West Hartford-based Cara Paiuk is a writer and photographer whose articles and photos have been featured in publications including The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Scary Mommy.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price connected with Cara to learn more about her entrepreneurial endeavors.
NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial or felt driven to do your own thing?
CARA PAIUK: I always had a creative side and I always used creative projects to feed that need. But I thought it would be more challenging to make a living doing something creative, so I just went to corporate America.
NAN: Your entrepreneurial pursuits evolved over time. Tell us a little about that transition.
CARA: Writing was my first real creative endeavor. I had left corporate America and was home with my newborn son. I’d connected with a group of new moms. I was older than everyone and all my other friends had already had kids. I became this sort of encyclopedia of wisdom for the moms, and I got tired of repeating myself.
So, I started a blog—it didn’t last long, because I didn’t have the patience to grow an audience. Instead, I started writing articles and submitting them to other sites. I had some nice successes with that, including some articles I wrote for Motherlode, which was the parenting blog for the New York Times. One of my articles hit the national news.
It’s great how one thing leads to another. Last year I went out to New Hampshire to take headshots for my New York Times editor, K.J. Dell’Antonia, who lives out there. She’s fantastic. Her new book, How to Be a Happier Parent, came out in August. She’s using one of my headshots for her book jacket cover.
NAN: Let’s talk about your photography. When did you start and when did you realize this was a viable business?
CARA: After I had kids, I started posting pictures of them and then people asked me to take pictures of theirs. That’s when it clicked that maybe I was doing something differently than everyone else―and perhaps this was something to look at a little more closely.
So, I sort of started a cottage business. That was a little over five years ago.
NAN: You recently received accolades from renowned photographer Peter Hurley. Tell us about that experience. How did you connect with him?
CARA: Peter Hurley is probably the best head shot photographer in the world. When I started doing headshots for friends, I did some online research to find resources to hone my craft, and there he was.
Peter has an entire online community called The Headshot Crew with message boards and workshops. I signed up and went to one of his workshops in New York. I learned an incredible amount from other headshot photographers and from him.
That was over a year ago. I’ve been working on my portfolio since then. It had to be at a certain level before I could be a Peter Hurley Associate. All his associates create headshots—not portraits—with a very clean look. We differentiate ourselves in the ways we retouch and get an expression.
I passed Peter’s review and achieved that status in August. This is big news for me! It also helps my business because the other associates collaborate and refer each other.
NAN: How have you built a local clientele?
CARA: I have done some marketing and advertising, but I haven’t found that sweet spot yet. So really, it’s been word-of-mouth, which has been huge—whether it’s doing photos for high-profile people, including Chion Wolf or Connecticut Senator Beth Bye, or keeping Ronni Newton from We-Ha.com apprised of news about my business, like when I officially started or when I became a Peter Hurley Associate. Also, my work is very different from what anyone else is doing in this area, so it’s becoming recognizable on its own.
NAN: Do you have a niche? Do you work with any specific industry?
CARA: I’ve done headshots for children, actors, lawyers, doctors, and realtors—where headshots can be competitive. And I don’t just shoot for businesses. I’ve done head shots for dating profiles, which I love to do! You need a good headshot for those. And I always tell everyone they have to keep me posted—I want to hear if you’ve met the one!
My goal is to create a headshot that makes you feel great—because most people don’t like the way they look in pictures. I want you to look confident and approachable. I’m not going to retouch your photo so you look like someone else. My goal isn’t to make you look like someone else, my goal is to make you look like the best version of you.
And, in almost any business, when you’re looking at someone’s headshot, people are attracted to someone who looks confident and approachable. That’s important, especially in today’s digital age. Companies as a whole need consistent headshots. It makes their website look more professional.
NAN: How do you stay innovative? How do you convince someone they need your services?
CARA: I’m not great at selling myself. It’s hard to go out there and say: I’m the best. As confident as I come across, there are things that intimidate me.
Marketing means you’re putting yourself out there. There’s a vulnerability and you’re going to get rejected sometimes. And sometimes it has nothing to do with you or your work, it could just be that it’s not in someone’s budget.
I have pretty tough skin from my writing though—you should see the comments from some of those articles!
NAN: How have you broken down that barrier and learned to “sell yourself”?
CARA: It happened over time. Now I tell people: Look at my work. My work isn’t like any headshots other local photographers are doing. I think my work speaks for itself. That’s where my confidence lies.
Also, I encourage people to look at my Google reviews. I think that also sets me apart. It’s not just getting your picture done, it’s the experience.
NAN: I can attest to that, since I’m one of those people who doesn’t like the way I look in pictures. I admit, I was skeptical. You totally worked your magic. I honestly didn’t know I could look that good!
CARA: Thanks! It’s really impactful when someone sees a raw photo of their headshot during our session—like you did—and I can actually see their self-confidence rise.
NAN: Are you connected with any local entrepreneurial resources?
CARA: Yes. In addition to The Headshot Crew, I’m part of another photography group. A bunch of us photographers get together and share ideas about how to get to the next level.
I’m trying to go outside my comfort zone and head to more local networking events. I’m getting there. This summer, I went to an event hosted by the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce and I’m planning to attend the upcoming LinkedIn Local Greater Hartford 3 event.
So, I’m trying to be more involved. Because not only do I want more business for myself, I think my headshots really help other entrepreneurs get more business too.
NAN: In one word, what does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
NAN: Any advice for other business owners?
CARA: Spread the word about other business owners. Word of mouth is #1 and what goes around comes around!