As a young girl, Aileen Siroy fell in love with photography. She got her first camera at 14, and has been taking pictures of people and landscapes as a hobby. While pursuing a career in communications in the Philippines, Aileen realized that photography is her true calling. With the support of her family and friends, she decided to pursue photography.
In 2009, she opened her photography business, Aileen Siroy Photography. Now, she’s enjoying the best of both worlds: pursuing her passion and making money from doing what she loves best.
Aileen is one of the many small business owners who turned their hobbies into profitable ventures. Learn how Aileen turned her love for the camera into a business, and the challenges she met along the way.
What started your passion for photography?
I grew up in a household where the camera was an important member in our family. Mom took pictures of us all the time. She recorded our growing up years in photographs. When I was about ten, I was so fascinated with the idea that I was holding in my hands a moment in my childhood. I found that absolutely magical.
I started taking pictures when I was about 11, and I was 14 when I got my first SLR camera, a gift from an Uncle. I took photographs of sunsets and trees, and portraits of my family.
It helped that my Mom was very supportive. She used to buy me films and just let me shoot. She believes I have the ‘eye’ and encouraged me to pursue photography. I took up elective photography class in college and since then, I never stopped learning, practicing, and shooting.
Also, I grew up very interested in art. I was sketching, painting and dancing, so I guess, the art of photography came natural to me.
What motivated you to start your own photography business?
Initially, entering into business didn’t cross my mind. I am an artist at heart, and for me, commercializing it didn’t really interest me. It stayed that way for a long time until some of my friends hired me to cover family and work events. They encouraged me to start my own photography business. I took a leap of faith.
What are the services you offer and who are your target clientele?
I cover weddings, conferences, and even children’s parties. I also do portraitures and food photography.
My target clientele? Families, babies and children, people who are in-love, people who are getting married, people who are celebrating milestones, and just about anyone who loves to be photographed and who appreciates the value of being artistically captured in a photograph.How has your view of photography changed – when it was just a hobby and now that it is a business?
When I was doing it as a hobby, I had no one to please but myself. Now that it’s a business, I have clients to please. Still, I see it as an art. It is still my passion, and it is something I really enjoy doing.
For me, it will always be a passion first, and then a business, second.
I understand you’re doing the business full-time. How hard was the jump from employee to a business owner?
I still actually do Development Communications consulting, but I hope that this year I will be able to do photography full time.
But already, it seems like I’m doing the photography business full time in the sense that shoots and post-processing goes beyond the usual 8-hour work day, or even Monday to Friday work week. Weddings happen on weekends, for example, and start as early as 7am and end as late as 12 midnight.
The jump from employee to a business owner was quite hard. Marketing and getting a constant flow of clients were the most challenging. There are so many talented photographers here and to find a niche, to position one’s business and be different was difficult, too.
What preparations did you make to ease the transition?
I had to make sure that I could financially sustain myself until I have somehow established my name in the field. This is the reason why I still do communications consulting half the time.
I asked the help of friends for client referrals, moral support, and business advice. I’ll always be grateful to them.
There was also a lot of mind setting. I had to condition myself that the business of photography is not at all the same as any other service-oriented businesses. Photography is an art, and art is subjective. I have to remind myself that there will be differences of perspective and expectations, and that I will be in for a lot of surprises, both positive and negative.
What were the challenges you faced when starting the business? And how did you solve them?
I needed professional equipment and start-up capital — that means giving up a lot of things (like shoe-shopping!). A big chunk of my savings went to buying my equipment.
I needed clients, and I needed to do marketing. My first clients were my friends and they soon referred me to their friends and acquaintances. Slowly, my market grew by word of mouth. I later on launched my website and I’m now receiving inquiries and getting clients because of it.I needed to be different and find a niche. As I mentioned, there are a lot of very talented photographers here. I wanted to have my own distinct style, so I kept on practicing and learning new postprocessing techniques. And I’m glad to hear from clients that when they see a photograph I’ve taken, they immediately know it’s mine.
Then there’s the business side. I needed to know the dos and don’ts of running a business. I read Vik Orenstein’s Guide to Building Your Photography Business, which was a great help. I also have friends who act as my business consultants.
What has been your biggest mistake thus far?
Not letting a client sign a contract. When I submitted the final output, they expected more (number of pictures). It is important to put everything down in writing, even if your client is a friend, and level-off with them so you know exactly what they expect from you.
What can clients expect when they use Aileen Siroy Photography?
Respect, fun shoots, and beautiful photographs.
Since my name is my own brand equity, I make it a point to deliver the best. I keep to the time frame that is agreed upon, and to the task and finished product expected of me as stipulated in the contract made between me and my client. And I assure them of painstaking quality of final outputs. Each photograph is lovingly postprocessed.
What lessons can you share to other women thinking of starting their own businesses?
Just three things —
- First – Have the passion for the business you want to enter into. Know well the business. Make sure you have the pertinent knowledge and skill about it, and how to run it.
- Second – Respect, integrity, and good customer service are integral part of any business.
- Third – Be strong. Having your own business is not for the faint of heart.