Entrepreneur

Real Talk // with Martha McQuade

 
The gorgeous MAD studio in NE Minneapolis.

The gorgeous MAD studio in NE Minneapolis.

COMPANY

MAD--WORK

YEARS AS A BUSINESS OWNER: 8

Martha McQuade is one half of the design house MAD. Along with her creative partner, Dan Clark, these two create everything from architectural spaces to textiles and clothing. Martha is also an Architecture Professor at the U of M.


 

You are an artist + business woman who has a lot of different projects going on. Why does this work for you?

The way I think about everything I do is related - from the projects I am working on at MAD, to the classes I teach at the U of M and to raising my kids. There isn't a lot of separation in terms of the process. 

I encourage both my students, my children and myself to explore our ideas and be flexible in our expectations and embrace what happens in a curious and open way. This approach leads to happiness and surprise, rather than disappointment.  Learning to look for the surprises and then explore these unexpected findings in a rigorous way can lead to new directions in our work. 

At MAD, I move back and forth between design projects without worrying what 'category' they fall into. Having multiple projects across many different disciplines going on at the same time is beneficial as they all inform each other. 

 

You are a woman who seems to be 'doing it all'. How do you manage your time? 

I have a lot of help! I have an incredibly supportive husband and a great work partner, Dan Clark, and our interns at MAD. 

 

I wish I had this advice when I first started: 

To trust my intuition more. I am not a naturally confident person, so I would often seek out advice from others and then assume they knew best - even if I felt their advice wasn't the best for me. Especially when it came to things like marketing and business, which I knew nothing about. 

 

What has been a game changer for you?

Moving into a studio space outside of my house. Having a beautiful, light filled environment to work in every day. It is big enough to have all the work visible, which has been really motivating!

 

How do you actively seek inspiration?

I am so inspired all the time by my surroundings. The things I see as I drive through the city, instagram and online magazines, art shows, podcasts, my kids and my students! It can all be a bit overwhelming at times, so I don't think I ever actively seek inspiration, but I often seek the opposite of it. 

The photographer Andrew Zuckerman gave a talk for 99u titled "On Curiosity, Rigor and Learning as you Go." In it, he talks about inspiration overload and how too much can actually shut you down. 

Sometimes when I feel like I'm not sure which direction my work is going in, I will look back through my process work. I have two hashtags, #MWMProcess & #MADProcess and I find looking back at these incredibly inspiring. It is quite motivating to see all of the previous work - it pushes me to work harder and make better work. 

 

The best part about being a freelancer is:

The ability and freedom to do what I think is best in every situation and not try and guess what my boss would want. 

 

The most annoying part about being a freelancer is:

Nothing is 'annoying'. It IS scary not having a regular paycheck to rely on though. 

Lets talk about social media. Do you love it or hate it? More so, what value do you think it beings to the world these days?

There is so much discussion around social media currently. Is it good or bad? Are we using it too much? I think it is different for everyone and you have to use it in a way that works for you, your business and life in general. 

My first social media experience was on Flickr, which is image based. It was a way of communicating with people online through how I saw the world. It also quickly became a way to record the process of what I was making and designing. I also connected with a lot of designers, photographers and artists. I am an introvert and it was a great way to meet people and break the ice with artists and brands I am interested in. 

I currently use instagram a lot, because that was an easy transition for me onto this platform that I could use similarly to Flickr. 

I think the number one value social media brings is that it allows us to show our process and work to allow the public to engage with that process. It lets art be accessible to everyone. when people engage and follow along in the creation through social media, you build a relationship with them  and the work you make has more meaning. 

This engagement is valuable to us as artists, both on the creative and financial ends, as it allows us to be visible and in turn, be able to make a living. I really like that social media is interactive, unlike traditional marketing of the past which was costly and not really appropriate for individuals or small business. 

You are also an educator at the U of M. What do you think prepares students most for being a full time artist?

Working for someone else. I encourage all of my students to go out and get experience working with and for others. Even if the work isn't exactly what you would do, if you are working with good people, you are going to learn so many valuable things. You will also make connections with people that might lead to opportunities in the future. 

 

What makes you happy with your work?

When I am surprised by something that happens that I haven't intended. 

 

What does success mean to you?

Seeing people enjoy the things and spaces we have made. 

 

To stay in touch with Martha and Dan, follow all of their work @MAD__Work and @mwmmpls 

 

Why I started a wedding studio vs hiring associate photographers

I want to preface this post by noting that if you are not a photographer, this can also apply to you! Whether you are a designer, writer, or any type of freelance artist, I encourage you to think about the following points as is fitting for your business!

At a certain point in any photographer’s career, we start to think about hiring others to help us. Whether this means outsourcing editing, adding on assistants or signing up an intern – when business expands, so does our team around us. Today I want to talk about hiring on other photographers as Lead photographers…otherwise known as Associates versus creating a wedding studio. For the record, I really loathe the word ‘Associate’. Personally, I think it sounds like ‘second best’ and if I am going to hire anyone to be a lead photographer, they are not just going to be good-enough, they are going to be the best. However, for lack-of-a-better-term, I’ll use that phrase throughout.

Six years ago, my prices started reaching a more luxe price point for the Minneapolis market and I found myself turning away a ton of work. At the same time, I had a couple of assistants who were really starting to grow exponentially and were clearly on a trajectory to be amazing wedding photographers on their own. I decided to start another wedding studio, called Rivets and Roses, instead of having ‘Associates’ under Photogen Inc. I did this for several reasons, which I will get into later, but I first started the brand with one photographer and three years ago, we officially hired on five more artists to make Rivets and Roses an official wedding photography studio. I have to say, having a second brand, or really our sister company, has been nothing but a positive experience and I wanted to give some advice to those of you considering bringing on other photographers as Leads. Here are 5 things to consider when starting a wedding studio or hiring associate photographers:


 NUMBER ONE // Structure Your Business Right from the Beginning:

If you are going to hire on photographers to work for you, it’s important to think about how you want your business to be structured in the long run. If you take a long, hard look at this at the beginning of this journey, it will totally benefit you in the end, rather than having to restructure your business twice. Many photographers have associate shooters under the same company name and this works for them! However, when it came time for me to make this decision, I chose to start a completely different brand. Why? There are a few reasons:

  • What if it failed? I was a little nervous about the idea of having other photographers and it not going so well. What if it was too much? What if they did a bad job? I didn’t want that coming down on a company that I had worked so hard to build, so separating the two brands made sense to me.

 

  • I didn’t want our photographers to feel like they were second best. I felt like if they were shooting under Photogen Inc., clients might think of our artists as ‘the discount photographer’ or even ‘second best’ to myself. I wanted to give them more freedoms to be their own individual artists and thrive under a studio name, rather than my name.

 

  • I wanted to start a studio that was different from a general photography studio. I really do believe that brides and grooms should be able to find their perfect photographer, no matter their price point. I also feel like it is important that they get the top-of-the-line experience. Money is always a factor in clients decision making but when it comes to a wedding day, everyone deserves an amazing experience. The goal with Rivets and Roses is to provide an experience for both our artists and clients. For our couples, we want them to come to the website, browse thru our photographer’s portfolios and really choose the person that they connect with – both thru their images and personality – the most. Once their wedding has taken place, our studio continues to take care of all of the post processing, album design, etc. I have the highest of standards, and everything meets those requirements before it leaves the door! For our photographers, they are able to strengthen and grow their talents while being supported by our studio. It’s literally a win-win for everyone!

Now, with this said, there are many photographers who choose to have photographers under their name and it works perfectly for them! This has just been my experience. If this is something you are looking to doing, simply look at your business from all angles to see which model is right for you!

Image by  Ryan Stadler

Image by Ryan Stadler

NUMBER TWO // Build it Slow:

When I first started Rivets and Roses, I had only one photographer at a time. I am SO happy this is the way I chose to start this brand, because I learned SO much. Growing our sister company slowly has helped us build a fantastic reputation with the local Minneapolis market. Building this over a couple of years has also helped me solidify my visions for the brand and where I wanted to take it. There was a little ‘gut feeling’ I had a few years ago where I KNEW that it was time to take Rivets to the next level. I decided to ‘put it out there’ to hire on more photographers and make it an official wedding photography studio - and it was a little scary. I didn’t know what kind of people might apply or what people might think of me doing this, but I was blown away. We had SO many talented photographers apply to be a part of Rivets and Roses and I felt so humbled. This is also when I realized that this was going to be a big success. I am SO impressed with the quality of our team and just how amazingly they have come together to build up our brand and also create amazing work for their clients!

Image by  Maggie Witter

Image by Maggie Witter

NUMBER THREE // Empower Your Photographers:

This is so so so important. I am a pretty hands-off boss lady when it comes to our photographers. I’m here to structure things, guide them, critique their work and give advice…but I also want to empower them to be their own artists. I want them to have their own ideas and handle their clients in their own way. This approach is one of the key reasons why I think we have such an amazing crew. Each of our artists feel like they ‘own’ a part of this brand and every individual has so much to offer and bring to the table. Our photographers are in charge of answering their inquiries, setting up client meetings and being the leader on the day-of.  In other studio situations, clients are simply ‘placed’ with photographers and compensated on a per-hour basis. When I started Rivets and Roses, I wanted to make sure it was worth everyone’s while. Our photographers are compensated very well for their work and we sat down with each individual artist to make sure their rates made sense and also that their editing style can be processed by our editor, so their unique processing is true to each individual artist. If everyone feels like they have ownership in a dream, it’s going to soar. As the leader, I don’t want to overly-control too much. Passion is a strong, beautiful force that can take an idea and make it brilliant.

Image by  Jackson Faith

Image by Jackson Faith

NUMBER FOUR // Set Expectations:

Obviously, there needs to be structure in a business with 6 photographers under it. When we launched Rivets and Roses with more artists, we sat down and really nailed down our workflows to make sure that there were ‘routines’ in places. Every one of our artists follows the same workflow from start to finish. Of course, this also takes time to train in and get everyone on the same page. Some things to consider are:

  • Who books the clients?
  • How do you organize your inquiries? (I highly recommend Shoot Q!)
  • Who books your assistant for a wedding?
  • How much does the photographer get paid and when do they get paid?
  • How are the files managed?
  • What are the expectations in dealing with clients? (Literally– how do you answer the phone?)
  • After the photographer’s contract is done, do they get any of the images for their portfolios?
  • Who makes the contracts? Who’s in charge of the money?
  • What is the goal for both the artist and the studio?
  •  What are the specific roles of the artist and the studio?

Know that if you are starting a studio, you need to take the time to invest in your photographers, setting expectations for them and making everything clear. If you are clear in the beginning about everything – even the uncomfortable things like money, photo rights, terms of contracts, etc. this will save you a potential headache and heartache later on. Invest in a lawyer and make sure you have a solid contract. All of our photographers are contract for a minimum of 3 full wedding seasons and after that they are welcome to stay or some are ready to take the leap and go on their own…which leads me to….

Image by  Thea Volk

Image by Thea Volk

NUMBER FIVE// Be OK With Change:

Whenever you decide to hire people, whether that be a studio manager, editor, and assistant or another lead photographer, know this: people are always going to eventually leave. In my opinion, if I am doing my job right, eventually every one of my photographers will eventually be strong enough and prepared enough to be amazing on their own. With that said, there are certain personalities who are perfect for working for a studio and others who thrive to be on their own. Honor this. Honor the needs of your staff and understand that they need to go where their heart leads them. Artists always want more and we always strive to be better. Change in inevitable in business and as entrepreneurs, we need to be accepting, ready and able to deal with change in a positive way. Change moves us forward and helps us gain momentum for bigger and better things.

Image by  Melissa Hesse

Image by Melissa Hesse

To learn more about Rivets and Roses and our team of photographers, visit our website and blog!  If you are considering hiring more photographers under your brand, there is a lot to think about. My goal with this post is to encourage you and give some helpful tips on the ‘big’ things to think about! Hopefully this helped; however, if you have additional questions on running a studio, you can always reach out or schedule an official consultation to discuss the specifics of your business! Email me at: eliesa@eliesajohnson.com

You can also check out Rivets and Roses on Facebook.