Up and Coming - An Interview With Austin Pekarek March 03 2015, 1 Comment
In 1999, when I was just 12 years old, I taught myself HTML, designed my first website, and started selling sunglasses online. While my friends were out playing games in the summer, I was at my computer learning how to run a business and market a product. I have had the entrepreneurial bug ever since.
I started my photography business when I was 18 and at 19, I received a message from a photographer (and serial entrepreneur) named Adam Schmidt. Adam ran a photography forum that I contributed on frequently and he sent me a private message with the most encouraging words I've ever received. He told me how far ahead of the game I was at my age and what all he KNEW I would achieve in my career. The message still brings me to tears on occasion because it was the first time someone with real world experience had ever said something like that to me, and it made a tremendous impact on my career.
As I have continued in my career, I have always found it important to reach out to young entrepreneurs and give them the same encouragement that my friend Adam gave to me. Today I want to share with you a photographer who started his photography business while still in his early years of high school and who I believe can be a future leader in this industry. So without further adieu, let's talk with Austin Pekarek!
So tell us a little about yourself, Austin! Where are you from, what type of photography do you specialize in, and how would you define your style?
I once knocked over a 150 lb wooden kneeler at the start of a wedding ceremony… I bumped it while trying to get in position and turned back to watch it tip over and land with a huge crash. I had about 20 people come up to me after the wedding cracking up about it. I played it off pretty well but I felt like a huge jackass in the moment, haha. What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you in your career?
haha! This is great! I can honestly say, I haven't had any moments in my career that have embraced me too badly. One time I was shooting a senior session and the whole session I didn't realize my zipper on my jeans was down. The mom of the senior finally told me at the end, the whole drive home I was just hoping that I didn't flash anyone.
I have really enjoyed many books. However, the most popular one that I have read, and adore, is the Seven Levels of Communication. This book has taught me everything I know on how to communicate with people, and how I need to treat people in order to get referrals!
You recently attended the SYNC conference. Can you share what the most valuable piece of information you took away from that experience?
Attending SYNC was a crazy experience in its self. I'm only 18, I flew across the country to go to a convention where I knew very few people, and my parents were okay with it. That alone scared me. Anyway, the most valuable piece of information that I have took from SYNC is that money does not define how successful we truly are. Some photographers are happy make $50,000 while others need their studios to do $1 million a year in sales. This year really taught me to find my happy place. I believe I am almost there!
Who are some photographers that inspire you?
Aside from the photos you take, what is it that sets you apart from your competition both in your business and your personality?
I believe the way that I treat my clients is a huge part of why I am set apart from my competition. I treat each client like a friend, I text them, message them on Facebook, put them in statues, I do things that friends do with their friends, but I do them with my clients. It makes them feel at home, which is exactly what I want them to feel when they leave my studio. I can talk to my clients like they have been my friends for years. It makes their experience much more pleasurable.
Personality wise, I honestly don't know why people like my personality. I am just very laid back, modest, and simple minded... there isn't much to like personality wise. I wake up every day, put my jeans on like everyone else, and drink my coffee.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy for bringing in more senior and wedding clients?
Bringing in senior clients, I must say the most effective way I have done that is word of mouth. I also found great results in what I done with a local coffee shop. Most of the high school seniors after school will go into the coffee shops, and get coffee, sandwiches, soups, etc. I made cup coasters that had my logo on them and offered a 10% discount if they mentioned they saw the coasters and booked with my business. It was a huge success! Clients were messaging me pictures of the coasters left and right!
For weddings, word of mouth is HUGE. I have traveled the US doing weddings the last two years and it's all thanks to word of mouth and Facebook. I can honestly say even though I have to pay for people to see my posts on Facebook it is well worth it because it reaches people outside of my market that I would otherwise not be able to market to without spending thousands and thousands of dollars! It's made the world a very small place!
Part of building a remarkable business is doing things that are worth remarking about. I find that those are often the things that clients don’t expect. What do you do in your business to go above and beyond your client’s expectations?
Phone calls, quick reply times, hand written notes, gifts for clients. Those are all things that really help clients feel at home, when a client gets a hand written note, and a gift from their photographer, it makes them feel special. Of course they're going to tell their friends to go to someone who gives them a gift, I know I would!
What are some of your goals for 2015 and beyond?
This year I am hoping to hit 100-125 seniors and grow my school portrait business. I am very excited about that! In the further future, I would love to have opened multiple studio locations with photographers working under me. That's something that I am looking forward to doing and hoping that I can make happen before I turn 30! I have 11 more years to make this happen!
If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting a photography business, what would it be?
A lot of photographers are very arrogant, a lot of them get a ego that surrounds them, they get used to the "idea" that everyone likes their pictures, and that everyone loves what they do. I will tell you, DO NOT, get a ego with this industry, it will KILL you. Stay level headed, keep educating yourself, and never think of a plan B... plan B only distracts from Plan A... forget plan B.
Austin Pekarek is a professional photographer from Mountain View, Missouri who specializes in senior portraits and wedding photography. He started his photography business in high school and continues to grow it each year. See more of Austin's work at his website or follow him on Facebook here!