Female entrepreneurs are just like any other entrepreneurs – they hustle and grind just as much, just as hard. Yet, they still get put down.
In one of our features of a female entrepreneur, we received comments like these:
Well, there’s a quote that says, if people talk behind your back, it only means that you’re ahead of them.
Female entrepreneurs are often looked down upon and undervalued, and it happens more often than you think.
In an interview with TODAY, an industry-mate told photographer Annabel Law this: “Oh, you wore a miniskirt, that’s why you got the job right?”
So, it was only right that she clapped back and stood up for herself.
But when she embarked on her professional photography career at the tender age of 17, things didn’t go as smoothly as she had hoped.
People didn’t respect her and take her seriously because of how young she looked despite all the efforts in presenting herself as a professional, she told TODAY.
So she established Annabel Law Productions (ALPS) in 2012, assembling an all-female team of talents, hoping that these women don’t have to face the same discrimination as she did.
A Photographer’s Life In #nofilter
“To be honest, I became an entrepreneur because I didn’t have a choice,” she shared with TODAY.
Before ALPS, in 2012, the then-20-year-old Annabel had ran another photography business with a mentor who used to sell her work for a commission, according to Mothership.
She then split with that mentor as she felt she “could close her own deals” and started up ALPS the same year.
At that time, all Annabel “wanted to do was take photos”, but she had no connections and lacked experience in the wedding photography industry.
On top of that, she wasn’t managing her finances well.
So she reconnected with her mentor in 2014 because she thought it would be beneficial for her if she had someone with experience to guide her.
Annabel believed and trusted her mentor “with all [her] heart”, but she later discovered that her mentor had been out to take advantage of her inexperience.
The young photographer was told to take a salary so small she could barely get by on, she recounted to Mothership.
When Annabel found out her mentor has been using her personal credit card to pay for work expenses for the perks, and then claiming the expenses from the corporate account, she decided not to confront her mentor and gradually ‘ghosted’ her instead.
Annabel later received a “hefty bill” from her mentor as remuneration for the accounting work, but it was so shoddy that she had to spend another sum of money to clean up the books.
Mothership wrote that Annabel was “fleeced” $20,000 during this episode.
Annabel recalled crying for one week because a couple wrote a comment on a forum that “[her] work was good but [she] was just too young”.
“The journey was… [very] tough as I was only 20 and trying to find my own identity. Managing a team and trying to become a new leader was a journey of discovery,” Annabel shared with us.
In hindsight, the 27-year-old said that she wanted to be the best for everyone but it was unattainable because it was impossible to please everyone.
“When I just started, many people did not give me a chance solely because of my youth and lack of experience,” she said.
“Today, I understand that I am who I am because of the few people who encouraged and motivated me to be the best version of myself.”
When Life Gives Lemons, Make Art
Speaking to CLEO, Annabel is revealed to be home-schooled through the American syllabus and has never sat for any national exams like PSLE, ‘O’ Levels, and ‘A’ Levels.
She felt that she has missed out on the secondary school experience and “hated being different”.
When asked if she felt like she had a disadvantaged over her industry peers, she said, “Of course, disadvantage is an understatement.”
She added that when she was in school, results were everything and that it had been ingrained in her that achieving results was what determined her life and future.
Add to that, she said that most people in the art industry were not willing to share their skills.
But being the go-getter that she is, Annabel spends a lot of her time learning everything, from photography to hair to sales management, from YouTube.
Once, her colleague, Pez, had been cyber-bullied by a client.
Past and current clients then jumped to their defenses and supported Annabel and her team.
“Sometimes, we have to deal with clients who have misaligned expectations and we try our best to find a middle ground,” she explained.
When couples get difficult, Annabel shared that they’ll try to compromise and work towards solving the problem, adding that they will apologise if they made any mistakes.
“[We] also understand that we are unable to please everyone,” she said.
Logistics-wise, Annabel said that ALPS has implemented a system where everyone is made to be responsible for themselves
The team has to ensure batteries are charged and liaison with clients are clear and accurate, and once the event is complete, they have to backup the photos immediately, no excuses.
On what keeps her going at work, Annabel shared, “I always ask myself if I’m good enough.”
“I try to practice self-love and always push myself to be better everyday so I don’t become stagnant.”
She wants other women to do the same and convey the message that every women is beautiful in their own ways.
Women Supporting Women
One advantage she believes female photographers have is that they “can better relate to brides” and becoming their “pillar of support”, she told Mothership.
To be able to have a ‘girl talk’ with brides is a nice feeling, she said, and I agree.
Having walked down the aisle myself, it’s actually comforting when the makeup artist I engaged could casually talk to me about everyday makeup items and food spots I should try, and reassure me that everything would go smoothly.
“There was once I was shooting for a bride who had fever and my assistant and I took turns to take care of her,” Annabel recounted.
The experience was rewarding because they wanted to be more than just a photographer and an assistant, providing service beyond what’s expected of their roles.
“[It’s] tiring to be a princess for the whole day!” Annabel quipped.
Her most memorable wedding was when four couples got married at the same time.
It was quite a sight to see each pair of newlyweds and their parents “queueing up to [get] married”, she shared.
Through ALPS, Annabel is also able to help other female photographers in their journey and equip them with knowledge on tackling the issues she faced before.
“I want to change the [perception] in the industry [and] I am open to teaching this skill to everyone. There are no limits to what I am willing to share with the younger generation,” she told us.
“It’s lonely to fight battles alone, but as a team, we can be better and stronger.”
One of her great motivations to work hard came from the feeling indebted to her father, who was in between jobs when he lent her the money to start up without hesitating.
She knew “finances were tight” so she worked hard and persevered to pay him back.
Now, ALPS has pulled off 700 shoots in seven years, with 200 shoots in just 2018 alone.
The company has grown 200% year-on-year revenue and is projected to hit a over half a million dollars by end-2019, and they plan to expand to China and Indonesia next year.
Having gone through what she has, her advice to fellow photographers and aspiring young photographers:
She reminds them to appreciate their roots and to remember the people who have helped them become who they are now.
“Sometimes life can be tough but don’t give up because we must always look forward towards our goal,” she shared.
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