When Tracy Fledderus had more freelance photography gigs than her evenings and weekends could accommodate, she knew it was time to pack up her nine to five desk job at Library and Archives Canada and become a full-time entrepreneur. It didn’t hurt that her photography work was bringing in more money than her day job either.
It’s been two years since Fledderus was named one of the top 30 most inspiring wedding photographers in Canada by Wedding Bells magazine. Since then, the 25-year old Algonquin College grad continues to build up her thriving Centretown neighbourhood studio, Grace and Gold. Her biggest lesson? Being self-employed is tough – but well worth it.
At first, one of the biggest challenges she faced was convincing herself and others that she actually knew what she was doing. “When I first started out I was scared out of my mind while meeting potential clients,” she says. “Selling yourself is really hard especially at the beginning. It’s kind of like, ‘hey I’m new, but trust me I know what I’m doing.’”
But slowly, she began to learn the ropes. “It’s hard to say ‘you should spend this much money on me on your wedding day, and this is why,’” she says. “But it gets easier.”
Fledderus recognizes that arts fields are incredibly competitive. One thing she stressed for people looking to break into a creative career is to avoid selling themselves short. “One of the main things that I tell new photographers is to know your worth when you start off. The industry can be very competitive,” she says. “I know that some people can have some experiences where they think they have to work for free for a year or they can’t charge or charge way too little because they’re not good enough or established enough. None of that’s true. Your work is worthwhile and you can price for that.”
Being a successful entrepreneur is no easy feat. Fledderus believes those who are successful are the ones who work hard and seek help. “You just need to have that willingness to work really really hard, but if you love it and there’s a clientele for it, you just need to keep at it and not be afraid to ask for advice from other people.”
For most shoots, Fledderus employs two secondary photographers and often takes on co-op students from Algonquin to learn the ropes. This past October, she had a shoot every day of the month, including weekends. “That month nearly killed me,” says Fledderus. “I realized maybe I shouldn’t do that again. It’s a constant learning curve.”
A new business idea is in the works for Fledderus that goes beyond photography, but still related to the wedding industry. “I do have another business idea related to this in the back of my head, which I’m not going to share, but this is going to help me get there.”
We met at Pressed, a cafe and sandwich bar on the edge of Chinatown, where Fledderus goes when she needs a boost of inspiration. The funky decor, mismatched furniture and eye-catching art are all things you notice walking in.
Fledderus lives in the area and has enjoyed watching the restaurant evolve over the years.
“They have art installations that they’re constantly changing, and they promote local artists, which I find really great, being a local artist myself.”
She comes not only for the local artists, but for “the best sandwich in Ottawa” too. The space turns into a music venue some nights as well bringing local musicians helping Fledderus feel even more at home during her visits.
“That means a lot to me – opposed to the chain store coffee shop kind of feel.”