Today, I'm smiling a little brighter because I am celebrating five years in business! Five whole years of Meaghan Kent Photography!


For any entrepreneur, five years in business is a big milestone. The odds are always stacked against entrepreneurs and small brick and mortar businesses. Did you know that on average, 45 per cent of businesses fail in their first five years. And that's during good, economic stability. The pandemic is a whole other ball game. But let's not digress...


When I started my photography business in July of 2016, I never actually had ambitions to be a photographer. It kind of just happened.


After marrying my husband in 2015, I forced myself to find a hobby (though Jason will boast that it was actually him that told me to take up a hobby). I took up blogging about tourism, specifically tourism in Northern Ontario. My humble blog, The North Junction (I still love that name), gave me an outlet to write about what I cared most about - exploring the great outdoors in my own backyard. It was well received and I was offered a few sponsored opportunities with outposts and outfitters in the north.


As my readership grew, however, I knew I had to improve my photography skills. At the time, I was using a point and shoot handheld camera, the Olympus Tough, which acts like a GoPro in its durability, but has more capabilities as a camera. The camera was good in that it was compact and lightweight so I could pack it in my backpack and go. I didn't need to worry about batteries, lenses, tripods, and all of the other fun gear that comes with a larger DSLR. Even though it was a great camera, it came with a lot of limitations.


I decided to splurge on the Canon Rebel T5i when it went on sale for Boxing Day. I taught myself how to shoot in manual mode, about white balance, and metering all via YouTube. 95 per cent of what I know today is from YouTube.


Unfortunately, after only three months with this camera, my other job as a writer at a local post-secondary institution was put at risk due to rounds of layoffs. I told myself I needed a back-up and secondary income in case I lost my job. I told myself there weren't many opportunities for me career-wise with a Master of Arts in History, so I had to find ways to make income on my own. I turned to photography on a whim.


Was I ready to be a paid photographer? Absolutely not. Did I know what I was doing? Not really. But I took the leap into entrepreneurship in July 2016 (the same week we decided to get a puppy - talk about bad timing) with absolutely no business knowledge and experience. And I'm so glad I did.


I've never once regretted the decision of becoming a photographer. For the first two years, I navigated the field on a part-time basis, learning more about my camera and my capabilities. I took on weddings, events, family reunions, and more. I didn't say no to an opportunity because every opportunity provided me with the ability to learn something new and meet new clients. I used those first two years to build my brand and my clientele. And I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for a naïve entrepreneur in the small town of Sault Ste. Marie.


Fast forward to five years later and I'd like to think some things have changed. I have some business knowledge. I still don't understand anything about taxes, and I've come a long way in my technical skills behind the camera and in editing software. I've found my niche in the industry in newborn and maternity photography in particular, thanks in part to becoming a mom to the most amazingly zany two-year-old, Everett. The biggest change since my humble beginnings: I am now a full-time photographer. I was able to quit my other full-time job to pursue this love I never knew I had in photography. I made the plunge this past December. And even though the industry was at a complete stand-still when I made that decision due to the lockdown and ongoing pandemic, I don't regret my decision in the slightest.


I've held many jobs in my 32 years. And in those various jobs, I've seen people at their worst: frustrated, mad, angry, crying, bitter. But that's not the case with photography. Instead, I'm seeing people at their best: grinning ear to ear, shedding happy tears, and laughing. For the first time in my life, I love going to work. I am welcomed with open arms into people's homes and lives and get to be alongside them for their most important days: when they get engaged; when they get married; when they become new parents; when they adopt a new child; and more. And that's pretty amazing. Plus, I get to go to so many great places (like Jamaica)!


Today, I pride myself as being the "friendly, neighbourhood photographer". I am not afraid to laugh at myself, admit my wrongdoings or when I'm over my head. I'm also not afraid to get out on the dance floor with you on your wedding day - I may even request a song or too (Backstreets Back, alright!)! I do my best to make you feel at home in my presence and that we're the best of friends, even if we're complete strangers. I try my best to support you and your photographic dreams - no matter how bizarre or wild they may be. That's how I run my business. I have fun with it. And I know if I continue to run it this way, I'll still be happy to go to work everyday 20 years from now. How many of you can say that?


So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to capture moments and be a part of your lives for the past five years. It's been incredible to see the growth in my business, but also the growth in your lives. Some families have been with me since my very first month in business and I am still very much a part of their lives. I am forever grateful for the outpouring of love and support and for helping me achieve a dream I never knew I had. I am forever grateful for everyone who has helped me find my true passion in life, and most importantly, my happiness


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It wasn't until I became a small business owner myself, that I learned what supporting a small business really means. It's not just buying local. Sure that's part of it, but supporting a small business goes far beyond buying a good or service. And if you can't afford a good or service, there are many other free ways to support local. Now, more than ever, we need to be putting all of our efforts into supporting the small brick and mortar shops in our community. Small businesses are at the heart of every community- they employ your friends and family, and bring new innovation to your neighbourhood. They're also usually the first to step up and help support you in your own fundraising endeavors.


Purchase Goods or Services

This is obvious. The easiest way to support any small business is to purchase the goods and services they offer. Many businesses, such as your local photography studio, are closed because they have been deemed inessential by the government. However, just because their shop is physically closed, doesn't mean they're not still selling products. Purchasing a gift certificate that can be used on a later date goes a long way in supporting a business and putting food on the table for a business owner and their family.


If you have a membership, keep paying that membership. Gyms are closed right now, for example. Many are locally owned and run. Don't cancel your membership for the duration of a one-month lockdown. Instead, keep paying and show your support for their service. Their facility may be closed, but they will still have to pay bills. And government support only covers so much.


Ask the business also how they're re-tooling during the pandemic. They may be offering new services to help cover some of the losses. For example, I am offering digital Valentine's Day cards since I cannot actively take Valentine's Day photos. While the income I am generating from these digitals is significantly less than a mini photography day, income is still coming in and helping lessen the margin.


Try to support new businesses and bring them into your new-normal. Maybe you used to eat lunches out with your co-workers before the pandemic but can't do that anymore. Instead, consider getting a take-out lunch once a week from a different business. And hey, why not connect with your co-workers virtually over lunch - it'll be like old times!


Leave a Tip

If you have the financial means to do so, leave a tip. People are accustomed to tipping in the restaurant industry, but often don't recognize that tipping in the service industry is perfectly acceptable. You can tip your hair dresser, your make up artist, masseuse, manicurist, courier, and even your photographer, to name a few. Tipping shows your appreciation and gratitude toward a job well done and also helps cover essential costs. Those in the service industry have been hit the hardest by provincial closures and changes to operations due to the pandemic. When allowed to open, those in the industry aren't allowed to welcome back as many clients for safety reasons, and therefore, are still operating at a lost. A tip helps cover some of those losses.


Engage on Social Media

We're a technology-first community and the majority of people are on at least one social media platform, businesses included. Liking and following a page, commenting on a post, or sharing a post or page, helps raise awareness of a specific brand or product available. You're also helping to build the audience of that business. What's better than liking, sharing, and commenting? Leaving a review. Many people rely on customers' honest reviews before committing to a product or service. Your recommendation will help strengthen a business's authenticity and encourage others to buy. Plus, it also helps boost the business's search engine optimization (SEO).


Engage with the Business on a Personal Level

Get to know the person(s) behind the brand. Check-in with the owner and the people who work for the company. Simply asking how someone is doing shows sincerity and that you're thinking of them and understand they're going through difficult times. For me personally, I have people - many who are complete strangers - check in with me on my Instagram page daily, asking how they can help, how they can support, or just to show they are thinking of me. These sentiments help keep my mental health balanced, and make me feel essential, even though I've been deemed inessential.


Bring Them Into Your Everyday Life


Don't Ask for a Discount or the Friends & Family Rate

This is a big one. Please, please, don't ask for a discount. Remember, many businesses have actually closed due to the financial constraints of the pandemic, and many are on the verge of being shuttered. Business owners are placed in an uncomfortable situation having to say "no" to a discount. Businesses know their worth and have set prices to match what they think is fair and covers their cost of doing business. Know a business's worth. Show your appreciation for their craft and skills. Don't undercut them. Instead, let the business come to you about a discount. I will always offer a discount or promotion to a client who has continuously supported me throughout the years.


Volunteer

It's easy. And you'll feel great afterward. Contact the business you want to support and ask them if you can volunteer in anyway to help them out. You could help tap trees for your favourite maple syrup producer; if you're a financial analyst, you can offer financial advise. Your investing in a business.


Be Kind

This is the most important of all. Be kind. It's the simplest thing you can do and it is free. Emotions are extremely high right now. Everyone is experiencing Covid-fatigue. People have lost loved ones. People are sick of wearing masks and cancelling events. We are all in this together and we all are sharing these sentiments. Being angry, frustrated, or mad at an essential worker will not help. Instead, be kind. Smile with your eyes. Say thank you.

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Welcome to The Wardrobe, the exclusive one-stop shop for high-end luxurious maternity dresses in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

But first, let's get one thing clear. These aren't your run-of-the-mill-everyday-wear-to-work maternity dresses. These dresses, or gowns, were designed specifically with one thing in mind -- photography. They're showstoppers.


For the first time, expectant mothers in Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding area will have access to a wide range of gowns in different colours and textiles, designed specifically to highlight their curves and baby belly, while simultaneously, empowering them. Each dress is carefully fashioned for comfort and to flatter all body shapes and sizes.


Having been in the photography business for over four years now, I have captured many maternity sessions. I've seen expectant mothers show up to their photoshoots in cheaply-made, ill-fitting gowns, looking to recreate the high-end fashion shoots they've pinned on Pinterest. I've also had many soon-to-be moms show up to their photoshoots in tears, since their $20.00 Amazon find dress didn't show up on-time, or worse, when it did, it didn't look anything like the picture. I'm one of those moms myself.


Back in 2018, I had my own pregnancy captured by the incredible Lucas Paquette. I ordered an Amazon gown for $30.00 and it didn't arrive on time, thanks in part to the ill-timed postal strike. And when it did arrive (literally hours after the shoot happened), what I received was anything but glamourous. I remember trying on the dress in my kitchen and laughing awkwardly, while I wore a red sack, that was two feet too long, didn't fit in the bust, and made me look like I was a box. It was anything but flattering.


As someone who has struggled with body image all her life, this so-called maternity dress did nothing for me and made me feel ugly. And for the first time in my then 28 years, I actually felt beautiful. Pregnancy made me appreciate my body and what it was capable of. Pregnancy made me feel radiant, raw, empowered, and incredibly strong. It made me feel connected to other moms, the legacy of motherhood, and my own mother in a way I had never felt before. But that dress didn't show that.


After that experience, I thought, there must be something better out there. There must be something that can make me look the way I felt. That's when I discovered Chicaboo, and a world of maternity photographers helping to make women and mothers feel like the absolute warriors they are.

The beauty behind The Wardrobe is the versatility of the majority of the gowns, which are designed by the American-based company, Chicaboo. The dresses are designed with women in mind. They're designed to hug and shape curves, no matter one's size. The dresses are one size fits most (generally fitting a pre-pregnancy size 4 - 16, with some fitting sizes 4 - 22). And besides each dress's stretch in versatility, most also offer versatility in look. Many of the gowns can be worn in more than one way - it's almost as if they boast their own daytime and nighttime looks. The gowns can be flirty and fun but also dramatic and chic. They'll leave you speechless. Coupled with my training in maternity photography, I know you'll feel confident and will cherish these pictures for years to come.


Did I mention you don't actually have to be pregnant to wear these gowns, also? That's just how versatile these gowns really are!


It's through The Wardrobe that I'm hoping to instill in mothers that incredible feeling I felt while pregnant, but at no additional charge. There's enough costs and stress associated with being pregnant and becoming a mom that you don't need to add shopping for your perfect maternity dress in to the mix. I'll handle that. Remember, I'm a mom, too, I know what it's like.

I've carefully curated my client closet to include approximately 20 gowns (and counting) that will give you that show-stopping look to match the vibe or theme you're going for. Dreaming of a photoshoot on the beach? I've got a dress for that. Or maybe the luscious evergreens in the winter. I've got that, too, and a few faux-fur shawls to keep you extra warm.


So how do you go about getting into The Wardrobe? Contact me. It's as simple as that. Email me. Call me. Message me. I do my best to photograph expectant mothers around the 32 - 35 week mark - before you get too uncomfortable, and generally, before you risk going into pre-term labour. You'll have a private fitting with me in my studio, where you can try on the gowns and see which ones best suit your personality and make you feel your best. Each client is entitled to use two gowns from The Wardrobe for their maternity session. After your fitting, you'll take the dresses home and wear them to the photoshoot. I'll pick them up after the photoshoot and have them cleaned on my own dime. It's that easy.


So, what are you waiting for? Come see what The Wardrobe has in store for you. While being pregnant only lasts a few fleeting months, the photographs and memories captured will be timeless.



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