“Elevate Your Voice” Entrepreneur Spotlight: Shadia Amen

This article is part of a 12-part profile series that seeks to capture the thoughts and ideas of entrepreneurs in Inkster, Dearborn/Dearborn Heights, Ecorse, and River Rouge. This series is made possible through the New Economy Initiative’s “Elevate Your Voice” campaign, designed to help inform entrepreneurship support, and amplify authentic voices in the small business ecosystem. This profile features Shadia Amen, founder and CEO of Shadia Amen Photography, based in Dearborn, Michigan.
Can you share a little bit about your business?

I started my photography business in 2018. Officially, I've been shooting since about 2012 or 2013. I was kind of forced into starting my business by a mentor, and it has been quite the journey. I serve most of the state of Michigan. I serve any community that is interested in preserving their legacy. I have traveled outside of the state for work, and love doing that as well. My specialty is large-scale events like TEDxDetroit, and then galas and such all the way down to smaller events such as baby showers and birthday parties. That’s one of my favorite things to do. I am a portraiture photographer and a lifestyle photographer, which means that I capture documentary-style photos, candid pictures that capture the essence of a person.  

What would you say inspired you to plant business roots in the Dearborn community? 

I was born and raised in Dearborn. Dearborn is home for me. I've traveled and I find my way back to Dearborn often. The community is very tight-knit. We are one of a kind. And I enjoy serving our community because we have like-minded ideas. I understand how our families are, what our families need in regards to photography and privacy, and respect for religious and cultural differences. My goal was, actually, not to start in Dearborn because the basis of my work is in Detroit. But Dearborn has come to me and I've welcomed it with open arms and really enjoy the people that I've worked with, thus far, and I look forward to meeting new ones.

How have you been able to find or access capital needed for your business? 

For me, when it comes to capital, so far, it has been completely my own investment. I have won a couple of contests, so there's been a little extra money that has come in from that, but everything has been out of my own pocket, thus far, just because it's been really difficult trying to find ways to gain capital without falling into debt. I'm learning, as a business owner and entrepreneur, you have to do that in order to get where you need to go, take out your loans, look for extra capital. Learning about NEI (New Economy Initiative) has been very interesting to me because, for the longest time, I didn't know these things existed. And thanks to AAWBC (Arab American Women’s Business Council) and ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), I have had introductions to a lot of different people and places that have been able and willing to help. The only thing is the paperwork and whatnot gets a little difficult when you're really busy.

What are your current business goals?

I have a studio, but it's a home as well. It is functional, but it's not optimal. And for the things that I want to do, and the way that I prefer to shoot, I need higher ceilings and a better setup. And so while this is doing the job, my goal is to get into a brick-and-mortar, loft-style space. My ultimate goal is to make that an actual event space for maybe 100-120 people. And it would double as my studio. That way, whatever events are being held there, you have your built-in photographer. But, doing that, I'm learning is so expensive and very time-consuming and very difficult. I'm not a business person, by any means, so these processes to get the things that I do need have proven so difficult for me that I kind of put it on the back burner.

What would you say are some resources you need to achieve those goals?

In a perfect world, I would love to have an admin situation where I have my lawyer and people to run the back office. I would need capital because that's what the world runs on. The space is super important, and thankfully the people are coming, so I don't need talent. I'm blessed with talent, but I would never say no to more. I've got everything in many different places. To have it all in one spot would be wonderful, so capital and space are at the top of the list.

If someone came to you and gave you the best resource guidance for your business goals, what would support from that resource look like for you?

Having someone who is able to guide me through the different steps that it's going to take to actually get a loan, to get a grant. I know a lot of people that have gotten grants, and you have to write the grant. I wouldn't have the first idea of what to do when it comes to that. So to have somebody that either offers classes, or can take a small group of people and walk us through it would be optimal. Just someone that's available for when you have these questions because I'm capable and happy to do it myself. I just don't know what to do.  

Fill in the blank: ____ has been a really good resource for me. Please share how or why. 

Heavily lean on AAWBC and ACCESS because they have been a godsend, thus far. I became familiar with AAWBC because I was actually doing their headshots, and, in doing so, we connected through different avenues because they would offer different classes. They offer opportunities to grow your business, to grow your brand, to learn about different things. They've got lawyers and different opportunities to grow if you take them, and I've taken advantage of several of them through ACCESS as well. They often have meetings, they have networking events and they're brief and they're informative. The pitch competition that I won was through ACCESS and ISP. So the resources have been there through these people. I'm an ACCESS kid. My mother worked for ACCESS back in the 80s and 90s, so I grew up there. So for me to know that they're still helping people the same way my mother used to help people is so heartwarming and so beautiful to know. I also shoot for ACCESS. I am their main photographer, and I love being able to give back to the community that helped raise me, and to know that they're still helping raise me. It's been beautiful, full circle, if you will.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in starting, growing, or sustaining your business? 

The difficulties that I've had would be affordability because photography is extremely expensive. The studio is next door to my home, so that's a double mortgage that I'm paying. And with photography, it's not a guaranteed payout, weekly, monthly, whatever. You don't know when your next gig is coming unless you have something solid. So knowing that is very stressful. Marketing was difficult for quite some time, but I've been partnered with one of the biggest social media marketing companies here in Michigan, and that has been a Godsend, because not only am I learning how to market and brand myself to build myself, I now have an understanding of the analytics behind it and the all the statistics that you need to know and the different things that you should post and whatnot. So that's been a game changer for me. But up until then, marketing myself, anybody, marketing yourself is very difficult. And capital has been at the bane of my business existence because it's so hard to guarantee the money flowing in, and then once you invest it again, there's no extra money to work on the next big thing.     

If you met a new business owner in the community, what is the first resource you would recommend connecting them with to help them succeed within your city? Who would you connect them with outside of your city?

My first guidance would be to the social media marketing agency that I'm partnered with, Robert Courtney and Associates, because what I've seen and what I've learned in two years, how I've seen my business grow, forget the fact that I'm a partner there, I've never believed in something so much, especially because this world revolves around social media now. It’s in Detroit and we serve all of Michigan and a lot of California now. So that is huge because you're going to learn about analytics, you're going to learn about how to market yourself, brand yourself, and if it's something you don't find that you want to do on your own, we would do it for you. Secondly, depending on what they're looking for, if it’s resources, AAWBC and ACCESS. Those would be the top three that I would start with just because of the opportunities. ACCESS has a Resource Wednesday email that goes out every single week, and every week I open that email, I find something useful in it. Every entrepreneur should be a part of that. Just connecting with that because it's resources that you don't know you need until you read about it. 
What would you say is a shared issue, concern or challenge among the entrepreneurs and small businesses in your community?

So in our community, one thing that really disappoints me when it comes to the business world is someone will show up with a wonderful business idea, get it off the ground and running, and it's doing wonderful, and then five more people will open the exact same type of space within two miles of that business. And then everything kind of goes belly up because that one place is not making any money. And now nobody is because the shared number of people has spread from one to two to five. Nothing can really thrive in a situation like that. I may never understand what the reasoning behind that is, but the originality that we used to have is no longer. I know that's a big issue that every entrepreneur in the city that I've spoken to has complained about. It's hard to be original. Also, as a whole, it's very difficult to get land here, it's very expensive. So wanting to stay in the City of Dearborn has proven very difficult for me. I'm not sure why prices are so high in comparison to surrounding cities, but that makes it difficult to want to stay in the city and continue.   

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Read more articles by Chrishelle Griffin.

Chrishelle Griffin is a consultant to organizations and entrepreneurs. Since 2018, she has worked with Issue Media Group as a contributor for Metromode and Model D, social media manager for special and multi-market projects, event coordinator and project manager. Contact her at [email protected].