For Woke Wednesday, we sat down with Anesha Collins of Unashamed Imaging to talk about finding mentors, hustling, and sticking to your guns when starting your own business.
Liz: Can you tell us a bit about your background? What was growing up like for you?
Anesha: Sure. I was born and raised in Staten Island, New York. I went to Catholic school from Kindergarten to 8th grade and then transitioned to public school from high school on. I was always the type of person that didn't want to fit in — not so much a rebel, but desiring to have my own mindset and thought-process. I read a lot of books. I migrated toward those that were much older than me; I related better to them, and I loved music.
Liz: And what was your transition into adulthood like?
Anesha: My transition into adulthood was very interesting because my brother left home when I was 15 years old to join the Army. He missed my Sweet 16, and after being around him for all of my life, it was an instant shift in being alone. I found myself clinging very close to my parents; in return I ended up being "the older sibling" when it came to responsibilities because I was the only one home. By this time my father had been working for the USPS for about 16 years, my mother was an RN, and I was still finding myself. I had a very strong interest in music. I would go to auditions, sing in church, attend church, but nothing substantial ever panned out in the music world for me. I wanted to be a marine, but my mother didn't want to sign off since I graduated high school early. Looking back I'm glad she didn't sign off for me to join. In my early twenties, I ended up living with my grandmother, and my parents moved to the state of Florida. My mother urged me to move down to Florida, but I didn't want to leave the New York scene. There was so much to discover: the city, the culture, and more. I eventually moved Orlando, Florida in 2006.
Liz: Looking back, do you see signs that you would eventually make a living as a creative?
Anesha: (laughs) Absolutely not! I honestly had no idea that I would be where I am today. I knew that I wanted to be successful, and I knew that I liked art (music and visuals), but I had no idea that I would be a successful entrepreneur/business owner.
Liz: So what was your path like to starting your own business?
Anesha: A blank canvas that was painted with blood, sweat, and tears. In the beginning I was very zealous for photography and videography, but my family wasn't very supportive because I had a degree in nursing and they couldn't understand why I would leave Nursing to "pursue photography." I went through many years of lack of support from family, which was very hard to deal with, but I continued to pursue it. Every day and night I woke up thinking about how to run a successful business and how to do photography and videography full-time. Then one night I was woken from my sleep, and the dream was spoken to be with full confirmation. God said, "Just do it." Yes, like Nike. It was that plain and simple. The next day I went to BestBuy, and they had a bundle offer for a camera kit. It would be my very first camera, and I was ready to be the best photographer that I could be. Everything lined up, and I took the time to study and learn everything I needed to know from the creative and the business aspect of things. My family did their best to support (in baby steps), but it was still very hard for them to understand the risk that I was taking in pursuit of starting my own business and being employed. On the other hand, my motivation increased day by day because during this time I was still working as a nurse, and they were cutting hours like crazy.
Liz: Oh, wow. So at what point did you launch your business?
Anesha: I officially launched in 2008.
Liz: Did you jump into it full-time, or were you still working as a nurse when you launched?
Anesha: I was still a nurse when I launched for a few years. Then I quit nursing. Then I went back to nursing because my family told me I didn't have much of a choice, and I also got sick midpoint, which was torture. Then I finally quit nursing and said I'm going to hustle-hard to make my business work and haven't looked back since. I don't regret being a nurse because there are certain things I learned while being a nurse that I have taken with me into my business like organization, communication, and documentation (contracts).
Liz: That's awesome. So what does your business look like today?
Anesha: My business today is a successful photography and cinematography business specializing in wedding and events primarily, but I work will small businesses (for branding) and have worked with major corporations like the NFL (for their projects). I've also been published and featured on major platforms like The Knot, The Huffington Post, The Knot's How He Asked, David's Bridal, Borrowed & Blue, MunaLuchi Bridal and more.
Liz: That's amazing. What a success story! So today is Woke Wednesday. Do you consider yourself woke, feminist, or otherwise a social justice advocate?
Anesha: I would consider myself woke.
Liz: What does being woke mean to you?
Anesha: I'm very much in tune to what's really going on and not what people like to "think" is going on. I'm also the type to call out what I see because of my discernment. Like I shared earlier, I've been this way since I was younger. It's not easy because people will pass a lot of judgement on people like this (because it's not within the norm), but it hasn't failed me.
Liz: How do you incorporate your woke values into your business?
Anesha: Being real with my clients and not misrepresenting my brand or myself on my website or social media. There are so many reasons why people want to be fake. That's not attractive to me. I have done life with other photographers who are completely different in person, and it doesn't sit well with me. Being fake is a full-time job. My business takes up too much of my time to take a full-time job at being fake.
Liz: Do you have advice for beginner photographers who share your values entering the industry?
Anesha: My advice to novice photographers is to be a sponge and listen. Be able to take constructive criticism, and choose a mentor that's not going to pacify you. I've seen so many novice photographers and cinematographers who praise mentors that pacify them and come down on those that give them constructive criticism.
Most of my mentors were men, and they were hard on me. Was it easy? No, but it helped me to get where I am today. Sometimes I cried, other times I would dust shoulders off and say, "I got this" because I truly did, but at the end of the day, their tough love was needed, and I'm grateful. Nowadays I see so many mentors pacifying novice shooters, and it blows my mind because they are condoning mistakes. The mentees don't know any better, but those who are experienced do. I've also seen mentors that pacify their mentees and then talk bad about them behind their back to others. Being woke made it easy for me to spot this. As a result, I started my own creative education platform called The Creatives Hive, which is a safe place for people to learn and grow. I also have a platform called The Raw Series, which is where I talk about topics that most won't. It has helped so many creatives.
Liz: Oh, awesome. Is there anything else you are working on that we should know about?
Anesha: Speaking engagements and video marketing. I currently have a video marketing course that I've already presented on through platforms like Dubsado. I am currently working on 2.0 and will be featuring this content at a big conference in 2018. I have a few speaking engagements left for 2017, and I'm excited to be a part of a few events as a speaker or panelist such as The BFP Conference (Black Female Photographers), The Epix Brand Summit, and a few other opportunities that I can't advertise as of yet per contract.
Liz: Very awesome. Is there anything else you would like to say before we close?
Anesha: If you have a desire to start a business (whatever that may be), go and do it! Don't let anyone hold you back, not even yourself. Sometimes people don't believe in your entrepreneurial journey because it's too scary for them to understand, and that's okay — it's not meant for them to. Sometimes the journey will even scare you, but you have to keep going. You need to wake up everyday (even the days that you don't want to) and pursue your dream wholeheartedly. You don't have to make announcements; put in the work, and then show it. Let your work speak for you, and watch how evangelists of your brand follow suit. After you show it, go to the next thing. I always say that the current project or booking you're working on is what's booking you for the next thing, so always be on point, stay focused, and enjoy the journey.
Liz: That's amazing advice. Thank you so much, Anesha!