What makes the world go ‘round? Is it money? Or is it love? Surely money is essential in meeting your fundamental needs, but if you want to climb to the top of Maslow’s pyramid, it will not suffice. You also want your career to be a perfect fit for you, and one way to achieve that is to be your own boss. If you’re flirting with the thought of becoming an entrepreneur, follow your heart. Pursuing your idea in the right way might just lead to lasting self-love.

Photo by Alex Banman

Phetmany Phaxay (Pep) always knew she wanted to have a business of her own, but it wasn’t until she embraced her passions that she discovered what it would be. After finishing aGraphic Design program, Pep was working in her field at a small boutique firm for four years. She enjoyed her job, but working on similar projects for conservative brands wasn’t allowing her much creative freedom. Craving new flavours and seeking other creative outlets, she pursued her interests outside of work and took cooking and photography classes. 

“It was always like a fantasy…doing photography as a career, and [making a] living off of it. It seemed kind of glamorous.”

Later that year, at work, Pep became very involved in arranging photo shoots of recipes. She was hiring photographers and working closely with them. Pep soon realized she was enjoying the photography side of her job much more than the graphic design. Although she had always been fascinated by photography and enjoyed it as a pastime, she never thought of it as a career. “It was always like a fantasy…doing photography as a career, and [making a] living off of it. It seemed kind of glamorous,” she says. Inspired by her long-time hobby, and endowed with editing skills she learned at the firm, Pep was ready for something new. “I just felt like I kind of outgrew…my position there, and I also needed a bit of a change,” she says. So she took a chance and turned her talent into the career of her dreams.

In early 2012, Pep left her agency job to embark on a career in photography. Pep knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but she was up for the challenge. “Don’t listen to people when they tell you that it’s gonna be hard…you know it’s gonna be hard!” warns Pep. Working from home, she started with freelance food photography, and supplemented with graphic design projects when she needed to. Using her background in graphic design and marketing, Pep skillfully created a website and established her brand on social media. She learned what she needed to know about running a small business by taking online courses on CreativeLive, watching videos on YouTube and reading advice from entrepreneurs she admires. Meanwhile, she continued to take some photography classes to improve her technical skills. The following year, she was also planning her wedding and the search for her own photographer sparked an interest in shooting the big day for other couples. Although she enjoyed food photography, (and still does) the work was always indoors, shooting in a studio, or editing on her computer. The allure of working outside, discovering new places around the GTA, and meeting new people drew Pep in and she decided to give wedding photography a shot.

Photo by Alex Banman

Pep began by shooting sessions for friends, and they recommended her to others. She built a reputation and her client base grew steadily from referrals, allowing her to officially start Pep Studios in 2016. “I feel happy when I’m doing it…I’m not working hard for someone else. I’m working hard for me,” she shares. It’s been rewarding for Pep to see her business grow from a few small projects to a full-time career. Today she often hires a second shooter to get more coverage on wedding days, and hiring an in-house associate will be the next big step. 

“It’s not about how fast you go. …Are you improving every day? …Are you better than what you were last year?”

Even as her business grows, Pep admits it’s hard not to compare herself to other people sometimes. When she has moments of self-doubt, she puts it all in perspective by reminding herself how much she’s accomplished so far. “It’s not about how fast you go. …Are you improving every day? …Are you better than what you were last year?” she says. She always tries to stay positive and focus on what she can improve. 

Pep keeps an open mind and likes to experiment with marketing strategies. She has tried wedding shows and dabbled in some advertising, but ultimately she found that putting time into building relationships with clients and showcasing her work on Instagram have been her most effective strategies. In an industry with an overabundance of available vendors, a word from a trusted source is the best form of promotion. 

While Pep’s photography skills hook viewers on Instagram, it is her charm that wins couples over. Pep compares meeting potential clients to dating. The three of them need to chat a few times to see if they mesh well. Since Pep is in close proximity to the couple all day, it’s important that they like her. After all, when they say yes to her, they are inviting her to be an important part of their special day.

Pep’s personality is also the right fit for the job. “I’m pretty easy-going and chill,” she says. These are important characteristics for couples looking to reduce stress during their wedding. Meeting so many guests and members of the wedding party in one day can be overwhelming, but Pep handles it well. When she has to ask people to give her space to work or direct them in a shot she says it firmly, but with a big smile. She didn’t realize how patient she was until she started Pep Studios and clients mentioned it in reviews.

Photo by Alex Banman

Pep found happiness in capturing love. She likes the variety that wedding photography offers – every couple is unique, every celebration is different, and every wedding is somewhere else. “I get to meet a new couple, and hear their story, and take photos where people are the happiest…on their happiest day, which is awesome!” she shares. She enjoys documenting the relationship and the couple’s connection with family and friends. She feels honoured to be present and capture the beginning of the married couple’s life together. Although a wedding for Pep means she’s working all day, the smiles are contagious. “…The energy just bounces off. Like if I’m happy, then they’re happy, and they’re happy, I’m happy, so everyone’s happy!” exclaims Pep. 

“No one cares as much about your business as you, so you have to care. [People say] you need to love yourself before somebody else could love you. It’s the same thing…”

The challenge in wedding photography is that it doesn’t yield too many recurring clients, so Pep has to work constantly to find new ones. However, because she is personable and sweet she builds friendships with couples easily and they hire her later for other milestones. Being a wedding photographer allows her to connect with people in a unique way. She sees relationships evolve and families grow, from engagement, to wedding, to maternity, to babies’ birthdays. She is present for their most precious moments. That’s what makes her role so special.

A glowing reputation starts with self-love. When you work hard and provide excellent service, your passion shines through and people notice. Pep advises, “No one cares as much about your business as you, so you have to care. [People say] you need to love yourself before somebody else could love you. It’s the same thing – you need to work really hard, and people need to see you work really hard, and that you’re hungry for [success. When they] admire how hard you’re working…people are more willing to lend a hand.” If you want your livelihood to come from a labour of love you need to follow your heart, believe in your mission, give it your all, and people will love it too. When you send love into the universe, it always boomerangs back to you.

For some creative inspiration, Pep recommends following Jasmine Star and Caroline Tran.

Photo by Alex Banman

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