How a Craigslist Purchase Turned Into a Thriving Business For This Local Mom
If she can do it, stop making excuses for why you can’t.
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with a friend, and fellow entrepreneur, Lyndsey Wright of Lyndsey’s PhotoCo. Knowing what I knew of her story into entrepreneurship, I asked her for an interview. For anyone who feels like they are stuck in a job they don’t like or is struggling with being a working mom, Lyndsey’s no excuses story is going to totally inspire you.
Before I get into the full interview with Lyndsey, you first have to know just a bit about her back story:
High School Student to Employee to Wife to Mom… all by age 18
Lyndsey Wright is a force to be reckoned with. Putting her foot on the gas pedal, she accelerated her life from a young age. Lyndsey ended up leaving high school during her junior year. As she started working full-time she also put herself through an expedited program at the local community college, that allowed her to graduate high school one year ahead of her original class. Prior to her graduation, Lyndsey, and her best friend Adam realized they were more than just friends, and ended up moving in together after only a few months of ‘officially dating’. One month later, and again putting the pedal to the metal, they decided they wanted to be parents. They got pregnant within four weeks, married within four months, and welcomed their son Max four short months later.
When she was pregnant, Lyndsey was let go from her job just after her boss realized she was expecting. So now, finding herself as a young stay-at-home mother, Lyndsey’s decided to go to college and pursue a degree in secondary education. Lyndsey balanced schooling with parenting and welcomed her second son Kooper during her second year of college. By her third year, after she had spent time in the classroom with students, she realized that being a teacher just wasn’t for her. Conferences broke her heart as she felt that very few parents actually cared about their child’s education.
Lyndsey entered the working world once again, but this time she had a lot more on her plate. Juggling the demands of her growing family, a full-time job, and daycare expenses, she knew the working mom struggles all too well. It was at daycare when one of her boys broke his leg and ended up in a body cast for six weeks. As Lyndsey tried to negotiate with her employer to work from home or to take time off to take care of her son, she was instead fired.
Rather than letting that set her back (and now pregnant with her third child), she again decided to go to school, this time to become a paralegal. Becoming a paralegal was never a part of Lyndsey’s back up plan, but when a few friends suggested the program, she thought it was something she might like. She could push paperwork and be a bit nosey while doing it, two things she would enjoy.
Lyndsey had her third son Jett, graduated the paralegal program, and was now six months into her new career. As she and her husband Adam went over income and expenses one evening, they realized that after paying for daycare for two children (the oldest was already in school), Lyndsey’s new job was only bringing in $80 extra per week. Knowing her husband was still wanting a fourth child, and that there would be no way to have three children in daycare, they made the decision to have Lyndsey quit her job and stay at home with the children. This was in August of 2011.
Now, five years and four kids later (they welcomed their son Bekker in May of 2012), Lyndsey describes how her photography business came about, the lessons she’s learned, and where she sees it going in the future.
Q: Now that you were a stay at home mom, what was it that made you want to start a business as well?
A: I was not built to be a stay at home mom. I needed something to occupy myself, but I also had that guilt that I was not helping to provide for my family. I had always been a creative artsy person, but I wasn’t sure what to do and how to make money doing it.
Q: What made you pursue photography then?
A: I felt a draw to it. I had always been a picture taker. I took my digital camera with me everywhere. I had even taken one photography class in high school as an extra elective, not knowing it would be beneficial years down the road.
Q: Tell me about how you first started off, what equipment you used, your first customers, etc.
A: I bought an old used camera off of Craigslist. I wasn’t sure how to use it, but I thought I’d get it and figure it out. I used a free Microsoft editing program to edit the photos, and I made a Facebook page. I started taking pictures for my friends and family. Soon, my friends and family started telling their friends and family, and I had 10–15 paying clients that first year.
Q: Can you tell me what you were charging customers in the beginning and was it starting to provide income to your family?
A: I charged around $50 per session, and that was providing an average of $250 per month.
Q: Was this still a side gig at this point or did you think of it as an actual business?
A: For the first year and a half the money was a nice extra cushion. It wasn’t until the end of 2012 that I wondered if I could make it into an actual job and not have to go back to work once all the kids started school.
Q: So when and how did you take your business to the next level?
A: In 2013 I upgraded my camera and props. I also got Photoshop and spent hours and hours researching and watching YouTube videos to figure out how to use it. I also followed other photographers’ work to learn how they did their lighting and posing. I was putting in around 90 hours per week.
Q: How were you able to manage a growing business and growing your children?
A: Seriously, it was really hard. It was hard on my family and hard on my marriage. As soon as my husband would come home from work I would go directly to the computer and work there all night. It was much easier to stay up late since the kids would be sleeping, but it was still hard the next day because I’d be so tired. When you are a working stay at home mom, you never leave work AND you never leave home. I couldn’t be a mom and a wife 100% and grow a business because you still have kids that get sick and need carting around. I didn’t have a schedule and it was really hard for me to say no to customers. I was so worried about disappointing them that I disappointed my family instead, missing my kids’ practices and games.
Q: When did it all reach a critical point?
A: October/November of 2014 our schedule was still a big problem. My husband was super busy with his job during those months, and wouldn’t get home until late at night. I had 60 sessions during October, and we had tons of football games and practices. It was rough and I was done. I was starting to dread sessions as I knew that I would have to spend another three hours editing each one (though I am much more efficient in my editing now). Something had to change.
Q: What did you change and how did you start to find balance?
A: I looked at our schedule, and I set work hours. I had two children in school full time and two at home with me. The two boys at home were pretty good at staying occupied that I could get some work done throughout the day. Now, that I have three in school full time and my youngest in preschool, I use the mornings that he is in preschool for my work hours. I also turned off notifications on my phone for email and Facebook. I used to be so glued to it and get excited every time I had a new customer. Finally, I realized that they would still be there when I checked during my work hours. I made my schedule work for me, not my customers, which ended up being just fine for them.
My husband, once he started to see the money that I was bringing in, finally realized that this was a legit business as well. He started helping out around the house and with the kids more so that I could dedicate time to the business.
Q: When and how did you raise your prices?
A: I have raised my prices about six times, and each time it made me want to puke. Because I knew the financial status of many of my customers, I knew it might not be easy for them to afford the new price. Therefore, I still offered a sale almost once a month to allow those that wanted photos to still be able to afford them. My rule of thumb has always been if I am so busy that I have my schedule filled at least two months out, then I know it is time to raise my prices again. January of 2015 is when I made my biggest jump. Going forward now, I don’t think I’ll have to raise my prices much more.
Q: How do you feel about competition and all the other photographers out there?
A: At first, it was really hard for me. I was like a high school girl comparing myself to everyone else. I never thought I would be as good as they were, and I would also look at their prices and wonder how the heck they were charging the prices that they were. In some ways, though, this was good. It pushed me to want to get better. I studied what they did and practiced doing it during my own sessions. I finally felt established enough, and ok with it all, once I had my own returning customers that truly believed in me and my work.
What I didn’t know before, that I still think a lot of customers don’t quite understand, is all the work that goes on behind the scenes (plus props, equipment, time spent responding to emails, session prep, etc.) and that’s the reason for the prices, not just the photo session time itself. Now, I also realize that there are plenty of customers out there for all of us, and the different price points are ok too. Some people might only be able to afford a beginning photographer, and some people are willing to pay more for more experienced ones. I no longer look at the other photographers as competition, and I am actually friends with a lot of them now. We each have a different style or feel and even run our businesses a bit differently. We talk and share our experiences, and even share some clients, too.
Q: So now that your business is just a little over five years old, do you think you have it where you want it?
A: Wow, five years? That flew by. Yes, I think so. I have figured out ways to make it work for me, to make it more efficient and better. I regret the things that I missed before, like games and practices, and volunteering, but I have fixed what didn’t work before. I am lucky that my clients have young kids as well, and on the rare occasions that I have to reschedule because someone got sick or had an extra practice, they totally understand. My business is providing a living income to our family, and I made more money last year than when I worked full-time as a paralegal.
Q: So is this what you want to do forever? Did you find your purpose in life?
A: I cannot see myself doing anything else, and don’t think I could go back to work for anyone else ever again. I couldn’t imagine having to miss my child’s holiday party at school, or not being there for their games. And, I LOVE MY JOB! I get to play with babies all day. I am realistic enough though to know that I may not be doing this when I am 60 years old, so I am putting some things in place this year to help gain some residual income, like Lightroom presets and online workshops.
Q: What is the worst part about being an entrepreneur?
A: The business end of things, taxes, licensing, and expenses. I really hate that stuff. I try and get better at it, but I still don’t have that all together.
Q: Do you think that everyone has what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur?
A: No, entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but that’s ok. Some people like a more structured environment and also prefer to leave their jobs at the end of the day. It takes a lot of internal motivation to work for yourself, but you can make it work if you want it to. I get my work done quickly so I can relax and have fun when I am finished. I can’t stand to have work looming over my head.
Q: What recommendations do you have for other entrepreneurs out there trying to manage their business and their family?
A: Learn to separate your time. Do work only during work hours, spend time with family during family hours. It is hard, but this is the most important thing. When you are spending time with your family, don’t check your phone and respond to business messages. Put your phone away or turn it off. On the same token, set yourself some work hours. Your work will show if you are always stopping in the middle and coming back to it several times. Your quality will be that much better when you can dedicate blocks of time to just work. And don’t forget to be a wife too, not just a mom.
Q: Finally, is there any last bit of advice you have for others that want to make a change in their lives and pursue something on their own?
A: I get so frustrated when I see Teen Mom or 16 and Pregnant and that they think their life is now over because they are a young mom. I had my kids at 18, 20, 23, and 25 and still managed to get my Associate Degree, spend a year working towards a Bachelors’ Degree, and then went back for two more terms to get a paralegal certification (even spent a term doing sign language interpretation). Sure, we were broke and it was hard, but it’s all about knowing it won’t last forever! If you want something, find a way to make it happen. You have to find the time and work at it. Stop making excuses for why you can’t.
Lyndsey’s story is so inspiring. Not only has she built a successful business, but she took that last piece of advice and applied it to her personal life as well. Lyndsey lived much of her life overweight. This past year she finally decided she was ready to do something about it. She stopped making excuses and “found a way to make it happen”. Lyndsey has lost more than 65 pounds since May and is still going.
As a fellow entrepreneur, I had to admit to Lyndsey that I was ‘proud’ of her story. While I felt weird for saying that to her (because in no way do I have anything to do with her success), I know the drive, commitment, and sacrifices it takes to build something substantial. Furthermore, she had to create opportunities that were not given to her. Now, through all of her ‘doing’, she has created a life and career that she loves.
Did Lyndsey’s story speak to you, too? Do you know another inspiring mompreneur that I should interview? Comment below and let me know!