My first career was journalism and my business began when I was laid off from my full-time job as an editor. After months of searching for a new position with no luck, I was faced with the decision to relocate cities yet again or try to work for myself. The latter option won and I opened Gooseberry as a photography studio thanks to my background in publishing and photojournalism. I later added a second full-time division to Gooseberry – branding! – through which I build and manage imaginative, strategic and memorable brand identities for businesses that want to connect more meaningfully with their target audiences. Gooseberry’s services, whether photography or branding, are special in the sense that everything is designed with the client in mind and I really do consider each and every one of my clients like family. Now, Gooseberry is a full-service in-house studio which means everything you need for building your brand or putting together an exciting photoshoot can be found under our roof.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest hurdles to building my business was dealing with nerves and facing that pesky little thing called “Impostor Syndrome.” I kept a detailed journal of my business building adventure during that first year and quite a few of the pages are smeared by tears of anxiety. The journal actually became an essential tool for me because it allowed me to work out my thoughts concretely on paper and as an entrepreneur with a million thoughts jostling around my brain at any given time, this was a great comfort.
Building a successful business is a battle, both internally and externally. For me personally I felt like I was drowning during that first year and constantly fighting to keep my head above water. Taking things one day at a time really helps to calm nerves, build your confidence and get things done. I’m very grateful that I went through that experience, because it inspired me to do what I do today – help fellow businesses find clarity, direction and action in their missions so they can avoid that drowning sensation and hit the ground running instead.
What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?
I’m on a bit of a fiction kick at the moment and am devouring Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale For The Time Being” – it’s absolutely lovely! Powerful, poetic, provocative. I can’t recommend it enough!
In terms of what I would recommend entrepreneurs read, in a word, everything! I’m constantly reading interviews, magazines, business blogs, books, novels and crushing podcasts – you never know where inspiration will come from. It’s also important to read beyond your industry for fresh perspectives and new ways of thinking about things.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
I’m very fortunate to have a core group of family and friends who have always been very supportive of my goals. They are incredible individuals and I’m so grateful for their presence in my life!
Every entrepreneur, however, does face adversity along the way. For me it wasn’t from the individuals mentioned above, but from a lot of friendly acquaintances, especially because when I decided to become my own boss it wasn’t typical or trendy at the time.
I would be hit with comments like, “Nobody makes money from photography, do they?” “Why put yourself through that struggle?” or my favourite, “It’s so nice to have a hobby.” But at the end of the day, those sentiments are absolutely okay! I realized quickly that not everybody needed to understand what I was trying to accomplish, as long as I could see my vision clearly.
So my advice would be to not worry about what other people are saying, because this is your life, your risk to take, your journey to succeed at. Follow your heart, but take your head with you and great things are possible regardless of what others may think.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
Focusing on building meaningful client relationships has definitely been an influential factor. I remember when I first started my business being completely intimidated by the word ‘business’ – it seemed so other-worldly and mysterious, a behemoth of a term too big to ever truly understand. But once I was in the thick of things, I learned that business is really all about people. Focusing on the people and nurturing those relationships helped to create a strong foundation.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
Oh wow, so much! Not too long ago I wrote an article for my site answering this very question! It’s called “21 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Starting My Business.” (https://lauralbenn.com/2017/04/toronto-blogger-21-things-i-wish-i-had-known-before-starting-my-business.html)
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
The piece of advice I wish everyone would follow is – don’t give up! Keep going. Persevere. Try new things. Make mistakes. Hustle hard. Take it slow. Cry if you have to. Celebrate the little triumphs. Vent as needed. Learn constantly. Listen to mentors. Blaze your own trail. There is no ‘one size fits all’ formula for running a successful business, but not giving up is key no matter what your dream is.