Demi of Avril Photography is the doctor with a Canon. I’ve followed her work for the last couple of years and even as a medical student running her own photography business, she was killing the game. She’s now started an online jewelry retail store and another store for phone cases. How inspiring is that? This interview is particularly of interest to me because I’m also a photographer. It was great taking notes from all she had to say about establishing yourself as a Nigerian photographer. She made time out of her crazy schedule as house officer/head photographer/all round business woman for this chat. Enjoy!
1. Tell us all you do for a living and how long you’ve been working at your own business(es)?
I’m the head photographer over at Avril Photography based in Ibadan. I also run two online retail stores at @casenotes_ng and @jewelry_boxng. I work full time at the University College Hospital as well; currently as a house officer in Dental surgery. So yeah, full plate.
2. How did you get into photography and why did you decide to start taking pictures? How did you also start case notes?I've always been interested in visual art; poring over fashion magazines was a favorite past time. Click To Tweet
Honestly, I can’t even remember how I got into this photography thing. I’ve always been interested in visual art; poring over fashion magazines was a favorite past time. My dad gifted me a point and shoot pocket camera in my second or so year of med school. I started taking photos of any and everything. Teaching myself with books and online articles; I was hungry for knowledge and I made sure I had my fill. Recently, I did a thread on my earlier images on my twitter (@demic_goddess) and its really amazing looking back, how far I’ve come. I got paid N5000 for my first job and I haven’t looked back since then. My first love was portrait photography but these days weddings seem to be where fate is leading. I’m not complaining.I got paid N5000 for my first job and i haven't looked back since then - @demic_goddess Click To Tweet
On casenotes, funny story. I’d just gotten a new iPhone. I literally searched the whole of Ibadan for a phone case and I didn’t find any I liked. I went online and ordered a few for myself and that’s how it began. Many people kept asking me where I got my cases from and some even obtained from me. Others asked me to get some for them and then I thought to myself, ‘theres a market staring right at you. Tap into it’. So I did.
My initial capital was as little as N5000 and I’m sure I’ve made more than 1 million Naira in gross income. It still shocks me to date. I created an online store, did a lot of word of mouth advertisement and here we are today. I recently branched into jewelry; this started in pretty much the same way as casenotes did; people obtaining all my jewelry. I’ve learnt to just open my eyes and ears to things people are interested in. Creating things that people didn’t even realise they needed.My initial capital was as little as N5000 and... I've made more than 1million Naira in gross income. Click To Tweet
Casenotes as of today provides luxury phone cases and accessories for a wide range of phones, personalized phone cases, ‘magic’ mugs and laptop cases as well; both personalized and mass produced. We also provide wholesale services for resellers, custom souvenirs for events, branded marketing items for companies and business owners tailored to each brand’s identity.I created an online store, did a lot of word of mouth advertisement and here we are today. Click To Tweet
JewelryBox provides affordable jewelry; rings, earrings, bracelets, bridal accessories, personalized bracelets, name tags, bag charms etc.I've learnt to just open my eyes and ears to things people are interested in. Click To Tweet
3. At what point did you make the decision to start your business; what convinced you? How did you generate initial capital?
Photography started as an expensive hobby that needed funding. Lol. Slowly became a business and now I’m confident enough to refer to myself as an entrepreneur. Photography as a hobby and photography as a business are two VERY different things. I’m learning everyday how to balance both worlds.
My parents helped raise capital for the DSLR I use now. I was very pleasantly surprised.Photography as a hobby and photography as a business are two VERY different things. Click To Tweet
4. How was the response from your SO/parents/family/friends? Especially if you decided to leave a paid job/not do what you studied in school.
Everybody has been supportive. My parents love that I’m financially independent. They’re not complaining AT ALL. Downside is nobody ever believes me when I say I’m broke. Like “hellooooo give me money. Epp me.” On a serious note though, they’ve been awesome.My parents love that I’m financially independent Click To Tweet
I’m not sure my father understands that there’s a chance I won’t practice as a doctor but shhh. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Pretty sure baby boy will be heartbroken but YOLO.
5. How did you build a customer base and market yourself effectively?Do not underestimate the power of Instagram as a marketing tool. Click To Tweet
Marketing in photography has been and is still difficult to be honest. It’s a very saturated industry so one has to work three times as hard. But I’ll say this one thing: Do not underestimate the power of Instagram as a marketing tool. I’ve had quite a number of brides book me off my Instagram and Facebook page and many others through referrals from friends and past clients as well. So referrals plus online presence.Marketing in photography has been and is still difficult to be honest. Click To Tweet
As for casenotes, started off selling to people around me. I put my Twitter and Instagram following to good use as well with reposts to my personal pages as well as word of mouth. Also, I opened an online store on konga and that has helped reach an even wider audience.
6. What challenges did you face at the beginning? And how did you cope? What challenges do you still face currently?
Establishing myself as a professional. In the beginning, many saw a tiny young girl with a camera. ‘oh you’re so cute…’ No. My work began to speak for me and still does. There’s the challenge of marketing still, pricing, customers wanting a million dollar shoot on a thousand Naira budget etc.
Professional photography in Nigeria, especially in my city, Ibadan, is only just gaining footing. Many people don’t understand the world has moved on from wait and get ‘kpa-kpa-kpa’ under the tree photographers. They don’t understand why they have to pay so much for somebody to click ordinary camera. Having to explain that its a whole lot more than that is pretty frustrating and honestly sometimes I don’t even bother because faaaaaaaaaam.
7. What do you love most about being a professional photographer/entrepreneur? I know you’re currently doing a number of things: photography, case notes for example. How have things changed since you started? (workload, income, whether or not you currently work with a team, lifestyle etc)
Income is obviously better; 3 streams. I’ve had to learn to delegate duty. I’m a workaholic perfectionist and there’s no worse combination ever. I’ve always been frugal with my spending but I’m learning to splurge without remorse these days. Sensibly obviously, but hey… I work hard for this. My mother is constantly on my neck to spend money on myself and live/look good.I've had to learn to delegate duty. I’m a workaholic perfectionist and there’s no worse combination ever. Click To Tweet
8. Creative businesses are becoming quite popular in recent times. It feels like a lot of people want to become entrepreneurs especially photographers. How do you deal with competition in your field? Is that something you struggle with?
Competition will always exist. It’s how business works. I see many entrepreneurs (especially photographers) try to compete with pricing as their only weapon. I believe in charging your worth and giving your clients their money’s worth as well. If you’re confident enough and giving the very best, sending that invoice won’t be so hard. It’s not an easy stance to have but in the long run it pays.As a photographer you cant afford to make enemies of your competition; in my experience at least. Click To Tweet
Some days you’ll want to concede defeat and agree to the ridiculous amount some prospective client is offering but how long do you want to do that for? What happens to all the cost you incur in your business? Do you plan on staying afloat for long? That camera you are slinging around now, you do know it has a lifespan right? Are you charging enough to be able to afford a replacement or upgrade?I believe in charging your worth and giving your clients their money’s worth as well. Click To Tweet
There’s a Yoruba proverb that says the sky is big enough for all the birds. As a photographer you cant afford to make enemies of your competition; in my experience at least. Everyone needs everyone. Besides each photographer appeals to a certain audience. You’ll always find a client that wants YOU.
Besides each photographer appeals to a certain audience. You’ll always find a client that wants YOU. Click To Tweet
9. What’s the biggest lesson starting a business taught you?
Treat it as a business. Everyone around you should too. Occasional discounts are okay, but NOBODY is ENTITLED to one. Pace yourself. Find a business model that works for YOU.
10. There’s always a bit of a money vs passion debate; What do you think should be the motivation for starting a creative business? What was/is your motivation?
The passion should come first. When that reflects in your work ethic, you put out the best and that in turn attracts the clients you want. Having passion for something is not all you need to start a business though. You need to understand HOW to run a business as well. If you must, get someone who understands how. Take a business course. Passion alone is a recipe for disaster.
11. What would you say has been the worst time/experience so far in your journey as an entrepreneur?
I got scammed TWICE in the space of 3 weeks. Rough, rough times but I pulled through. Pro-tip, run away from western union.
12. If you had to choose three qualities anyone starting a business needs to develop/have what would they be?
Passion, good people skills, resilience.
13. How do you work through times when things are at a low and how you deal with criticism and bad feedback?
How else but to get up and try again? I’ve always been resilient anyways so I don’t let things get to me so much. Thankfully I haven’t had bad feedback of note. None that I remember right now anyways.
14. What sacrifices have you had to make to grow your business, if any?
Time. Thats the major thing. Running 3 businesses, obviously I’m stretched thin. I’ve had my boyfriend give numerous side eyes because I was on my phone instead of spending quality time with him. Between switching between Instagram accounts and answering enquiries and sourcing for new stock, I’m almost always on my phone.
15. What has been your proudest business achievement so far (the little things matter too, doesn’t have to be huge) & what future goals (that you can share) do you have for your business?
I was recently nominated in the wedding photographer of the year category for a wedding industry award thing.
16. What do you wish you knew about starting and running a business in Nigeria before you started; what would you do differently? Do you think there’s enough support for small business owners in Nigeria? What is one thing you think would be helpful?
I don’t think there is enough support. Loans are hard to get if at all. The Nigerian culture doesn’t encourage e-commerce either. Payment on delivery is the worst form of payment ever (from a vendor’s point of view). Its endless really. The hope is for a better Nigeria soon.Payment on delivery is the worst form of payment ever (from a vendor’s point of view). Click To Tweet
17. How did you figure out how best to price your services? That’s something a lot of business owners struggle with.
It’s easy to underprice because you think that would attract more clients. I’ve learned this isn’t always the case. Price according to what you believe your worth it. Price according to expenses you will incur delivering your services. Its okay to be a luxury brand but don’t be greedy.Price according to what you believe your worth it. Price according to expenses you will incur... Click To Tweet
18. What three pieces of equipment/software are invaluable to you as a photographer?
Adobe Lightroom/photoshop, my camera body and lens, my phone.
19. What are three things that are part of your morning ritual?
Mornings have me struggling not to be late for work. I hate getting out of bed in the mornings. Days shouldn’t start till noon. We need to sign a petition.
20. What three people in your field or not inspire you the most?
21. What do you love most about yourself as a business owner i.e any personal qualities you feel have helped you excel? What advice would you give to anyone currently struggling to stay afloat/ just starting their business/contemplating starting a business in Nigeria?
Creativity. Recognizing a new market. ‘Hunger’.
Advice: Keep striving for greatness. It will not be easy so don’t think of giving up without a fight. Listen to your customers.It will not be easy so don’t think of giving up without a fight. Listen to your customers. Click To Tweet
Demisola is the head photographer of Avril Photography, a team of creative wedding photographers based in Ibadan but willing and eager to travel worldwide. She also runs Casenotes NG and Jewelry Box NG. Demi is currently a house officer in the University College Hospital, Ibadan.
Connect with Demisola
Find Avril Photography Online
Facebook: Avril Photography NG
Read our last interview with natural hair stylist Kemi Lewis.