Beware the Ides of March. On March 16, 2006, James Avera of Avera Design began his entrepreneur’s journey. Fortunately, James didn’t succumb to the same fate as old Caesar. Instead, he took a leap, one that’s providing the life he always wanted.
In 2006, James was working as a real estate photographer for the same firm he’d interned with as a Graphic Design student at the University of South Alabama. Every day, he’d drive east and west from Florida to Louisiana and all coastal points in between photographing vacation rentals and beachfront properties. Then, that established firm decided for financial reasons to relocate to Nashville.
James decided not to relocate with the company. He’d made a home in Mobile, one he cherished after moving often as a child, and didn’t want to leave the home he’d made. He was out of a job, but was given an opportunity in way of a severance package of sorts—photography equipment and three clients. As most entrepreneurs do, James realized the time had come for him to venture out on his own.
Entrepreneur Tip #1: Build Relationships
James was offered this valuable severance package because he’d built a solid relationship with his former employer. He’d nurtured this relationship through an unstoppable work ethic and kind spirit. He didn’t know it at the time, but he had done what all entrepreneurs must do—build lasting relationships.
The relationships with his former employer, clients, and partnering companies would be the foundation James built Avera Design on, his own real estate photography company one client and photo shoot at a time.
Entrepreneur Tip #2: Don’t quit your day job…Yet.
As James built Avera Design, he kept one foot in the world of graphic design. Reaping the benefits of professional relationships he had (Relationship building! Yeah!), he took freelance gigs for staging companies and real estate firms. Branching out into marketing projects got him through the tough financial times that are common among new entrepreneurs.
Yes, we would all like to live idealistically and passionately, declaring that our whole hearts, minds, and work efforts will be devoted to our dream work lives, but reality has other demands. Bills won’t wait to be paid for that day your business is rolling in the dough. The rent must be paid. The kids must be fed. Your body must be clothed. All this takes money, so keep your day job until that glorious day when you can walk out of that soul-sucking job and into your own world where you call the shots.
Entrepreneur Tip #3: Accept the Lessons
In the early days of his business, James had one main goal: land clients. So, he did what he thought would land those clients. He spent a lot of money on snail mail postcards and he made a lot of in-person cold calls. These cold calls were way out of James’ comfort zone, so he prepared a script, scheduled appointments, and delivered his pitch. Nothing. Lots and lots of nothing.
Then, he decided to try one-on-one unscripted conversations with business owners. Armed with his portfolio and industry expertise, he decided to sit down with potential clients and simply tell his story. This took a lot of the “public speaking” pressure off of the natural introvert. His passion, knowledge, and likability shined through in this more intimate and relaxed environment. It worked. He began landing clients and making money. He learned that costly marketing efforts (postcards) and scripted pitches may work for some, but not for him.
Entrepreneur Tip #4: Expect Challenges
So, 2006 may not have been the best time to start a business connected to the real estate industry, especially the luxury side of real estate that is vacation rentals and water views.
James faced two huge challenges in the first five years of his business: First, the housing bubble burst of 2008 then the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010. Both of these occurrences caused panic up and down the Gulf Coast among real estate firms and property management companies. Clients James had depended on couldn’t afford his services any longer. Cancellations rolled in, leaving Avera Design on shaky ground.
Again, James leaned on graphic design. He kept the business going by remaining loyal to his remaining clients. But, his graphic design work kept his bills paid and belly full. The meager days lasted until 2012 when one big client proved James’ persistence would pay off.
Entrepreneur Tip #5: Grow, Learn, Evolve. Always.
Avera Design is now a fully established company. James is no longer a one-man show. Instead, he has several employees who take the Avera Design method of real estate photography to beach towns from Mississippi to Florida. He has a dedicated client base that understand Avera Design’s worth and contributions to their businesses.
But, that doesn’t mean James is resting on his laurels. He keeps a busy entrepreneur’s schedule, working 10-12-hour days Monday through Friday. (He refuses to work on the weekends, dedicating that time to friends, family, and home.) He has fine tuned his business, restricting property types and locations in order to better serve his dedicated client base. Currently, he is focused on promoting quality content through his established social media channels. Not only is this marketing effort largely free, the message is consistent and directed toward his target audience.
James hopes to continue to grow his business and create a lasting legacy on the Gulf Coast. And, as all entrepreneurs wish to do, he continues to run his business according to his values and goals, one step in the journey at a time.