Shutter Mom: From Teacher to Entrepreneur
A year ago last month, Sweet Melissa Photography was born. Creating beautiful contemporary images of mommies to be, newborn babies, and families is as gratifying for Melissa Lagano as commemorating the joyous event is for the new parents.
The idea of a professional newborn photography business formed after Melissa gave birth to her own son two years ago. After searching unsuccessfully for a newborn photographer, she took her son to a major retailer’s photography studio and was less than satisfied with the results. With a new camera in hand and armed with knowledge gleaned from photography how-to books and websites, Lagano started Sweet Melissa Photography in late 2009 as a part-time business in the greater Hartford, Connecticut area, feeding her creative passions while keeping her full-time day gig as a third grade teacher.
As she says, “I love pregnancies and I love babies! When I discovered my love of photography, I knew this was the area I wanted to focus on and I enjoy it 100 percent.” She now specializes in capturing newborns within their first two weeks of life.
After her first full year as an entrepreneur including more than 30 photo shoots, Lagano is reflecting on what’s next in 2011. “When I look back to January 2010, my first newborn shoot, to where I am now, I’ve made such tremendous progress and I’m so grateful for where my business is now. I did over 30 newborn, maternity, and engagement sessions — plus three weddings — while teaching full-time and being a mom and wife. I’ve learned so much!
“My first love is photographing moms-to-be or newborns — it’s such a poignant occasion. My last client cried when she saw the pictures I took of her new baby and it made me feel like I made a difference.”
Melissa conducts most of her newborn sessions in her Farmington portrait studio, but she shoots many of her maternity and family portraits outdoors in natural light. In her studio, tiny newborns are lulled into blissful content with a full tummy and near tropical 90 degree heat so Melissa can capture them in their natural sleepy state. Portrait sessions can take up to four hours including photo editing and selection. “I make the experience totally about the client,” she says. “It’s custom photography, and I’m very customer focused.”
Melissa’s next big challenge is determining how much she wants to grow her business. “Some of my clients have suggested that I take a leap of faith and try and do this full-time, but I’m afraid. I think I need to learn more about the financial aspects of running a small business before I take the plunge. I have a successful part-time business – how do I make it a successful full-time business? Where can I get help and support? I feel like I need a small business coach!”
Meanwhile, she continues to develop her skill set using professional photography resources including Ilovephotography.com, where communities of photographers share best practices and portfolio submissions enable photographers to obtain feedback from other professionals. She also continues to strongly cultivate word-of-mouth to market her small business, an enduring and successful tactic for her. “It’s been easy for me to get clients, and that was unexpected. WOM has worked extremely well for me so far.” In addition, Melissa’s Facebook page and blog have generated free advertising and more referrals. She has also invested in online yellow pages and Google search to expand her reach and get more clients. By all accounts it looks to be a happy new year – she has seven appointments already on the books – enough to keep this budding entrepreneur busily building her business throughout 2011.