Name: Christy Tyler
Business: Christy Tyler Photography
Location: Chicago, IL
Christy is a mompreneur that gets what it takes to run a small, mom-led business. Christy Tyler Photography has been her full-time venture since 2011. Year after year she thrives through the rise and fall of new business, photography, and wedding trends. And she runs the business with her best friend and husband, James. Their business style is known for being personal and intimate. And their photographs have a natural and slightly dreamy feel.
In 2016, Christy and James welcomed twin sons, Micah and Gabe, to their family. She openly wrote about her and James' infertility struggles and, since the birth of her sons, she writes extensively about her motherhood journey on her blog.
The Business Details
Let’s just jump right in: tell me about your mompreneur business. You run Christy Tyler Photography. What does that look like for you?
Running the business looks like a lot of behind the scenes work! A lot of emailing current and prospective clients, culling sessions, editing, prepping packages to be mailed… Plus, the not as exciting stuff like tracking mileage, categorizing spending, and monthly budgets. That's all on top of shooting beautiful weddings and sessions with awesome couples, of course!
You run your business full-time, correct?
Yes. Our business is our sole family income and has been our full-time job officially since September of 2011.
I know you work with your husband, do you also employ others? Tell me about working with your husband (that’s unique!) and your business structure.
We don’t employ anyone else currently (unless you count our nannies who watch the boys when we shoot weddings!).
Working with James is a constant balancing act of being business partners, spouses, and parents. It feels as if there here is never a quiet moment to just sit and relax anymore and we are doing our best to figure out how that plays out in our personal lives and business. In general, I do a majority of the business behind-the-scenes stuff, while James handles (and has for years now) a majority of our life stuff, such as grocery shopping, laundry, and other errands. Plus, he culls our weddings. James also now watches our boys for the middle part of our days so I can work from the start of morning nap until the afternoon nap (with a few breaks for time with the boys in there). And then we shoot weddings together!
What was the impetus for starting your photography business? Tell me about the on-ramp process for you? How long did it take for you to feel like you were finally “up and running?” How long now have you been running this business?
After finishing photography school in 2007, I shot my first wedding on my own in 2008. I wasn’t intending to be a wedding photographer, but it fell into my lap and the next two years I booked 10 more weddings from referrals from that first wedding, without advertising or trying to grow that part of my business at the time. (At this same time I was working as a paralegal at a law firm to pay the bills.)
In 2010, I realized I loved shooting weddings so much that I wanted to make it my full-time career and spent that year focusing on making big steps to grow the business. Also in 2010, James came on board with me as a second shooter. The following year, I quit my day job and took our business full time! So I’ve been shooting weddings for almost nine years and we’ve been full-time as a husband and wife team for six years this coming fall.
What in your background prepared you for this business?
I have a degree in Inter Arts & Technology from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, and a commercial photography degree from Harrington College of Design. However, I feel like those experiences taught me how to be an artist and a photographer, but not how to run a business. Thankfully, we did have some business courses at Harrington. Plus, I have always been good at math and love spreadsheets. So I applied those skills to getting the business going with systems and a workflow.
What’s the vision for your business? Where have you been and how does your vision guide where you’re going?
Gosh, our vision for our business has always been for it to serve our clients well. We want to make them feel really good about themselves and truly enjoy the process of working with us as we preserve their memories. We want to run a business that helps us build a life—not one that is our life. We want to serve others well, as well as love each other and our family well. Hopefully, we can inspire others to do the same.
So, how’s your business doing? Are you happy with it’s success/progress/state?
Honestly, I’m sitting in a point of fear at the moment (which James will tell you I do annually, haha) - so it probably isn’t anything worth noting. But I am always worried about bookings no matter what. I am always (mostly) convinced this is going to crumble underneath us and I’m especially worried lately about how relatable we are to our current and prospective clients now that we have kids. I’d like to book more weddings for this year still, (it’s oddly quiet year for no obvious reason. And I’m trying to trust we’ll keep booking and it’ll be okay!), but am also happy it allows us more time with our boys at the same time. As long as we can make it work, we are okay.
What’s one detail you’d like to change about your business?
I wish I knew more where it was going. Obviously I can’t see the future, but I feel in this really odd/scary state of flux and I’m not sure what to do with it!
How do you approach financial management as an entrepreneur? Do you use specific tools or resources? Do you hire help at tax time?
I use Mint.com to track all of our expenses and go in and categorize them at the end of each month so at the end of the year I can just export the categories and send them to our accountant. Each month I have a “monthly money maintenance day” where I do all of that: lay out our budget for the month and see where we are at for spending/income for the year. This allows me to figure out how much we need to book to get through the end of the year and create goals for how to do so.
Where do you work from most of the time?
We have a home office.
We’ve all seen the memes: real life vs. Pinterest life. What’s one “Pinterest idea” or false impression others have about your work/life/business experience?
Maybe that it is easy? Or that I have it all together? In reality I constantly worry about the strength of our business and whether it will be able to continue to provide for our family. I don’t talk about it probably as much as I should because I don’t want it to deter client. Though, I’m realizing that is really silly!
The Mom Details
You had your sons after being in business for awhile. How did you prepare your business for that huge life change? (Especially since your husband is your business partner.)
I wrote a big blog post about this actually! Basically, we worked our butts off for those early years to save money and get to a place where we felt secure enough to start a family. We bought a house and got a little more “settled.” We also got our pricing to the point where we could still pay our bills but not have to be working 24/7 like we did in the past, because we knew we’d need more of a balance and time for our family life now. We also built strong relationships with clients, who cheered us on along in this big transition, which I think is important!
How does being a mom impact your business vision?
I think being a mom has made me realize my priorities and helped me to find a better balance. Before, our business was my baby! It was all I seemed to focus on and spend time on. Admittedly, that drove James crazy and he often felt like I needed to scale back and remember we were husband and wife first. Being a mom has kind of forced me to do that and has also really been good for us I think. Being a mom also has forced me to work smarter, not harder/longer, and has given me new inspiration in our work and documenting the beautiful relationships we photograph!
How has your work habits changed after you had kids, as your kids grow, or both?
Our day-to-day lives have been in constant flux since the boys were born. We worked when we could and honestly didn’t have any time together on a regular basis until we hit off-season. We started to have an actual schedule when they were around 6 months, but we were in such a busy season with work that it just meant I worked once they went to bed (around 6:30pm) until I was literally falling asleep at the computer around midnight or 1 a.m. Now that the boys eat solid food and James is able to jump in more (it was hard to pass on duties when a lot of it was just me breastfeeding them early on), I can work more during the day when he watches them. That means we can actually get an hour or two for just the two of us at night if we don’t have to work late.
Tell me about your childcare arrangements? How do you balance work and mom life? Who helps you out?
We have a nanny for wedding days and certain projects/shoots. Otherwise, James and I tag team with the boys depending on who needs to do what each day.
Brining it All Together
If you could go back and talk to yourself the month before you became pregnant with your twins, what would you tell yourself about how “things” would turn out?
Everything will be okay, one way or another. You may never sleep, but you will more than manage! ;)
We went into this with no expectations, which I think was best. I didn’t think it’d be perfect or that it would be easy. Our goal was to take it one day at a time and I think that was good.
When people ask you, “how do you do it all?” what do you say?
James [my husband]! I don’t do it all! There are two of us! People say that all the time, but our lives look very different than someone who runs the business by themselves and stays home with the kids by themselves. Thankfully there are two of us so we divide and conquer!
What are some financial lessons learned that you’d offer up to other mompreneurs?
Knowledge is power and knowing where you stand each month is vital to projecting income and, if necessary, figuring out how to book additional work and what to focus on.
How do you recharge and keep your personal energy up when you’re running a business and raising little ones?
I work out in our basement! Getting at least a couple quick work outs in during naps helps me so much to have more energy and stay focused!
What do you know now as a mompreneur that you wish you’d known "way back when"?
I wish I had realized how much I could get done in so little time before! I would have had much more time to work on other things or time to myself if I had realized how productive I could be in a short amount of time when it was my only option.
What advice would you give to fellow mompreneurs or moms who are thinking about jumping into entrepreneurial territory?
Have a team! Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page and show yourself grace. It is a learning process every day. You need to be open to adjustments and change because babies love to throw you curveballs.