Entrepreneurial Stories – West Coast Aerial Photography
Mark Holtzman was in the sales industry for over 20 years and, in the late 90s, he began to realize he had reached a glass ceiling. In early 2000, Mark was sitting at the dinner table with his wife discussing his hobbies: photography and flying (general aviation). Mark started thinking “I wonder if I could fly around and take pictures as a side business.” After consulting with filing companies like Sun Document Filings and Figuring that he didn’t have anything to lose, he gave it a shot and West Coast Aerial Photography was born.
For the first few years, as far as he knew, he was the only person doing this. He utilized his strengths in sales & photography to create his business framework and had to teach himself the rest, usually learning through trial-and-error. Within a few years he had moved from his sales job to pursue his aerial photography business full-time and was making well over six figures annually.
When we asked him about his success he replied “not only have I been successful financially, surviving in the worst economy since the Great Depression, but I have gained international acclaim from my hobbies/job. In 2009, one of my images placed 2nd in the World Press Photo Annual Contest and received an honorable mention in Pictures of the Year International (two of the three biggest photojournalism contests in the world). My business is still small (I’m technically a MicroBusiness), but I have brought my son on board and he has been working for me, full-time, for the past few years. I am so fortunate and lucky that I have been able to make a living doing things I love to do.”
What was your main obstacle?
The main obstacle was me: having the guts to go out on my own. It’s not an easy to leave a secured job, even if it is a dead-end one. I was a pilot & had been into photography since I was little. My last job gave me experience in sales which was very important.
How did you find suppliers/services you needed to get started? How did you finance your start up?
I started with a camera I owned and I did own an airplane, which helped. However, finding clients did take some time, as I had no business model or was not even aware that this was a viable business.
Is this a full time business or a supplemental income?
This had been a full time job for me for about five years & for my son for over two years. I started this job while working with my former employer, shooting on the weekends & marketing at night. Slowly, this business began to grow & I became more proficient.
What advise would you give others?
The advice I would give is to follow you dreams and your passion. You can start slow but don’t give up. It is not easy starting your own business and it is scary. It is much easier to take your secure paycheck, but not anywhere near as rewarding.
What organizations do you belong to?
There are not a lot of aerial photography organizations but there are a lot of groups that use my services and that is where I put my time.
How has your lifestyle changed from being an employee to becoming a business owner?
My lifestyle has changed dramatically in that I work out of my house (and the airport) so there is no commute time. I put in a lot more hours now but can take breaks throughout the day as needed. I call my own shots, try my own marketing, make my own rules and hopefully every works out. So far it has been great and we have been able to move with the times. Things are great!!