The very first question we asked Vanessa is Who are you? “I'm a human that craves connection. Love can be whittled down to this: a simple connection with another person, ourselves, and nature. I believe this is our purpose. I'm an artist and my favorite thing to document with my camera is this human connection in all its imperfect beauty.”
Vanessa’s heart shares space with her entrepreneurial spirit. She owns her own photography business and runs an industrial refrigeration business with her dad. “We provide refrigeration services for produce coolers, the facilities that clean and package your fruits and vegetables. I've worked in the family business for about (gulp) 27 years! I started in high school and stayed through college, and now run it with my father after my mom passed away last year. Working with family is hard! But with good communication (and let's be honest- therapy!) it can be successfully done.”
Photography has been a love of Vanessa’s since she was a child. She has early memories of lining up her dolls and taking their "baby portraits" just like the photo studio in the department store. “Trust me, the photos were not good, hah! But I LOVED it and I'm grateful to my mom for letting me use up her film.” Vanessa learned with film and one of her favorite places on earth is a dark room. “I can roll a film strip in complete darkness like a pro!” These days Vanessa’s business is all digital but she still shoots film for her personal work. “A camera in my hand feels as natural as cradling my child's head to my chest. It feels like coming home.”
Entrepreneurship runs in Vanessa’s family. It comes naturally to her as she has had the privilege of growing up and experiencing business behind the scenes. “I love the creativity in owning a business. Much of what I do is finding solutions and being creative is essential for that. Also, providing a valuable service to our community means so much to me. If you ask someone what they would save in a fire they likely would answer "family photos". To capture beautiful moments for families that they’ll cherish until they die makes Vanessa wondrously happy. “On top of that, to be a part of the industry that provides fresh and healthy food to people is so important to me” -Vanessa shares.
As an entrepreneur, Vanessa is inspired to provide something of value to her community -Yuma. “Our world isn't in need of another widget or unnecessary service. I want to leave this world a little better in whatever small way I can. This includes focusing on conscious capitalism and inclusivity in my business. Personally, I aspire to be a model to my children for what a woman can accomplish in this world. At this point in my life, I'm confident that there's nothing I can't handle, figure out, or work through with someone. I hope my children know that they have this strength in them as well. We all do!
Vanessa continued to share some valuable advice. “The best thing I read when I started my photography business is this, "20% of your work will be photography and 80% of it will be business related, such as marketing, bookkeeping, client communication, etc." This is absolutely the truth for most small businesses. If you don't want to spend the majority of your time doing these business related things then don't go into business. Keep what you love as a hobby, there's nothing wrong with that. Our hobbies and passions are just as important on their own without the potential to make money at it. In fact, I think the things we love to do for fun are vital to our life's contentment.”
When asked about her “aha” in business moment and Vanessa talks about the old familiar business pricing challenge..
“I charged a ridiculously small fee for my very first photo session. When I ran the numbers I realized that I had made less than $2 an hour! In that moment I learned that I needed to value myself and services more. When you are educated and experienced in your field, talented, and provide stellar service, charge your worth! I found two business women/educators in the photography field and learned everything I could from them about the topic. I’m working to support my family and discounting myself is taking money from my kids. If you are also the primary caregiver in your family, I would argue that your time is even more valuable. Make it worth it to be away from your kids, especially if you are paying for childcare.”
On the matter of overcoming personal challenges Vanessa talks tech challenges.
“When I first started my photography business I struggled a bit with the tech side of things. I built my own website, designed my own logo, etc. I realized that working with companies that are experts at what they do, such as my website host, really pays off when you need their customer service. I invested in the things that made the tech a bit easier while still keeping my overhead low and it's been one of the best decisions; and my goodness, can we talk about social media? It can drive you mad, especially for something as visible as photography. I'm not a huge fan of it and in fact, wasn't even on Facebook or Instagram when I started my photography business. I recognize and utilize social media as a marketing tool, but I have strict boundaries. I don't share very much personally and I take breaks periodically when I feel the need. I prefer connecting with my loved ones through text, calls, and in person. I think what's more important to my business is serving my clients well.”
A message Vanessa is inspired by is: Make it work. “I love being in a photo session where I am limited in what I can do. Small spaces or limited light don't scare me. This is where the creativity comes in, and the creativity is what makes it great.”
When addressing how the message “make it work” is relatable, Vanessa gets into the heart of it. “Generally, we all start small in business. We have limited budgets or time and we have to make that work (that phrase again!). I owned one lens for the first couple years of my business and I did all my editing when the kids went to bed. Why? Because I wanted to do it and nothing was going to stop me. Once you make that decision in your head nothing can stop you”
We asked Vanessa about challenges that made her a better business woman and she speaks of her late mother admirably in response. “I lost my mom last year. Since we worked together and she lived close by I saw her nearly every day. I can't put into words the depth of that loss. One practice that’s even more important to me after this loss is to work efficiently so that I can enjoy my free time. I work at work and am present with my people and myself the rest of the time. Keeping a schedule and sticking to it means I'm actually free in my free time. You do not have to be available to everyone all the time. Be clear with your process so that your clients know what to expect, and then enjoy your life!”
Vanessa closes with some vital wisdom I love sharing advice and wisdom about business, but I want to add something that is crucial. Take all advice with a giant grain of salt! “We will have the best intentions and still fail all the time. Failure is fantastic! It's how we learn new things and sometimes failure leads to different and even better outcomes. Mistakes and fails are opportunities for growth. When you frame it that way life becomes this great adventure to continuously grow and improve.”
To learn more, book photography sessions and or view her work follow and or message Vanessa on Instagram @vanessabrack.