According to many sources, most businesses fail within the first 5-10 years. How do you beat the odds and build a business that withstands the test of time? Through the economic recession of 2008 to the global pandemic of 2020, KT Merry has seen a lot during her 20 years in the photography industry. From the introduction of digital photography, the start of Instagram and rise of social media, to life before fancy website platforms. She remembers the days when business was built on making phone calls and knocking on doors.
Early in her career, she learned the power of perseverance, persistence, and good ole’ fashioned hard work. Through everything the past two decades have thrown her way, she has learned to roll with the evolving landscape and continue to push the boundaries toward excellence.
How to build a business that withstands the test of time? An inside look in today’s interview with world renowned photographer, KT Merry.
“I kind of think photography chose me.”
After hearing KT Merry’s story, I have to agree!
As a high school student, KT was lucky enough to take a photography class with a teacher who took a special interest in her work.
“She took me under her wing, encouraged me to attend some competitions, and even helped me get some scholarships. She sort of guided me down this path, but it was obviously how it was meant to work out.
After attending photography school, KT realized there was so much more to learn about her field than just how to take a great photo. So, she started working as an assistant, working her way up the ladder and learning everything she could along the way.
“I didn’t really view it as starting a business at that point. I was just an independent photo assistant traveling the world and trying to gain as much experience as I could.”
For five years, this was KT’s path. Eventually, she was named first assistant for a German photographer in the fashion industry.
“He was a fashion photographer, but he had this idea pretty early on to sell ourselves as photographers for high-end, luxury weddings. So, we gave it a shot. We created this little side business and did one wedding together.”
The result? Her boss hated it, but KT didn’t mind the work at all. As he went back to exclusively to shooting fashion, she kept the door open to shoot weddings on her own. And by January 2007, she was working full-time as a wedding photographer.
“When people ask how I grew this business, I always say it’s because of my continued persistence. I’ve never been afraid to knock on a door, send an email, ask someone to take a chance on me. I came at everything with the approach of, ‘I’ll do what other people aren’t doing.’ I just trudge through it and keep going until someone finally says yes.”
As her business grew, so did KT’s confidence in herself as both a photographer and a business owner.
“I used to get so consumed with nervousness and second guessing myself. I’m so glad I pushed through those feelings! It taught me to trust in my abilities and experience. Now, I approach every shoot and think, ‘I got this.’ I’m confident that I’m worth the hire, and I’m confident that I can do great work.”
The good news? That confidence paid off! Only three years into business (and through a recession in 2008!), KT had grown the wedding side of her business so much that she no longer needed to take any additional fashion shoots. Only a few years later, she found herself reaching incredible milestones, like taking on weddings around the world and seeing her photos on the cover of Martha Stewart’s wedding magazine.
“I was so focused on my craft and becoming the best I could be at it. And that focus led me to this place where I was doing the kind of work I thought I’d only dream about. It was pretty incredible.”
The downside? That level of growth meant an increase in the need to run her business from a numbers side, something KT admittedly didn’t think much about until that point.
“Nobody taught me how to have a successful business. I knew how to take a pretty picture, but as it turns out, that will only take you so far. I had to start asking the right questions for my business. I had to look at the numbers. I had to learn how to actually run a successful business.”
Remember that continued persistence that made KT the photographer she is today? Well, she put that same trait to work in learning how to be a business owner.
“I dove back into the learning. I bought every business book under the sun, I joined a mastermind for female entrepreneurs, I joined a program for small businesses—you name it, I did it. What I learned from all of it is that the business side doesn’t have to be this boring, scary thing. There can be a lot of creativity in diving into things like revenue and projections. I didn’t think that was possible!”
KT learned so much for herself along the way that now she’s paying it forward for other entrepreneurs.
“I’d been learning from other people in all these different areas, but I wasn’t finding a lot of education specific to my industry at the time. So, I created a course that grew into this full encompassing program that really speaks to all the things I’ve learned and come to value.”
Now, after almost 20 years of work in the industry, KT knows she has something to offer those coming behind her.
“I’ve come to this place where I know that I know what I’m doing. I’m confident in how I’m operating, I’ve got a great business plan in place, I know I’m good at this job. I feel like I’m finally able to rest in the trust I have in myself to make it happen.”
Press Play to hear the full interview or download the full transcript.
RESOURCES MENTIONED :
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Essentialism by Greg McKeown
From the islands of the Maldives, to the Serengeti bush, to the rolling hills of the Irish countryside, photographer KT Merry has traversed the globe shooting exclusive destination weddings and fashion editorials. KT’s signature style blends her background in fine art and her years of experience assisting some of the world’s most celebrated fashion photographers. She has been named a Top Wedding Photographer by Harper’s Bazaar, Martha Stewart Weddings, and The Knot, and a Rising Star by Photo District News Magazine.
October 13, 2022