned, I am a shy person and I was nervous about having to direct people on wedding days. It’s a fast paced day and you need to be able to organize large groups of people and get the shot without taking too much away from the atmosphere of the day. In preparation, I joined Toastmasters – something I would recommend to anyone in the business world – it gave me the confidence I needed to represent my business but it also taught me not to take myself too seriously.
What have been your highlights as a business owner?
At the risk of sounding sappy, it was discovering how much I enjoy being around people that are in love!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been photographing a ceremony and I’ve actually been teary behind the camera and just thankful that my auto focus is there to help me keep the images sharp.
I’ve always had really warm and inspiring couples and their families have usually hugged me at some point during the wedding day. So I usually come home at the end of the wedding feeling really … full.
That’s probably the best thing. But it’s not just the weddings. When I’m around it’s usually because a baby has been born or families have reunited from across the world or old friends are seeing each other after too many years. These are momentous, warm occasions.
Although the photos that I take aren’t typically going to appear in magazines, they are the photos that are saved if there’s a fire in the house. They’re going to be around for generations.
What would you say to aspiring entrepreneurs?
If possible talk to somebody else who’s already doing it so that you can understand either your current market or maybe the specific niche that you want to get into because chances are you’re going to do it little bit differently than them anyway. That was really helpful to me.
Also, don’t be surprised if it completely changes. You might set up one business and it can completely evolve into something else. I was intending to be a web designer with a bit of photography on the side and I don’t do any web design now. Letting your business evolve is another one that would be useful.
I am in a new market now, having relocated to the other side of the country. I don’t even know if I’ll be doing weddings and portraiture here. I thought about a lot of other business ideas that would sprout out of that, that would still use my skills but it might look quite different I might do stock photography in the future or it may grow into designing greeting cards with my own photography. I don’t know where it’s going and I’m open to that.
You can find out more about Niki and Snickerdoodle Photography here
Key take aways from Niki’s experience
The creation of Niki’s business was a journey. It all happened very gradually and she ended up loving something she expected she wouldn’t like at all. This is an unusual situation but it does show the importance of being open-minded and if you are enjoying something seeing where it takes you. You might surprise yourself!
I love how Niki talked about the fact that a business can grow and develop and not be what you expected in the beginning. This is something I experience a lot with my clients. No matter how well thought out a business idea is in the beginning, it will evolve the same as you do as a person. It’s very rare that everything can be fully thought out before starting. You have to start on the journey with the right steps and then see where the path takes you.
Now I’d like to hear from you…
Has your business been a gradual evolution into what you are doing now?
Have you switched focus once starting a business?
Let me know in the comments below…