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Welcome to our blog! We are a husband & wife photography team based in Madison, Wisconsin who document weddings & anniversaries for joyful couples who believe in marriage. This blog is a journal about real love stories, marriage & our own adventures along the way! We are so glad you're here — please stay awhile!

MAISON      CALEB

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LIFESTYLE

Our Business Story | The Short Series | The Real First Year.

November 1, 2015

Happy Monday you guys!! I’m so, so excited to be continuing this Short Series that is so near + dear to my heart on the blog today!! I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s always going to be worth mentioning again because there might be some readers today who have never been to our blog before!! In this Short Series, Our Business Story, I’m sharing how our business began + grew to where it is today in a series of five blog posts that will allow me to take a more in-depth approach to who we are + where we’ve come from!! My hope is to shed light + guidance to other photographers or business owners (or dreamers of these things) who might find themselves in similar situations that we have found ourselves : ) The first two posts in this series can be found here (The “First Year”) + here (Discovering My Calling)!!

In the previous post, I shared about how I returned to the United States from living overseas in Turkey + found myself at one of my life’s greatest crossroads. Was I going to walk the first path — the path I had always imagined for my life of pursuing a career in ministry, or was I going to follow the second path + start my own photography business!? Yes, you guessed it correctly, I excitedly + nervously chose to begin the journey on path number two + in 2013, I officially started “Maison Meredith Photography” : )

What do I mean by “officially started”?

If I knew anything about starting a business, it was that I knew nothing. I had no schooling in business, never took a class on it, + would have never, ever, EVER thought I was going to be an entrepreneur (I think I previously mentioned that prior to this business, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what that word even meant!!) : ) So since I knew nothing, I knew that I WANTED to learn + that no matter what, I was going to do things the right way. Legally, there would never be cutting of any corners + I would know (at least somewhat!) what I was getting myself into.

First things first, I met with a local small business accountant + picked his brain. Gosh, Brian Smith, I am so thankful for you!! : ) This man guided me, step by step, through all the things I needed to do in order to legally start a business in Wisconsin. From filing for an LLC (+ learning what an LLC was!), to how many bank accounts I needed to open + what kind, contracts, taxes, + government lingo, he had my back. And I completely trusted him. He is a professional at these things + I am not, so hiring him to do his job + help make mine easier was a no brainer. All of these legal things cost money, it’s true, but in my opinion, there’s no way around it. They must be paid for!! We can cut to the chase + all agree that paying taxes sucks!! But it’s a law, it’s how our government works, + we must, must be honest in running our businesses.

What’s in a Name?

When I was registering my business with the state, I switched my name from Blue Window Photography to Maison Gustke Photography (my maiden name) + then to Maison Meredith Photography. Why did I ultimately choose Maison Meredith? I first new that I wanted my business name to be personal + not generic — not a name that anyone could have + run this business. I was the face of the business + I knew that I wanted this business to be rooted in relationship + a personal, unforgettable client experience. So my name it was! Clients are working with me + that is a huge part of our brand!! As far as the switch from Gustke to Meredith? Well, I hoped I would be getting married one day (ha!), + I didn’t want to have to deal with building my brand under one name + then having to possibly switch it (+ have to deal with website name changes, URL change, SEO changes, etc.!) once I got married. Plus, let’s be honest, Meredith is way prettier than Gustke anyway! Sorry dad! ; )

Money, Money, Money

This is the main aspect of my first year that I wanted to talk about today. It’s a tough, touchy subject, but I’m going to share my opinion on it anyway! Mainly because I believe I did things incorrectly + I want to share, in hindsight, what I would have done differently had I been smarter with my money!!

When I officially launched the business, I didn’t have a lot of money. Thankfully, I didn’t have any student loans, however, I had just gotten back from doing mission work in Turkey, I was living at home with my parents, + trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life — or rather, where I was being led. When I chose to pursue the photography business, I knew I needed some new equipment: a better camera, a nicer lens, a new computer for editing …. however, I also thought I needed a lot of other things that I definitely did NOT (fancy marketing stuff, prints + products, a couple of lenses, etc.)!! To purchase all of these things, I took out a $10,000 loan … and didn’t get any other job. AHHHHH!!! Not. Smart. I used all the money to buy all of the things I “needed” — and later was kicking myself for making such a rash decision.

When Caleb + I got more serious in our relationship, a financially smart budgeting-brain began gently revealing to me all of the ways in which I was often a bit irresponsible with my financial decisions. I had a lot to learn + I am SO thankful for a life partner who complements me in this way! When we got engaged, CALEB, not my business, used money that HE had saved to pay off MY business loan as soon as he could. What a generous, humble, SMART heart.

Why was this loan not a good idea? What would I have done differently? 

Sure, the loan helped my to buy some equipment I needed when I was first starting. However, it also paid for things that weren’t a necessity + soon enough, I found myself paying interest on money that simply didn’t have to be borrowed. I was paying money to have money in my business account, essentially. Just so silly!!! If I could go back, I would have done a couple of things differently:

  1. I would have gotten a part-time job. Yes, it might have been a little bit more busy in the beginning with working AND growing the business, but it would have been very doable. A part time job would have allowed me to SAVE any additional money I needed to buy the equipment for my business that was needed as I continued to grow.
  2. I would have only purchased three major things: a new camera body, a 50mm lens, + a new computer. In my opinion, these are the only three things I needed at the time to get my business going. Then, as I saved money from working part time, I could have responsibly added additional pieces to my business without ever being in debt!!!

Think what we could have done with that $10,000 had I not spent it irresponsibly!! It’s crazy for me to think about now. But we all make mistakes + then we learn from them! And we get to share them with others so they can hopefully make less mistakes ; ) hehe!!

Next time, I am going to be diving into the idea of “Being Smart While Working Hard to Make It Happen”!! If you’re curious about what that means, you’ll just have to check back : ) For now, please, PLEASE feel free to leave any questions or thoughts in the comment section below!! We would love to hear from you + help in any way we can : ) Thank you so much for following along with our journey — until next time!!

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Business

  1. Kelly

    November 2nd, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks for the information! Could you send the contact information for your accountant? I’m just starting my business and I have no clue what to do as far as taxes and making sure I’m compliant! If you want to e-mail me at hello@kellygracephoto.com I would love to talk with you further! 🙂 Love the series.. It’s been so helpful! I’ve been thinking about taking out a loan to buy another camera body + lens, but I think I’ll just save up for it instead per your advice 🙂

  2. Maison Engel

    November 2nd, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Emailing now!! 🙂

  3. Charlie

    November 3rd, 2015 at 3:50 am

    Nice! Excited to read the legalities portion

  4. Samantha Helt

    December 7th, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    What a great & honest post Maison! I love how candid you are about money…it is a touchy subject, but it’s so awesome that you shared your mistakes with others to learn from! When I first started out, I thought that I needed EVERYTHING too…marketing templates, PS actions, LR presets, online courses, more lenses, did I say marketing templates?! Seriously, it’s so crazy how fast it all adds up! It’s so easy as a newbie to get wrapped up in all the excitement of it all, but that would be my biggest piece of advice for new photographers. Save, don’t spend! Thanks so much for sharing your experience!!

  5. Maison Engel

    December 7th, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    SO easy to believe that – and it doesn’t necessarily go away!! Right?! 🙂 But YES, save!! Be SMART! Think about spending as if it’s an INVESTMENT, etc.! Thankful for you + ALWAYS happy to share!! Love you!! <3

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