Kirsten Wollschlager of Kirsten Ashley Photography & Design. 

Kirsten Wollschlager of Kirsten Ashley Photography & Design. 

Name: Kirsten Wollschlager

Business Name/Occupation: Kirsten Ashley Photography & Design Lifestyle Photography | Calligraphy | Branding Identity Design

When did you know starting a business was right for you? Tell us about your business: Four years ago I was happily working as an architect at a highly esteemed firm in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Then I {quite literally} bumped into my future husband at a Halloween party and my life completely changed. I moved to Germany to be with my husband after we were married, which meant that I had to quit my fantastically awesome job that I loved. Living in a foreign country was a dream come true, but in the realm of job opportunities, my options were extremely limited. I didn't feel that I spoke enough German to apply for work with a German architect, but I knew that I needed to keep my design skills fresh while I lived abroad. I also knew that I needed to have something to occupy my time at home, or I'd go absolutely stir crazy! Enter Kirsten Ashley Photography & Design. I was able to take my design skills from architecture and transfer them over to creating my own business with design as the central focus.

Kirsten Ashley Photography & Design is split into two parts for my two great loves: photography and design. The photography side encompasses lifestyle portraiture for families, engaged couples, high school seniors, and small business headshots. I aim to capture a glimpse of real life in extraordinary ways with genuine laughter, great scenery, and true interaction between profound individuals. The design side includes both calligraphy and branding identity design. My obsession with handwriting and beautiful scripts became more than a hobby as I offer bespoke invitation suites and addressing for weddings, parties, graduations, showers, and holidays. I also have a true vested interest in the power behind the brand of a small business. I offer branding services that culminate in helping the owner understand who the business is and what it represents from the target market research, hand drawn logo design, custom marketing materials such as business cards and letterheads, to the digital world of web, blog, social media, & email design. I strive for complete and utter authenticity for each business brand and adore designing for creative entrepreneurs like photographers and writers.

I knew that if I started this business I would wake up everyday ecstatic about my job and eager to work, and I would have the added bonus of being able to put it on a resume for the rest of my life. This added bonus would be extremely beneficial if I decided I wanted to go back into architecture or design if/when we moved back stateside.

Your own unique style makes you highly valuable. No one can do what you do, the way YOU do it. Never forget that.
— Kirsten Wollschlager

What is the most amazing thing you have experienced in business?: The most amazing thing I have experienced is having people I admire and respect recognize and appreciate all of the hard work that goes into each project. It's like the ultimate gold star to have an industry leader give you a virtual high five. I truly love what I do and the crazy thing is that people out there love my work enough to hire me and pay me for it. That in and of itself, blew my mind. So often we underestimate our talents and think we "aren't good enough". Well, I'm here to tell you that you are! Your own unique style makes you highly valuable. No one can do what you do, the way YOU do it. Never forget that.

What is the most disheartening thing you have encountered in your career as a military spouse?: Moving around every three to four years is an awesome adventure, but it can wreak havoc with your entrepreneurship. You get to a new city and have to leave your old awesome client base behind. You have to re-register your business which is a great deal of paperwork and fees. Trying to integrate yourself into a community, especially a big one, can be enough of a hurdle to make you want to throw in the towel. Moving to a new location is like starting your business all over again from scratch. It's painful.... it can be extremely difficult and might sometimes pull you into that swirling vortex of "I can't". I encourage you to change your perspective on this matter and see it not as an obstacle, but an opportunity to grow and flex your weakened skill muscles that come from being complacent in your business. Keep pushing forward through the waves of change and you WILL break through on the other side stronger, smarter, and more well rounded. Moving your business takes time and you may not immediately have the flourishing well oiled machine you had in your old city. Have patience, and continue to build your dream.

What career challenges have you faced because you are a military spouse?: Location, location, location! Being a military spouse means living relatively close to {if not on} a military base. Most bases {and posts!} are located in small towns, sometimes seemingly in the middle of nowhere. This means you miss out on all the fun of urban living in a big city. While this isn't a problem for scenic photography, it tends to wreak havoc with finding supplies, having equipment serviced, and being able to market to city clientele. As a business owner, you get creative though. You learn enough German to find what you're looking for at a small town kraft store..... or market products {branding, calligraphy, & graphic design!} that can be purchased via email through a signed contract. I am super psyched to be a mere three hours away from big city Dallas, Texas! Oh the possibilities....

What advice would you give a military spouse, interested in starting their own business?: Create a business plan. Be smart, and make smart decisions. Take care of all of the legalities {licenses, registration, DBA's, etc} involving your business FIRST, don't wait. If you want something for your business, but don't have the skill, delegate and hire a vendor, it's completely worth your time and sanity. Do your market research, and have a healthy understanding of the other businesses out there in your area that are like yours. DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS... you are on your own journey and walking your own path. Be professional in all aspects of your business, from your emails, to your wording when you are talking with a client, to the writing on your blog, and your website. People are more inclined to take you seriously if you take yourself seriously. Go the extra mile when dealing with a client, they will appreciate it more than you could ever know. Get insurance to cover liabilities. Learn the business side of your businesses. Hire an accountant, it's worth it {especially in a foreign country!} Take it one day at a time, and NEVER GIVE UP.

What is the most challenging thing about being a military spouse and business owner? What is the most rewarding thing?: The most challenging moments were those where I would explain to someone {aka random military associated person} that I had my own business and got the eye roll that said "Oh man... another military spouse with a camera....". I am extremely proud of the company I have built and I have to remind myself that I am a professional photographer not "a wife with a camera". This is one of those instances where you just have to be smart and patient and kind with your responses, and not let it get you down. These types of people are not my ideal clients, nor do I work with them, so I focus on not letting their negativity affect me.

The most rewarding part is getting positive feedback from amazing clients. I love it when my clients will oooo ahhh and fuss over their final products. To have a client be so ecstatic about your work that they run and show it to everyone they know which gives you exponentially abounding amounts of gold stars {Have I mentioned that I LOVE gold stars?} I had a client tell me the other day "I want to be you when I grow up!", I was glowing with happiness for a week off of their compliment! It is very rewarding indeed to be able to create beautiful things for people, making the ordinary something completely magical and way beyond what they could have ever imagined.

How did it feel when you made your first sale?: My first sale was a family photo shoot in Germany, where the husband was in the Air Force and the wife was German! I was over the moon about this session because they were my ideal client, exactly who I had been marketing towards. They loved their photos so much that they ordered over $500 worth of product at the in person "Reveal and Purchase Session". Everyone goes through those moments of "Can I actually do this?" and in that moment I felt that not only could I have my own business, I could rock it!!!

What is one obstacle you have faced as a business owner, or on a personal level, as a military spouse, that you would have never expected?: My husband and I met later in life and we both already had multiple college degrees and professional careers. I never realized how much of my identity was wrapped up in calling myself an architect. After moving to Germany I struggled with the fact that I no longer had a professional career and I discovered how the need to feel successful was directly tied to my happiness. It took a long time for me to realize that I loved photography and graphic design just as much as I loved architecture and I could be just as proud to talk about my profession as an entrepreneur and business owner. A wise friend once told me during a particularly low point "Why are you continuing to walk the path you set up for yourself so long ago, when you clearly chose to walk a different path here?" It was then that I knew I needed to get over my fears and fully embrace my business as a part of who I am, letting go of my old life and expectations.

What is one business goal you hope to accomplish by the end of this year?: My husband and I PCS'd to Abilene, Texas in January. My main goal is to build a new client base here and network relationships with the folks in the area, so that I can set myself up for success. Moving to a new city is a bit like building your business from scratch, so I will be fortifying my foundation this year here in Texas. I want KAPD to be a part of the community, and well known for photography and graphic design.

As a military spouse, or business owner, I know one thing for certain. It is . . .: I LOVE MY JOB. It is absolutely amazing that I wake up every morning and can't wait to get to work {which is a short walk to my office!}. I am grateful to have discovered an alternative profession that makes me giddy with excitement. My favorite time of day is the morning when I am sitting at my desk with a cup of coffee and my calendar asking myself "What do I get to do for KAPD today?". I thank my husband profusely for allowing me to take this leap of faith and pursue an alternate dream.

What strengths do you possess, that you did not know you had, until you became an entrepreneur?: I was surprised to discover how much I loved the "business side" of my business. Most people don't realize that as a photographer, 10% of what you do is take pictures. The rest is all behind the scenes research, admin paperwork, documentation, excel spreadsheets, workflow charts, marketing etc. I found that due to my strong attention to details and crazy perfectionist nature, I was always on top of those things perhaps more than I was on top of my creative work. When you are an entrepreneur, you wear a great many hats like marketing, HR, accounting, creative director, and I was happy to learn that I could excel at the business administration side of my company.

My biggest fear is . . . : Why failure, of course! This word has vastly different meanings to different people, so let me explain. I consider failure to be not seeing my company to it's greatest potential. To quit or be forced to quit before I'm ready. I consider success to be seeing all of the possibilities through to the very end and I am always afraid I won't push myself outside of my comfort zone or see my business grow because I'm scared to take that leap. The good news is that I know things in business are not going to go perfectly every time. I will make mistakes. I will sometimes not make the smartest decisions. The best I can do is arm myself with patience and the knowledge that experience builds character; knowing that each failure makes me smarter, more informed, and that much closer to success.

My greatest accomplishment is . . .: Never giving up. My mother raised my brother and I to work hard in school and she taught us that whatever we wanted in this life we could achieve with hard work and patience. My mother was super mom, she had a dynamite career in chemical engineering {another male dominated field} and she was a rockstar chef, creative soul, quilter, gardener, and had one of the most amazing volleyball serves I have ever seen. She will forever be my role model even though she is no longer living today, and I thank God she taught me to never give up. To always keep fighting, even if it seems hopeless. She taught me that never giving up meant holding your dreams in the palm of your hands, because they were real and attainable. I think she would be very proud of me and all I have accomplished as an entrepreneur.

When I grow up I want to be . . . : Exactly who I am, just better. Smarter. Wiser. Less fearful. More balanced. I hope to have pushed the envelope for KAPD and expanded creatively into teaching calligraphy classes. I also hope to have a studio outside of my home, my very own creative space where I can work my magic everyday!

In 2050 I hope military spouses are/can/have/achieve . . .: I hope military spouses don't let the fact that they are a "military spouse" hold them back. Particularly women. I hope that we inspire every culture to never forget the power of your imagination. Too often I have seen the women of today be stifled into believing they "can't" either by their own inner demons, or through the influence of others. I want the military wives of 2050 to be fearless in what they can accomplish and achieve. I want them to be crusaders for those who cannot help themselves. Our compassion and empathy can be powerful tools to help open the eyes of the world to its own suffrage and weakness. Truly I hope military wives are respected for their talents and revered for their grace and fortitude even more so than they are today.

Why do military spouses make great entrepreneurs?: I think military spouses have the fortunate gift of entrepreneurship because they can pursue a passion without having to worry about being the sole breadwinner. When you have the liberty of doing what you love without the overwhelming fear of "no sale = no food", the possibilities are endless. Don't get me wrong, I want to out earn my husband and having two incomes is extremely fortunate, but I would have far less flexibility if he was in another career field. It really is a gift to be able to do what you love, simply because you love it.

What is your legacy?: After losing my mother to breast cancer in 2010, the empty mom-shaped hole was gaping and bottomless. It dawned on me that someday when I have children of my own they will never fully know the powerful inspirational magic my mother would throw around like confetti. I realized it would be my responsibility to instill what she has taught me and more importantly to help my kids to understand what a magnificently beautiful souled woman their grandmother was. My legacy is my mother's legacy, strong and vivacious, sprinkled with kindness and an iron will. I like to think my mother left her fingerprints on my heart when she left this world, and I will spend the rest of my living days trying to share her wisdom and inspiring attitude, reaching out to the lives of as many women as possible.

Twitter: @kaphotograph

Instagram: @kirstenashleyphotography

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