Startup Story: Air Force Vet Captures Sweet Moments

Axiom Photo
Air Force vet Ternell Washington found startup success with his own photography business in San Antonio, TX.
Air Force vet Ternell Washington found startup success with his own photography business in San Antonio, TX.

Entrepreneur Ternell Washington loves capturing the sweet moments of life. So he decided to take his years of experience behind the camera as a photographer and try his hand at startup success.

Washington, a client of 1-800Accountant, operates his own small business called Axiom Foto, LLC in San Antonio, Texas. He formally set up the business entity in December of 2014.

Through Axiom Foto, Washington offers a variety of top-notch photography services to nearly anyone who wants an event or special moment captured in images. However, he primarily works as a contractor for two local charities that benefit children – Kinetic Kids and Ferrari Kids. Kinetic Kids supports kids with (dis)abilities by giving them opportunities to participate in a variety of sporting and fine arts activities specifically tailored to meet their needs.

Washington, who is an Air Force veteran of 24 years, explains how he has made it to this point in his career – and why starting a business was a fantastic decision for him.

“I started shooting pictures at age 7,” he says. “I was an Instructor Pilot in the United States Air Force and had the opportunity to combine two of my lifelong loves into one incredible passion by being tasked with capturing aerial photography for our NATO partners while flying as a member of the Euro NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. I discovered after launching my LLC that I did not fully understand the U.S. tax laws and federal tax code. I realized that I was missing out on numerous tax savings. Therefore, in order to feel that I was being fully compensated for all of my work, I felt it was necessary to partner with 1-800Accountant and follow their invaluable advice.”

Ferrari Kids is a charity he shoots for that provides a VIP-like experience for kids with cancer by giving them a ride in a snazzy Ferrari while enroute to a special venue that normally includes a meal and a family shopping spree. He then photographs them in their glory much like a paparazzi would do for a celebrity. He also has done work for the San Antonio Talons arena football team, NCAA sporting events, and a professional women’s football league.

In his words, Washington believes establishing himself as a very capable and trustworthy professional is what it’s all about to achieve startup success.

“Getting known through word-of-mouth is what it’s all about,” he admits. “I’m fortunate to have several contacts in my network who are big influencers. Finding people who respect my work as a photographer has helped a lot.”

Enjoyment to Self-Employment

Entrepreneurs cite a variety of reasons for what they enjoy most about having the ability to pursue their passions. In Washington’s case, the smiles he sees going around are priceless.

“I love interacting with the people and the kids,” he confides. “In the digital world, you can snap a photo and show them the screen and see the smile brighten their day. I think it is so important to capture kids with disabilities or health challenges in the best light possible and at their best moments. You just see a lovely little child, and it really puts all your problems in perspective.”

Competing in the Photography Field

Unlike two retail shops on the same road vying for the same customers within a community, the Air Force vet says the concept of competition is a little less cutthroat in the photography industry.

“Ironically, we are all trying to network with each other. Each of us has our own way of taking pictures and using different styles. For me, I’m more of a purist. I’d say my biggest competition would be people using their smartphones and consumer-level cameras to take photos. My work is all about using a camera to provide high-quality images.”

In terms of small business marketing, Washington promotes Axiom Foto through several different platforms. He has a website and a company Facebook page. He has also appeared in newsletters, and his work gets promoted online through the organizations for which he shoots. He always includes a watermark of his company logo on the photos he distributes to certain organizations.

Challenges to Startup Success

Like his peers who have taken the plunge into starting a business of their own, Washington feels like he has endured many of the common challenges faced by other entrepreneurs.

“I have had all of your typical challenges,” he says. “I’ve had to find out about all the paperwork and documents that must be filed. I’m also learning about what my expenses are in terms of tax deductions. I want to write off as much as possible, but at the same time, I don’t want to deduct things that could raise a red flag with the IRS.”

He adds that putting a price tag on his work has been an interesting experience.

“If you take a few hundred pictures at an event, you’ve got to remember that this work alone is not all you do. There is so much editing, cropping, and tweaking the images in post-production that you should be accounting for in a photography business. If you don’t, you are undervaluing yourself.”

Advice for Small Business Owners

“Find a mentor to help you,” Washington advises. “Make sure you are fully invested and commit yourself to the hard work it takes to make your product successful. Network by finding a group of close confidantes, and learn from them.”

1-800Accountant Client Testimonial

As a client of 1-800Accountant, Washington says he’s been happy with the small business accounting support he has received.

“1-800Accountant has been very thorough in assisting me with my business tax situation,” he says. “I’m looking forward to a continued positive relationship with the accounting firm.”

Image credit: The logo included in this blog post was provided by Axiom Photo, LLC and is used with permission.

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