I would like to introduce you to Melanie Mathieu! I have known Melanie since before she was born. Unfortunately, I lost touch with her and her family once I moved away from home and got married. I have very fond memories of her parents, brother and her sister and the time spent as a teenager babysitting for them on weekends and on summer vacations.
What are the chances we would cross paths again if it were not for the two of us being business owners and networking in the same online groups? Over 30 years later I happened to see a post she had done in a Facebook Group, reached out to her, taking a chance it was her. Sure enough, she responded to say yes and that she remembered being the flower girl at my wedding. I have really enjoyed getting to know her and her sister again over the last year, seeing them with their families mostly through the very talented work of Melanie as a photographer. I couldn’t think of a better person to be the first to be showcased as part of Up Close & Inspirational.
Thank you Melanie for agreeing to share your story and helping to inspire others to live their dream.
What is the name of your business and what it is that you do?
Melanie Mathieu Photography – I’m a documentary photographer which means I tell real stories through photos. I use photos to preserve everything from big milestones to everyday moments that go by too quickly. I capture people as they are to tell honest, authentic stories. No props or posing.
Why did you choose to become an entrepreneur or to be self-employed?
My passion for photography grew into a business after I had my children. I wanted to preserve all the little moments with my kids and realized that I could help others with this as well. Being an entrepreneur allows me to be flexible with my time and to stay true to my vision. I love the ability to take on projects that I feel strongly about and to be in control of the direction my business takes. It fulfills my creative side and pushes me to try new things.
Has this always been what you wanted to do or did you grow up dreaming of another career (what was that dream)?
It took me a long time to find something that I love to do. I never had a clear vision of what I wanted. I remember buying my first camera when I was 9 or 10. I spotted a tiny camera that would fit on a key chain at a local convenience store. I saved up all my money (mostly change and probably about $10), walked to the store myself and bought this tiny camera. It was the first thing I remember wanting that bad. I tried various office jobs after graduating with my Psychology degree and then went back to school to study interior decorating and worked in that field for a very brief time. I started taking photography courses over 10 years ago – it had always been an interest, but I never took the time to pursue it. When I was between jobs, it seemed like the perfect time to learn more about photography. I loved the creative outlet it provided and the ability to capture moments as I saw them. When my daughter was born, this love grew even more and that is when I discovered documentary photography. I had always been drawn to natural photos that were not posed, but I didn’t realize until then that I could make a living at it.
What motivates you each day?
Creativity. Meeting new people and hearing their stories. Connecting with others. When I have a break between photo sessions, I get restless. I like the challenge of creating something new and always growing as a photographer – there is always something to learn and ways to improve.
Who or what was your biggest inspiration behind making the decision to become self-employed?
My sister Lauri gave me that extra push I needed to take the first steps to launch my website and to overcome that fear of putting myself out there. She has a way to put things into perspective and to encourage. I owe a lot to her – she is one of my biggest supporters. I also want to show my daughters how important it is to do something you love and that it is never too late to start.
What have been your more difficult challenges or obstacles, and what have you learned from them?
I’m an introvert and pretty shy. Meeting new people is not an easy thing for me and it can be draining because of all the anxiety that builds up. As a result, I feel as though many of my decisions in life were based on fear – fear of failure, fear of what others would think, fear of not being perfect, fear of experiences that took me out of my comfort zone. I still have anxiety before meeting new people and pretty much before any photo session. I’ve learned to analyze it better and to talk myself into going forward. I try to see that fear as part of my process –it means I care about what I’m doing and to trust in my skills. It does get easier with each session. The desire to do something I love is more powerful than the fear that tries to hold me back.
I’ve also found it difficult to all of a sudden have to understand all aspects of business from social media, marketing to finances and contracts. Educating myself as much as possible, asking questions and hiring experts when needed have been key to getting over these. It can be very overwhelming and time consuming devoting your time to aspects of business that you will never quite grasp like an expert in that field will. For example, I hired a graphic designer for my logo and some marketing materials – the concepts she came up with were so much better than any I would have developed. It also freed my time to focus on other things. If you can’t afford to hire an expert, you can see if someone is open to trading services or products.
If you could pick only 5 books, resources or tools (i.e. apps, computer programs, etc.) to run your business, what would they be?
Thinking outside of the specific equipment and software for photography that I use:
- Instagram – if you take the time to connect with others using this platform, it can be so inspiring. There is such a great community of people to engage with and discover.
- Freshbooks – it makes invoicing and tracking expenses so easy.
- Regular blog or newsletter – many people will start a blog/newsletter and give up. I did at first. If you keep at it and stay consistent, it can be so powerful in getting your message out there and developing content.
- A support system of fellow creatives/entrepreneurs – being able to collaborate or talk business to those who know the struggles and the beauty behind having your own business is such a gift. It has the power to lift you up when you need to and to share in the successes.
- Simple to do lists – I have to write things down or I easily forget them. Making lists saves me so many times! I remember better when I take the time to actually write things out by hand.
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
Everyone is too busy with their own lives to notice if you fail and if you do fail, it’s really not the end of the world. Learn from it and move on. If you never try, you will never know and if you hate it, you can just stop doing it. It’s that simple.
What are your top 3 tips or pieces of advice you would share with new entrepreneurs or business owners?
- Don’t let fear of perfection, paralyze you. Done is better than perfect. Before I launched my website, I wanted it to be perfect, to have certain tools in place, a full portfolio etc. I spent so much time tweaking it. If I waited until it was absolutely perfect in my mind, it would have taken a year or more. Sometimes you just have to take that leap and get on with it.
- Seek out connections with other entrepreneurs – to bounce ideas off of, to learn from, to talk to. Being an entrepreneur can be isolating if you let it be but building that support network will help you more than you realize.
- Be patient. Success won’t happen overnight. I’m still not where I would like to be with my business but when I think of where I was when I started, I’ve grown a lot. Don’t lose sight of how far you have come. It’s a learning process and it takes time. You may feel like it’s not working and want to give up (this will happen a lot!) but if it is something you love, keep going. Be consistent, things will happen. Don’t give up without giving it the right amount of attention and putting in that hard work. Behind all of the highlights and successes you see around you are challenges, struggles and failures.
Share a little about you, your work or volunteer background, your family, hobbies, etc.
I’m a mom of 2 girls who are complete opposites. I lucked out and have a husband that does 99% of the cooking, all the yard work and kills spiders for me. I love being creative, napping, laughing, watching documentaries and sad movies.
What does work/life balance mean to you?
It means giving enough time, effort and attention to family and work and leaving enough for yourself too.
If a parent, how do you balance parenting and being self-employed?
I’m still working on this one. I have a ‘day’ job in addition to my photography and so finding that balance is a challenge for sure. It can be hard to shut off that entrepreneur brain. I’m always thinking of ideas, emails I need to write, promoting my business, finding clients, day to day administrative tasks etc. I’m lucky that I have the support of my husband and my parents who help so much. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am. Photography takes me away from my family many weekends but I try to plan it so that it isn’t every weekend or that I get extra time with them on the Friday before I have to work. If I can’t shut off the work thoughts, I try to write my thoughts down so that I can focus on the moment and be more present.
To learn more about Melanie and her beautiful work you can find her at:
If you are a female entrepreneur/business owner and would like to be featured as part of the Up Close & Inspirational blog series feel free to get in touch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!