Small business owners gain recognition, share advice

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(Photo courtesy of Erin Stroup)

Over the past few years, the small business industry has taken off more than ever. With people staying inside during quarantine in 2020, the talk and the thoughts of starting your own business and making a name for yourself seemed more accessible.

Mary Kate Zach, Kansas State alumna, started her photography business, Mary Kate Zach Photography, eight years ago. However, her business only recently started to take off.

“When I started my business eight years ago, I was a freshman in high school and I would take pictures of anything and everything,” Zach said. “One day I asked my friend to model for me just so I could try it, so we walked down the street from my house and then people started asking me to take pictures of them.”

From high school to college, Zach’s photography services expanded.

“My main service is weddings and couples, but I also do seniors and branding, along with portrait sessions,” Zach said. “I am based mostly in Kansas City, and I occasionally do grad pictures as well in Manhattan.”

As for Erin Stroup, K-State alumna, she said she started the idea for her clothing business, Alpha State, during quarantine.

“Initially, Alpha State was meant to be more of a sports, fashion-type business,” Stroup said. “It was a lot more focused on game-day wear and game-day outfits, and then as time went on, I kind of started navigating what I really wanted to do with the business. Part of that was expanding out and doing more of a clothing line that was more open to women who aren’t necessarily involved in sports per se.”

There is a lot to think about behind the scene when starting your own business.

“During the first few months, I did a lot of marketing, especially on social media,” Stroup said. “I think a lot of me putting my name out there helped. No one is going to know your business if you don’t promote it, so a lot of it was social media and then word of mouth helped, too.”

Zach said most of her business goes through Instagram.

“A lot of that involves consistency and posting and staying up with the latest trends and building a community with people,” Zach said. “One thing that I have done is follow other photographers from different states and also local photographers, so it’s nice to have that community to help me when I need it.”

Lina Sattarin, junior in journalism and mass communications, is the photographer behind Lina Rose Photography, which she started her senior year of high school.

“It has really picked up the last few years in college,” Sattarin said. “It was cool because not only was I a senior at the time, but all of my friends were too, so they all needed their senior pictures taken. They were essentially my guinea pigs, so I didn’t charge them anything because I just needed and wanted the experience. When I got to K-State, though, I started to get more business because I would travel home to do senior pictures as well and do grad pictures here in Manhattan, too.”

Owning a small business is not always an easy path, however. Standing out from others is key to catching people’s eyes.

“I feel like I am really peppy and outgoing, so working with me is really easy and I try to make it a really fun experience, and the work that I am also creating has a lot of emotion,” Zach said. “You can see in my photos that my clients are comfortable and you can see their emotion in the pictures. When you’re doing couples and weddings, you want to capture real emotions and feelings rather than just poses.”

Stroup is an owner and lover of two dogs and said they want to make customers feel like they are a part of something bigger.

“I have collections coming out soon where people can nominate their dogs, and I call it the ‘Give Back’ collection,” Stroup said. “For every item that is named after their dog, a portion of the proceeds actually go to animal shelters and charities. That is something that was really important going into owning a small business, just giving back to people.”

Owning a small business can also bring endless amounts of connections.

“I love being able to meet new and totally different people. The amount of people that I have met through photography is awesome,” Zach said. “This past year as my business has taken off, I have made friends all over the country that are wanting to meet and hang out with me. I sometimes edit other photographers’ work, too. I sometimes edit pictures for a friend that I met when she’s super busy and I’m not as busy.”

Sattarin said she enjoys photographing girls around her age.

“I personally loved getting my senior pictures taken when I was in high school, so I love the number of high school girls that reach out to me to have my pictures taken,” Sattarin said. “I think they like it because I’m their age or a couple years older, so it’s fun to have me be their photographer instead of someone they wouldn’t be able to relate to.”

The feedback from clients has also paved the way for what these small business owners try to accomplish with their business.

“My favorite thing about my business is how my clients tell me, ‘I’ve never felt so beautiful in a photo’ or ‘I’ve never felt so beautiful in my life,'” Zach said. “I had a senior tell me that the other day when I was taking her pictures, and that’s the only thing I want to do. I make people feel beautiful and confident.”

These small business owners gave some advice to those who are also thinking about starting a small business.

“Just try it,” Sattarin said. “It’s really scary to go for it, but if you have people supporting you, then you will always have someone rooting for you or following your page and spreading the word.”

Stroup’s advice was to not second-guess yourself.

“Have a plan and know what you want to do and what your market is, but until you just do it, that’s when you can really navigate what you want to do,” Stroup said. “You might have to tweak some things here and there, but really just starting and going for it.”

Zach said just go for it.

“It will definitely seem scary, and it is an investment, but the more you invest in yourself and in your business, and the more you feel confident about it, the more success you’re going to see,” Zach said. “You have to invest in yourself and your education before you have others invest in you.”

Those interested in contacting or purchasing from Zach, Stroup or Sattarin can visit their Instagram profiles (@mkzachphotography, @shopalphastate and @linarosephotography) or their websites for more information.

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