Emanuel Roland is the photographer and all around guy-next-door behind Roland’s Photography. Originally from Chattanooga, TN, he is a family man; husband, father, deacon at his church and avid cyclist. Roland’s Photography is synonymous for snapping beautiful wedding and corporate photos around town. As this growing small business nears completion of NBIC’s incubator program, we wanted to catch up with him to learn more about his early beginnings and why weddings may not be in his future!
What inspired you to start Roland’s Photography:
I started back in college at Tennessee State University. I began taking some elective photography classes which turned into me shooting pics for other classmates on campus. I then had a class project that involved writing a business plan and I though this would be an ideal opportunity to see what a photography business would look like.
So, did you head right into the entrepreneurship game right out of college?
Yes and no. I actually worked for a non-profit right out of college, teaching youth as early as Kindergarten how to start and manage home-based businesses. I did that for four years while still doing photography in the afternoons and on weekends. The program actually pushed me to go after my own dreams, as I was feeling hypocritical connecting with these kids on entrepreneurship, yet still working for somebody else. So, I turned in my resignation and begin working on photography business full-time. I would take on various part-time jobs from the TV station to substitute teaching and UPS. Then, I entered into the incubation center which propelled me even further.
What brought you to NBIC?
I actually interned at NBIC in 1999 during my time at TSU, which was made possible through the College of Business (plus NBIC is an outreach of Tennessee State University). The intern paired me with a multimedia company which honed my skill set and my work was utilized a lot during this time for client billboards and collateral. Some of my work was published on a local and national level, and I still have a working relationship with the company and owner. It’s funny, because the studio where I completed that internship has been my studio during my time at NBIC. Talk about full circle!
Tell us the 3 things you love about the NBIC program:
- The initial push to be a full-time entrepreneur. When I moved in, I said this was my opportunity to see if this business could sustain itself and support my family. This was a business, not just a job anymore. I would get up everyday and grind, making a point to be at the Incubation Center there early and leaving at a decent hour, based on my appointments. Making an intentional effort to go to my incubation space everyday to work was key. Consistency is everything, from timeliness to my go-to uniform of khakis and my Roland’s Photography polo. I am representing my brand Monday through Friday when I step foot into the NBIC doors.
- The push to take care of daily operations, daily. Rent, utilities and bills are the less talked about side of business, but tremendously needed. NBIC helped me put an accounting system in place. I didn’t have Quickbooks setup or anything, and didn’t really know what I was making or if I was setting my prices right. By working with NBIC, I was able to get a better sense of time management and the true value of my time. With Quickbooks setup, it allowed me to review and analyze every job that came through. It also allowed me to gain a better understanding of why I am doing this, which is to build relationships and finances.
- Accountability. Having a business a coach was a great resource and allowed me to have somebody besides myself to throw around ideas and guide me in the right direction. At NBIC, I really had somebody else that wanted the best Roland’s Photography and provided a different perspective. Having an outside perspective on things was also a benefit, as you can sometimes become laser-focused on one way to grow your business and not think through all the different strategies in front of you. I thought I would be the best black wedding photographer in Nashville, but with the help of NBIC, I realized corporate photography was something I really enjoyed that allowed me to have weekends for family time. Now, I am in a much better position as far as finances, time management, flexibility, etc. I don’t have to commit to every wedding, event that comes around without feeling bad about it.
So, you mentioned creating a business plan back in college that was the initial start to your photography biz? How did you start and complete this process? Do you think all entrepreneurs full or part-time should have a plan?
Yeah, I mean you have to have some type of foundation, which is why NBIC is so great. A business plan is a part of the program. People, aka your customers, have to know that your business is viable. Anyone can pick up a camera and say they are going to do photography. I think my business background also helps. My initial business plan was slightly different than it is today, but again, the foundation was there. For example, I did not originally plan to have a studio space; I thought I would shoot on-location. I think entrepreneurs must remember pivots and changes will always occur because initially you are throwing ideas around to see what will work for you. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure of the path I wanted to take in photography. I shot everything that sounded good and would make me some money. The only thing I knew I was probably never going to do was add-on services like videographer, dj and/or the Olan Mills route. I was always going to be a photographer…Roland’s Photography is my brand.
How long did it take before you were profitable? When did you start paying yourself?
That is kind of tricky. Since, I started over 17 years ago, those first 10-12 years I am not sure as I didn’t have all the necessary resources in place to accurately know. I was using the money as it was coming in, and not keeping count of what was coming in re: expenses. I would say probably over the last 2-3 years I started writing checks to myself and since I started the NBIC program I have been able to see my profitability. They helped me with Quickbooks and other resources allowing me to have a better idea of time management and my value. Before it was like whatever it took to get the job the done and it didn’t matter if I spent 30-40 hours dealing with ONE wedding job. However, now I am spending a quarter of that time, as I have fine tuned my editing and processes.
You are an entrepreneur with a growing family? Do you think this added motivation on you to hustle hard each and every day?
Yes, for sure. I mean, my family is the reason I buckle down and take each and every day seriously. I am more proactive regarding figuring things out and making it all work.
How do you separate work from home life? Is your wife a part of the family biz?
By making my family first. If you don’t make family a priority than they won’t be. You can still be an entrepreneur and work set hours, give your clients the best service while conveying your boundaries. My family will always be the #1 priority. I have also been intentional with not having my wife in the day-to-day aspects of Roland’s Photography. Of course she is part owner, but I felt our kids could suffer if we were both in it full-time, especially when it came to weekends and shooting weddings.
You were also recently ordained as a deacon at your church? Congratulations! Does your faith play a huge part in how you operate your business and build relationships?
It does, I don’t necessarily say that every client has to be a Christian but there are times where I will not do certain things if it does not fit within the scope of who I am as an individual and what I believe. I do feel some of the decisions I make regarding donating my services and giving back is also a part of my faith.
To learn more about Roland’s Photography visit http://www.rolandsphotography.net/