Oh friends. Let me just brace you for the pure goodness you are about to experience. This is my journey as a small business owner as I’ve grown and poured into Nancy Ray Photography for the past 10 years. Get ready for some good laughs, hilarious photos, and candid thoughts as I take a trip down memory lane!
2008 is when it all began. I was majoring in Technical Photography at Appalachian State University, and I shadowed some photography friends as a “3rd shooter/assistant” at 2-3 weddings. I was engaged to Will, planning a wedding, and soaking in as much of photography as I possibly could! I was the ONLY person in my graduating class who wanted to shoot weddings. Everyone else thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care! I loved weddings, and my heart was set on becoming a wedding photographer. I was scared out of my mind. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to dive all in.
I roomed with two dear friends: Samantha, my best friend since 9th grade, and Elizabeth Tate – our current NRP family photographer! (Fun fact: Sam actually married John – Will’s little brother, so I get to call her my sister!)
On January 3, 2008, I photographed my first wedding on my own! That’s when I declared that I was a photographer, and I owned my own business. Here are some images from the very first wedding I shot:
Will moved to Boone and got a job at Walgreens, and working the night shift as a manager throughout our first year of marriage. After I finished my junior year, in June of 2008, I married Will and moved in with him! I transformed this little apartment from a bachelor’s pad to our first home together. It had no air conditioner, no dishwasher, no ice maker, and a community washer/dryer (that you still had to pay for in quarters). There were 2 bedrooms: 1 was our master bedroom, the other: a guest-bedroom-turned-into-photography-office.
It was home sweet home for the next 2 years, and it was also where I spent hundreds of hours in front of a computer launching my business. I learned, I read blogs, I read tutorials, I bought used equipment, I blogged, I edited my first weddings. Those were some long days in that guest bedroom office!
In December of 2008, I graduated from Appalachian State and launched full time into my business. Here I am presenting my Senior Portfolio… all images from weddings, of course!
Since I graduated in December of 2008, January of 2009 was spent looking for a “real job.” Honestly, I LOVE this part of my story. It was scary, and at the time I cried a lot of tears. Looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was the season where the Lord gave me this business by literally closing all other doors.
The best prospect of a job for me was to become a nanny. Boone is a very small town, and I was still shooting about 10 weddings a year. A nanny job seemed like the perfect fit! I found a family who needed a nanny, I went through several interviews, and I thought I had it in the bag! My plan was set. Work part time shooting weddings and be a full time nanny.
It was a cold afternoon, when I got the phone call. Will was sound asleep in our expertly blacked-out room because he was working the nightshift at the time. I was so excited to see her number appear on my phone, excited to take the new job!
When she told me she chose someone else for the nanny position, I was crushed.
I hung up the phone and immediately started crying. All of my plans had failed! I loved being busy in school – taking 18 hours a semester was normal for me. I was involved in student ministries, Bible studies, and I studied hard. Now, I was a college graduate! I had nothing to do, no “real job,” and the one nanny lead that I had found just turned me down. The economy had just taken a major turn downward, and I felt really hopeless.
I ran into our bedroom and woke up Will. (What a wonderful, sweet husband. For him it was the middle of the night!) I cried and cried, and he hugged me and said we would figure everything out. I finally let him go back to sleep, and I prayed long and hard about what to do.
Over the next few weeks, I spent all day every day in front of my computer, learning all that I could about wedding photography. (I literally had nothing else to do. It was 20 degrees outside, and I’m not the type to watch TV. Heck, we didn’t even have cable!) I would read blogs, ask questions on forums, research business books, learn all about equipment, and do all that I possibly could from that small guest bedroom in our apartment. I would go out and take pictures in the park, then write a blogpost about it. I would drive all over NC shooting weddings and sessions for almost nothing, because I was so hungry for experience.
And just like that, a closed door paved the way for me to grow my own photography business into my dream job. All credit to the Lord, who knows I wouldn’t have done it this way unless He closed that door!
We moved to Raleigh!
Just after Christmas, we made the big move to Raleigh. We purchased our townhouse, and Will started a new job at Celebration Church as the Youth Ministry Director. After months of prayer, he decided to accept the position at Celebration and we moved back home.
I painted and set up my home photography studio. Talk about luxury! After having worked out of a small guest bedroom, having my own workspace was a dream come true. It took 6 months or so to get set up to the point where I could host brides, but it finally became my office and studio. I am still grateful to walk down the stairs every day to go to work!
On a practical note, this is the year that I actually started making an income in my business. It was a small income… no where close to a salary, but it was something! Yes, it took all of 2008 and 2009 to get to the point where I was taking home any money. We never went into debt for this business, but all the cash we made in 2008 and 2009, we simply reinvested into equipment, marketing, supplies, software, etc. It was an exciting turning point!
Slowly and steadily, I continued to book weddings and grow my business. The move to Raleigh was a wonderful move for my business. I began to meet vendors, get familiar with venues, and I would serve my brides the best way I knew how. I was thrilled to be back in a big city, but I definitely missed the calm schedule of our lives in the mountains.
To be transparent – the first year in Raleigh was tough for us. Between youth ministry and a growing business, we had no idea how to set boundaries in our personal lives. It really took a toll on our marriage, on our relationships. We were leading the youth group, shooting weddings and sessions, teaching an FPU class, leading small groups, hosting seasonal events, doing bridal shows, and taking every opportunity that was thrown at us. I’ll never forget the month of October 2010. We didn’t have 1 evening at home! Not even kidding. There was something booked for us every night, whether it be church or photography. Will and I looked at each other and promised we’d never do that again. Learning to run a business and run the youth ministry was one of the hardest, most rewarding things we’ve ever done. We’re still learning, but we have gained much more of a sense of balance now. Looking back, I’m so thankful for all the hard and good lessons we’ve learned along the way. I’m confident we will use those lessons through the rest of our lives.
We began 2011 with LOTS of excitement. Since we clearly didn’t think we were busy enough, we got a puppy! Winston has been such a fun addition to our family.
Back in 2009, I attended the Love Affair Workshop for lady photographers and met my sweet sweet friend Caroline Joy. (Sorry friends, the workshop doesn’t exist anymore!) It was so much fun to find a likeminded photographer, business owner, and friend who shares the same beliefs about faith, work, and life in general. Caroline and I decided to launch our own workshop called Branches and Light, and in January of 2011 we hosted our first workshop in Dallas, TX, then a week later hosted our second workshop in Raleigh, NC.
I photographed 25 weddings in 2011. It was my first fully booked year, and it was FULL. I had a hard time learning balance, and decided to hire my wonderful intern Robin. She was fantastic, and I began to learn the huge benefits of delegating tasks to others. As someone who is completely hands on (and somewhat of a control freak), it was a hard and good lesson for me to learn!
I had my first feature on Style Me Pretty, which was a big goal for my business! To see that dream become a reality was amazing. It was shortly followed by my second feature on SMP, and soon enough I became a member of their Little Black Book!
We began 2012 with another B&L Workshop, and we really stepped it up. Caroline and I decided it best to only host 1 workshop in 1 city, so we chose Raleigh as our destination. We partnered with some amazing vendors, and it turned out to be a wonderful success.
My business kept growing, and I knew I couldn’t handle the load of work all by myself. Will wanted to help, but he was spending way too much of his time “off” helping me, and I didn’t want that for him or for us. So we began the long search for a studio assistant – a part time employee to help me manage my business. After interviewing several people several times, we hired Callie in May.
We shot a full load of weddings again in 2012, worked like there was no tomorrow, continued our youth trips (summer camp, retreats, leader’s retreat, lockin, etc.), and our plates were full. I ran my first half marathon, and at the end of the year, we achieved a huge personal financial goal.
Early in our marriage, we decided to live off of less than Will’s income, save save save, and pay off our house early. Never in a million years did we think we could pay off our mortgage in 2.5 years, but we did! After a lot of sacrifice, hard work, and intense budgeting, we paid off our house in December of 2012. The day we screamed “We’re debt free” was incredible – there are hardly words to describe achieving such a sweet goal with your best friend. God is so good.
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming tomorrow…
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