Adrienne Vilela – Owner (Photographer and Cinematographer) at Aia Photography – discovers how quitting her day job led to more than just success.
Stnce is a platform that believes confidence is the key to taking financial ownership. This is part of a new series we call, “Not at the Table!” where we ask people to address the elephant in the room – the taboos of personal finance.
I thought that starting a photography and videography business was the dream – and I’m glad I did – but after doing it for five years, I want more.
I’ve always been drawn to careers that are traditionally male-dominant. I enjoy hearing, Oh! I wouldn’t have thought you were a barber. I enjoy walking onto the basketball court as the referee or the coach as the only woman in the gym. And I enjoy showing up at an event as the photographer or videographer and saying, Yes, I’m who you were looking for when they were expecting a man. That feeling has motivated me to become an entrepreneur and do things people didn’t expect from me, a petite Asian girl from the suburbs. Something I hear all the time is, “Why do you want to play basketball and take photos? You’re a girl.” Or I’ll show up to a game as the referee, and someone will tell me to change out of my work uniform because they thought I had just finished a shift at Foot Locker. In those moments, I feel so inspired to show them what I can do and not hang my head. It’s why I want to open a basketball court. I see a need in the community for a place where kids can learn how to play without any pressure or judgement, and the need for a sports facility that’s run by a woman.
… it can be intimidating to walk into a bank or talk to an advisor, armed with very little knowledge and big aspirations.
Of course, goals are one thing. Financially, there’s a steep learning curve. When I started my photography business, there were a lot of things I hadn’t done before, but it was straightforward. With that, I had to set up payroll, get my accounts in order, keep my clients’ files organized, assess whether I needed a line of credit, and ensure enough money was being put back into the business. With this basketball facility, there are a lot more things I don’t understand. It’s a different industry. I need to put together a business proposal, secure an investor, build a five-year plan, and consider grants for small businesses from the Canadian government. The idea of applying for loans and grants was an eye-opening experience because I had always thought I’d have to work my a** off and save a million dollars before I could get started. I’m currently working with a friend who deals with financial planning every day to make sure I’m making the right decisions. They’re a connection I’m incredibly grateful for because it can be intimidating to walk into a bank or talk to an advisor, armed with very little knowledge and big aspirations.
My experience with the photography business makes me feel confident I can open a basketball facility – it feels like a similar premise, only on a much larger scale. Although I have to admit, it was nice when I had a predictable income, a pension, and benefits. When I had a day job, the steadiness allowed me to reinvest everything I made back into the business, buy better equipment, save for a house, and start a family. Being self-employed, I have to navigate my finances a little differently. There’s a lot of short-term thinking because the gigs are planned only so far in advance. At the same time, being able to put all my attention on it has allowed me to triple the number of clients and start to rely on their accounts. The growth has been especially evident with the wedding side of it as I’ve gone from ten bookings to thirty in one year. When I decided to cut some of the other stuff I was doing, like coaching, and spend all my time on developing the business, I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. But I sought a lot of advice and gradually, I started to understand what it takes to build it up correctly. Now, I’m looking into expanding and hiring more people to take on more significant projects so I can schedule events on the same day. I want to get it to the point where I can spend a full day focusing on the basketball facility without having to worry about what will happen at gigs because I’m not physically there.
The whole, “Is this possible?” question still isn’t answered for me yet. Just thinking about the cost of the facility is a little overwhelming. (It’s really expensive). The planning process has undoubtedly given me a lot to think about, but I’m getting there.
As told to Cara Lau exclusively for Stnce. Illustration by Yana Vorontsov. We make taking financial ownership approachable and relatable.