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Callie Sterling is a photographer in Arkansas, and she’s also one of my sorority sisters. I’ve watched her build the company with her then-boyfriend and now-husband over the years, and I can attest to her incredible work ethic. Honestly, Callie did it all back in college, and she’s a testament to how hard work really does pay off.
Name: Callie Sterling Location: North Little Rock, AR Job Title: Co-Founder, Photographer Company:Sterling Imageworks What it is: Photography company Educational Background: Bachelor’s degree in journalism from The University of Central Arkansas
What inspired you to pick up a camera?
Well, I always felt like I was more of a creative person. In high school, I started doing yearbook and that was when I really first got into it. I would just go around and take pictures of things for the school.
When did you realize photography was a career you wanted to pursue?
In college, my major was journalism and we had to have a wide variety of things we completed for our major. And one of them was a photography class. It kind of went hand-in-hand with yearbook again in college. I started to get paid to do shoots for yearbook. From there, I just started building contacts, we did some weddings, and once we started doing weddings and got paid for them, we decided we wanted to work toward doing that full-time.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It varies from day to day depending on if we have a shoot or not. In the winter time, we don’t have as many shoots throughout the week. It’s mainly on the weekends. Right now April through July is our busy season. So right now we typically have one shoot each day, sometimes we have multiple shoots. So if we have multiple shoots I’ll go do one and Jaison will go do another.
We also try and make sure that we’re having me-time. Each morning we go to CrossFit. We try to do that every day if we can just because that’s our one hour for ourselves, especially during a busy season. Because you can get really bogged down and burnt out really quickly if you don’t devote some time for yourself too. So we’ll exercise for about an hour every morning, then Jaison will come home, do all of our editing, and then I will update all of our social media, our website, answer emails, phone calls, and then we usually shoot in the evening.
Working with your husband, how do you separate work time from your couple time?
It’s really hard to separate work from personal time. Especially because we have a lot of friends in the wedding industry that have become more like personal friends. So it’s really hard to turn it off when we’re with them. Sometimes we can improve on that for sure because we work a lot. We talk about photography probably more than we should on our personal time.
We just try to make sure that we’ll go out to eat with one another and we’ll try not to talk about it there. We try to put our phones away so we’re not tempted to check emails. Basically, we try to make sure we get out of the house since our home is also our office.
If you could have given yourself a piece of knowledge or advice when you started what would that be?
I guess just to not take things personally in the business world. In the beginning we were trying to build our business, so I just automatically thought that our friends or anyone who knew us at all would book us, and that’s not always the case and it’s not always a personal thing. Now I’m in a really good place where I’ve built some confidence up in our work, and I have a lot of faith in God that if we don’t book something it was meant to be. But not every person that we know has to be our client. We’ve really embraced that.
Would you do anything differently?
I can’t think of anything that I would have done differently. Sometimes we wish that we could have built our business somewhere like California, just because we love California. But we also love Arkansas too. So I think if we had built it in California we would have been ready to come back by now. It’s just that unknown what-if.
How do you define success?
I think being successful is more about being happy and waking up and getting to do something you love every day. I would much rather get paid less and do what I love and be truly, genuinely happy than work for a big corporation where I’m not happy. As long as you’re happy in your career, you’re being successful no matter what salary you’re making.
What’s been the hardest part of starting your own business?
The hardest part was definitely working full-time jobs, going to school, and running our business too. In school I managed a salon, I was in a sorority, I was going to college, and I was yearbook editor for two years. So that was really our rough time because I was trying to do all of that and build our business at the same time. But when I was taking photos and doing photography work, that was when I was most happy, so I knew that was the direction I needed to be going — but it was just hard to balance all of those things.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting your own business?
The first thing is just being able to make my own schedule. If I want to sleep in until noon…which I rarely do that. It’s just the freedom to do what I want at the time of day I want. Of course, if we book a session then that’s on our calendar, but we have the flexibility of what days are open and what days we’re going to block off for free time.
And then the other part is that we like to travel and we have been given the opportunity to take off how long we want when want. We like to travel a lot, and it’s been really rewarding to see the United States. We’re trying to see all 50 states, and we’ve got about 11 left, so that’s the other part that I have really enjoyed.
How has social media helped shape your brand?
Social media is crazy. It’s so different than it was even five years ago. We use it every day. We get Facebook messages from people wanting to book a session, and the same goes for Twitter and Instagram. The high school age kids contact us through Twitter and then those our age and older use Facebook and Instagram. We try to make it a goal to use it once a day.
We have Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and we just got a Snapchat. It’s just a great way to get your name out there and reach a large target audience at one time. I give a lot of credit to social media for our success because I don’t know how businesses did it back in the day.
How do you make sure you stand out on social media?
I’d like to work on the time of day I post. I post every day, but right now it’s at random times. In order to stick out, we try to build our brand up with our logo. We want our logo to be something people recognize. So really using our logo to its full potential, we use certain hashtags that we’ve seen are effective, and being consistent posting once a day.
What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not working?
I’ve recently gotten really into CrossFit. As a photographer, you’re moving a lot during a shoot, but it’s easy to sit at a desk during the day. We love to travel. I like to scuba dive. I haven’t done it in a while, but I do like it when I’m at a place I can scuba dive. We have three dogs, so we like to play with them. We like to go hiking. We like to lay in our hammocks, and I like to scrapbook.
How do you apply what you learned through your degree to your career?
I originally thought I wanted to do broadcast journalism and be a TV anchor. Through that I learned to speak with people, and that’s really come in handy with meeting clients. I also do some freelance writing, so my experience in print during college has helped me with that. And then I use skills I learned in my photojournalism class every single day.
What’s next for Sterling Imageworks?
Just working toward continuing to build our brand. We’re comfortable with the amount of clients we have right now, but we just want to continue getting our brand out there and reach more clients. We’re doing about 45 weddings a year right now, and I don’t know that I want to do more. But yeah, just getting our name out there more and continuing in this direction.
Do you have any advice for others looking to create a career in the freelance market?
I would say just make sure you don’t forget the people who supported you in the beginning, because that’s when you need it the most. If you’re starting a freelance job, don’t take anything personally, learn from every bad experience and try to grow from it, and just work as hard as you can because if you work as hard as you can God will take care of you. Don’t worry, and try to be positive.