Interview: Cynthia Shaffer
Every now and then we share interviews with inspiring entrepreneurs who have turned their passion into a successful business. Today, we’re talking with Cynthia Shaffer, photographer, author, and creative seamstress. This savvy mompreneur took her passion and parlayed it into a visual playground for all the world to enjoy!
Tell us about your company.
For the most part my business is divided into 3 smaller factions. One third of my time is spent as a photographer, another third as an author and artist and one third as a photography teacher. In 2009, I started authoring craft books and my photography adventure happened naturally soon thereafter.
Since then I have had photographed more than 30 books for various publishers and editors. Additionally, I have photographed several art events, lots of “new faces” for one of the largest modeling agencies in southern California, as well as fine art for gallery books and publicity.
How did you get started with all of this?
Interestingly enough, I started learning about photography out of necessity when I was writing my first craft book. You see, after each project I completed I needed to send my editor a good photo of the project so that she could give me the thumbs-up. I needed to take really good photos so that I could “sell” her on the pieces I had created.
As for the writing of craft books, the publishing company Sterling/Lark saw some of my project and contacted me to be the artist for a new series they were putting together. I authored the first and third book in the Stash Happy series. Soon after, my editor asked me to write another book, Serge it, and from there I wrote 2 more books, Coastal Crafts (May 2015) and Simply Stitched Gifts. I currently have two more books that are in various stages of development inside the crazy world of publishing.
What was your start-up investment?
When I was first starting out, I inherited my husband’s old digital camera and one of his old lenses. After a year or so, I took the plunge and purchased a great digital camera, a Canon 7D, and a really good all-purpose lens, a 24-105mm f/4.
As for the investment in the books I have authored, most of them have been sewing based, and because I already owned several sewing machines, there really wasn’t any start-up investment for that portion.
How long did it take you to become proﬁtable?
The publishing world is a strange one. You work and work and work for months on a book, sometimes up to a full year, and then you get paid 6 weeks after the book is sent to the printer.
When I photograph craft books, each contract is a bit different but usually I am paid when I deliver the job. But of course for the first year or so almost every payment I received I was used to purchase more camera equipment, new studio lights or a new lens!
Where do you ﬁnd yourself ﬂourishing?
I have always loved to teach and encourage and inspire people so when I was asked to teach Photography 101, I was thrilled, but at the same time, it pushed me to really dig into photography and break it down into bit size info for everyone to digest. So yeah, I’d say that I love to teach and encourage others to just start and figure it out as you go!
Where do you ﬁnd yourself struggling?
My biggest struggle is having to charge for my time. I would love to never have to charge for my work, and instead, just play and photograph lovely things and craft and then play some more- for free!
Three business tools you can’t live without?
I never go on a photo shoot without my favorite gear. I shoot with a Canon 5D and Canon 7D, 24-105 f/4 lens and my 70-200 f/2.8 lens and a variety of light modifiers.
I’d like to add a 4th tool, because I couldn’t live without my sewing machine. Sewing is the thing I was really good at, even as a very young girl at the age of 10. To this day, it’s still the one thing I can do almost effortlessly.
If you had to do it all again, what would you change? What would stay the same?
I honestly don’t know what I would change about the beginning process of this business. Not that everything has gone smoothly and not that there haven’t been setbacks, but I feel like there is still time to make changes and adjust my plan to make the business more profitable and more enjoyable.
What’s the best piece of business advice you can share with new entrepreneurs?
Just do it. And say yes! to new adventures, even if it means that you have to research and learn a lot before you can do that thing really well. Within reason, I almost always say yes, and then I figure it out. If I wait till I have it figured out, the opportunity will probably never come my way again. Also, always try to deliver more than what is asked of you.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Be a constant learner. Take classes, put yourself out there and see what happens. Volunteer to do something that is totally out of your comfort zone. And, be kind to everyone, always!
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If you’re interested in some personal tips from Cynthia, you can catch up with her as she teaches at an upcoming business conference, Launch Your Creativity happening April 29 & 30 in Orange, California.
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