Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in media production but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Adam & Amber Suiter, Founders of 517 Visuals, located in Lansing, MI, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

The name of our business is 517 Visuals, after our hometown of Lansing, MI (area code 517). We are a media production company that specializes in architectural photos and video. Our customers include architects, engineers, developers, and construction firms.

Tell us about yourself

In 2012 we were looking to get a bit more freedom to pursue our real passion, which is volunteer work. Adam was working as a Creative Director for a tech company, and I was doing merchandising work. While we enjoyed those jobs, it made it difficult to leave when new opportunities to help people would come up. So we started looking for something that could support us and give us more freedom.

A CALL FROM GOOGLE. One day we were surfing the art/media/design section of Craigslist, and we came across a post from Google. Even back in 2012, it was odd that Google was using Craigslist to post job openings. The post was for a new thing called Google Business View. They were looking to train and certify photographers to take Google Street View inside of businesses. Not knowing if it was a scam or not, we responded to the ad, and about a day later, we got a call from Mountain View, California, the headquarters of Google.

GOOGLE TRUSTED PHOTOGRAPHERS. With a bit of training and testing, we both passed our exams and were certified as Google Trusted Photographers. In the beginning, I would do cold calls to local businesses during the day, and then we would both photograph them in the evening. I was the one who got things off the ground (517 Visuals is woman-owned and operated). While Adam now takes the lead on sales, I am hard at work behind the scenes to keep us going.

TAKING THE PLUNGE. After countless nights and weekends building the business as a side hustle, Adam quit his day job on his 30th birthday. I followed suit soon thereafter. In the beginning, we dabbled in just about every kind of photography, from weddings to products, food, family, seniors, etc. Basically, our motto was "have a camera, will travel," regardless of who needed it.

FAST FORWARD TO TODAY. It took some time to find our niche, but we came to realize that our favorite clients tended to be businesses rather than families. So a few years back, we shut down the family side of things and focused on businesses. That still felt like too broad a category, so more recently, we have "niche down" even further to focus on architectural images.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

After ten years on our own, we have been able to stay in business while still putting in over 800 hours of volunteer work each year.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

It is always a struggle to find a work/life balance. When you work for yourself, you don't work full-time; you work all the time. Knowing how to stop and relax without always thinking about work isn't easy.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  • Tip 1: If you don't like sales, don't work for yourself. 75% of a business that is starting out in sales. Once you get things off the ground, it might be 100% of your job. If you don't like talking to people and finding solutions to their problems, it's better to work for someone else.
  • Tip 2: Always be learning. The best entrepreneurs are autodidacts. Youtube is your friend, but don't be afraid to pay for experts to teach you things.
  • Tip 3: Stay out of debt. When you take on debt to start something new, it adds a lot of pressure on you. But if you're debt-free (and bonus points if you have some savings) when you start a new venture, it gives you breathing time to figure out whether you like doing it or not. Once you know you have a consistent income stream, you like doing this might change, but at first, debt is a burden.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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