How Allie Osmar Siarto Grew Her Photography Hobby Into A Profitable Business

by Tim Jahn on November 5, 2010

After leaving the agency world almost a year ago, Allie Osmar Siarto formed a digital measurement and research firm called Loudpixel with her fiancé and their friend.  Since then, she’s gradually been devoting more of her creative energy to her lifelong hobby of photography.

Over time, that hobby has grown into a successful business called Avei Photo.  Today, Allie is a full time creative entrepreneur splitting her time between Loudpixel and her growing photography business.

I sat down with Allie to learn why she became a creative entrepreneur to begin with and more specifically, how she grew her photography hobby into a profitable business.

Transcript

Tim Jahn:

Before you started Avei Photo you, your fiancé, and your friend, all collaborated and started your own business called Loudpixel, but before that, what were you doing?

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Working at PR Agencies. And I’m still really kind of connected to that community. I still go to a lot of events with the PR community. I see, old colleagues all the time, I have lunch with them. It’s something that I still like kind of love to be tapped into. But I’m — and it had major pros, really opened up doors, awesome opportunities.

But it’s just this whole different kind of energy when you’re running your own business. So, Loudpixel is me, my fiancé Jeff, and our friend Ryan, who — so they’re kind of web developers, web designers and I came from the background of the PR, and the monitoring, the insights. and we combined our brains, we’ve come up with a tool that we use called levy, to make the research and insights easier. and we’ve been working with agencies and working direct with clients to help them with online monitoring research.

Tim Jahn:
What made you leave the agency world, or the PR world and go on your own with Jeff and Ryan?

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Okay, so I’d always thought about being on my own because it’s one of those things that I was like I’ve got to try it, I’ve got to see what can happen. And I didn’t think I would do it so soon but it kind of like the stars aligned and we all — it always starts over a drink.

You’re having drinks and you’re like, “oh my gosh, wouldn’t it be great if.” So that’s basically where it started. You know, the stars aligned and we’re like, “okay, this will work” and things worked out. We were able to land clients to get started and we made the leap. So, I don’t know if that answers the question.

Tim Jahn:
Did you get clients while you were still working full time jobs, or did you make the leap and then —

Allie Osmar Siarto:
We had some potential when we started. so as far as being a risk taker, I’d say I’m like medium. I didn’t jump off without any potential. We definitely knew that there was some potential out there.

Tim Jahn:
So you kind of felt the waters and then once you felt that it was warm enough –.

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Yeah, and there were definitely some ups and downs, I mean it was not like you know people talk about like you see the glamorous side of being an entrepreneur and you’re like, “yeah, you’re working from coffee shops.”

Which we do, we work with a group called Jelly Chicago, it’s awesome. It’s a bunch of basically creative entrepreneurs who come together a couple days a week — jellychicago.com, check it out. Got to give a plug.

It’s a really amazing group. so anyway, where was I going? So you learn the kind of awesome, cool, creative sides of entrepreneurs. and I’m even telling you like, everything’s great, overall big picture, it’s awesome. But yeah, there were struggles, there are times when you’re worrying about cash flow, and youre worried about am I gonna sleep tonight to get all this stuff done?

It’s not like you’re 9-5 or 8-6 or whatever. Like okay agencies are a little bit, you could have some crazy busy days too. but it’s a whole different world and you don’t know what it’s going to be like until you do it. So, we had to try.

Tim Jahn:
I love that, we had to try.

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Yeah, we had to see what can happen. I guess I’m a little bit like I said, medium risk taker. I always knew that if it didn’t work out worst case, well, second worst case, I’d go find a job. Not so bad at all. Worst case, I move in with my parents for a couple months and figure out what’s going to happen, and then find a job. So, those aren’t — it’s not terrible, it’s totally doable if it doesn’t work out, so –.

Tim Jahn:
So you take the leap from the traditional agency world and you form a company with your fiancé and your friend –.

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Yes.

Tim Jahn:
And then at what point did you decide you wanted to start another business on top of that? To turn a hobby into a business?

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Yeah, it just sort of happened.

Tim Jahn:
So you weren’t, you weren’t — it wasn’t in the plan to start a photography business?

Allie Osmar Siarto:
So where Loudpixel was more of a leap because we had to really throw ourselves in to it, Avei Photo was more of a gradual happening. It kind of just happened. because I didn’t need it, necessarily as my main income, I wasn’t dependent on it. But — so I was basically — it just kind of grew over time. It started with kind of like — actually, I was shooting friends and just telling people that I was doing it, shooting like a wedding for a friend, and then people — I talked about it and people realized, “oh you’re doing this.”

So then they would refer people to me, “oh, you do photography.” There’s an — you know, coming from the PR world, PR does events, so, “oh hey, we’ve got this event coming up, they need a photographer. Okay.” So that’s kind of how it started, was just connecting with people and letting them know, “hey, I’m doing this.

It’s just something that I’m really passionate about. and I happen to feel very confident that I can do a great job, here’s my work.” And people, they kind of came on in. So, it was kind of an unintentional, happy coincidence. Which now I think as I’ve seen it grow, I’m taking more control of it and saying okay, let’s push this forward.

Tim Jahn:
Trying to kind of guide it?

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Right.

Tim Jahn:
To become more of a –.

Allie Osmar Siarto:
So it was kind of like feel it out, if I — if nothing comes of it fine. but I’m just liking the photos to kind of like, “okay, something’s coming of it, let me give it a little push.” So that I’ve started taking the marketing more seriously probably like over the summer, over the past summer.

Tim Jahn:
At what point did you know that the photography business was a business? Like wow, I have a company on my hands here, I need to actually –.

Allie Osmar Siarto:
I think when I started getting cold inquiries from people I didn’t know. Just kind of the random inquiries where you get the email, you know from your contact form or just whether it’s, “so and so told me about you, that I should contact you.”

Or just a completely cold inquiry where I was like, “oh, you found me, that’s fantastic.” So, just getting the cold inquiries was kind of the oh, I’m not just like this friend who’s like hey, can you take a couple pictures of me for free? It was like people actually wanted; desired my services.

Tim Jahn:
They viewed you as a professional photographer who has plenty of experience.

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Yes.

Tim Jahn:
How did that feel?

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Fantastic! So good. I mean it’s just like that flutter of like oh my this is wonderful. It’s indescribable, it’s just, it’s great.

Tim Jahn:
What do you think was the biggest factor in the success of the turning point of going from hobby to business? What was the biggest factor that played in that succeeding?

Allie Osmar Siarto:
I think it’s still just kind of talking to people, telling them what I’m doing. Still not working, just like any other business, kind of a — I’m active in the community, I go to events, I have business cards, I present myself professionally. Where I think also I took the leap and was kind of like okay people are finding me, I’m actually writing contracts — I have contracts that I’m signing with people who I have never met before.

Then I was like, okay, well I need to have all of the materials. I need to have everything from the professional business cards, to the updated website, to the just like the general presence, the personal brand if you will. That’s something that’s always evolving, I’m still working on that and I think that we’ll still see changes in the future. but it’s made some major progress in the last year, I’ll say that.

Tim Jahn:
Yeah, I mean, I look at your website and if I didn’t know your story already, I would just think you’re a professional photographer who has been doing this for years.

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Well, so I am a professional photographer. But — no but seriously, a lot of the credit goes to — I have to give credit to Jeff, my fiancé, who is a web designer and that helps. So again, it’s kind of like, its knowing people who can help you, of course if I didn’t have him, I would find another resource, but it’s a big help when you have somebody who can help you to put together the front of your business.

Because basically in this day I don’t have a storefront at this point, so that is my storefront. My website is my business. That’s how I present myself, so –.

Tim Jahn:
What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone who wants to turn their hobby into a business?

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Well, I think there are a couple ways to do it. so you can start slow, test the waters, which is kind of what I did with photography. If you have a full time job and you’re willing to commit the time on the side, you have weekends, you have evenings, there’s a lot of time that you have to invest in yourself. There’s a lot of time, you’d be amazed.

And for those who are willing to jump right in, you know, I guess you know I wouldn’t even say just don’t — test the waters, you’ve got to test the waters, you’ve got to know what’s out there. You’ve got to do some planning, you’ve got to do some goal setting.

I now have my calendar of goals that I keep where I’m kind of like okay, it’s now this month, here’s what I want to learn, do, accomplish this month. So I’m forcing myself to move forward because unlike a formalized job where you have a boss and you have maybe formalized training that you have to go through and things that you have to do to progress and your annual review and your now up and up and up, you have to be so self-motivated.

You have to say, “okay, tonight instead of going out to dinner, I’m going to sit in and learn this thing or I’m going to invite one person to coffee and get to know this person, or I’m going to volunteer.” I’ve been volunteering a lot more this year, which has really helped. Actually, that’s a really good piece of advice, start volunteering, you’ll get so much out of it.

Tim Jahn:
You mean personally or professionally? Or both?

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Well, both. I mean, I — like step up women’s network is one group that I’ve become a part of this year. so I just, instead of going, which I’ll go to some events just to attend as an attendee but more than anything I volunteer so I’ll — whether it’s working the door or working just like little pieces here and there. you end up getting to know every single person, you get to know the people who run the organization.

So it’s a really kind of cool way to get in and like quickly get to know a lot of people, like really amazing people. So, I recommend that for sure.

Tim Jahn:
What excites you most about getting up every day and working on these two companies?

Allie Osmar Siarto:
Just kind of seeing where it will go. I have no idea. I mean, it’s truly in a year, I could be — it could not exist anymore, it could be doing incredibly well, you know, we’ve already hired an employee, actually a couple of employees, kind of part time at Loudpixel, so you know it could continue to grow. Avei Photo could continue to grow, who knows maybe I’ll have employees there, you know, second shooters if nothing else.

The thought of growing something from scratch is so exciting and then even kind of the more glamorous dreams of okay, so if you’re somewhat location independent or flexible with how you’re work schedule works like do we go to Europe for a month?

Do we — I’m able to get back to Michigan to see my nephew more often, actually a new niece as of last week. so you know family then becomes kind of easier to fit in to the schedule so it’s just kind of just having control. You know you don’t have 100% control, but having more over what I do and like my actions will affect the outcome, it’s — and like directly affect the outcome, it’s very exciting.

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