Local Entrepreneur Spotlight: Marianne Wilson Photography
Posted on June 29, 2016
We absolutely lovesupporting local businesses and entrepreneurs in the 805 area — which is one of the main reasons we started our blog back in April 2014! So over the next few weeks, we are taking time to share some of our favorite 805 entrepreneurs/businesses 🙂
Today we are speaking with Marianne Wilson Photography (who actually photographed our very own Hayley Texidor’s wedding in October 2012! You can see some of those photos here).
LL805: What ignited you to start your own photography business?
MW: In 2008 Marianne was finishing up Art school as Joe was just preparing to take the Bar exam. It was fairly obvious what my, Joe’s, path would be (or so we thought at the time! Hahaha!). But, for Marianne things were a little less clear as someone with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography. After examining some of the options (interning for someone else, taking a studio portrait job, getting out into the freelance world) we started thinking about starting a photography business and thought “why the heck not?” It wasn’t like Marianne was leaving a great job to start the business and since we were still finishing up school it wasn’t THAT huge of a risk. As luck would have it, Marianne was sort of thrown into shooting a wedding shortly thereafter and it was decided: we would start a wedding photography studio!
LL805: Why in the 805? And/or what do you love about the 805?
MW: Both of us grew up living in and out of the 805. When it came time to “settle down” it seemed like the obvious choice for us because it has just the right mix of things to do and quiet neighborhoods. It is also a perfect fit for us as wedding photographers because there are dozens of wedding venues in the 805. The 805 is also centrally located right in between two other huge wedding areas: Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
LL805: What is your background education and previous jobs and/or what skills/knowledge did you apply from your previous experience(s)?
MW: Marianne went to a fine arts centered high school where she started studying photography and then continued on to California Institute of the Arts (CALarts) to get her BFA in photography. All of her education gave her a more artistic perspective on weddings, and her clean fine art style wasn’t very common when we started Marianne Wilson Photography. I am the master of business here (and really of the camera too). My background is in English, Political Science and, of course, the law. I was a practicing attorney for a few years before I left that behind to go full time with photography. That legal background is definitely helpful when starting and maintaining a business. It also doesn’t hurt that all those years of education turned me into dedicated and quick student. It wasn’t long after I picked up a camera for my first time until I just knew how to take a freaking rad photo.
LL805: What would you say are the top three skills needed to start your own successful business?
MW: 1. First and foremost, you need an insanely good work ethic. When you start a business (especially an art-based business) you hear lots of people saying that they are passionate about their craft. When you dig a little deeper, you find that not many are actually willing to put in the countless hours practicing and developing their skills to become an expert in their field. Even fewer are willing to put in the time to set up and maintain a profitable business.
2. A genuine desire to give all of your clients the absolute best that you have to give.
3. Basic math skills and a willingness to use them. It seems a little silly to have to say this, but we cannot tell you how many business owners are out there losing money like crazy because they have never sat down and figured out how much it costs to run their business. Excel (or, more specifically, google docs spreadsheets) is our BFF.
LL805:What do you enjoy about working together/running your own business together? What is difficult about working together/running your own business together?
Joe: When I was an attorney, I worked an average of about 60 hours per week Monday through Friday. During that time, Marianne shot engagement sessions in the evenings and weddings on the weekends. So, we didn’t get to see each other much before we worked together. I love that now, we get to spend so much time together. We are very blessed that we are similar in a lot of ways and agree on most of the big decisions that we have to make. But, I also love that Marianne and I have different perspectives on a lot of things. We can bounce ideas off each other and I feel like the end result is always better than anything that either of us could have come up with on our own. The biggest difficulty of running a business together is that it is hard not to be overly familiar when we totally disagree about something business related. When two unrelated executives disagree with one another about a big business decision, they have to maintain a degree of professionalism with one another and they don’t take things too personally. When a husband and wife disagree with one another about a big business decision, it is all too easy to start taking things personally and accidentally hurt one another’s feelings. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen to us very often since it is very rare that we just flat out disagree on things. But, when it does happen, it isn’t very fun.
Marianne: It’s hard to answer this question without getting “mushy” but I love spending pretty much all of my time with my husband. I love having him as a business partner, he’s the ultimate teammate and my best friend. It was also helpful that we were together for about 5 years before starting the business. I would say the most difficult part about running a business together is turning off the business. There is always something business related to do or talk about (especially with a home office) so it can be difficult to shut that off sometimes.
LL805:What have been some of your past failures/mistakes and how have you learned from them?
MW:Early on we tried following trends in style and what was “cool” in photography at the time. You certainly have to pay attention to what is going on around you to make sure that you are up to speed on the latest trends and make sure that you aren’t doing something that is dated and a total turnoff to new clients. But, photography is all about telling a good visual story. Just like nobody wants to listen to a stand-up comedian telling another comedian’s jokes, nobody wants to hire a photographer that is trying to copy someone else’s style because it just isn’t authentic. You can always tell that there is something missing when someone is trying to copy someone else’s style. Finding your style or “voice” is important and being consistent is even more important.
LL805: What do you love most about working for yourself/running your own company?
Marianne: Definitely wearing pajamas and random office dance parties.
Joe: I am a creative person and I am a problem solver. Owning a business gives me the opportunity to be creative in SO many ways and when you own a business, there is ALWAYS a problem that needs to be solved.
Marianne: Wait, Joe’s answer. Yeah, that one. 😉
LL805: What motivates you?
MW: Thinking about the future and where we would like to be in 5-10 years and, more importantly, what we would like to give back to others in need.
LL805: How do you generate new ideas?
Marianne:I have a JoeXP2000: the newest, latest and greatest in idea generation. It works great. I think everyone should have one. But you can’t have mine.
Joe:I’m creative and I’m a problem solver. Every problem is an opportunity to come up with a creative solution. Most creative solutions are seeds for something interesting, cool and new. Most of my ideas start as problems that need to be solved and the solutions evolve into something else. I’m also an extreme introvert and I do my best thinking when I am alone. So, the short answer to this question is: give me a problem, let me take a shower, and BOOM! New ideas.
LL805: To what do you most attribute your success? What would say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?
MW: Before you start your business, do your research, run the numbers and have a plan. Stated differently: have a very thorough and realistic business plan before you start. Then, as you are running your business, update the plan so that you always have a path to keep growing. A business is like a plant: if it isn’t growing, it is probably dying.
The amazing benefits of great customer service cannot be overemphasized. Always under-promise and over-deliver. Thrilled customers who know that you have gone above and beyond for them are the greatest asset that any business can have. Conversely, the horrifying consequences of bad customer service cannot be overemphasized. It doesn’t take many 1 star Yelp reviews to completely destroy a previously successful business.
Be great at what you do. Take the time to really develop your skill set and know how to do what you do with excellence. Every time we hear the words “fake it till you make it!” our souls shrivel up and die a little because that is the perfect recipe for disappointed and angry customers.
It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how good your product is if your mom and your dog are the only ones who know about your business. Put yourself out there!
Make sure your paperwork, legal documents, and taxes are in order because fixing mistakes in those areas is VERY costly.
LL805: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
MW:Getting to the point where we couldn’t possibly grow any more on our own. It was also the most frustrating point because we had to start delegating things that we care deeply about. That process was hard.
LL805: What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
MW: Holding off on starting a family is probably the biggest one. I am sure the business has taken quite a few years off our lives as well. We love it, but it is a lot of mental, emotional, and physical work.
Aren’t they just the sweetest?! We certainly think so 🙂