Royal Lilac Photo & Design, LLC Founding CEO and Creative Director Rondasia Curry teaches graphic design at Holyoke Community College and works on marketing and communication the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University. She spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about launching her company in 2020 and why she’s passionate about teaching others.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. Have you always been entrepreneurial?
RONDASIA CURRY: I earned my bachelor’s degree from the University of Hartford Art School. I majored in photography. But I knew I didn’t want to stop there, so I minored in visual communication design and communication. I delved deeper into communications and earned my master of arts in communication and media studies from the University of Hartford. That’s where I discovered entrepreneurship and business and marketing and advertising. From there, I knew I wanted to expand into a business in photography and graphic design.
NAN: What steps did you take to get from point A to point B?
RONDASIA: I got my first paid wedding gig while I was still studying for my bachelor’s degree. The client was a family member’s wedding. It took off from there. After their wedding, everybody was sharing my photos and wanted to hire me to do photography work.
I knew I didn’t want to just focus on photography, I also wanted to do graphic design. I created my own logo and I built my clientele through word of mouth and social media—especially through Facebook, where 90% of my customers come from. It happens through shares and exposure from my friends list.”
A lot of businesses started asking me to create logos for them. I decided I wanted apparel with my business name and logo on it. I bought a heat press and a printing machine and started designing my own clothes. From that, more clients contacted me to create clothing for them. Then, Royal Lilac was offering photography, graphic design, and brand apparel.
NAN: You launched your business in 2020. What was it like starting out during such a challenging year?
RONDASIA: I rebranded myself and officially launched my studio at the end of 2020, around the holidays. I created a studio, which is an 8.5 × 20 ft trailer with a fitting room.
Surprisingly, I gained many clients by opening during the pandemic. It’s as if people were waiting for something like my studio to open so they could capture memories with their families and friends.
NAN: In terms of building clientele and marketing, you have marketing background, that must have helped.
RONDASIA: Yes, my background definitely helped. I did everything myself based upon what I learned at UHart. I knew I needed to use social media to gain exposure. About 90% of my clients come from Facebook. Beyond that, I took on other platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
I also rely on a website that launches on platforms like Google. So, when people are looking for photographers or designers, my name pops up in the area.
NAN: Did you utilize any local resources as you were starting the business?
RONDASIA: I reached out to the Connecticut Small Business Administration, which steered me toward how to start a business plan. I worked on it myself, made edits, and got feedback from other business owners.
I also participated in a Girls for Technology pitch competition, which really helped me refine my strategic business plan. Even though I’d been in business for several years, that encouragement helped me determine the direction I should be taking with the business.
At the time, I was doing websites, graphic design, and photography. It was too much. It wasn’t until I went that competition that I chose to narrow down my offerings. I let go of the websites and I became a professor in graphic design. Now photography is the main focus of my business.
NAN: Tell us more about your experience participating in the Girls for Technology pitch competition.
RONDASIA: About nine business owners participated for a chance to win up to $10,000. I pitched my idea for my business to be a mobile photography studio so I can travel to my clients. That’s currently in the works.
NAN: What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned on your entrepreneurial journey.
RONDASIA: When I was first starting my business, I took pictures of families, friends, and events, but I never really showed my work. I didn’t have a website or social media. It wasn’t until I said, after every shoot, if I can, I want to expose it. I want to capture it on social media. I want to put it on my website. When I started doing that, I gained more followers on Facebook and Instagram, and that’s when I started to see more business.
NAN: So, your biggest tip is to get the word out and tell people about what you do.
RONDASIA: Yes. It’s gaining exposure. So many people use Google to find local businesses. It also helped to be listed on other local sites, like ShopBlackCT.com. Royal Lilac was featured in the Photography category for the Best of ShopBlackCT 2021. That website has helped me gain a lot of customers.
NAN: What’s next?
RONDASIA: I enjoy my dual roles as professor and business owner. I’ve had people reach out to me—parents with high school students who want their child to know about how to start a business and even some business owners who have been in business longer than me. They see the exposure I’m gaining and they want to learn from me. That’s something in the works. I’m thinking about offering some graphic design or photography courses to steer people that way through mentorship.