Thomas C. Corley, author of Rich Habits, wrote that the the most successful business owners create multiple sources of income. Seasoned photographers have experienced the ebb and flow of the portrait business over the years and know that the best way to stay afloat is to be consistently adaptable. Maintaining multiple baskets for income to be generated is key to surviving a slow season.
Kara Marie Trombetta is a prime example of a successful entrepreneur who does not put all her eggs in one basket. Her boudoir business, Kara Marie Boudoir, has been her number one source of income, although she found herself wanting to diversify her income in a few areas.
According to Corely, most people are not rich, and perhaps not coincidentally, most people only have one stream of income: their jobs. The vast majority of all self-made millionaires have at least three streams of income. Corley wrote:
When one stream is negatively affected by systematic economic downturns, of which you have no control, the other streams can come to the rescue and help you survive the downturn without dramatically affecting your lifestyle.
"I fell victim to a societal thought process: that when a woman wants to be wealthy and successful, she’s instantly shallow, greedy, not to mention a horrible mother," Trombetta wrote over an email. "I let that lie set me back on pursuing additional income. Then, I got over it. I know I’m a great mom and that I have my priorities straight. My family will always come first. But outside of that, yes, I would like to make a whole lot of money. I’m past the point that I feel like that makes me look selfish because I am a woman wanting wealth and success, so I began to brainstorm."
Other than really jacking up my pricing (which I will continue to do at a gradual pace), I was at my max output as far as generating revenue from my boudoir photography. This is usually the point in time that many photographers feel they have reached their “cap” and often turn to selling educational materials, workshops, and mentorships.
She said she feared that creating a whole slew of educational materials could lead to more requests for mentorships and workshops, which was not her strong suit or passion. She went on to write that there are plenty of educators in the boudoir industry that are fantastic and passionate about teaching. She wanted to challenge herself to start thinking outside of the realm of photography, where she could use her existing skill set to build up a business. "But this couldn’t be a regular-ol’-full-time-business. It needed to be a means of passive income, income I do not have to lose any more parts of my life to create."
Trombetta had a different idea on how to fill her baskets. She turned to merchandising that followed her boudoir brand of black and white. The apparel business, "Blonde, Black + White," was brainstormed and born just a few months later. She has it established as an online shop. A third party takes cares of the printing and direct shipping to customers, while a virtual assistant takes care of typical day-to-day correspondence and office work. Trombetta does all the designs and photography of the products in an aesthetically pleasing way as well as running the social media.
Three things that were skills that I already possessed, yet had nothing to do with selling my photography. It was something that could appeal to a broad market, spend less than five hours a week doing, and make some mailbox money. Something that (GASP) I wasn’t necessarily passionate about. Therefore, something that I honestly couldn't care less if it never worked out.
Developing from her personal taste, some examples of her aesthetic and merchandise include:
- A little bit crass: the Don’t Be a Dick tee
- Likes to drink a little: the Tight with Tequila tee
- But is a boss at work, family, and life: the BOSS hat
It is also a brand that is easily marketable, as she says, to the ever-growing “Instashopper” demographic. With her Instagram being the social media platform that she feels she personally has the strongest understanding of with regards to success, becoming an apparel line that achieved success through this platform's marketing seemed pretty attainable. Once the initial idea was stumbled upon, the other aspects came about very organically. BB+W offers t-shirts, tank tops, tank dresses, sweatshirts, crop-tops, hats, and tote bags that are all offered in only black, white, and grey.
With the soft-launch being only a month ago, profits have already far outweighed the start-up costs as well as any expenses that will be accrued in the first year of operations, according to Trombetta. She admits she does not know a lot about the apparel industry market research that is necessary for most business models. She felt that creating this line in this way would allow her to wash her hands of it anytime she wanted to or on the flip side, increase the workload to grow the brand anytime she saw fit. Creating a brick and mortar shop would not allow her these possibilities in the same way.
"Could I be buying shirts by the thousands from China, doing my own screen printing, day-to-day operations, shipping, etc. to be turning a much higher profit? Obviously, yes. But, in the words of my three-year-old: 'I don’t wanna.' I want mailbox money. And so far, it appears as though it’s going to work."
In the meantime, I continue on my merry way doing work that I love to do and making a comfortable living with it. The absolute worst-case scenario is that I no longer receive any mailbox money from Blonde, Black + White, and I close up shop without affecting my boudoir photography business in the slightest. In the best-case scenario, maybe I have the option to retire way sooner than originally mapped out.
Images used with permission of Kara Marie.