After earning a rigorous PhD in Physics at Emory University, Oana Hogrefe forged a career in the software industry. First as a developer and then a manager, she led teams locally and overseas. Career life was good until the economy took a turn and the tension in her company started to become palpable. In January of 2009, the company closed the Atlanta office and Oana was faced with relocation to another city, or a lay-off.
The lay-off option was actually a great chance for Oana to take the severance package and prioritize her new career goals. Her family was rooted in the Atlanta community and relocation was not desirable. After much self reflection, she decided that instead of pursuing another managerial or technical position in the software field she would invest her energy into another passion.
For the last 20 years, Oana had been pursuing photography concurrently with her physics and corporate endeavors. She even established her cottage industry photography business in 2000 and set up a website and later earned a professional photography degree from The New York Institute of Photography via mail in 2003.
The hobby evolved into a more official venture in 2008 with more weekend and evening shoots, so when the lay-off became a reality, the foundation was already set for Oana to take her photography business to a new level. She is now thriving in her role as a full-time photographer and specializes in boutique child and family portraits with a fresh, natural, and uncontrived approach to her work.
Heart and Soul
Since Oana has been passionate about photography for so many years – she remembers fondly her early black and white film days – developing the business as a full-time career was a natural progression. Now an expert in all the nuances of digital photography, Oana has designed a business that meets her professional values and that caters to a niche market.
With two small children, Oana finds that the business gives her the flexibility to work around her family needs. She has given up a steady corporate income and the financial risk was certainly scary. However, Oana was able to take the plunge with no debt, by mindfully balancing her business and family expenses.
Over the past few years, Oana has increased her client base significantly and her business continues to gross more profit each year. She is grateful for this new opportunity to shape her life and create her own path with her business. Oana shared – “I am my own glass ceiling” and appreciates the freedom to set her own goals.
Bringing Things into Focus
Oana benefitted from the resources of Ladies Who Launch, a nation-wide community of women entrepreneurs, as well as Atlanta’s Women Intelligently Networking. These organizations have proven to be invaluable sources of support and encouragement, as well as a place to gather information and contacts when establishing the nuts and bolts of the business like the business license, tax records, and logistical set-up. In order to be competitive as a business woman and to best serve her niche in the saturated photography market, Oana created a unique brand, developed a look and feel to her online presence that was enticing to customers, and marketed her business broadly to build her clientele.
Social media has been key in identifying and connecting with clients; Oana periodically uses Facebook ads on a pay-per-click basis to reach new audiences. She also maintains a blog about her business and shares great tips and best practice advice for budding photographers. But there are some significant challenges for this new full-time entrepreneur. Since Oana carried the health insurance for her family she has found it challenging to replace those benefits as a small business owner. Her kids and husband are now covered under private insurance, but finding a benefits plan for herself as a solo-preneur has been difficult.
Oana has plans to grow the company and provide more information and training for other photographers. She will continue to offer a carefully thought-out and fresh product line and has started outsourcing some of the back-office tasks so she can better concentrate on the creative and business aspects of her work.
One of Oana’s favorite quotes is the Zen saying that wherever you go – there you are. She shared that you are where you are as a result of your choices. She is in tune with her personal and professional mission and continues to self reflect to develop goals that honor her values and priorities.
Being a solo-preneur is a challenge to say the least but Oana is ready for action and earning accolades in the field. She was named one of the top 200 Leading Moms in Business in 2010 by Startup Nation and her images have recently appeared in Occasions magazine and CRAVE Atlanta Guide.
She is also giving back to her Atlanta community (and beyond) by donating her talents to local charities (such as Childhood Calendar, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and others) each year. With her unique ability to capture the relationships between parents and children using imagery, Oana is telling stories through photography that will capture memories for generations to come.
Oana’s Advice and Action Steps:
- Find your niche and think about what you really love to do.
- Judge every action you make and consider if it’s moving you forward towards your goals.
- Begin with the end in mind, by asking yourself what legacy you want to leave in life.
“Wherever you go – there you are.” Zen Quote
Ladies Who Launch: http://www.ladieswholaunch.com/