A Food Photographer’s Entrepreneurial Journey & Plan to Enhance the Stock Photo Industry
Introducing Susan Bourgoin
As a teenager, while most girls her age were obsessing about fashion, Susan was obsessing about food photography. It was a passion deep inside, and one she knew would someday be her livelihood.
Despite those around her saying “it couldn’t be done,” Susan took a leap of faith to build her company Visual Cuisines and begin carving her own path. And as you’ll read below, it all started with a logo, business cards, and dogged determination.
Now, with her high-level experience and stellar reputation, Susan is embarking on another journey – creating “thee” go-to spot for food images on the web. And despite being up against some giants – iStock, Getty Images & ShutterStock to name a few – her talent, dedication, and perseverance will no doubt elevate the business to the top of the pack quickly.
In our interview, Susan gives us her account of building Visual Cuisines, her entrepreneurial journey, advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and a behind the scenes look at PickFoodStock.Com.
I’m excited to share the story, in her words, about her entrepreneurial journey thus far.
Susan’s Story & Best Advice
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Back then, I was very determined to make my dream come true. It was what I wanted during that point in life, and I had no other purpose than to make that happen.
I was focused on one path, and one path only.
Some people may think building a business is easy and can happen overnight, but it took a good 10 years of effort. It was a long commitment. From when I opened my company to when it became successful, it took a lot of perseverance.
Starting Visual Cuisines
Initially, I read the book “What Color is Your Parachute.” It helped me define a lot of what I wanted my business to look like, hours I wanted to work, and so forth.
Having already been in the food industry, which consumes every night, weekend, and holiday, I wanted a different lifestyle. I knew I wanted a business where I didn’t work nights and weekends. This caused me to think up the types of clients and work I would be doing.
Almost everyone told me I couldn’t do this, especially in Orlando. And if I had a dollar for every person that told me I couldn’t do what I was doing I would be rich!
It began with a logo and business cards. It was just that simple.
As soon as I finished photography school, I went to an accountant and registered myself as an S-Corporation. It enabled me to begin writing everything off immediately.
Early Realizations in Business
In my business, I learned early on that the clients who want things cheap typically want everything, and they will never be satisfied.
That was my biggest lesson as an entrepreneur.
“It began with a logo and business cards. It was just that simple.”
Getting Traction & Growth
Honestly, I think it was the perseverance of working for 10 years. After that amount of time, your name has been around long enough, you have a reputation in the community, you’re not known as a fly-by-night business or start up anymore.
I heard people say once you get 10 years, that’s the magic number and it truly was for us.
Facing & Overcoming Adversity
Did I even think of giving up? There were several times!
What did I do? I prayed! I have done a lot of praying!
Ultimately, you just wake up in the morning and work. When there’s no Plan B, what else are you going to do besides work?
At times, I would take a short-term job to earn cash as I was building my business. With my culinary experience, I would pick up catering gigs or jobs to provide a source of income. My rule was it couldn’t interfere with me building my business. It had to be outside of those hours.
Most people have the perception that when you’re an entrepreneur you work for yourself. I hear a lot of people say, “Oh great, you work for yourself!”
That’s not the case at all, you work for your clients. If you don’t have that attitude of humility and service towards the clients that you serve, you won’t be an entrepreneur for long.
An Entrepreneurial “Recipe for Success”
Some of the best advice I ever got was from a photography professor at Daytona State College named Don Brunning.
He said, “Wake up every morning and even if you don’t have a job, you go to work, and you work. You make something happen every single day.”
I have lived by that advice, even in slow times. Every day I get up and go to work, regardless if I’m booked on a shoot or not.
As a custom food photographer, I’ve seen trends over the years and have a great deal of perspective. Having watched 20 years of change in our business, I understand that it’s a changing world. I’ve seen people who were at the top of their profession lose their edge because they weren’t able to keep up with the times.
Having watched 20 years of change in our business, I understand that it’s a changing world. I’ve seen people who were at the top of their profession lose their edge because they weren’t able to keep up with the times.
Because of this, I’ve always tried to look forward. One thing I see is a massive social media culture, and it’s not going anywhere. It’s part of life. Whether people like it or not. Another thing is leaner times with companies and individuals.
There are times when very high-end food photography is necessary. And there are times when you just need a good image, but maybe it doesn’t need to be a custom image that you have sole rights to.
With food imaging being so huge and popular, there’s a need for a much better-looking photograph than the ones being produced on people’s Instagram’s every day.
We are looking to bring the professionalism and accessibility together with PickFoodStock.Com. Meaning, you’re getting custom quality in the image size you need and it’s very usable and affordable.
This helps people or restaurants who wouldn’t be able to afford my services have the option to buy a beautiful image for their use. An image could even spark a new recipe they start selling on their menu. The website is something their business can connect with and find very high-quality images to promote themselves.
Validating the Business Idea
Yes, there was validation. The same clients I have been working with for 20 years are the same clients that use this type of service – some more than others.
Most people use stock images, and they go to iStock or Getty Images or one of the big guys to get these images. But the feedback that I’ve gotten from everyone is that it’s the same images being recycled among the food community. And they’re not very good in the quality and variety.
Another important piece is some places have incorrect images. The ingredients used and the balance is completely off. Just because someone photographs food, doesn’t mean they’re a true food photographer and know what they’re doing. Chefs do know the difference. Some images may be pretty, but it doesn’t make it right or correct.
We pride ourselves and really knowing our product and producing images that will represent people well.
“Just because someone photographs food, doesn’t mean they’re a true food photographer and know what they’re doing. Chefs do know the difference. Some images may be pretty, but it doesn’t make it right or correct.”
The Business Archetype
At this point, we have over 1200 images curated and edited. We are adding a dozen new contributors this year. Our goal is to reach 10,000 images by the end of the year and ultimately become the go-to spot for anybody looking for food photography.
We want a vibrant community where we respond to the needs of members by listening to what they want and producing content that is relevant. We want it to always be fresh so if someone doesn’t find what they’re looking for this week, they can engage with us and by the next week they’ll have something useful.
For contributors, they get a percentage of the sale for each of their images. The more they produce and the more that sell, the more they will make.
But we are just as particular about choosing our contributors as we are about the images themselves. We are not just taking someone with a Nikon. We are looking for the same type of people as myself who are actively producing good food images. So we are really looking for people who are doing this for a living to be our contributors.
We have 3 major plans in terms of marketing.
Our first line is connecting with a base of people who really do need images. We were at the NRA Conference in Chicago this year and met all kinds of people who need images. From website developers of restaurants, independent restaurateurs, food-based companies, bloggers and the list goes on.
Our second thing is developing a real strong online presence. We want a big presence on Instagram, Facebook, & even Twitter, but with Instagram being the main presence. Instagram is our biggest market so we have someone doing posts five days a week to help generate interest. Instagram will also be the platform we’ll use to find our photographers.
Our third thing is just really keeping it personal. Being accessible and not just being some big company where you can’t find a face to talk to at any given time. I have somebody that responds to all emails within a day so everything is answered quickly. If customers have questions or suggestions, we’re very responsive to them. And I think that goes a long way in this digital world to know there’s a person on the other end caring and willing to help.
It was a pleasure speaking with Susan and capturing her insights. One of the most profound parts for me was the quote from her previous instructor, “Wake up every morning and even if you don’t have a job, you go to work, and you work. You make something happen every single day.”
Entrepreneurship can be like riding a roller coaster, no doubt. But if you just get up every day and you do the work, you’ll eventually begin to make progress, gain real traction, start to enjoy the ride, and reach your chosen destination.
Thanks for taking the time to read and make sure to grab a free copy of the “10 Rules of Entrepreneurship” below to help with your journey!
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