It’s Female Founder Friday, and it is a pleasure to introduce you to woman entrepreneur, Dorie Howell. Dorie is the founder of IPS Mastermind, a unique, online learning community for photographers who want to learn how to run successful and profitable businesses. Through the IPS Mastermind membership, photographers gain access to over 60 classes focused on marketing, pricing, customer experience, sales, and more. IPS classes are taught by a diverse group of working photographers enabling our members to receive input and advice from a variety of viewpoints and experiences. Members can also engage in a strong social community that provides them support and encouragement from like-minded business owners and instructors.
So if you’re considering a photography business, or are curious how a formally trained opera singer ended up building a huge learning and support community for photographers…. Don’t miss Dorie’s startup story and sage advice for fellow female founders below.
What inspired you to create your company?
When we started IPS Mastermind we were looking to solve a problem for ourselves. My business partner and I were looking for real help and advice from other photographers who had traveled this journey before us, and we didn’t want to get all of this information from one place like a standard mentorship program. We wanted insight and ideas from lots of places. As photography business owners, so many times we learn how to capture great images but we aren’t taught how to sell them in a way that is profitable or sustainable for small businesses. My partner and I wanted that kind of education. It didn’t exist so we created it. We were already running a Facebook group of almost 35,000 members at the time, so we knew we had a message that people wanted to hear and were coming to our space on Facebook to learn. Now our Facebook group is about to celebrate 60,000 members and we have a couple thousand in our paid membership. Watching it grow and seeing how we have helped so many people has been one of my biggest rewards.
What was your biggest obstacle and failure in going from idea to business?
Wow, so many. Moving from full-time photographer to full-time membership site owner (while still an active, working photographer) was not easy. There were so many things that I didn’t know and really had no resources to find the answers to. So little by little, when a problem came up I went out and found people to help solve the problem. I wish I could say that after two years we were free of obstacles but that simply isn’t the case.
I think the biggest problem was moving past the idea that when we had a problem we could ask a few people who “knew a guy” who could help. We moved out of the “we know a guy” part of our business very quickly so finding great, qualified assistance in certain areas was hard, expensive and necessary. Oh, and time, there simply is not enough time to get everything done that needs to be done.
The other obstacle or challenge was that my business partner and I started our business not really knowing each other… AT ALL. We knew each other online and had met at a dinner once, but that was it. It was one of those whirlwind things that just sort of happened. Like when you hear of people who meet each other and are married three weeks later. It happened so fast! We were at a conference, were roommates and at the end of four days, we had a plan in place to start a business. This isn’t something that I would recommend for most people but for us, it worked. It hasn’t always been easy, after all, not everyone wants to do things the same way even when you have a common goal. However, I feel incredibly fortunate that our partnership has remained strong and we have been able to respect each other’s differences while staying true to what we set out to do for our members. As we didn’t really know each other, this was a big decision to go ahead and start a business with this person. I remember one of my friends telling me to put a lot of precautions in place, just in case. Whilst some of her suggestions didn’t seem that beneficial, one of them did stand out. She told me that both business partners can take out life insurance, ensuring that the business can continue to operate after the sudden death of a business owner. Whilst that was a little bit morbid to think about, it did seem worthwhile. She told us that we could learn more about that sort of insurance online. We’d obviously need to compare life insurance quotes before purchasing the first one we saw, but that did seem useful.
What are you afraid of?
I am not one that lives in fear. But I think with IPS Mastermind I do feel an incredible obligation to our members and to our staff. I never want to let them down in any way. I know that our business has absolutely changed the lives of many of our members and staff. We hear the success stories every day. With that comes an incredible responsibility that I don’t take lightly.
We are moving from a simple membership site to something that will enable small group coaching, live events, and even better member-driven content. There are so many directions we can go with what we are doing, that the options are really endless. It is very exciting! On the personal front, I am looking forward to my speaking opportunities this year at several local Professional Photographers of America Chapters around the country and traveling around the country to meet our members face to face.
What is a life or business hack that you recommend to help other female founders?
Outsource, Outsource, Outsource. Even before you think you can afford it. You can easily get bogged down in the weeds of the everyday tasks that someone else can be trained to do. Give someone else the opportunity of doing that job so you can concentrate on what you really should be doing in your business. The dreariness of what is holding you down can become someone else’s blessing.
If you had a theme song what would it be?
I am a formally trained Opera Singer so I have lots of songs that I love that inspire me. They all hit me at different times depending on the situation. I also love Musical Theater and there is such great inspiration from the stories that are told from the stage. And I have been know to break out belting the Backstreet Boys on occasion. I simply do not think I can name one particular song but some of my favorites in different genres are “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,” sung by the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute by Mozart. “Great I Am,” by Phillips, Craig and Dean. This song, especially when performed with a full orchestra just moves me so much. “My Shot,” from Hamilton, “Defying Gravity,” from Wicked. “Roar” by Katy Perry and finally one of the best songs ever, “I Want it that Way,” by the Backstreet Boys. I could go on and on…
Please share your best piece of advice for aspiring female founders.
Be true to yourself and your vision, but don’t get so stuck in your vision that you can’t be flexible and adapt as you develop your plan. So many times we start with an idea and the end result doesn’t look anything like we thought it would when we started. That is okay. We change and adapt as people, so it makes sense that our businesses do as well.