How I Started a Small Business in High School

Hi everyone! If you're not super local to me, you might not have known that yesterday, June 7th, 2019, was the day of my high school graduation! Yep, that’s me in the cap and gown (I’m the one all the way to the left!) I am so, so, so excited to move to a new chapter of life, throw that cap, and say goodbye to the halls of my hometown high school! Before completely saying goodbye, though, I wanted to look back on some of the most important moments that brought me to where I am now. I am so proud to have a small business as a wedding photographer at the age of 18! Honestly, this has been an integral part of my identity as I've grown. I'm so proud of my accomplishments and all the growth I've achieved - but it definitely hasn't been an easy road. I'm writing this little series to document my journey, to share with others, to inspire other students, and to show that good things come to those who work hard, kick ass, and never stop reaching for the things that they want. So, without further ado, here's How I Started a Small Business in High School.

I Needed Something to Do

I'm going to try and keep this part a little more brief because it's a lot more personal than the rest of my story. In the winter of 2014, aka halfway through eighth grade, I was going through a lot of things I couldn't really explain. Mental illness is a monster - and that's probably the best way I've ever learned to phrase it. But that monster really, really, really wanted a hobby! Because I found that if it didn't have something productive to do, it would sit there and eat away at me. So, one random day after coming home, climbing off the school bus and through the snow, I texted my mom and said - "Hey, could I borrow your camera for a bit? Just to take some pictures around the neighborhood." She texted back, "Sure." I knew she had that big fancy camera sitting up in her room and I was just curious enough to take it around the neighborhood. I photographed houses and yards - the sky and the snow. These photos weren't exactly, um, great? But they were a stepping stone I needed. And I became absolutely and totally obsessed. I started going on walks  multiple days a week, taking my best friend Briana with me and just spending hours at home editing them. Briana has always been an artist and I'm so thankful for her creative eye - she taught me how to look at things differently and explore! There was no purpose to this photography - I just thought it was so fun! And the monster liked it too. That's a big reason why I'm so thankful for photography.

I think it saved me.

People - or, Sorry, a Person

Somewhere along my photography journey at the end of eighth grade-  when I started posting on Flickr more, even just as a catalogue for my photos - I realized how many options I had when it came to photography. And I realized that I wanted to try and branch out more. I was taking so many photos of street life, nature, wildlife, and landscapes without really improving too much. I was fascinated with portraiture and wanted to give it a try. And that's where my beautiful friend Laura came into the picture. She was the first person I ever took photos of - looking back, there were two very specific photoshoots I can remember, and I'm not exactly sure which one came first. The first I can remember, was right in the middle of my driveway, in the middle of the day, in the middle of winter. I had no direction for Laura, but thankfully she just kind of took the modeling reigns and really ran with it. I still kind of adore these photos!

 During the summer, I took Laura out to this amazing field near my neighborhood for more photos. I remember how amazed I was. I thought these were the best photos I could ever take - I was just so excited! Looking back at them now... well, let's just say I've come a long way.

 Since then, Laura has always been down to experiment with different photoshoots and is my first, best, and most amazing model. I'm so thankful that she was willing to stand in front of my camera. I captured her senior portraits at St. Peter's Village last far, and it's so amazing to see how far we've both come!

What To Do Next

I can promise you right now, nowhere along my journey was there any magic overnight success. I was chugging along on a great path but it really has taken years to reach where I am now! I think the first big step I took was posting my photos all over social media. For this, I apologize to my peers - I would literally post up to 12 photos on Instagram at the same exact time. This was before social media became a way to run a business. I was just a 16 year old girl who incessantly shared her photos! Eventually Facebook joined Instagram in my sharing game, and I would just post, post, post, all the time. I took my camera absolutely everywhere. Vacations, day trips, out on weekends, my favorite stores, sleepovers, football games. I was trying to document anything and everything - I guess without realizing it, this was the time I spent trying to develop a niche. Don't get me wrong - even now as a portrait/wedding photographer, I'll never pass up the chance to photograph a beautiful landscape. But I was going down any open avenue, just trying to gain my footing on something I loved. And to my own surprise, it ended up being portraits. Here are a few more examples of what I was capturing at the time!

They certainly weren't all winners, but I was learning about posing, light, movement, location, and really enjoying myself in the process. In retrospect, I'm so happy to have captured any photos of my friends so I can have something to look back on! It's surreal to know I'll be graduating alongside them tonight! 

An Investment in Myself

As I began to grow, I started to get some paid work here and there. Family photoshoots, a few friends, things like that. Everything I photographed, I pushed out into the world. But I found that Instagram and Facebook wasn't enough for me personally. Looking back, I'm not sure what exactly it was that made me want to get a website so, so badly. I certainly didn't have enough clients to warrant it - but I knew what I wanted, and I knew how badly I wanted it. So I did some research, and landed right here on Wix. My website has gone through some remodeling in the past few years - and this summer, there's going to be some really major changes on the way. But I have so loved having my own space and domain to work with, and especially now, as better established photographer with a real base of clients, it's been so beneficial to me. I started running advertisements on Facebook, Instagram, and even Google. They've helped me to find some really amazing clients in the past couple of years, and taught me a valuable lesson about investing in myself. I started investing in online education as well - courses for photographers about topics ranging from advertising to using flash in low light scenarios. My website and social medias began to grow. And, like I said, none of these changes were overnight, but things were certainly starting to speed up!

Find Yourself, Your Niche, and Your Brand

At the very start of my senior year, aka about halfway through 2018, I started getting a lot of business. And I mean, a lot. I had several senior sessions per week, I spent all my free time editing. I started bringing my laptop to school and would spend chunks of the day on editing mode. Maybe it didn't earn me the best grades (sorry Mom and Dad) but clients loved receiving their photos within a few days time and I loved blogging about all the different photoshoots I had. Fall was a crazy season for me - this was my first time ever experiencing a busy season as a photographer. I was prepared enough and excited enough to tackle it. And thank god, because from the last week of September to the first week of December, I was constantly grinding out new photos. This was also during the time I started experimenting with fantasy and fiction photography. I had been so moved by other amazing photographers like Georgia Rose Hardy, Linda Blacker, Thomas Oscar Miles, and, more than anyone else, Julie Floro. Julie was an amazing woman I had met on Instagram. Although her business has been well established for years, she has always taken the time to chat with me, answer my questions, and interact, and it has been so meaningful to me! It was during this time that I really began to experiment with different styles of shooting and editing. While my client work mostly stayed the same, I was always toying with some new idea in the background as well. As I've mentioned before, this year my website will be going through some major changes in order to rebrand and rejuvenate my work. It's taken me years to truly figure out that I want to pursue wedding photography, and it will take me years to totally develop my whole style and self! But it has been a fantastic road coming to where I am right now. You can see such a change in my work and style even just visiting my website!

....Wait, How Old Are You?

I know this blog is meant to talk about my experience as a high school student who ran a small business. But, honestly, when I was working with my amazing clients - it didn't really matter how old I was. I knew that I needed to take myself seriously, and everyone else would follow. I practiced that so seriously that most of my clients never even knew that I was still in high school. Sure, it wasn't something I was trying to broadcast into the world, still in fear of rejection or mocking, but I was proud at my skills in disguise and most of my clients really never seemed to mind that I was still in high school. It's made for some fun and interesting conversations, surely, but it taught me to trust myself, act mature, and to not leave any charisma at home.

But that wasn't the biggest part of being in high school while running a business. It was, well - being in high school, full time, every day, and desperately trying to run a business. I've never been an academic sort of person. My concentration is always on some other awesome project, and that project has tended to be photography! Looking back at my high school career, most especially my junior and senior years, I gave up a lot in order to get to where I am now. I didn't spend Friday nights going out or cheering on the football team. I didn't pull all-nighters to study, but instead to edit, or finish that one last blog post, to finish that course about posing I'd been dying to watch. It hurt to miss homecoming - it hurt to miss the football games and parties, and some nights I just felt so sick to death of what I was doing, too. I waned the classic high school experience, and I wanted to know what I was missing. But I'm so glad I didn't change my course or stray from the path I knew I was on. I applied every skill I had to anyone who needed help. And even if I missed out on some of the fun, I got to work on amazing projects like the Blood Drive, Special Olympics, and Relay for Life because of what I could do!

4 Years Later

I graduated last night - finally. But I have to admit, the shock didn't really hit yet. I'm still lounging on the couch, cleaning my room, planning the next week. I have more photos to edit than I could even put into words - I have a meeting on Tuesday and I need to make two phone calls tonight. Almost 20 unread emails, three checks still left to cash, and a to do list longer than a mile, I still have almost six albums to send to my amazing clients, some huge plans for the summer, a rebrand on the way, and a refocus onto what means the most to me - my business.

If you have worked with me, liked my work, shared it, talked about it, recommended me, encouraged me, accepted me, smiled at me - if you've been a part of my journey at all, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much. I'm certainly not done. I have so much further to go, so much I want to do, so much I absolutely HAVE to do. But if it was anything like these last fours years - I know I'm going to get through it.

Thank you so much for reading about my journey in high school. Let me know what you think in the comments - and one more time, thank you, so, so, so much.

-Julia Bruns

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