©Quinn Kirby Photography
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In this edition of our Small Business Spotlight series, we feature Quinn Kirby Photography in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Owner Quinn Kirby is an award-winning photographer who captures life as art through emotional and moody imagery. Here, we talk to them about starting their own business right out of college, how they used that business to help uplift other creatives, and why authenticity is so important for entrepreneurs.
Was there a particular moment or experience that inspired you to start your business?
I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Photojournalism with a minor in Entrepreneurship from Central Michigan University in May 2020. It was at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. I’d been booking shoots here and there since 2016, but hadn’t incorporated yet because I wasn’t earning taxable income and was far from being able to support myself financially.
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Like many other mid-pandemic college graduates, I applied for hundreds of jobs after graduating. It was only after who knows how many applications that I saw my folder full of unique and thoughtful cover letters for what it was – a waste of energy and time. I was sick of being ghosted and shunned by corporations, and decided I needed to turn that energy into filing for an LLC. If I wasn’t going to be hired by someone else, I was going to get the opportunity I was looking for.
What did you take away from past experiences or jobs that you knew you wanted to be part of your new business?
Growing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do only because there were so many things I wanted to do. I wanted to be a firefighter, then I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast, then a singer-songwriter, author, screenwriter… When I finally decided to make films, it was because I knew how many people with a singular vision it was necessary to give life to something beautiful.
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Good thing I tried it too. I attended film camp the summer of my freshman year of high school and hated it. Maybe it was because we had to make a short film in 30 hours, maybe it was because I was the oldest person in my randomly assigned group, maybe it was my lack of experience – maybe it was all of the above. Anyway, my desire to make movies died that week. Fortunately, my desire to create with people remained.
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I went to college thinking I would be able to create with people in a more authentic way through photojournalism. However, towards the end of my studies, I realized that I was not the best person to tell the stories I most wanted to tell. Either I didn’t know enough of the context to present them properly, or I couldn’t in good conscience stay “neutral”. Fortunately, creative photography satisfies my need to connect and create intimately with people, and I still use my photojournalism background to volunteer in community circles.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of owning a business?
One of my favorite maxims is, “A rising tide lifts all ships. Today, most of my sessions involve working with creatives, and seeing my images empower people gives me chills. A few of my favorite stories involve people I’ve worked with on multiple occasions: I helped develop aspiring model Janeigha Cummings’ portfolio, and she performed at New York Fashion Week 2020; Dayon Lewis (Lord DLew), a musical artist with whom I have done personal branding shoots, recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue his musical career; and I created marketing content for the Mount Pleasant School of Dance, a dance studio that just moved to its second location. Creating with these innovators allows me to merge [my] passion with theirs.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
The confinements allowed me to develop my brand, my technical knowledge and my customer experience. Although the pandemic prevented me from running the service on behalf of my business, it gave me time to establish a decent business base. Of course, it was devastating to the general population, so acknowledging that it was an opportunity for me was an interesting thing to deal with. I still don’t know how to talk about it.
How can people continue to support your business during this time?
People can support me and my business in many ways. On the one hand, I am always open to reservation requests. If you’re looking for something in particular, I offer four packages on my website at QuinnKPhoto.com: Stylized sessions are aimed at creatives and entrepreneurs, and often fall into the personal branding genre. These sessions are for models, fashion designers, musical artists, speakers, entrepreneurs, creatives, etc. I also offer senior sessions for graduates who want a creative, non-traditional senior photography experience.
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Things get bigger within my lovemaking sessions. I chose to call them “love sessions” and not “couple sessions” because not everyone who is “in love” is part of a traditional couple. Families, best friends, polyamorous relationships and the like fall under this umbrella.
Thanks to my training in photojournalism, I also cover events. This package has many purposes – concerts, personal celebrations, business parties, non-profit events – the list goes on.
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I can be reached at [email protected] and am always willing to travel. If people aren’t currently looking to book a session, you can always follow me on social media at @QuinnKPhoto on all platforms.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
Having a father who ran multiple businesses for 26 years. Not really. It was a privilege to be able to tap into my dad’s brain for business tips and advice. Unfortunately, a big part of what it takes to be successful in business is who you know until only you know.
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The good news is that I’ve found Facebook groups dedicated to my industry to be incredibly helpful. There are also mountains of knowledge online (think your local library’s website, state and federal resources for small businesses, and SCORE).
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Additionally, I – along with many others in the US – have been able to explore socially again and this has brought back networking opportunities. I’m going to reference my original point and say how important it is to connect with people within and near your industry. In the same spirit, be authentic. Don’t enter every conversation by pushing your product or service on people. Make a real connection, seek to learn, and maybe they’ll be the perfect client you’ve been looking for. Otherwise, congratulations! You have made a new friend. If so, congratulations! You have made a new friend and a new client! Ultimately, it’s about embracing all kinds of experiences and using them to inform your business decisions and creativity.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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Last update: July 8, 2021