Name: Katie Wondolowski
Business Name/Occupation: Vows & Valor
When did you know starting a business was right for you? Tell us about your business: I began a photography business in 2011 while I was a photography student at Temple University. I had a skill and I wanted to provide it with the people I loved and people I didn't know yet, but that I knew I would love! My business grew and lead me to meeting fellow photographer and military spouse, Lauren Nygard. We had both individually wanted to start a military focused wedding blog because we saw there was such a lack of inspiration and resources for that niche, but building that alone is such a huge task. In December 2013 we decided to go into business together creating a home for military wedding inspiration, military marriage advice, stories, and resources and a home on the internet for supporters of military love and marriage to come together. Today, we feature professional photographs and videos of exquisite military weddings, engagements, anniversaries and homecomings alongside love stories of the featured couples, wedding & honeymoon inspiration, marriage advice, opportunities to create community with other girlfriends, fiancees, and spouses in our Vows & Valor Society and much more.
What is the most amazing thing you have experienced in business?: The most amazing thing so far has been the widespread desire for community and celebrating all the wonderful things about life in the military, while also sharing the realities of the struggles we face. Despite the distance, different branches and walks of life we all share so many things in common and being able to connect women over those things across the country is so eye opening and life giving.
What is the most disheartening thing you have encountered in your career as a military spouse?: I have struggled a lot with finding roots and a support system with the threat of moving always in the back of my mind. Two weeks after our wedding, we moved from New York to California where we essentially knew no one. My husband was involved with the heavy work-up schedule and then a 7 month deployment so I was in search of close friends and a community to surround myself with. It took a decent amount of time to find "my people" and now that I have them and the season for orders has come around, its so sad to think about saying goodbye.
What advice would you give a military spouse, interested in starting their own business?: You are not alone! There are so many entrepreneurs, creatives and motivated people who are doing this and can share the highs and the lows with you. Reach out into your networks and find others who are in the same place as you! Even if they aren't military, it is incredibly more rewarding to have a cheerleading squad who knows the struggles you face and will celebrate WITH you when you achieve amazing things with your business!
What is the most challenging thing about being a military spouse and business owner? What is the most rewarding thing?: The biggest challenge thus far is not being overwhelmed by the To Do list- especially when you're having to find new clientele after a PCS, re-establishing yourself in the marketplace or online, keeping up with licensing, certification and other government requirements or change your whole business approach because it just won't work in your current market. It's hard and the amount of things you have to cross off your list can be daunting!
The most rewarding thing about being a spouse and business owner is having control over my career. I can take it with me wherever I go, I can reach other spouses and lift them up and I can make a difference. There is nothing wrong with a 9-5 or working for a larger company, but I feel I've been called to do more than that and I love having the opportunity to do that in so many places!
How did it feel when you made your first sale?: When you begin your business, every little achievement is a huge celebration! When Vows & Valor started and we were finally reaching our target audience, connecting with wedding vendors that truly love and support members of the military and creating something that was so needed it just made all the stress and weight of the hard work fall off my shoulders.
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?: I never expected how long it would take to feel comfortable in a new place. San Diego was a place I loved before we moved here but it didn't feel like home for almost an entire year! Now that it feels like home, I never want to leave!
What is one business goal you hope to accomplish by the end of this year?: I would love to bring the Vows & Valor community from being solely online to real-life in-person gatherings! There's so much spouses can share with newlyweds and those getting ready to enter the married-to-the-military life!
As a military spouse, or business owner, I know one thing for certain. It is . . .: I love my husband for so many reasons, and our life in the military will not change that.
What strengths do you possess, that you did not know you had, until you became an entrepreneur?: I have been told that I make people feel very welcomed and comfortable. I'm an introvert so I thought this was very interesting when I was "forced" to work with a lot of people I didn't necessarily know previously.
My biggest fear is . . . : Being taken advantage of by the military. I have seen friends with career paths and lives that were ideal only to have an unavoidable circumstance or change happen that was out of their control and their whole lives turned upside down.
My greatest accomplishment is . . .: committing to never stop learning. I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree, I took on the role as co-founder and co-editor of this blog and I went back to school to get my massage Therapy certification. I still have plans to go to graduate school and continue learning as long as I can!
When I grow up I want to be . . . : a mom-preneur! I can't wait to start our family and continue to grow my businesses and help support our family!
In 2050 I hope military spouses are/can/have/achieve . . .: are more focused on community than rank. We share a connection despite having different pay grades, let's focus on what we can offer each other than what makes us different.
Why do military spouses make great entrepreneurs?: Military spouses are incredible adept at acting quickly, finding out what they need to know fast, and just getting out there to do whatever needs to be done! Whether it's finding a new home at a new base, re-establishing your family in a different country, or sharing your talents in with others who need them, military spouses rock at getting the job done.
What is your legacy?: I want my legacy to be love & community. If I were to choose one word to live by it would be love... sharing my strengths and building others up with the sole purpose of sharing the love is how I want to be remembered.
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/vowsandvalor