Today we’d like to introduce you to Kate Taylor.
Kate, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I started Polar Square Designs informally when I was in college earning my Fine Arts Degree, never thinking it would be anything beyond some extra cash here and there. While in college, I drew custom fine art portraits, did some graphic design work, and got into photography a bit. I second shot some weddings and enjoyed myself, but had the traditional full-time job dream in my sights and put most of my effort into my education and subsequent job search.
I graduated from school and got a boring desk job that was completely uninspiring. It was in a grant-funded office and when the grant ran out after four years, I got laid off. I moved on to a new job at a large corporate company and worked as a graphic designer. I loved my work there and was crushed when I got laid off after only a year and a half. The kicker: I got laid off because I was seven months pregnant and getting close to taking maternity leave, and since I was a contract employee, I had no power to do anything about it.
I took a few months off to have my baby and then got what I thought was my dream job at a local marketing company as a graphic designer. It was even better than I could have hoped for and I learned a ton in a very short time. My husband and I had rearranged our schedules so that I could go back to work; he worked nights and was home with our infant daughter during the day when I was in the office. It was a very stressful time but we just trucked through it, hoping it would all work out in the end. One requirement of my employment there was that I had to dump all of my existing design clients that I had been doing work for on the side, which I happily did thinking I finally had found my “career.”
Just six months into my job at this marketing firm, I was laid off (yup, again) as the company decided to outsource all of their design work. The turnover rate in that office was insane so I should have seen it coming, but I still couldn’t believe it. I was so defeated and sad. Each time I had lost my job, I spent hundreds of hours applying to new positions. I didn’t know if I had it in me to go through that again. My husband said, “Hey, why don’t you start your own business?” But after I had let all my personal design clients go and had no savings, I didn’t know where to even start. On top of that, being laid off three times in two years was absolutely brutal.
I applied to jobs for about a month and had no luck. The job market in Rhode Island throughout all of this was in the gutter, especially in the creative services market. I had been collecting a measly unemployment cheque each week just to help pay the bills and I remember the day I decided I was going to put my whole self into my own business and be my own boss. I called the unemployment hotline and canceled my unemployment. Polar Square Designs 2.0 was finally a reality!
Those first few months were a lot of work. I had a website to build, business cards to design, a logo to make, and oh yeah: I had to find some people who wanted to hire me, too. I got a great lead from a former colleague and began building WordPress websites for local businesses. I learned quickly and found the work enjoyable. Soon, I was getting referrals for more website work, graphic design, and print design. It was thrilling.
On the photography side of things, I also had a lot of work to do. I concentrated on learning as much as I could, investing in new equipment and getting my name out there. Photography in this area is a very saturated market, so I had to find a way to set myself apart from my competition. My hard work paid off and soon I was getting lots of new clients, all referred from past clients.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Oh, my goodness no, and I can’t think of a single entrepreneur who would say “yes” to this question. Going through those layoffs were really tough on my confidence. I’d spent my whole life wanting to be in this line of work and there I was questioning whether I was even good enough. I wanted my daughter to be proud of her mom. I wanted to contribute financially to our household, and somehow also be around to raise my kids. Looking back now, I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to start my business. I wish I had listened to my loved ones around me, who were all saying “you can do this!” instead of talking myself down and wasting more time looking for jobs.
In the early days, the main struggle was managing the amount of time it took to get it all off the ground, while not making any money to show for my efforts. I’m glad I did all that work up front though and developed a business identity. I am also glad I started the business as a DBA — I was looking for whatever the simplest solution was to each problem at the time, and it was quick and easy to get started that way. I am also glad I hired a tax expert to guide me. I am not a financial expert and he was a source of comfort and good information. So much better than Google! I have since moved my business to an LLC, also on his recommendation.
Rhode Island and MA have some fantastic photography groups that I got involved in very early on. I met other photographers and despite the saturated market, they are all extremely supportive and helpful, and for that I am grateful.
I am also glad I kept the spending to a bare-bones minimum to start and saved up for whatever I needed to buy. The last thing I wanted to do was get ourselves into more debt.
What should we know about Polar Square Designs? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
There are five main parts of my business:
– Website design, specifically custom WordPress sites.
– Graphic and print design, like logos, menus, posters and flyers, brochures, business cards, etc.
– Social media management, which I do for five different local companies.
Within the photography section, I photograph engagements, weddings, maternity, births, and families. I teach photography classes to beginner photographers who want to learn how to shoot in manual with their SLR cameras. I also do a fair amount of equestrian portraits, which is a result of riding my entire life and having a lot of contacts in the horse world who then refer clients to me.
One service I offer that is not very common around here is birth photography. I started photographing births after having my first daughter. My husband and I paid a lot of money for our wedding photography, and the images were absolutely gorgeous. But that day that we became husband and wife does not compare to the day we became a family. My mum photographed my first (and second) daughters’ births and the images are just so beautiful. I knew I had to offer that to other parents, and I was determined to make it work.
I did a model call to find a family who would let me photograph their baby’s birth and I remember how hard it was to find someone… and I was offering it for free! I just needed one birth to put in my portfolio. I couldn’t believe it. Most people I talked to said “why would you ever want to photograph that?” but they didn’t understand that it is not bloody, or revealing. Birth is a journey and the images simply document that. I finally was able to photograph that first birth and since then have been hired by quite a few birth clients. I’ve even photographed c-sections, which by the way, are absolutely amazing. The emotions and big moments are all the same and those moms are so strong.
The photography has really become my passion, and I think that is because I am a mom and I now understand from a parent’s perspective how important it is that we print our images so that our children have copies of them. So many people do not print, and instead rely on Facebook, text messages, and the cloud to store and share their memories. Seriously: if Facebook went poof tomorrow, how many of those photos would you have prints of? If you answer “none”, you’re not alone, and that’s crazy! Printing sweet memories is what I have tasked myself with as a portrait photographer, which leads me to how I am different from other photography businesses.
I hardly ever pose my portrait clients. I am not the type of photographer who will have my subject tilt their chin, look up, look to the right, jump up and down, do a cartwheel (ok those last two are just silly). I prefer to give my clients prompts that they don’t even know I am using to elicit real emotions. This works especially well with young children who are like human tornadoes. I actually like when they run and act like, well, toddlers! It makes my job really easy. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I will remember my four-year-old daughter as someone who sat sweetly and smiled like an angel. Rather, I will remember this phase as one with constant movement, dancing, concerts on the back deck, and plenty of sass, and that’s what her portraits will portray, also.
I had previously been what is commonly referred to as a “shoot and burn” photographer; i.e. I did a photo session, edited the images, and handed my client all of the edited files and sent them on their merry way for one very low amount. There was almost no client/photographer relationship and there was next to no level of service involved. I knew I wanted to take it up a notch and offer a top tier client experience. Now, I coach my portrait clients through the entire process, including offering a pre-consultation either in person or over the phone to talk about everything from locations to outfits. I show them samples of all of the different products I offer, like canvases and metal prints. I then meet with my clients after editing their portraits to help them select prints, wall art, and albums. Then, I place the order with my professional print lab and deliver the finished products to my clients. If they order a canvas or other kind of wall art, I even hang it in their home for them! That’s right, I show up with my little hanging kit and a hammer and a level. Then I get to see the smiles on their faces as they look at this huge gorgeous portrait hanging in their home. They love it! For my wedding clients, I still provide full-resolution digital images included with all of my photography packages.
My ideal client is simply someone who values their memories in printed form. So many of my clients hired to shoot and burn photographers in the past and then never even printed the portraits from that session. Those memories are still stuck on the CD or USB they were delivered on. When they hire me, though, they get to look at those sweet images every day hanging on their wall. These clients value my work, and in turn, I work very hard to deliver the best images printed on the best quality mediums for them.
Do you have any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general? What has worked well for you?
Rhode Island is heavily saturated with artists and photographers, and initially, I was pretty overwhelmed trying to find where I fit in. I needn’t have worried. I am part of some fantastic circles of creative professionals who have offered advice and help when I needed it. I personally love the Community over Competition way of thinking, where professionals raise each other up instead of being overly competitive and catty. We often brainstorm together about great portrait locations, business-related issues that come up, recommendations for new equipment, and everything in between! Earlier this year, I even organized a big shootout on a beach with some horses and invited all of the local photographers to come and get creative. No charge, no-nonsense, just making new connections and having a good time.
I have personally mentored a few new photographers and helped get them off on the right foot in their photography journey. I have also taught photography to many people. I am passionate about what I do and love sharing the excitement and challenge of photography with others.
The best advice I have for a new creative professional is getting out there. Attend meetings of your local Rising Tide group if you have one. Introduce yourself. Be kind and be humble. Be willing to listen and learn. Most of all, don’t get involved with drama and stay true to yourself.
- Portrait Session Fee (Maternity, Lifestyle Newborn, Family, Pet): $195
- Print packages start at $495
- Birth Photography starts at $995
- Weddings range from $2700 to $6000 with customizable options available
- Website: www.polarsquaredesigns.com
- Phone: 401.269.1443
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @polarsquaredesigns
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/polarsquaredesigns
Christina Kaplan, Kate Taylor/Polar Square Designs