How My Favorite Hobby Turned Me Into a 6-Figure Entrepreneur with Montoya Turner
Every photographer knows what it’s like to have the most expensive and addictively joyous hobby on earth! There are very few things that rival the gratification felt when others share their love for your imagery. How could I have dared to dream this could be a high-paying profession!
My father was a career soldier and my mother was a homemaker and domestic worker. I was not raised by entrepreneurs and everyone I knew was an employee. I didn’t know any business owners or corporate executives until deep into my 20s. My grandparents were God-fearing who all faced down and conquered overwhelming struggles during the Jim Crow era in America.
If it appears that my upbringing put me behind the eight ball, you’d be sadly mistaken. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you have to be fearless! Just wait until you learn to laugh at fear and embrace failure. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’d better be disciplined and most certainly be prepared to outwork everyone. If you’re even thinking about long term business/career success, then you have to set extremely high standards for yourself. Individuals and companies won’t hire you for mediocrity. I employ all of these traits instilled in me during my upbringing daily in my professional and personal life.
The road from charging $500 for a day’s work to over $10,000 is shorter than you think
If you’re using a kit camera and lens, or remember using one, this article is for you. I hired my best friend’s co-worker, a semi-pro photographer, to shoot my niece’s wedding. I cried how expensive it was: $600 (try not to laugh). I was not educated on the expense of professional photography, but I did have a great appreciation for his art and professionalism, so I paid him. I watched him intently and after the wedding I begged him to let me shadow him. I explained to him that I had a camera and two kit lenses for a Nikon D40, simply hilarious looking back. I was instantly in love with the idea of professional photography. He reluctantly agreed and later shared with me how serious I was and how he’d never had anyone work as hard as I did.
My single greatest asset early in my photography career was being a humble sponge. I watched and learned everything he was willing to teach me. It was during this period that I decided I wanted to earn some money from photography. I took every cent I earned and put it towards better tools (notice I didn’t say gear) and education. The foundation for me and my company is indeed continuing education. I attended photography classes at a local technical college, multiple workshops hosted by a local camera shop, and used a Scott Kelby photography book to learn how to shoot manually. Keep in mind this is not a time when you could Google any topic or jump on YouTube to learn anything. Then, something monumental happened.
I got introduced to studio lighting by one of the most gifted photographers I had ever met, Allen Cooley. He helped me understand the role and how light plays in photography. I was amazed that someone so good could be so humble and patient. His best advice was for me to keep shooting and practicing. If you knew me in any way at that time, you were getting shot. If you came to my house, you were going to get shot in my makeshift studio. If you were traveling with me, you were guaranteed a few dozen extra stops on the way so I could snap landscapes and architecture. I joined a shooters club and regularly went to build my portfolio.
Let’s talk about making money!
My first wedding, which was hosted at a small community center, I was paid $300. It was an important building block. I used those images and the subsequent ones to improve my art, allowing me to get more clients.
A second monumental change happened to me. I went to a WPPI Roadshow Conference in 2009. There, I met an entrepreneur I had never heard before in my life named Sal Cincotta who taught a one-hour session. He set the world on fire! It was the first time I had ever heard anyone speak of business as it relates to photography. I immediately felt more worth as an entrepreneur and the confidence doubled my prices overnight. Within the year I had the opportunity to catch him on tour. It was then that I doubled my prices overnight again.
Raising your prices is one of the best things you can do early in your career. Those luxury clients you speak of have almost zero confidence in bargain basement photography. Higher pricing with my improved skills, consistent delivery and great branding changed everything. Potential clients now had the confidence that my brand could be trusted with their sacred day or their critical corporate event.
Here are my tips for essential skills needed for success:
- Be uncompromising in your pursuit of excellence
- Do not dwell on any perceived failures
- Learn from missteps
- Exploit and enhance your best skillsets
- Surround yourself with exceptional people if you are building a team
- Outsource to professionals at every opportunity
- Outsource your editing (if possible). This allowed me to focus and improve my photography at a pace that would have been impossible had I spent nights editing.
Would you like a client to cut a check for north of $10,000?
I still remember the first time it happened. I gave the number, they said okay and cut a check. I was floored! No big deal. No fuss. Just a simple here you go, and then they stated exactly what they needed.
Here are the keys to my success:
- Engage everyone greatly
- Outwork everyone
- Never be satisfied with your performance
- Never, ever stop educating yourself and elevating your art
- Give your clients your best service and products available
I’ve used the traits of my parents and grandparents to build a company and become an entrepreneur. I will always stay humble and remember the same grand venues I now have the privilege to work out of, strictly prohibited their entry. So I proudly and tearfully thank them for instilling in me the audacity to confront failures in business and turn them into my great success.