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Capturing Self-Employment

Matthew Bernier is the owner of Flashbulb Memories Photo Booth located in Tucson, Arizona. Matthew started his business after taking pictures at a holiday party in a photo booth and enjoying the experience. From that, he did some research and ended up creating a company to be a premium photo booth option for those who wanted professional results without the eyesore of a typical photo booth or photographer setup.

When and why did you join the NASE?
I joined the NASE in early 2016 and thought it was a good idea, considering they are one of the largest organizations for small business/self-employed that I could find. Any way I could get additional resources to help me succeed with my business and continue learning was something I felt obligated to do.

When and why did you start your business?
I started my company, Flashbulb Memories Photo Booth, at the beginning of 2015. I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart and starting a company at some point just seemed natural. Even as a kid, I would constantly come up with new ideas and ways for making money on my own (fixing game stations, selling candy, and removing computer viruses, to name a few). While I didn’t originally plan to start a photo booth business, I had so much fun taking pictures in one during a holiday party, that I decided I wanted one for myself! Since then, I’ve enjoyed servicing many parties and events and creating smiles all over Southern Arizona, allowing my company to quickly become one of the most notable photo booth companies in the region. The best part about starting my business is that I am a part of creating thousands of smiles and knowing that we are making the world a happier place.

What challenges have you faced in your business?
One primary challenge was entering a semi-saturated market where every other company was selling their services as a commodity, and not something to be valued. Instead of selling an experience, which is what my company provides, they would sell an hourly rate to take pictures and print photos, many times with subpar equipment. Having no prior reviews and no reputation as a photo booth company, I offered many of my services for free/cheap in order to gain a “resume” of experience, so to speak. This helped me to ultimately grow my network and become one of the most reputable and highly recommended companies in Southern Arizona. It also let me justify my prices with photo proof of what kind of experience my company provides.

How do you market your business?
The primary way in which I market my business is by going after organic searches on the internet. While many will not see this as marketing, per se, it is indeed one of the highest sources of leads we have. The way I do this is by optimizing my website as much as possible by including relevant (and updated) content, blog postings, and local references, as well as back links across the web. Due to the nature of this business, past event photos and reviews are our top priorities, as it helps us build trust with potential clients without having to meet everyone in person. In addition to this, another huge source of leads for us comes from referral marketing; i.e. a guest or past client tells someone they personally know about how much fun they had and how great our company was at their event. To capitalize on this further, we pay a referral fee to the person who recommended a new client, when they book with us. Many times however, people simply feel an obligation to tell people about their experience, whether or not they have a monetary incentive to do so; this is why our focus is on ensuring everyone’s experience with us is unforgettable.

Do you have any employees?
Yes, currently I have one employee who works part time to help as a photo booth assistant. I plan within the next 4 months to hire 4 more part time employees who will be able to eventually run the photo booths without my assistance.

What's your schedule like, what's a typical day for you?
At the current time I am also employed full time, although I will be switching gears to being full time self-employed in a couple months. Since my work weeks are occupied at my corporate job, I spend my nights and usually half my weekends working on my business. Typically this consists of answering emails on upcoming bookings, designing templates, reading about new technology applicable to my business, testing and troubleshooting all sorts of problems, running the booth during events, and networking with other business owners and industry professionals.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?
Honestly, the best thing about being self-employed is that I can create the future I desire. While working for a company full-time, I was forced to work 40 hours a week, regardless of how much work I had to do, or how productive I was being. There was no real incentive to come to work (in my mind), knowing that I could never accelerate my position or pay, strictly on my performance. Through owning my business, I also own my future. If I want to take on more work, I can choose to do so, or I can choose to take a break and spend time with loved ones. Right now, I am ready to accelerate my business performance and plan to expand my photo booth to local cities around me. This means a lot more hard work will be needed up front, but I know what the payoff will be, and in the end, I know it’ll be worth it.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?
This is hard, since so many of our clients give amazing compliments! If I had to pick one, I would say the best compliment we received was when one of our clients basically told us, that we were the best photo booth company she had ever used, and she was so glad she paid a little more, as it was beyond her expectations.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?
Do your research! There are many things that I overlooked when starting my business due to simply not having extensive knowledge of my industry and some legal requirements in general. This led me to spend a lot of unnecessary money and also hindered my growth. Having looked back, I would have enrolled the help of an accountant, and would have talked to others in my industry to get their advice and learn from them prior to diving in head first.

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