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Blurred Lines: Mixing Business with Friendship - PPA Today

Blurred Lines: Mixing Business with Friendship


How my business partner has been driving me around, driving me crazy, and driving our business forward for ten years.

By Mariah Ashley

You know your job is fun when your clients provide you with a golf cart for tooling around and snapping their destination wedding. Anytime there is a golf cart involved, work is a good time, right? The only problem that could arise in this scenario is if there are two Snap Girls and only one golf cart.

Oooh, instant conflict! What to do? Who will hold the keys to the chariot? Do we flip a coin? Draw straws? Joust?

No we do not.

Trish drives. It does not need to be discussed.

Easy as that?

Easy as that.

That's how it's been since we joined our businesses 10 years ago. Other photographers often ask, "How do you do it? How do you find the perfect business partner? It would be so nice to break the isolated existence of the companionless photographer but how do you integrate someone else into your existing business?"

I have some unconventional advice on the subject. These are my five tried and true rules for choosing a business partner.

1). Hit the Bumps in the Road

When Trish drives she only has one speed, and that's full speed. She had the pedal to the metal in that little golf cart. She's never happier than when she's behind the wheel, wind in her hair and a wild look in her eye, and in this case, with one flip-flopped foot up on the dash. For four days we drove the same loop inside the resort, back and forth between the events of the weekend with an occasional stop at the beach. For four days we came upon the same speed bumps and for four days we went over them at top speed, bottoming out with a spine crunching crack on the other side. Every single time Trish seemed genuinely surprised that the speed bump was there. She'd slow down briefly with an, "Oomph," and a, "Sorry!" Then she'd speed off again like a rally driver.

golf cart.jpg

There is a rule in business we've all heard. "Never mix business with friendship." This does seem like sound advice. However, for Trish and I, there is no business without our friendship.

We are not running a big corporation. It's just the two of us, day after day in a 400-square-foot space. How could you possibly stand to spend that much time with someone you don't care about? In a small business like ours, it has not been possible to keep our personal lives and our business lives separate, there have been too many bumps in the road; adoption, marriage, divorce, teenagers, aging parents.

Most days the morning starts with a therapy session instead of a business meeting. Is this the best way to do business? Experts would probably say no but I think that the time that we have invested in our friendship has only served to strengthen our business, though not my spinal column.

Do you care deeply about the welfare and the life of the person you are considering taking on as a business partner? Are you prepared to take on the other people in their lives too, i.e. a spouse, their kids? In the intimate setting of a small business it's kind of a package deal. Choose a friend.

2). Get Stuck in the Sand with a Stick in the Mud

Trish was not satisfied with merely ruining the suspension in the golf cart. When the opportunity arose she veered left and went off-road, across a field, trail of dust billowing behind her to get a closer look at some potential photo locations. The field turned into a sand pit and I turned into a buzz kill, insisting she take us back to the pavement because she was going to get us stuck.

"So? What if we do get stuck?" she asked. "They'll just send someone to pull us out."

"True, but then I will be late and embarrassed, let's keep it on four wheels okay Mario?" I insisted.

Trish was probably disgusted with me at the time and I don't blame her. I never pass up an opportunity to ruin a good time. I'm a punctual, rule following, perfectionist. Sound like a recipe for fun? It's not. Trish is a spontaneous, slightly reckless, throw caution to the wind kind of girl. Sound like a recipe for function? Not always, but together we manage to have fun and show up on time. We take the creative off-road path and have a few laughs, but we've left early to allow for misadventure. Choose someone who has different strengths so you can achieve balance.

3). If Your Tire Has Popped, Just Drive On The Rim

Once while driving to a wedding, Trish hit the curb. Well, actually she's done that lots of times, but this time in particular she popped her tire. Well, actually she kind of shredded her tire. It was instantly flat. We were following the bridal party and had about a mile to go before we reached the venue. Trish just kept right on driving keeping pace with the trolley.

"That sounds bad, I can hear metal," I said, cringing.

"We have a schedule to keep," answered Trish.

"I see sparks."

Trish just shrugged her shoulders. "We have to get to the wedding. As long as we get there I don't care."

We did get there. Trish parked her limp car in the lot and called AAA during dinner to come and fix the tire. Sometimes things have to be sacrificed for the good of the company, in this case, Trish's rims. A lot of other things have been sacrificed along the way in our 10 years; ego, personal time, creative license.

At the forefront of our minds is always the question: Is this what is best for the company? If the answer is yes, then we always choose our business over our feelings. Choose someone who is selfless.

4). When You're In a Skid Head for the Cliff

Don't you just love a winter wedding? They're so cozy and intimate. Plus there's the added bonus of flu season and blizzards. Last winter we were lucky enough to get both in one day!

It's true that the winter wedding we were photographing was festive, but that was hard to notice considering my low grade fever and profuse sweating. Luckily, there was a snow storm so each time I had to go outside and drive to the next location I could stick my head in a snow drift to relieve the fever.

The snow was piling up at an alarming rate and Trish and I had to navigate our way across the city three times for photos, ceremony and reception. Cars were buried in the snow, motorists were stuck at the bottom of slippery hills and everyone was skidding and sliding around the narrow streets. Was Trish nervous? Nope. This is where she shines. When the going gets tough, she literally gets going.

She drove her little Ford Fusion like it was a snow plow. Or a freight train. I sat with my eyes closed, because when they weren't closed I was gasping and whimpering and clutching the sides of the car. Not helpful. I suppose that's why Trish ordered me to close them.

"Don't worry about it," said Trish. "We'll get there together or not at all."

Our business has been in what could be considered a slow skid headed for a brick wall on more than one occasion; the outlook bleak, the results disastrous. Neither one of us has hit the brakes or bailed out of the car. Instead we hit the gas and Thelma and Louise'd it right toward the cliff and found our car had wings. Choose someone who doesn't quit.

5). Take the Highway to the Panic Zone

I swear I'm not a weenie, though I wouldn't blame you if that's the opinion you have been forming. I'm afraid this next driving allegory is not going to help to dispute your incorrect assumption.

Over the past few years I've developed unfortunate anxiety around driving in the city, in particular New York. I used to be able to do it, but now each time I go my freak-out level gets a little higher.

This summer we had to make a trip to NYC for an engagement session. I already knew I wouldn't be able to drive so I did my part and drove halfway through Connecticut and then handed over the keys as soon as we hit the New York line.

Trish of course loves driving in the city. She drives like a seasoned cabbie, blowing her horn and zooming around obstacles. I've also never seen anyone who could parallel park like Trish. She could fit a Hummer in a space barely big enough for a Smart Car. Of course the Smart Car might end up underneath her Hummer, but that's neither here nor there.

The unfortunate thing that I discovered on this trip was that my anxiety did not decrease when I became the passenger. It only ramped up. I felt crushed by the city around me and found it quite hard to breathe. I'm all for stepping outside one's comfort zone and tackling challenging situations but in this case I was crippled by my irrational fear. I was in the panic zone.

Trish talked me off the ledge and of course delivered me safely to an overpriced parking garage. As soon as I got out of the car I was fine and the shoot was a success. I don't know what had come over me, but in those moments I was completely useless to Trish as a partner and travel companion.

We've both had moments like that in our 10 years together; induced by difficult clients, stressful travel situations, or illness. If one of us is down, the other always steps up to the plate and takes care of business. Running a business is not for the faint of heart. It's scary when you are cruising along at 5000 feet on auto pilot and suddenly you see the captain is slumped over on the controls. Choose someone who is brave.

Do you have a friend who is strong in ways that you are not? Selfless? Brave? Someone who is tenacious? They might make a great business partner. Just remember, before you start your engines and head out on your road trip you have precious cargo--each other.

Ironically, I'm teaching my sixteen-year-old son to drive. His instincts are to make dramatic movements, make turns too tightly and hit the brakes like he's stomping out a fire. Driving isn't like that though, is it?

Driving is keeping your eyes fixed ahead and constantly making tiny little adjustments to make the ride as comfortable as possible. Running a business is like that and so is maintaining a friendship. If you pay attention and make small adjustments as issues arise it should be smooth sailing for you and your co-pilot. Good luck!

About the author:

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for winter.jpgMariah Ashley is co-owner of Snap! Photography in Rhode Island. She is blonde, loves to bake fruit pies, wears flip flops way past the summer season, should have been born in the 50s, paints and writes when the mood strikes her, is mother to Jacques and Vianne, vacations on Block Island, is vegan, never has proper or stylish outerwear, fears frogs and toads but loves turtles, has really skinny legs, personal Style- Bohemian Chic, wants to own a VW van,  grew up on a cranberry farm and is happiest when snorkeling is happiest when sipping a rum punch under a palm tree.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on December 9, 2014 10:41 PM.

10 Questions with Carl Caylor, Imaging USA Speaker was the previous entry in this blog.

Peter Lik's Record-Setting Photograph, Astronaut Photography and Dramatic Lighting: Top Blog Posts 12/8 - 12/12 is the next entry in this blog.

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