Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in photography but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kenneth Benjamin Reed, Founder & Photographer of Ben Reed Studios, located in Portland, OR, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
My name is Kenneth Benjamin Reed. My business is operating Ben Reed Studios... primarily as a photographer (but also as a cinematographer, drone pilot, designer, and editor).
Tell us about yourself
I've always been an avid observer. When I was much younger, I actually thought the whole concept of photographs was silly. "Why capture a moment if memory does the same thing? Why display my subjective view on something if it only serves to mean something to me"? As I got older and observed more, I found photographs to be a great coping mechanism for my own changing perspectives. In any given scene where someone could easily dismiss it away as only a scene of destruction, decay, or entropy... I'd seek out the beauty that persisted, or the cyclic evidence of regrowth/renewal, or sometimes just the peacefulness of the silent (and determined) forces that (although often considered uncomfortable, unfair, or simply "hard") actively resolve the world's many conflicting processes. I called this process "art," but (given hindsight is always much clearer than foresight) I've come to understand that it's really been much more of my attempt at resolving the conflicts I encountered and/or struggled with.
And so, for years, I practiced with my favorite tools. I sought out feedback, and I built my portfolio up. I offered my photographic services to others. I cultivated my reputation. And most importantly, I persisted. Despite many derailed situations, technical shortcomings, heavy competition, self-doubt, and slow business growth... I stuck to my goals.
For example, I always disliked being in a photo. As a child, I would intentionally photobomb the shot any time I knew someone was trying to take my picture (making goofy faces, shaking my head back and forth, etc.). When I finally matured enough to accept my own self-image, I started actively practicing (in order to cultivate my look). Friends saw the improvements and asked me to help them cultivate their own... and that eventually led to me offering professional headshots to the public. And to be honest, I still have to practice (and test) everything I think I know... because I feel that personal growth never truly ends.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Finding a balance between business growth and personal growth.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Balancing the growth of my business with the sustainability of my business has been the greatest challenge. What helped me the most was learning to accept that unlimited, perpetual growth is cyclic (at best). In order to have a sustainable business, I've learned to accept losses as meaningful rather than simply "not gains" and, of course... to not take those losses personally. It's not easy, but it does get easier with perspective (and persistence).
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Flexibility of goals: I'm often asked for referrals to other (specialist) photographers. Although recommendations do keep the photography community more cohesive, I've also opened up many opportunities by stepping out of my sense of "specialization" and offering to help with a goal I usually don't market myself towards. If nothing else, it has always been an experience that has helped me learn and grow.
- Compassion for unknown complexities: I also often hear about frustrations from my colleagues regarding the client/vendor dynamic. The thing that has helped me (both grow and) overcome any stress involved with the client/vendor dynamic is compassion for unknown complexities. What I mean by that is this: behind every client/vendor complexity is a real person who has needs or goals that are often unknown to the other party. Rather than feeling stressed or "unlucky" about that dynamic, I try to offer dialogue with the other side. What is the worse that can happen? Nothing more is gained. But the best thing that can happen? A real human connection can be created... which tends to build the best kind of professional relationships.
- Having patience with difficulties: I've often worried that the goals I pursue are insurmountable, unlikely, or simply "will take too long." But the longer I've kept at it, the more rewarding the end results have turned out. In a world that's often commoditizing convenience and immediate gratification, it can be really hard to stick with a plan (or goal) for long without feeling like the returns are only going to continue to diminish. But if a goal matters to you, stick with it. I think Theodore Roosevelt said it really well: "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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