Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in fine arts but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Carly Piersol, NYC Portrait Photographer based in Astoria, NY, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I’m a portrait and branding photographer. My customers range from people who need a quick LinkedIn photo update to folks who want some cute & candid dating profile photos to people who need high-quality marketing images for their own small businesses. I love working with people, learning their stories, and making them feel celebrated and seen through my work.
Tell us about yourself
I was introduced to photography shortly after my father died. As an eleven-year-old whose world had just been turned upside down, this tool with the ability to capture and keep precious moments forever felt like magic. I shot my first roll of film, and that was it. I was hooked. Of course, not many people start a business as a pre-teen, so I waited until the ripe old age of sixteen to start charging my friends to take their senior photos. From then on, I was constantly shooting—in college for the school newspaper, as a new grad interning at a photo studio in Baltimore, and in New York City as a photo assistant—but I was scared to take the next step of taking photography full-time.
For nearly a decade, I worked a day job while shooting on the side. It wasn’t until fall 2021, when I had three straight months of working seven days a week, that I felt ready to believe in myself and what I had built. I created Carly Piersol Photography in March 2022. We live in an increasingly visual world. Everyone feels pressure to build a “brand” of some sort, whether on social media or through personal websites. But with that pressure also comes this feeling of never being enough: not pretty enough, not thin enough, not photogenic enough. I can’t tell you the number of inquiries I receive that start with, “I hate getting my photograph taken,” or “I’m not very photogenic, but….”
What motivates me is taking that statement and turning it around. I love connecting with people and understanding who they are and what makes them beautiful. It drives me to create images that help people feel seen in a world that doesn’t always make room for them. My sessions are all about showing each person how beautiful they are, just as they are right now. A photograph like that can be so impactful in someone’s life.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I love when I have a client go from, “I’m terrible in front of the camera,” to “That was so much easier and more fun than I thought it would be,” to “Oh my god, I love my photos! I feel so good!” To have someone see themselves and feel seen through my images of them is the best feeling in the world.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
For me: the business part! As my business teacher Shanna Skidmore says, creative people don’t go into business to crunch the numbers. I’ve spent a good part of this first year taking business classes and learning what I need to track, what I need to know, and what I need to stay on top of in order to have my business in good working order.
Is that the fun part? Or what I imagined doing when I daydreamed about running my own business? No, of course not. But it’s so important. And now that I know what I’m doing, I actually get excited about running my numbers each month.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Know your numbers! So many small businesses fail because they don’t know what they need to know. Track all of your inquiries, your income, and your expenses monthly. Make sure you know how much you need to earn in order to keep the lights on, and then figure out how to build more income from there. I also highly recommend working with an accountant who understands small business/freelance life.
- Create a clear message for your customers. This is especially true for photographers. I know plenty of people who shoot weddings, corporate events, family photos, and more. The problem is that when you show all of that work, your business starts to feel like a restaurant that offers Italian, Chinese, and southern comfort food. When customers arrive, they want to know: which one are you actually good at? Are you worth the investment? I still shoot plenty of family portraits, and I love photographing my friends’ newborns, but it’s not what I advertise. My message to my customers is clear: do you want gorgeous professional portraits that still feel like you? Then come to me.
- Give yourself grace. There’s no one right way to run a business. Some choices you make are going to be great, and some are going to fall flat. That’s okay! It’s all part of the process.
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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