Self-taught photographer Norman Oates talks about the risk & reward of running his own business, and educating Black entrepreneurs on how to also become successful.
BLOOMFIELD, Conn. — We continue to shine a light on Black-owned businesses across Connecticut, as the U.S. recognizes Black Business Month.
This week’s stop was Norman Oates Photography based in Bloomfield.
Launched by Norman Oates in 2012, the entrepreneur said his business actually started as a hobby.
The Connecticut transplant said he bought his first camera in 2011 to shoot behind-the-scenes videos of him and his friends, who were making music at the time.
After realizing he enjoyed his camera more than the music, Oates sold all his recording equipment and used the money to buy new cameras and lenses.
He told FOX61 that he immediately started watching tutorials on YouTube.
“I just went through the ranks on how to edit better, how to run a business and how to properly start an LLC,” Oates said.
From 2012 to 2016, the self-taught photographer was working a full-time job and shooting on the side. He said he stretched to do both at the same time because he was scared to quit his job.
According to Oates, job security was imperative, but having a job that he didn’t love wasn’t uncommon for him.
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“I’ve had countless amounts of jobs over the years that I went to because I need to – I had bills to pay, the roof over my head, children, things of that nature – but I’ve never had a job that I truly enjoyed going to.”
He added that he identified with the saying: people dread Monday and are happy for Friday.
Oates said that was life until he found photography. Once he realized that his hobby could also provide income, he took the leap of faith to go full time with it and has seen much success for the past five years.
The entrepreneur said being a creative in Connecticut can often be a challenge, as many believe in order to be successful in his industry, one would have to leave and relocate to a major city – New York, Atlanta, Miami, California.
However, he was determined to cultivate in the Nutmeg State.
Norman Oates Photography primarily specializes in professional headshots, maternity portraits and weddings.
“Those three components are very joyous moments in peoples’ lives. Being able to capture those and them being shared over the internet, you see a lot of happiness in our community,” Oates said. “From being a new mom to starting your first business and getting that headshot for the business card or becoming one with a partner – so it’s very exciting to do that for my culture.”
As a Black business owner, Oates said he was shocked to learn how small a percentage of other entrepreneurs in the U.S. were like him.
So, he said recognition like Black Business Month was important to bring awareness and inspire.
Throughout the month of August, many are supporting companies or organizations with African Americans at the helm and according to Oates, a significant way people can show up for Black businesses is to share.
He said word of mouth has helped Norman Oates Photography get to where it is today.
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And with its success, Oates acquired a passion for motivating and educating other Black entrepreneurs on how to also become successful.
“I often say we are a very talented culture and very skillset, but a lot of us lack the knowledge of how to run an actual business,” he said.
Some of the areas he hopes to educate others in:
- How to provide value to your client, but also not undervalue yourself
- How to file taxes
- How to send contracts
- How to follow up
“It’s the business aspect that we lack a lot, and if we have that education, we can blast through so many different barriers,” Oates added.
The married, father-of-two said he wants to provide his sons with the tools to be successful in whatever avenues they pursue – whether it’s the traditional school route and working for a corporation or going out on their own with a trade.
“I’m more concerned with them finding work that makes them happy,” Oates said. “Because there are so many people who spend their entire lives, 30-40 years working because they had to and there’s so much regret in that.
The most important thing to Oates is the representation of someone living life free on their own time.
As the baby of seven siblings and a first-generation high school grad with a Liberal Arts degree from the University of Hartford, Oates said a lot of his own motivation comes from wanting to show the rest of his family that it can be done.
But he also gets his drive from someone else: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“Only because I’ve seen [him0 over the past 10-15 years almost live three different lives,” he said chuckling. “Between being a professional athlete when he was younger, transitioning to wrestling – and he was successful at that – now transitioning into his third career of acting. So, it’s amazing to see somebody be good at more than one thing and pivot and navigate life and still see a heightened success from it.”
According to Oates, the ability to pivot is an attribute that is crucial for entrepreneurs, especially in 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic specifically, was a very scary time.
Oates said it was extremely difficult to navigate the new experience as a parent and an entrepreneur whose business was completely shut down for months.
“I remember in March when the pandemic first struck, I had 13 weddings last year and all 13 of them, were either canceled or rescheduled to 2021,” he said. “As a photographer, that is a very big component income-wise – wedding photography. So, having all of those things either canceled or moved out of the year you thought you would receive it was very stressful.”
He said being able to receive unemployment benefits held him over for the time that they didn’t do any work. And now that the world has become more educated on the virus and mitigation strategies, business is back up and running.
When asked about the legacy and how he wants to be remembered, Oates said not necessarily as a photographer.
“I more so want to be remembered as a business owner, an educator, an investor, someone who helped others push through their challenges.”
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