CES: How did early experiences influence your career development? (On- and off-campus part-time jobs, internships, volunteer activities, etc.)
LS: Both Scott and I had invaluable experiences working at The Puget Sound Trail. As an independent student organization with little faculty oversight, the newspaper’s success is squarely on the shoulders of the students. You learn quickly that your own initiative, dedication, and perseverance are pivotal components of the publication’s overall credibility and professionalism. By taking leadership roles in The Trail early in our college careers, we learned countless lessons in personal responsibility, motivating staff, financial management, and networking — all of which come into play frequently with our own business. I wouldn’t trade our experiences at The Trail for anything!
CES: What do you wish you had done or known during college that might have been beneficial to your career development?
LS: When potential clients ask me if I have an art degree, I joke about the moment in college when I considered majoring in art and then decided I could never make a decent living as a professional artist. Fate has a way of catching up with you in the end! Ultimately my decision to major in psychology instead of art did have a positive, albeit indirect, impact on my professional success. As a liberal arts institution, Puget Sound gave me the broad range of skills that I needed as an entrepreneur. Making it or breaking it as a photography studio is largely based on your ability to manage a business well. The art side of it — having the eye to craft a good photo — either comes naturally or it doesn’t. Fortunately for us, we’ve got the eye!
Had I known early on that making a living off of photography could be more than a pipe dream, I probably would have done more as a student to seek out internships and independent training opportunities specifically in this field. Like many students, I was still exploring many ideas for what I wanted to do with myself after graduation, and I didn’t settle into this path until after I’d left Puget Sound. I wish I had known then what I realize now: for many occupations, your major is not as crucial of a decision as it seems. If you truly apply yourself to your studies, you’ll learn what you need for success in virtually any venture.
CES: What was your first job after college? In what ways did that experience meet or not meet your expectations?
LS: My first job after college was working as an intern at a public relations agency in Salt Lake City. Because I had worked in the ASUPS Office of Public Relations during my senior year, I felt that I had some experience in this arena. I quickly discovered that publicity in a university setting (and to a university audience) is markedly different than working with trade press! I had a huge amount to learn. Luckily, Puget Sound had equipped me with all the building blocks I needed to become an expert in any field. With strong critical thinking skills, analytical expertise, and a solid writing ability, I was able to quickly blast through the learning curve. After just two months I received a significant promotion. I had earned the confidence of the entire staff and, having consistently demonstrated the self-discipline and initiative that I honed at Puget Sound, I was trusted to return to Tacoma and work full-time remotely, telecommuting for the company. It’s the only job working for someone else that I ever held, post-graduation.
SS: My first job experience was markedly different. When I graduated, the job market was weak (although not as bad as it is today!) and I struggled to find a job. I did eventually land an interesting job at a market research company, but the pay was poor and opportunities for advancement were minimal. After two years, the economy finally pushed my employer into financial collapse. I’ve been laid off because of work shortages four times in ten years! Being self-employed has its own challenges and concerns, but at least I have control over my own destiny now.
CES: Did the time in this position help you develop/plan your current entrepreneurial pursuits?
LS: Undeniably, working for several years as a public relations professional has instilled valuable skills for marketing our own business. I’ve been able to refine my skills in networking, communications with the press, and even the use of social media to attract and retain customers. Ultimately it helped to provide me with greater confidence in reaching out to others and in utilizing a range of techniques for promoting our business.
SS: My early jobs were interesting and I learned some useful tools from them, but how they really helped me was to show me that I really do have the skills to make it on my own.
CES: We interviewed Scott a few years ago about Wallflower Photography as part of a spotlight on alumni entrepreneurs. It sounds like you've had some changes. What's new?
LS: This year we expanded our photography business by introducing two new studios. Launched in January, Bump & Bambino is dedicated solely to maternity and baby photography. We’d always been on-location photographers, and B&B represented a major departure for us in that we built a complete portrait studio so our clients could come to us. We always felt that studio portraiture was too stale for our taste, but we realized that we could break the mold by taking a different approach to lighting, backdrops, and posing. By locating the studio in our 110-year-old Victorian and only taking on one client per day, we made the experience a lot more personal and inviting. The instant popularity of B&B has surprised us!
In July we then launched Senioritis Photography, dedicated to high school seniors. We’re really making the most of Tacoma’s unique character with Senioritis! Of course, parks (particularly Point Defiance) are our most popular location for senior portraits, but we also love taking seniors downtown. Since we graduated from Puget Sound, we’ve seen the birth of the Museum District, where we can get great shots around the Museum of Glass, Union Station and the UW-Tacoma campus. But other places, like the old Elks Temple and the 11th Street bridge, have retained their gritty charm, which also works well with our seniors.
Ultimately, we felt that the Wallflower Photography brand was too watered down — a senior visiting our former website might be turned off by seeing baby or bridal portraits, for example, and vice versa. It was impossible to have a single marketing message that applied to each type of client, and too complicated to have different messages under a single brand. Spinning off our baby/maternity and high school senior work into separate brands, and dedicating the Wallflower brand to weddings, has allowed us to create unique looks and very targeted marketing for each specific niche. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also translated into greater success.
CES: What sort of unforeseen opportunities/challenges have you witnessed on photo shoots?
LS: Honestly, most of the challenges we face are rather mundane — things like already-tight schedules being thrown off when brides are running an hour late, or a rainy day when the couple has planned the entire event for outside. That being said, we do get treated to the occasional surprise drama. Several years back we watched in horror as the wedding cake tumbled to the ground when the bride and groom were cutting into it. Not a single guest got to sample that cake! More recently, we were pleasantly surprised when the bride took us aside and whispered that she was going to leap into the swimming pool — wedding dress and all — along with her bridesmaids. That definitely made for an entertaining time for their guests and some fun shots for us!
CES: How can Puget Sound students stand out in a pool of job applicants?
LS: Coming from a liberal arts institution, your experience may not always be an obvious fit with the job for which you are applying. Being able to articulate how your specific skills translate into that job — and demonstrating your confidence in those skills — can make or break your chances. When I was working for the PR agency and wanted to return to Tacoma, I wrote a detailed letter on everything I could offer from my specific skillset and the various ways I had proven myself. I was told later that it was the strength of my letter and my arguments that convinced the president of the company to commit to hiring me and trust me in working from home. If I hadn’t taken the initiative to really put myself out there, I wouldn’t have been given the job.
CES: How can recent graduates overcome a lack of professional experience ?
SS: Get as much experience as you can while in college, through internships and training programs. Particularly if you are interested in working at small companies like ours, it’s important to understand that they may not have a lot of time to train you, and the more skills you arrive with – even if self-taught – the better. If you are not confident in your skills and might need a bit more assistance, offer to work unpaid for a short period of time because, in general, the experience you will gain is more valuable than the income you would otherwise earn — and your employer will appreciate that the extra time they spend assisting you is offset by the financial savings. This experience can provide huge pay-offs when it comes time to compete against other candidates for a full-time position.
CES: What advice would you offer students considering a career in the field of photography?
LS: Being able to work digitally is a must now. You need to be proficient not just behind the camera but behind the computer as well. It’s also important to stay as current on new software platforms as possible. Take advantage of your status as a student to get discounted software and program upgrades. We use a combination of Photoshop and Lightroom and expect anyone we work with to be highly skilled in their use as well.