Lilly Goga was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. This lovely area of Canada is rich in history and near vistas that inspire some of the most interesting art. Lily was not immune to the architecture, history, or countryside. From childhood, she was always fascinated by the world around her. This fascination translated into art. Often she drew pictures, created venues with legos, or developed some kind of finger painting that reflected what she saw. This continued until she found her love for the camera.
As a teen Lily Goga began taking pictures of the world around her. By the time she entered college she began taking pictures for others. While going to school for STEM related programs she realized her heart wasn’t in it. While she enjoys the environment, she would rather photograph it. A friend entered one of her images into a school photography contest, which she took second place in. That’s when she realized where she should be in her career.
She changed her degree program from the sciences to art and began absorbing every photography class she could take. Over time, she discovered she could earn money online as a freelancer with several of the stock photography sites. This helped her get focused on turning her passion into an income. Today she is a private photographer with a specialty in outdoor weddings, family events, and individual portraits.
Because her joy is her job, even in her free time she ventures off to create portraits of the mountains and views around Calgary.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
Really, everything around me inspired me to get started as a photographer. It was the beauty that I saw through the camera lens on a trip I took with my parents that got me hooked. After that first vacation where I filled the memory card, there was no turning back.
There was a family reunion not long after that where I convinced all of my cousins to allow me to take their pictures. When I printed them later my mother thought we had hired someone, and I had to explain that they were mine.
At first, I didn’t think I could make a living doing this though. I’m so happy that isn’t the case.
How do you make money?
It’s a service for a fee exchange. This means that my clients pay me to take their pictures. We work out the best arrangement and organize a time. If it is for a wedding, I make sure to bring all of my equipment so that I am prepared for any picture that we might want to take, even on the spur of the moment.
There is really nothing more beautiful than a new bride and her handsome husband standing on the right bridge or cliff with the snow-capped mountains in the background. Sometimes it takes a bit to find the right position, but we always do.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
Once I really began to do this as a business instead of a hobby, I was profitable fairly quickly. Many people at my school and in my community knew that I was a photographer. I was booked quickly and often.
In addition to private events and photograph sessions, I started to use the stock photography sites to generate a more passive income. That bit that I get from the image sites each month is more than I could have anticipated when I first started. I take an image and upload it to the site once. They pay indefinitely after that.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I did, but really it was before I started looking at this as a business. I thought it was a hobby that wouldn’t do much for me. A friend directed me to the stock photography sites. I can’t recall which one I uploaded to first, but I got a payment fairly quickly after I did. That first day I must have uploaded to three or four different sites. Anyway, that first bit of money that came in was more than anything I read indicated I should be getting. That changed my perspective. Some of those images still pay me today.
How did you get your first customer?
It was a friend’s mother. She needed new images for her work portfolio. I offered to take them for free and to retake them if needed. She agreed, but once she saw the images, she put a hundred dollars in my hand. She then sent me another person to take pictures of. Everything grew from there.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works well to generate new business?
That’s tough to do. I use the stock photography sites, like I mentioned, but they aren’t the primary source of income. They do offer me a nice place to show off what I can do with a camera. That has really given me some leverage when speaking to possible clients as well.
The only other strategy that I have found that works for generating some new business is my Pinterest and Instagram accounts. I manage them with fresh images and shares wherever possible. Each of those sites have led people to book portrait sessions with me or weddings.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
I had to back out of a family reunion event. It wasn’t my family, but one that had been booked at the last minute. There was some doubt about how I would get paid and I was requested to appear without a deposit. This was for a friend that I didn’t want to disappoint, but there was no way I could justify setting that time aside for this event when a wedding that paid twice as much as I would have gotten from this event booked for the same day.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I think it’s because I have so much fun with it. The clients I have know they can relax with me and we just go with what works most of the time. This really gives me the ability to create the most beautiful, natural images that convey fun and excitement in each moment. My clients enjoy what we do together, and this is something that truly never gets old.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
That first moment someone told me and then paid me for my work. It was so exciting to realize my hobby could be my dream. Then the images on the stock photo sites also paid well in a short period. I don’t believe you can ever knock the feeling that you are good at what you love and better than you could expect to be.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
My future is going to be more of the same. I love what I’m doing. It’s just me and while I would like to book more international trips, this is what I want to do with my life. I couldn’t imagine life doing anything else. This has been exciting, enjoyable, and fun.
What business books have inspired you?
This may seem a little off, but I really don’t read many business books. I do enjoy information on photography. I pay attention to laws that may affect my work. I develop an action plan that enables me to continue doing what I love to do. A business book simply hasn’t been interesting enough to pick up or supplement my work.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I just picked up new memory cards and a new lens for my favorite Cannon Camera. My last lens ended up in a creek after a shoot. I really can’t do much without this one specifically, so I replaced it quickly.