Everyone struggles with similar things. If it seems that someone did it easily — you don’t see the whole story. There’s no shortcut to something. First — define what success is for you. Money, freedom in time, a certain lifestyle, clients you love, etc. Then take the risks and never give up. If one way doesn’t work, try doing something different. If it doesn’t work again — try another thing. And you will finally get there. When everything seems overwhelming — take one small step at a time. Every step in the right direction counts.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing photographers Paulina Jūrė and Matas Jūras.
Paulina Jūrė and Matas Jūras got married right after their studies at “ISM University of Management and Economics” in Lithuania where they have met. Initially, they pursued careers in finance and marketing. But after a few years of office jobs at Ernst & Young and a law firm they understood such career paths are not for them. Inspired by their wedding photographer — Paulina and Matas launched their own brand together — “Jūras Duo Photography”. 10 years into the business they are certain this decision was a life-changer. They have photographed more than 200 weddings around Europe and won significant international awards. Knowledge and experience enabled them to expand the business into photography education. Over the years Paulina and Matas hosted numerous live (as well as online) workshops helping new photographers start their careers in weddings.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Paulina: Career-wise my lifeline was very clear to me: go to school, graduate University and start a career that seemed “safe” for my parents and for me at that time.
As soon as I started my first full-time job I immediately started to question the career path I was pursuing. It was everything I thought I wanted — the company, young ambitious colleagues, my job position. Everything seemed perfect. On paper. But somehow, it didn’t feel right in reality. Only a few weeks into my new job I knew that this was not the life I want to live. But as this was the only career path I was prepared for, I had no idea what other options I had and how to achieve them. I had no idea what I wanted to do instead and (as many people around me told that “this is how life works” and “this is life”) I felt really stuck. It felt that there’s no way out of this situation and this is going to be my life for all the upcoming years of my existence.
I started a few new hobbies at that time — one of which was photography.
Matas: My parents were supportive and open-minded about the world and my ideas. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, so I chose to study business management. It is a broad subject — so I thought it’s a good start. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had an idea to study photography, but I disregarded it because I was uncertain if I could make a living out of it. After the studies, I worked as a financial consultant at Ernst & Young for a couple of years. At first, it was exciting, but after a while, I realized it didn’t work for me. I felt miserable most of the time—out of place in a way. I wanted to have more creativity, more freedom to choose what to do.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?
Paulina: The “ah-ha” was when we were planning our wedding and I asked our wedding photographer how he started photographing weddings. That was the moment when I understood that you don’t have to graduate in photography in order to become a good photographer. That there are people out there who change their career paths in absolutely different directions and become successful professionals.
Matas: For me, it was the financial crisis of 2008-2009. The company I worked for at that time — closed down. Paulina and I thought it’s a great opportunity to start something of our own. Inspired by our wedding photographer we decided to give it a try — become wedding photographers. This lifestyle business model fitted us well. We dedicated all our energy to it, and in 3 years we became one of the best wedding photographers in the Baltic States.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Paulina: This is very scary because you have to give up the path you believed in for years and take a new one. At moments it felt that all these years when I was studying and preparing myself for a certain kind of profession, that I have wasted them away. Kind of lost those years. But what was more frightening than trying to translate our hobby into a business — was to realize that if I don’t change anything — I will stay stuck in the same exact spot for all my life. If I start reorganizing something — I might succeed, I might fail. But otherwise — my life will stay all the same. So this understanding was the greatest motivation to overcome this challenge.
Looking back I now think that studying business management was the best choice I could have made. We knew how to build a business out of photography and that was the ultimate knowledge and skill. And along the way, we figured out how to refine our craft, how to educate ourselves and become professionals in photography.
Matas: We went all in — decided to fully commit to this venture. We attended photography workshops, read books, watched tutorials online. Organized our marketing, made some portfolio photoshoots — we did everything we imagined to push us forward. And we were blessed that our efforts resonated with the kind of pictures people wanted. If you want an idea to be successful, especially in a field that is not so familiar, you have to give all of your energy and push it forward as much as you can.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Matas: Just do it. Give it a try. You will never know if you can succeed if you never tried. It is better to try doing, fail and then move on. Than wonder for years what could have happened.
Paulina: I don’t think that everyone needs to establish a business out of their hobby. Because when you shift your hobby to your job — you don’t have a hobby anymore. That’s harsh, but it’s true. You have an absolutely amazing job that brings a lot of joy, but I believe in balance in life and it cannot only work all the time. So if you shift your hobby to the business you have to find a new hobby.
But if you absolutely hate the career path that you chose and you would love to make your hobby into a business, think that way: if you start changing something there is a great chance that you will succeed. Even if you fail, you learn your lessons and after that, you will succeed at some point. You don’t know where it will lead you. Maybe you will pick another great option along the way, so be focused, but openminded too. But if you don’t change anything in your life, you definitely end up in the same spot as you are now.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Matas: Creating pictures is always fun for me. I imagine it could get boring if I had to take the same images over and over again. Like in a factory. If we are in the same spot, where we have created an amazing image with a different couple previously, we choose not to repeat ourselves. We are constantly looking for new angles, new opportunities.
Paulina: I think being scared of the unknown is a familiar feeling for many human beings. But those who overcome those fears live the most exciting lives. It’s again — if you never try, you never know. And for me — wondering what my life could have been if I tried is a much worse feeling than a fear of the failure.
When we first started photography, we knew that it might get very easy to burn out when you do something with a great passion for 24/7. So it was always very conscious planning and keeping balance regarding our time and physical space. We always tried to keep separate spaces we work in and spaces we live/eat/sleep in.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
Matas: The best part is that I am the owner of my time. There are no set work hours. I can choose what do I do every day. We are able to choose the projects we want to work with, materialize the creative ideas we have. And we are solely responsible for the results. Choosing when and how we spend our leisure time is another bonus. Like every winter we try to spend 1–2 months in Asia.
Work-life balance is the biggest challenge. As freelancers, we have to organize our own time and workload. It’s easy to be lazy when nobody is pushing you. So setting goals and self-motivation is critical. Mostly we work from our home office. For a couple working together — it’s an additional challenge. We do not want to be working 24/7. So we have established a rule — we do not talk about work-related matters in the living area of our home. Only in the home office space.
The other great challenge is financial instability. There is no one paying us a fixed salary. Everything depends on us two, and how we organize the work. Summer is the busiest season for weddings, winter months are very calm. The actual income fluctuates drastically. So we plan the whole year ahead and we pay ourselves a “salary” every month, based on the planned yearly income. This way we try to reduce instability and unpredictability of the income.
Paulina: I enjoy very much that we can work together with my husband. We truly make a great team and it’s such an indescribable feeling to create and achieve things together. Sometimes it is a challenge of course, but I find more advantages than negatives. The biggest joy is the understanding that we are capable to create a business that helps us to maintain the lifestyle we both love.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Matas: The photographer, I thought, mainly spends his time taking pictures. The creative part — capturing images is the most interesting part for me. In reality, most of the time is spent in front of the computer. One part of the job is marketing, creating an appealing image of ourselves. The other big part is postproduction — culling, editing images, designing albums and so on. Outsourcing some of the tasks is a way to get around it. You have to find the right balance for yourself.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Matas: Not really. For me — going back to the corporate job is no solution. Yes, there would be more financial stability. But losing control of your time is a big drawback for me. Every career has its own pluses and minuses. And I feel that being a freelancer fits my personality better.
Paulina: I definitely had a few of those moments. A couple of years ago we decided to start a few new projects and book fewer weddings, so we could have enough time for them. New projects were not picking the pace as planned and the future looked uncertain. Year-end results were uninspiring. And the whole financial instability was just overwhelming. These moments test you to the very core. But then I have to remind myself, that this is a temporary setback, we have to push through this period — and the future will be brighter.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Matas: When we started out I thought we need to have the best camera and equipment to make the best pictures. Kind of maximalist approach. So we rented heavy cameras and big lenses for the first weddings. But shortly after, we noticed this heavy equipment weight us down too much. It made us slower, we had less energy. And we missed some opportunities to make great pictures because of that. We have realized that the most important is not the equipment, but it’s the photographer behind the camera. So now, we have way smaller and lighter equipment. It leaves us with much more energy for creativity. The same is true for the number of lenses you have. The bigger choice does not mean better pictures. That’s how human psychology works — the fewer resources you have, the more creative you become. Primarily, now we use 2 fixed focal length lenses 35mm and 85mm. And that works great for the majority of situations.
Paulina: The funniest thing we have done was really renting out the biggest camera. Because we felt so insecure and many people at that time were thinking that the bigger camera you’ve got, the better photographer you are.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Paulina: There is no specific person. Many people inspire in many different ways. Generally speaking — people who are not afraid to live their own lives and build their own paths in their own unique ways. The understanding that there’s no “one best” way to live your life, build your career or create a business.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Matas: We would like to inspire people to start something of their own. Especially those who are stuck in a workplace they do not like. We believe freelance work or solopreneurship is the future for a big part of the workforce. Corporate employment is like an old way to work. The younger generation is not dreaming about a “safe job at a big company” anymore. A wedding photographer’s career might be a way for some of them. After years of work as wedding photographers, we have realized we are good at teaching people. Hundreds of students are repeatedly attending our workshops to learn the craft of wedding photography. Helping them grow and succeed gives us great satisfaction. We are also launching an online platform to teach people photography. Because we truly believe it’s the future of education.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- A wedding photographer’s career is a craft. Meaning your income depends on the hours you put in. It is not business in a traditional sense. Photographer’s career revolves around the personal brand. It is not easy to scale, because you have limited hours per week. We didn’t want to photograph 40 or 50 weddings a year — we felt it’s too demanding emotionally for us. So we decided to branch out into photography education. These two areas complement each other well.
- Freelance photographer’s job is very unstable. Learn to live with the instability, it’s just part of the game. Sometimes projects and clients keep coming in, sometimes it is very calm. Learn to ride the waves, spread out the income evenly through the year and have a financial buffer for slower periods.
- As a wedding photographer — you spend much more time in front of the computer, than actually photographing weddings. Marketing activities and editing images take up the majority of the time. Accept that as a part of being a photographer.
- Everyone struggles with similar things. If it seems that someone did it easily — you don’t see the whole story. There’s no shortcut to something. First — define what success is for you. Money, freedom in time, a certain lifestyle, clients you love, etc. Then take the risks and never give up. If one way doesn’t work, try doing something different. If it doesn’t work again — try another thing. And you will finally get there. When everything seems overwhelming — take one small step at a time. Every step in the right direction counts.
- There is no one big secret on how to become a successful wedding photographer and no one will tell you this in any workshop. Way to success is doing a lot of small things the right way. It takes a lot of thinking, strategic planning, and good implementation to build a sustainable brand around yourself.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Paulina: This would be the movement for people who truly dislike their jobs and feel stuck because they don’t know where else they could be good at. The movement which would inspire people to change their career paths. And help them to define, find or create their dream job positions. Help them find the right education and the right mentors.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Paulina: Those life lesson quotes, they change as I evolve. It depends where I am in my life at the given moment — searching for inner peace, building a business or just trying to figure out other things. The quote that resonates very strongly with me today is: “Do not compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20”. It is a perfect reminder that everyone has a beginning in every aspect of life (not only businesswise). And you should live your own story at your own pace.
Matas: If you start comparing yourself to other photographers, you will always find someone with more awards, better clients, more social media following, more money, better gear and etc. There is no end, there will always be someone better. You’ll end up feeling constantly disappointed this way. It is far more productive to compare yourself with “yourself one year ago”. This way you can see your progress — be proud of your achievements or find space for improvement.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Paulina: I would love to have lunch with Naval Ravikant! He is one of the most inspiring and wise humans I know. His thoughts and holistic point of view to life, business, happiness, life lessons resonate so strongly and I would be beyond happy to meet him in person.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you a lot!
About the Author
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 500 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrive Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His first book is a visceral, no-holds-barred look at worker safety, I Know My Shoes Are Untied! Mind Your Own Business. An Iconoclast’s View of Workers’ Safety. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. His third book, Blood In My Pockets Is Blood On Your Hands is expected in March followed by Loving An Addict: Collateral Damage Of the Opioid Epidemic due to be released in June. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com