From marketing director for a real estate company, to wedding photography, to fine art, to a dream job working as a photographer for Magnolia, Kelli Kroneberger has dabbled with many mediums in many creative industries. As someone who has always been a little embarrassed by the twists and turns in her own career path, Kelli shares how she is learning to embrace the journey and give up her natural tendency for people-pleasing and seeking the validation of others.
I think as entrepreneurs we can all fall prey to striving out of the need for approval and today’s conversation is a permission slip to do what makes sense for you even if no one else understands. Embrace the journey, though it will likely not be a straight path, and have fun along the way!
“I always knew I wanted to be a painter.”
That’s how artist Kelli Kroneberger describes her path to the career she has now. But, as all creative entrepreneurs realize, knowing what you want to be is only the first step. The rest? Well, that’s where the real challenge begins.
“Thankfully, my dad said, ‘You know, you can always work on your craft, but maybe you should get more of a business degree.’ It was honestly the best advice he could’ve given me.”
With the incentive to make it as an artist, Kelli went to school to learn the business side of running a business. Fast forward four years later, she was fresh out of college and unsure of her next steps. She took a job as a marketing coordinator for a real estate development company in South Dakota. There, Kelli found herself taking on more and more responsibilities, learning the business as she went.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing, but the company just believed in me. They just kept giving me challenges. I think that’s where my love for business really started to grow.”
With business knowledge and experience under her belt, Kelli started entertaining the idea of actually bringing her initial dream to life.
“I think for a long time I had these negative thoughts in my head that even if I wanted to be a painter, I couldn’t make money being a painter. But I knew I wanted flexibility, and I knew I wanted to create. Eventually, that’s what stirred this need in me to do something on my own.”
At the time, Kelli was given a new creative outlet at her day job: the work of photographing properties for the company.
“It was the chance to do something creative, and I didn’t want to turn that down. I had no idea about photography, but I knew I could learn. I love learning; I love trying new things. And because of that, I knew I could figure it out.”
And figure it out she did! Soon, Kelli was photographing everything from commercial to residential properties at work and shooting portraits on the side. After only a year, she felt the nudge to make a change.
“I just felt it. I felt like I could do it. I could go out on my own as a photographer.”
Leaving her full-time job and pursuing a photography business wasn’t exactly what Kelli had in mind when she initially dreamed of being an artist. Still, it was the path she found herself walking when she made the leap to go out on her own.
“I just kind of dove in and figured it out. In the early days, I said yes to everything and tried to see it as gaining experience in all aspects of the business. I was busy and booked, so I thought I was doing well.”
Soon, Kelli realized that busy didn’t necessarily equate to success.
“I wasn’t paying attention to the money. I just thought if I was busy then I must also be making money. But in reality, I didn’t have a plan for what I was actually doing with my finances and that isn’t wise for anyone, especially someone starting a business on their own!”
To help her focus on the right things, Kelli honed in on wedding photography as her niche. She shifted everything about her business to speak to that, including the way she spent her money.
“That was a big shift in my business. I was finally taking the business seriously enough to invest my own money into it. I signed up for a workshop on shooting on film, and it wasn’t cheap! But investing in things like that helped me realize that I needed to take my business a lot more seriously if I wanted to see a return on that investment.”
The work and the investment paid off! By focusing on her craft and honing her messaging, Kelli saw business begin to boom.
“That’s really when I saw a shift in my photography business. It’s when I saw a drastic change in the growth of my company and myself.”
That growth propelled Kelli forward into the next several years until she made the move to Colorado. There, she realized something had to change.
“I was kind of getting burned out on wedding photography. I could just feel it. That’s when I realized something had to shift.”
The shift for Kelli came in the form of a job with the amazing Chip & Joanna Gaines. After what she calls a “quick jaunt” to Waco to work as a lifestyle photographer for Magnolia, Kelli eventually made her way back to Colorado and back to painting.
“I started painting as a creative outlet to do something without the expectation of making money. And pretty quickly I just felt like it was something the Lord was calling me to do.”
Slowly, she put her work out on Instagram, sharing her paintings with her followers after each creation was complete. But, like most of the world, the arrival of 2020 and the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic forced Kelli to make a change.
“I was still doing photography in 2020 for small business, but when everything shut down, so did all my work.”
Unsure of what was next, Kelli stayed home with her children in that season, focusing on her family and her art in the process.
“Pretty quickly, people started commissioning me to do paintings for their homes, their studios, their businesses. And I thought, ‘Maybe I can make this work.’ I had created all these spreadsheets and processes for my photography business, and I realized I could use those same formulas for painting. I could actually make money pursuing this passion.”
Now, Kelli is a full-time artist whose original and commissioned works regularly sell out. In addition, she recently launched Maker Hill, a curated gift shop for businesses and individuals.
“Maker Hill is our corporate gifting company, and for the last two years I’ve been working on growing that. It’s been amazing to see how many things in my past careers have come full circle to the life I have today. I’m using so many of the skills I’ve picked up along the way to keep painting and working on Maker Hill.”
These days, Kelli is keeping her eye on trying to find that elusive sense of balance.
“I naturally work at a high capacity. I could just keep going, and going, and going. But since becoming a mom and shifting my business, I’ve learned the value in saying no. I want to say no to the wrong things so I can say yes to the right things.”
For Kelli, the right things involve the work she loves and the time she wants to give to her family. If the opportunities in front of her don’t check those boxes, then they aren’t worth her time, efforts, and striving.
“I’ve experienced success, but I’ve also experienced burnout. And lately, I’ve just realized that I don’t have to strive so much for all these things. I spent so much time motivated by trying to prove myself worthy and please people, and now I realize that striving isn’t worth it. Today, I’m trying to come from a place of less striving, in my business, in my family, and in me.”
To hear the rest of the story and what Kelli is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
Pricing for Creatives collaboration with If I Made
Maker Hill Corporate Gifting Company
Mary Marantz on Consider the Wildflowers Podcast
Kelli loves the intersection of art and business, regardless of the medium. She’s been a creative entrepreneur for the past 14 years, and her work has included photography, creative direction, fine art, creative business consulting, and most recently her time is spent as the founder of a corporate gifting company, Maker Hill. Because of her entrepreneurial experience in many creative industries, she’s able to move fluidly throughout several mediums. She lives in Fort Collins Colorado with her husband and two boys.
November 18, 2022