Cyndi Araujo has lived in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania for her entire life. From the time she was a young girl growing up in Robinson Township, she has always nurtured an artistic and creative outlook on life, with dance being a primary interest that continued through her college years at Slippery Rock University. While at Slippery Rock she developed an interest in visual arts: drawing, painting and photography. Perhaps this interest was passed down from her father, Rick, an accomplished artist in his own right.
Although she has always loved the arts, Cyndi’s practical side required her to expand her studies to include business and communication in an effort to round out her education and become more marketable in the working world. The skills and experience Cyndi acquired during her time at Slippery Rock University have proven to be invaluable.
Shortly after graduation Cyndi received an employment offer from USAirways/American Airlines as a flight attendant. It was during this time that she met her future husband, Tony Araujo, also a flight attendant. For over 10 years Cyndi enjoyed traveling the globe and experiencing different cultures. With a camera always at her side, she captured the sights and, in the process, continued to develop her style as a photographer.
As much as she loved to travel, she very much loved being home with Tony in their little house in Sewickley, PA. As each year passed it became harder to leave that little house so eventually Cyndi began to consider a career change that would allow her to be home more.
Since childhood, her love of art never wavered so it is not surprising that photography weighed heavily in her new career choice.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
It was my love of photography, along with my desire to be home more that was my inspiration. Even though still photography was my first love, my first work experience in the wedding industry was actually with a small video production company in Pittsburgh.
How do you make money?
It’s about 90% of our income is wedding photography. In addition to that, we shoot former wedding clients as they start their new family…pregnancy shoots, new borns, etc.
We also do limited commercial and editorial work for local and regional magazines and other businesses.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
Well, we feel very lucky to be able to say that we were profitable the first year! There was a short overlap of careers before we left the airline industry, but it was a surprisingly smooth transition. The ability to adjust our flight schedules to accommodate our new business during this time was extremely helpful.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I think there are always doubts when you are making life altering decisions. During our time at the airline, we had enough seniority that we could pretty much work when we wanted. Being able to be home for weddings was usually pretty easy to arrange. We were lucky in that we did not have to leave the airline until our wedding photography business was pretty much established. We had a safety net.
How did you get your first customer?
After my early stint with the video production company I was an assistant for a well known local wedding photographer. That association opened up many contacts with most all of the popular photographers in the area. We became part of a great network and my first wedding client came through that group…and many more after that!
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
That’s a tough question because we are so heavily booked due almost exclusively to referrals. I can’t tell you how many families where we have photographed a daughter’s wedding, then the next daughter or son’s wedding, then someone who was in the bridal party of one of those weddings, and even people who were guests at one of those weddings!
Another marketing strategy I really enjoy is actively submitting our weddings to local and national publications. We’ve had a great many magazine and website feature articles. It’s a lot of extra work, but it really helps. I remember sitting down once with a prospective client. She had brought along with her several pictures that she had ripped from the pages of a wedding magazine for the purpose of showing me the type of pictures that she loved and just had to have for her own wedding. She had no idea that the pictures that she was showing me were my own work! We had a great laugh over that. Can you believe she did not hire me??? Just kidding! She was one of my all time favorite brides!
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
That’s easy: Website, website, website! And we are still working on it. Our dream website would be nothing but images and a contact page. I mean, that’s what we are all about…images! Unfortunately, search engines don’t process pictures too well. I’m learning that ranking well on a search page means you need a lot of words to accompany those images. That goes against the artist in me, but what can you do?
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Making clients happy! That’s why we sometimes do two or even three weddings from within the same family. Of course, making clients happy is really not that difficult. After all, our clients are already attracted to our style of photography and our products…so then it becomes a matter of just doing what we do and not taking short cuts.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Without sounding corny, I have to say it’s bringing happiness to our clients. When we receive an email or a thank-you note from a bride, or her mom or dad…a truly heartfelt expression of what those images mean to the family…it’s sobering sometimes. Perhaps it’s about a loved one who passed away shortly after the wedding and how much the family treasures some of the last images of when they were all together.
We’ve done over 400 weddings and we always remain aware that each is special and unique, yet it is good to occasionally remind ourselves of the emotion and power an image can evoke.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Honestly, we just hope for more of the same. We feel so lucky to have had the success that we have while doing something that we love.
What business books have inspired you?
No business books…wedding books and magazines. After all these years, I’m still addicted to beautiful wedding pictures.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
We recently purchase and built out an old loft in downtown Pittsburgh. It was an old brewery that was built in 1891 and has brick walls 3 feet thick! We live and work here and are having a blast. We have so much more room for our business.
What is the most important thing to consider for a bride who loves pictures?
Time! There are a lot of things happening on your wedding day and it’s easy to lose track of your schedule. You need to have a plan. That’s why we like to create a photography time line with all of our clients. Get ready early and enjoy the day!!!