Meet Michelle Kaffko- a photographer and the founder of Organic Headshots, a photography studio based in Chicago, in the U.S.
It is indeed true that your passion for something can take you to new horizons. After leaving a career in marketing to explore filmmaking and photography, Michelle started a photo studio that specialises in portraits and headshots. “I balance the hard work of running a growing small business with spending time with my husband and dog, reading, and gardening- loving my quaint little life,” she says with a smile.
Growing up in the suburb of Chicago in a small family, she happened to be the outgoing child of two level-headed and reserved parents, always willing to create new things, starting new projects, wanting to join clubs and activities at her school. It was no surprise that her interest in arts got her a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Cinema Studies & Humanities. Talking about those days, she says, “I worked in marketing for technology companies during the day, and in filmmaking and photography on nights and weekends. My day job got less and less satisfying for me, I grew depressed, and I realised it was for two reasons: sexism in the workplace that stunted my growth in my career, and not having a sense of truly creating something of my own.”
What then worked for her was her realisation to work towards a specialty. She knew that photographers start out as Jacks and Jills of All Trades, photographing anyone and everything they can get paid for. With time, she narrowed in on professional headshots for business professionals while commencing her own business. And this is how Organic Headshots came to life.
Her photography studio specializes in headshots and portraits for business professionals, entrepreneurs, executives, and firms of all sizes. Today, it is renowned for making every photo shoot an individualized experience- bridging her background in marketing with coaching people into how to create photos of themselves that will depict their personality and elevate their personal brand.
In the initial days of starting out as an entrepreneur, she faced quite some challenges in balancing things out. Being able to juggle all aspects of running a business as one person without getting overloaded and overwhelmed was something that needed a lot of effort. “Having come so far, now my biggest challenges involve learning to lead the growing team at my studio and keeping everyone focused and working during a pandemic which, like most small businesses, has slowed our business down considerably.”
Having an organisation under your belt makes you go through a lot of multiple opinions. Someone once told her that starting a small business is done by brute force; grabbing the bull by the horns, taking charge, and building what you want. But for most of us, it honestly only looks like that in hindsight. However, with time, she learned that while you are in the middle of it, there are small steps and a lot of failures and disappointments that outnumber the successes- and that will not change. She supports this learning with the example of winning a lottery- “If your answer to the question ‘What would you do if you won a lottery?’ is to ‘Build my business bigger’, then you have definitely found what you are meant to do. Just try to savour this perception as long as you can.”
Even after so much recognition, she still feels amazed by the number of clients who write personal notes of appreciation for the experiences they have at her studio. As a souvenir, she collects them all on a document to share with her team to evoke a sense of gratification and motivation, and it grows into page after page of thankful testimonials. As she looks back, she talks about the thing that really worked for her- “I have learned how independent I can really be, and that if I want something to happen, I can create it for myself. I’ve also learned how to ask for help when I need it, and that getting support can also mean giving support- and this is how things fell in place for me.”