If you don’t know Sal Cincotta, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Shutter Magazine, the creator of ShutterFest, and of course, an active wedding and portrait photographer based in St Louis.
In this interview with Sal, he opens up about the path and journey he has been on, over the last ten years, in his pursuit of building a successful brand and an Inc 5000 company. If you are an entrepreneur, this is a great article for you to get a sense of the path and journey.
Be sure to comment or ask questions below – Sal will be monitoring to help answer any question you may have.
Q: Tell us about your Inc 5000 award. This is the 3rd year in a row the Sal Cincotta brand has won this award. It’s kind of a big deal, right?
Sal Cincotta: It is a big deal, yes. It’s not the do all and end all for a company, but it’s a signal that you are heading in the right direction. More importantly, this is a great motivator for our employees. Everyone works hard, but there is really no measuring stick on how well you are doing. This serves as a great leading indicator to your team, that hey, we are kicking ass! Keep it up.
More importantly, this isn’t some pay for play award or something you buy your way into. You have to submit your tax returns, your account and legal team have to sign off on the validity of your financials, etc. So, this is something to celebrate for sure.
Q: Speaking of employees, a lot of people think it’s just Sal Cincotta. You are clearly the face of all this, but you don’t seem to take all the credit. Talk more about your team.
Sal Cincotta: That is 100% correct. While I am the face of the company and I clearly started this company, I by no means can take all the credit. Something I try to always be transparent about is the team behind me. Without this team, this company would not be where it is today. I am always grateful for the team and the sacrifices they make.
Our team is incredibly diverse in their skills and views, but very female and millennial heavy. I think this is extremely important. We are part of a once male dominated industry. I love having a team that I can bounce ideas off of, a team that will challenge me and push back. My ideas aren’t always good ones. Sometimes, they just suck. My team isn’t a bunch of “yes men” – they are young, intelligent, passionate, and feisty people. This works well with my personality. I love to challenge the status quo.
Q: What was it like in the beginning? It was just Salvatore Cincotta Photography – when did the rest of this all begin? What triggered it?
Sal Cincotta: We would need an entire book to talk about this. And a lot of alcohol. Just about 5 or 6 years ago, we were a 3-4 person operation. It was me, my now ex-wife, and two-assistants. Shutter Magazine, ShutterFest, education, 6+ companies, were not really part of where I was looking to go. That is part of being an entrepreneur I think, you just have to take opportunity as it comes. Sometimes one door opens and you have to make a huge decision, sometimes blindly, it can be extremely scary.
One day, I remember making the decision after my column had been cancelled in a once popular industry magazine, that it was time to raise the bar on education. Shutter Magazine was born. I had no idea what I was doing, but I believed in myself, enough to take that leap and figure it out. Very quickly, we realized we needed more staff, we needed HR, we needed benefits, we needed payroll, we needed a plan.
I vividly remember nearly bankrupting my company 2-3 times during a very short window of time. Sounds crazy to think about a company exploding with growth but looking at bankruptcy, but cash flow is one of the biggest challenges for any new start up. Money is coming in, but its gong out the door just as fast.
Q: So, the next logical question is how did you deal with that? The stress? The financials?
Sal Cincotta: Well, I am not going to lie. It took its toll on my personal life. It’s impossible not to. I was working 18+ hours a day 7 days a week. When you are an entrepreneur, every ounce of energy you have must go back into the business. People don’t understand this sometimes and they glamourize what success looks like. Sure, there is money, there is success, there is travel, and all the fancy things that go along with it, but the reality is, it can evaporate as quickly as it appeared.
I come from very humble beginnings. My grandparents are both immigrants. I didn’t have anything handed to me. I believe in hard work. I believe in pushing yourself and the people around you. I believe that if you want something, you need to go out there and kick ass to go get it.
Financials were one of the biggest stressors. I was hell-bent on growing this company with no debt. This challenged me the most as the CEO, CFO, CMO, and lead creative. Many entrepreneurs understand this. In the beginning, we wear a multitude of hats. Today, we have a team of people to help handle this workload allowing me more time to focus on what I love doing. Creating.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs today?
Sal Cincotta: The struggle is real. Being an entrepreneur in today’s market is extremely overwhelming. I think Social Media is this great unknown for a lot of small businesses. They understand there is this thing out there, but they have no idea how to engage it. The biggest mistake I see them making is putting their staff in charge of it just because they are young or know what snapchat is.
This is the face of your brand. You have to make sure the messaging and the tone matches your brand. And turning a blind eye to it and just pretending it doesn’t exist is dangerous. You need to engage and understand the new landscape. Pick up a book. Get online. Be a consumer. That is the easiest way to start understanding what this is all about. Even if you don’t care for it on a personal level, you can’t ignore it. Your customers are there, you need to be there and engage.
Q: Is there any advice you can give on how to be better at social media? Is there something that has worked for you?
Sal Cincotta: That is a very broad question, but yes. The easiest thing to start with is asking yourself what or who is your brand? If you don’t understand your brand, what it is, what it represents, etc then how can you formulate a message or strategy? I find the easies thing to do is just be yourself.
My voice online is me. I personally engage. Sometimes that can be a bad thing, but I find overall, that it’s a great thing. I am my brand and my brand is me. I want to control messaging, tone, etc. Now, not every brand is like this, but most small businesses are owner-operated on some level. There is no reason you can’t engage personally. Think of the impact a business can have when they personally engage with a customer. It’s an incredible way to service and interact with your audience.
Q: Ok, any final words of wisdom for entrepreneurs or people getting ready to take the plunge?
Sal Cincotta: Do it. Stop making excuses. Stop listening to the negative people in your life. Stop allowing anything to get between you and your dreams. It is never going to be perfect. It is never going to come with this perfect bow on it. It’s going to be messy, painful, and exhausting but most importantly, rewarding.
I have never been happier in my life. Every day, I wake up and do what I love. I work with amazing people. I get to travel the world, eat amazing food, and meet amazing people. I can’t imagine my life any other way. I can’t imagine ever working for someone else.
The future is bright. Success is yours to have. Now, get out there and make it happen!
To see more of Sal’s work or learn more about Salvatore Cincotta Photography be sure to visit SalCincotta.com
In addition, check our his article on the path to success.