A Client Story | Meet Roland’s Photography

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

rolands-photography-cycle-group rolands-photography-deacon-ordination rolands-photography-family

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/


Our Incubator Without Walls Program Is Expanding

The Incubator Without Walls program is a virtual incubation program offered by the Nashville Business Incubation Center, and provides management and technical assistance, one-on-one coaching, and education programming. You can now get in all you need to grow your business from the comfort of your own office. So, let’s break down how it works!

  1. Participants sign up by completing application HERE (it’s simple, we promise!)
  2. Next, new clients meet with Executive Director, Angela Crane-Jones. Note: be prepared for an amazing meeting that will leave you feeling like you can take on the world and give you a complete reality check in the process. It will be all worth it.
  3. You will then communicate through conference call and/or web conferencing through out the program. Think of it as your accountability partner on steroids, you will be expected to be a rockstar and will receive all the necessary tools to get there.

Ready to put in the work? Nice, click here for more information. Need a little more info, check out the video below showcasing a former traditional client turned virtual incubation client


A Graduate Story | Kathy Ware, Owner of KS Ware and Associates

Kathy Ware is the driving force behind one of Nashville’s successful engineering firms, KS Ware & Associates (KSWA). A South Carolina native, Kathy attended Clemson University and moved to Nashville in 1992. She also had a front row seat as Music City has grown into the new “It City.” Her company was well positioned to take on unique environmental projects both locally and nationally. If you have driven around Nashville, across any bridges or construction sites, KS Ware & Associates may have been one of the leading firms on these large-scale projects.  They help government, municipalities and other large enterprises manage their projects effectively, and one woman decided to take this journey into small business ownership almost 20 years ago. Learn more about how she created this multi-million dollar brand and her time at the Nashville Business Incubation Center (NBIC).



How did you initially launch your engineering firm?

I originally worked right out of college with a large engineering firm in Tampa and Jacksonville. Then, I was promoted to branch manager by that firm which brought me to Nashville. In February of 1997 I left; a little burned out, but thankful for the great opportunities given to me.

I thought I was going to stop for a while and focus on being a mommy to my 2 and 5 year-olds but that lasted about 3 days (as she laughs). I left in February and started KSWA in March. I decided to continue working with a mission to stay engaged in the engineering community while working with friends. I worked hard and was very blessed to have wonderful people around me. I wouldn’t say I had any great plans, I just wanted to continue to do what I knew how to do with friends and professionals peers.

Kathy, I love your humble spirit and endearing way you reference your clients as friends. Do you think this is what sets you a part from other firms? 

Our business philosophy is simple, we are a small business that wants to enjoy what we do for a living and we want the people who hire us to feel it is a pleasant experience. We do that by establishing long-term relationships, not contractual ones. We believe integrity is essential, if we make a mistake we will fix it and make it right. Innovation is also key by providing new tools to save money on behalf of our client and help increase growth.

So, for the non-technical people reading this, how would you describe what KSWA does?

We provide geotechnical services on large environmental structures. Basically, everything you see around you is supported by soil or rock and our firm is responsible for handling projects that incorporate these types of earth materials. Our typical clients are leaders of government agencies and municipalities, as smaller companies are traditionally not building large water treatment plants.

Side note: think about those infamous highway and interstate projects you see while driving or those large building infrastructures popping up in Nashville. Now, you can put a face to the name of some of the people that make it all it happen. Our typical clients are leaders of government agencies and municipalities, as smaller companies are traditionally not building large water treatment plants.

Wow, these are some heavy hitting services you offer, who was your first client and how did you find them?

Our first client, was Metro Water Services in 1997, on the original overflow abatement program, the predecessor to Clean Water Nashville. We tested all of the plastic pipes being installed around the city in order to rehab below-ground piping and we helped to ensure quality control. Next year, will be 20 years old and Metro Water is still our client. Many of the people we started working with are still making decisions.

So, would your services be inline with some of the problems we see happening in Flint, MI?

There are many different aspects to piping systems. In the case of Flint, drinking-water piping was installed and lead leached into the water over time, which caused the water to be undrinkable. We do not work on the drinking-water supply side. We handle the sewer and storm water side of things.

You mentioned earlier that when you left your job, you were going to take time off for family. How did you learn to master the work/life balance?

It is a kind of an easy answer. My family is more important than my business. I have always put my children before my business. You can’t have it all or do it all, so you have to prioritize. You have to pick and choose what is most important to you. Are you going to get up on Sunday and go to church, or go into the office?  Once you decide what you are going to do, you are going to take the other things off the list. I am not going to have my garden, go to the gym and take up photography. I think having it all is a fallacy. Working hard at what you prioritize is the game-changer.

What three things did you love about your NBIC experience?

  1. The inspiration of seeing other entrepreneurs: It was such a benefit and inspiring to see others in the NBIC program who are ahead of you and have figured it out. It is the hardest thing to start your own business, so when you can drive into the NBIC parking lot and see all of the other people there working and moving up is a true inspiration.
  1. The discipline of understanding the bookkeeping side: When I was working for someone else, I knew I was responsible for the P & L statement. However, it is different when it is your own business. You need to know where your money is going at all times. You can’t survive if you do not have a good bookkeeping system and NBIC helped me to get that in place.
  1. The relationships built: There are still people that I meet in the incubation center that I still keep up with. Darrell Freeman with Zycron, Ben Edwards with the Smart Card, and the list goes on. Life is really made of an accumulation of relationships over time. There were just a lot of really cool people and a diversity of industries at the center.  The diversity of the industries that got started over at NBIC is amazing and they have a great come one, come all motto.

NBIC really allowed you to learn and figure things out without tremendous overhead. I hope other people will hear about NBIC because it is about survival, and figuring out the best way for you to stay in business.

Lastly, since your office is located in the midst of all the Nashville growth, tell us why you are loving Nashville right now?

Yes, so our office has been in the downtown Nashville area since 1997 and to look at the sky and see all the cranes, is pretty amazing. I think Nashville has improved (minus the traffic). The Nashville economy is quite diverse and becoming less dependent on healthcare. When my Mom recently visited, it was great to take her down to a live event at the Ryman. I think a lot of people want to be a part of the downtown vibe and we are committed to being in the downtown area…I think it is worth it.