Moms Doing It For Themselves: Lenka Kirchova
Mom of one, with baby number two on the way, Lenka Kirchova talks to us about her thriving family portrait and baby photography business.
She shares her tips for getting the balance right between work and family life, and tells how 8 years ago, an Irish man caught her eye and turned her short stopover in Dublin into a much longer stay...
Tell us a little bit about your business:
I run my own family portrait and baby photography business, trueportraits.ie, where I take natural style portraits, both in my studio and on location or at customers’ homes. My customers receive timeless natural photos that are never aging “true portraits”. While I really love using gorgeous hand-made gowns, blankets and dainty knitted accessories, I am extremely picky preferring really natural photos. I want my customers to love their photos in years to come, so no bumble bee or lady bird photos here!
What was your motivation to start up your business?
I wanted to be a mom but I also enjoyed my job as a photographer. Once my son was born, I couldn’t face having him away from me most of the week in a crèche while I was around other babies all day. I also wanted to improve baby and family photography services available. When I worked for another photography company, I was tasked with getting customers in and out in under 30 minutes, even for newborns. I wasn’t happy with this at all. My customers, now that I make all the decisions, typically have hours, are totally relaxed and far happier with much nicer pictures.
What is your background?
I’ve been an amateur photographer forever, but I actually studied tourism at college in Czech Republic. Prior to coming to Ireland, I’d been to Africa and I studied English while working in London. I then worked for a photography company in the West of Ireland for a couple of years where I photographed hundreds of babies and families. When Sebi was born, I decided to improve my knowledge, getting ready to set-up my own business. I trained with two top award winning Newborn photographers in UK, the Institute of Photography and BANPAS (the baby photography safety association in the UK). I then set-up my own business in 2014.
You’re from Czech Republic, what’s it like and how did you come to live in Ireland?
Yes, I come from the south of Czech Republic, from a small rural town in the countryside. It’s a very special area, still really traditional and it’s the part of Czech where we get the best weather, so it’s just endless vineyards. South Moravia is known for the best Czech wine. After my tourism studies finished, I went travelling. I stayed on a sunny Mediterranean island off the coast of Tunisia and lived in not so sunny London. I really wanted to see Ireland, so in 2008 I stopped off in Dublin for what was supposed to be a few months on my way to Australia, but I decided to stay when I fell for an Irish man. Now nearly eight years later we have our gorgeous son Sebi who’s almost three and baby number two due in September.
What have been the highs and lows of setting up your own business?
Undoubtedly, the best high is that I can have my own business and spend more time with Sebi than if I had a nine to five. It’s funny though, I also had one of the biggest highs on my first week in business. As I had worked for another photography company, I didn’t own any of my pictures and despite working with hundreds of families had virtually no family portfolio. To build my portfolio quickly, I did free sessions for new moms.
My first free session was with this gorgeous little boy Paddy and his mom Katie. After receiving her pictures, Katie gave me this heartfelt letter outlining how happy she was with the pictures. Only after she left did I find Katie had left a lot of money in an envelope too, even though it was supposed to be free. It was incredible that this was my first customer experience for my new business. Katie has since referred friends, even purchasing gift vouchers for family. What a vote of confidence and definitely a major high.
The lows are the endless thoughts about business. When you have to do everything from accounts to marketing to admin, it can feel like days and nights of nothing but business. The worst though is when Sebi doesn’t want to go to crèche. He’s not there full time, only when both my partner and I are booked, so this makes it harder for him to get a routine. The tears are heartbreaking.
What advice would you give other moms wanting to start up their own business?
- If you have a business idea that you’re passionate about and enjoy, just go for it.
- It will be overwhelming in the beginning when you can expect to work more than in a normal job, but if it’s to create the situation where you have more family time later and this happens, it is really worth it.
- A practical tip is to estimate your start-up costs as best you can and budget double.
Do you have any tips for balancing your work and family life?
- Don’t let the business consume family time. Have “switch-off” times.
- In my case we go hiking as a family often but it defeats the purpose if you’re sitting on the side of a mountain in Wicklow talking about business on a Sunday afternoon. Turn email off on the phone and hide the laptop on Sundays.
- Rally support around you. My partner started working from home a couple of days per week so I could take bookings and we saved on child minding fees.
What would you say is your next step for 2016/2017?
I’ve started training my partner to shoot business portraits. He was in IT and was travelling abroad a lot so we decided to work together on the photography business and have more time as a family. We have also started a clever service to business and recruitment exhibitions providing attendees professional headshots e.g. for LinkedIn which is proving popular corporateheadshots.ie. When baby arrives, my partner will focus on business customers while I focus on family sessions.
If you were to be granted three wishes for your business what would they be?
- I wish more people would try a professional photo session. It’s not cheap to get a good photographer, but pictures will last a lifetime and will be the most cherished of possessions. Driving a new car or buying an €800 push chair, but then scrimping on baby photos just seems odd to me, but then I am a bit biased obviously!
- Build a new studio in the garden. My current studio is physically in our home, great for my customers comfort but some days can be a bit hectic. Sebi loves writing on the walls, pouring yogurt on the clean floors and getting lovely smudgy fingerprints on the windows, all right before a booking. I wonder if he secretly knows when I’m booked and wants mommy to himself!
- To get to be profitable. The costs of getting started have been enormous between wanting the best photography gear, a car big enough for the studio and my obsession with beautiful hand-made maternity gowns etc. (they are so expensive but I can’t resist). All this means it’ll be two-three years to get to be profitable, I’m looking forward to celebrating that.
I’m lucky to be doing what I love and getting an income from it, all while being at home with my family more than if I had a normal job so all I really wish is for it to continue.