HEIDI CHOWEN, a dear friend and our wedding photographer, was stuck in a thankless day job in real estate letting her background in art go to waste when she realized she needed out. She and her husband DANIEL have grown their small photography business step by step and now she loves her day job! Let’s hear from HEIDI on what it took to make it all happen.
Where did you grow up?
A small ski resort town in Southern New Mexico for the first half of my life, then in Durango, Colorado (another small ski town) up until 6 months ago.
What were your childhood aspirations?
I ALWAYS wanted to be an artist. A childhood friend’s mom was an artist and she always had out all the art supplies you could ever want and we would just spend hours drawing and painting. That started it all….
Where do you now live?
Denver!!!!!! And looove it! Living in a small town for so long (well, forever) has made living in the city so amazing.
What did you do to make money before starting your own business?
My husband. No, seriously…I worked as a waitress five days a week throughout college to save up money (while I lived at home), but then went and spent all of that while I lived in Europe for one year (I like to shop just a little). When I returned, I met Daniel (an Art & English major) and after we graduated college we decided that we should stay in Durango have lots of babies instead of pursue our aspirations of both being artists and travel the world. So, we stayed…and there are not a lot of amazing jobs in a small expensive town that will fund living there, so Daniel put aside his dreams of being an artist and so did I and we went into real estate. As grateful as I am for it funding our livelihood, it was a god-awful-we-almost-killed-ourselves kind of job. Daniel is good at pretty much everything, so of course he excelled at it, but I just plain sucked, so the main source of income was him and definitely not me. We both tried to do art on the side as much as possible, then became so uninspired with our daily lives that we were producing crap. We were so not being true to who we were and rather a slave to our environment. We then got pregnant with our first daughter and I quit my job as fast as I could. Being pregnant is such a great excuse to not work:)…That gave me time to become inspired again…in a whole new way.
Where did the inspiration for your business come from?
While I was pregnant and not working, I realized I needed something for me. It might have been all of the crazy hormones in my body at the time and everyone but Daniel thought I was absolutely nuts to try to do art again and start a boutique business through it. I got a lot of “do you think you really can?” or “not to be rude, but do you think you are any good?” and my absolute favorite:: “I heard you are trying to do photography… hmmmmm, okay, I thought you were a waitress though…” That one really got me. You can’t really change in a small town and most people did not even know that Daniel and I were both artists, because we never took the time to do so since we caved and put aside our true selves for money. That one small comment made me want to change who I was. My inspiration to change came from the love for my husband and the love for my daughters… our little miracles that keep us going each day…. and the drive behind it all is to show our daughters that you absolutely can, no matter what anyone says to you or thinks of you, do what you love and do it with honesty and integrity and fill your life with beauty.
This was obviously something you were naturally good at, did someone else point this out or did you come to that on your own?
Awww…you are so sweet!! I think it was a little of both. My favorite memories are related to art and I remember the first time I got praise from a teacher in the 5th grade because of my work. And all the mentors in my educational experience were related to art. My favorite teacher was Mrs. Yost. When I moved to Durango at the age of 15, she kind of took me and pushed me to excel without me even knowing it. She was so amazing. She was the one who got me the Senior Artist of the Year award when graduating and to be in the National Art Honors Society in high school. She believed in me so much and that helped me have so much more confidence. And a huge backbone of support were my parents. They always had my best pieces professionally framed and put all over the house. That was a wonderful feeling to know your parents thought you were decent enough to put on the walls.
Who was your biggest inspiration in not just talking about, but actually starting your own business?
It was not one thing, but the drive to be my best and be true to who I was, the love for my hubby and my daughters.
What was your biggest fear?
Totally failing…totally sucking…and being a bad parent and wife. Wow…that is totally pathetic & depressing, sorry….oh, and trying not to do them at the same time.
Did you have any big setbacks?
Just my many fears. That is the worst. I do my worst when I doubt myself.
You have your own studio, can you talk about that process?
We have our digital darkroom in our home with lots of Apple goodies and techie stuff and LOVE it. In Durango, we had just finished remodeling our downtown studio where we met clients…and then we moved to Denver to start all over….so for now we are at home, but hopefully next year we will have a loft downtown…keep your fingers crossed…
Did you have to take out any loans? Can you share any advice or tips on that?
No loans (as of yet) as it started out small and we want it to stay small, so we get new equipment and new tech stuff when we can.
What happened letting you know you were on the right track?
Hmmmm…I guess I would say that it was all of those things. When I first started, I just made the decision to just go for it and if it went well, great and if not, oh well. And it has been chugging along for the past 4 years. When we decided to do this full time together (Daniel and I working side by side every day) we just decided to be all in or nothing and so we took a huge leap of faith that it would work and all along the way we have not had any detours or major setbacks, so we feel so lucky that we get to do this. Of course we get support from our family and friends as they are the best, but what really matters are our amazing clientele. They are the ones that believe in us so much that they hire us. And even better is when they hire us repeatedly. We have the best clients ever and we are so honored that we get to create art for them. We feel so blessed to be able to do this…
Where do you sell your goods?
Just our site & at client’s homes…We create private galleries with shopping carts for clients. We outsource all our printing and products to the best companies and show clients at meetings.
What are the pros and cons of selling that way? Did you ever try any other way?
The downside to not having a studio at the moment is not having a place to have all our products and a main place to meet clients, but most of our clients want us to go to them anyway as a lot of them have kids and don’t want to be inconvenienced to leave their homes, so we go to them. We debate each day about a studio space, but need to establish ourselves in Denver more before we take next step.
What is the most rewarding part of being your own boss?
Any job that allows you to wear pajamas as much as possible, but still get work done is the best… I do put on makeup and real clothes when we are on shoots, but the rest is pj’s all the way… And we get to see our daughters all the time…that is the ultimate best part of it. We dictate our schedule. No rush hour.
What is the hardest thing about being your own boss?
No regular paycheck. I used to care what I looked like. Seeing each other all the time and trying to separate work from our relationship. Managing every portion of the business. The stress.
Where would you like to see yourself and your business in the next 5 years?
Doing more of what we do now and being able to travel with the girls more.
In 20 years?
We would love to have this career stay on course and for us to evolve as artists, travel a lot with our family and just plain be happy!!
Anything else you’d like to say?
That I love Glennis McMurray. And something about the random photo we put with this…I know this is a comedy blog and in light that I am so not funny, I wanted to illustrate what would have happened if I had stayed a housewife (I suck at being a housewife…just ask Daniel) and he had continued his job (can you say alcoholic?)…and it might have killed us…