(As you may know, earlier this month I have been named one of the 2010 Leading Moms in Business by StartupNation. Parts of the interview with StartupNation were quoted in one of the feature articles you can read here:
The entire interview is below - thanks for reading!)
Tell me about what you were doing before you started your business, career-wise?
I have held corporate positions in software development and management for nine years before deciding to pursue photography full-time. My corporate career began in 2000 after I completed a Physics PhD, followed by research and development and later managerial positions for software companies in the computer-aided design (CAD) industry here in Atlanta. In parallel, I started a website for my photography in 2000 and graduated with a Professional Photographer degree from New York Institute of Photography in 2003.
During this time I took a few portrait and special event clients a year. In mid-2008 I got my business license and began to consider photography as a possible full time career.
Tell me about your decision to leave Corporate America, so to speak?
My love of photography had begun much earlier, in my teens, with old manual cameras and film developed in a friend's home dark room. At first I loved photographing nature and cultural scenes. After my children were born, I became aware of my deep love for children and for people in general.
As a result, my interest has shifted towards portraiture. In late 2008 my employer at the time, whose bigger clients were in the manufacturing industry (and as such were affected by the economic slow-down), was faced with the need to reduce the number of their offices. As a result, the Atlanta office was closed. At that time, I had the option of possibly remaining with the same employer but relocating to another city, looking for a similar position in a similar field with another company, or doing something I had long dreamed of doing, but hadn't yet felt it was the right time: pursuing entrepreneurship full time.
Did you leave to pursue your business, or you left for other reasons and then started your business?
2008 had been particularly challenging at work, and it helped me realize that as a corporate employee, you ultimately are working towards someone else's dream. That can be wonderful as long as it's a dream which resonates with you deeply, and as long as the daily efforts feel meaningful and relevant. However, when one or more of these elements is missing, there is a feeling of wasted energy and lack of control. You are not free to go in the direction that makes most sense to you.
With that feeling fresh in mind, I was ready and excited to turn my full attention and passion towards my photography business. As a mother, I value the flexibility provided by owning my business. And truly, I want my children to grow up seeing their parents fulfilled in their work, and happy with what they do.
How was the transition?
That was the first time in my life when I was going in a direction other than what conventionally seemed to be the safest -- especially shifting from a tech/science career to one in the arts. Also, I had been the primary bread-winner over the past several years, and everyone in my family had benefits through my employer.
As such, the transition was somewhat intimidating. My husband was and is very supportive of this journey, and we both agree that financial reward is only one aspect of what makes a certain career worth pursuing. I am very grateful that as soon as I had more time available for my photography, there were so many families who welcomed with appreciation and enthusiasm what I had to offer. My business grew quickly, and my calendar is now booked several weeks in advance.
How do you feel about your decision to leave your high profile job? Was it the right decision?
The decision to pursue entrepreneurship was the right one for me.
Although I work even more hours than before, it's a work filled with love, joy and beauty. I like being outside for some of the time, photographing young children as they play, and I love to create lasting reminders of these families' beauty and love. My children enjoy helping in small ways, and my husband also works part-time for the company.
Tell me about running your own business vs. being in your previous, high-profile job?
One of the most challenging aspects of having one's own business, especially as a parent working mostly from home, is separating home life from work life. Really, for me, it's not a clear line. Whether with my clients or at home, I don't have separate personas. It's me and my view of the world that are at the core of this business, and these do not change according to the time of day. It's important to make sure there is a time when the family is together free of distractions and interruptions; this is more difficult with my work waiting for me just a few feet away. But I love that my kids know what I do, see how I do it, and pick little entrepreneurial habits along the way. I also love the freedom to simply keep them home one day and have fun together, or take a three-week cross country vacation (like we did this past summer) and work harder the weeks before and after to make it financially possible. I wear lots of hats in managing the studio's workflow, including marketing, database managing, finances, photography, art and design, business development, community outreach, order fulfillment. There are lots of steps to be done and they all are relevant. I always thrived on multi-tasking and parallel trains of thought, so this pace suits me well. I occasionally miss some of the aspects of my old jobs.
There were many years which I remember fondly. I especially loved mentoring and teaching whenever I had the chance, and I am working towards using some of those skills now through classes I offer to parents and budding photographers. I also have not forgotten my left-brain background, and I am happy that business ownership requires that I use that side of my brain often, for business planning and analysis.
Do you think you’d ever return to the workforce in that way?
The only certain thing in life is change; to that end, I have learned to never say never. I am not opposed to corporate culture in itself. Ultimately large companies are simply small businesses which did something well, and eventually became successful on a large scale. It's not the size of a business that matters to me, rather its purpose and its impact on people's lives at every level.It's possible that one day my own enterprise would grow larger. I would love to be able to create jobs for others and give them a sense of fulfillment and effort meaningfully spent.
Any words of wisdom for CEO moms who are considering leaving the workforce to start a business? Or for those who already have?
Begin with the end in mind. At the end of your life, what would you like your legacy to be?
What's the unique contribution you can make? Are you doing that today? If not, why not?
There is never a perfect time for change. Every day matters, so if you're not on the path you'd like to be on, make the move. The higher you have climbed on the wrong ladder, the harder it can be to change. If you can, look at all your experiences up to now as a combined life lesson that will serve you well as you go forward. I don't believe time spent genuinely doing your best is ever lost. There are skills you acquired and connections you made.
It's all part of who you are, so feel free to take all of that and apply it towards work that makes sense to you and stirs your inner core. You will be happier and your family, friends and clients will appreciate your authenticity.