Location: Santa Barbara
Practically born with a camera in hand, Willa Kveta always found herself ready and able to capture those special moments. Her travels in Central and South America after high school taught her that these moments exist in all circumstances, even poverty, and she found her true calling ‘documenting happiness’ through photography. After attending Brooks Institute of Photography, she dabbled in various photography genres, soon deciding on wedding photography. WEV’s Self-Employment Training course helped complement her creative sense with the business knowledge she needed to be a successful wedding photographer in an area rife with competition. Willa is able to do what she loves capturing the happiness of her clients’ most special day, while providing for her beautiful twin daughters.
What prompted you to go into business for yourself?
As a photographer, there are not many options for getting a job in the field so I didn’t really have much of a choice. However, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and a good inner balance between my creative and logical sides so it seemed like a good fit for me.
As a child/teenager I was the one among my friends with a camera in my hands taking pictures. People have continually been my subjects of interest. Even though I would often take photos of my friends and the people I worked with, it never really occurred to me to become a photographer until I was in my early twenties. I realized at this time that what I truly wanted to do was to document happiness. At first, I thought this translated to traveling the globe documenting people’s lives around the world. Cultures and people have always interested me and after high school, I spent over two years traveling in Central and South America and what impacted me the most is how happy so many people are in their daily lives, even in poverty. This is something that puzzled me because what we hear of most (in the United States) is how awful life is in third world countries. Although there is tragedy everywhere (in all parts of the world including the USA) there is also such beauty and unimaginable happiness, and this is what inspired me to want to ‘be’ a photographer.
During my process of discovery (while I studied at Brooks Institute of Photography) I realized that although I truly love to travel, having a family and being with my family was more important to me. I would never be happy in a career that took me far away from my children on a regular basis. I dappled in many genres of photography including Maternity Photography for a short while until finding my true passion, which is Wedding Photography. For me, Wedding Photography encompasses everything that interests me. I have the honor of documenting people’s happiness and I get to capture the essence of beauty everyday in my work. Photography for me is my passion and my art and it brings great joy to my life.
What has been your biggest business challenge?
It’s taken me a lot of work and time to get to where I am today. I think my biggest challenge has been keeping the faith alive along the way. The documentary film “The Secret” helped me a lot with this and something I’ve kept in my mind ever since first hearing it is “most people quit right before they are about the reach their goals.” Keeping this quote fresh in my thoughts helped me to push forward even when the future seemed dismal.
What has been your biggest business success?
It might sound cliché but my biggest success happens each time I hear how happy my clients are when they receive their images. Making people happy makes me so happy and that’s the biggest reward of all.
Who is your ideal customer?
I love to connect on a personal level with my clients. My personality is very relaxed and down to earth and it’s really nice to work with clients who share a similar attitude since we spend (what can be for them) a very high stress day together (their wedding day). I think it’s important to most people to ‘connect’ with their wedding photographer and I think those who end up choosing me as their photographer do feel a connection, as do I. I’m very lucky and I can honestly say that I have the best clients ever! I’ve even made some lasting friendships along the way.
What has been the biggest surprise about owning a business?
I’m surprised and humbled that I’m as busy as I am and that my business just continues to grow and grow. I’m so thankful for my amazing clients!
How do you juggle all the pieces of your life (family/work/self/volunteering) to make it all come together?
It was a struggle at first to find a balance between family and work and I made some mistakes along the way. Having my twin daughters really helps me stay grounded and in the moment. They have kept me from being a workaholic because spending time with them is my most important job ever.
What advice do you offer other women who might want to start their own company?
I think the most important thing is to make sure you are passionate about what you do because it will be too hard to stick with it if you’re not. I also think that it is just as important to make sure you have a good sense of business (or get training) and can be disciplined at responding to emails, internet marketing, updating your website, cold calling, pounding the pavement, getting your product out into the public, etc. on a constant basis. There are so many artists who are amazing at what they do but horrible at running a business and thus their work is never seen. I think it’s important to be great at what you do, but I believe it is equally if not more important to be great at business (or hire someone who is).
What WEV program(s) have you participated in?
I took WEV’s Self-Employment Training (SET) course.
How did WEV help you to achieve your goal or dream?
WEV helped me analyze my business in a way that I had never done before. All of the worksheets, lectures and speakers were extremely helpful in helping me to focus on my goals and more importantly, figure out exactly what my goals were. Another component of WEV was the encouragement and continuation of the Master Mind group that we establish while still in the class. My group met on a weekly basis for over two years after we graduated from the class, which helped us stay accountable to the individual goals we each set. And on a side note, these women became some of my dearest friends in Santa Barbara.
Is there something you learned from WEV that you use every day?
I would say that the single most important thing that I took away from WEV is a general sense of business knowledge and I use this every day to keep my business going strong.
What does ‘success’ mean to you?
Success means a lot of things to me. In one word it means “freedom”. I describe my current ‘success’ as being able to do something that I love while providing for my family. I don’t necessary feel ‘successful’, as I’m constantly striving to do better but I do recognize that I’ve obtained a certain level of achievement that I never really quite imagined and it just seems to get better and better. I feel blessed to be where I am and I look forward to what the future brings.
What is the biggest reward you get from your business? What makes it all worthwhile?
You know how good it feels to give and see how happy you’ve made someone? It’s the best feeling in the world! If I didn’t financially have to make a living, I would rather work for free. But even though I do charge for my services, I still feel a similar sense of gratification when I get emails, letters, calls and reviews from my clients telling me how much they love their images. It brightens my day every time and makes all of the work so worth it!
How do you picture you and your business in: one year? Five years? 10 years?
I see my business unfolding naturally as it has thus far. Photography for me is very personal and I continue to follow my passion and strive to grow and challenge myself through my art. I feel blessed to have come this far in my career and hope to continue to grow with an open mind about the future of my business. I’d like to keep my business small and continue to work intimately with all of my clients. In five years I envision that I’ll be working less but with increased revenue, which will allow me the time and freedom to do more pro bono photography work around the community, which is something I truly desire. In 10 years I see myself and my business flourishing and recognized as a well-known and respected wedding photographer in Southern California.
How is/was your business affected by the economy? What have you done to deal with this challenge?
The economy has affected my business in that a larger number people are on a budget so they are booking my more affordable Associate Photography Packages vs. my Signature Packages, which cost significantly more. I am lucky however that people are still getting married and value wedding photography, so my number of bookings has not been affected by the economy.
Photography courtesy of Jacqueline Pilar: http://pilarreflections.blogspot.com/