While not a snap, entrepreneur says course was benefit to startup

Posted: Sunday, February 3

Jim King has a different perspective on the world of small business — it’s through the viewfinder of a camera.

When he gave up a career of public service as an emergency medical technician and firefighter, he fell back on a nearly life-long of capturing images. He retired from the Longview Fire Department as the city’s fire marshal in 2001.

Initially after his retirement, King went to work for a couple of friends and said he had done photography on the side for years.

“My dad gave me my first camera for Christmas when I was 8,” he said. King’s first paying gig didn’t come until about 11 years later when he collected $20 for taking senior pictures.

Today, he’s the owner of Jim King Photography, but it took nudging from the same person who gave him his first camera to get him to take the plunge into opening up a storefront. During Christmas, his father told him to get serious about his passion.

“How is it everyone knows your dream except you?” King paraphrased his father during one of the last conversations he had with him. His dad died seven hours later.

King took that as a sign of faith or a “God thing.” He wasted little time in making preparations for moving his photography business from a sideline to his main source of income.

“I knew I had to make money from the start,” he said. After seeing an article in the News-Journal about a course being offered through the Kilgore College Small Business Development Center designed to help people making the leap into a business of their own, he signed up.

“They had some great speakers,” he said of the eight-week course. “The sessions on marketing and planning strategies were really helpful.”

Among the lessons learned, he said, was never turn down free publicity. Instructors also emphasized taking advantage of networking opportunities and the need to find the right location.

King thinks his spot in Tall Pines Center off of Judson Road, which offers a back entrance to Longview Mall and is across the road from a movie theater, fits the bill.

“I get a lot of exposure here. This is one of the busiest streets in town between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said as shoppers head to the mall. He also took care in designing a sign for the front of the building that has captured the attention of motorists.

He said the small business course itself was run like a business. That teaching by example made an impression that encouraged him to focus on the side of his operation that he doesn’t enjoy.

“I love what I do, but I hate the business side of things,” King said. “They reinforced that you need the organizational skills and you need to take care of all those other things — taxes, insurance.”

The course comes with a price tag of $119, but King said the value he’s gotten from it since opening Jim King Photography has been worth much more.

“Even now if I have questions, I can pick up the phone and call the SBDC for help,” he said. “Their whole concept is not to get you to go into business, but to give you the tools you need to firmly plant your feet on the ground to get started.”

King said he has had strong support from his wife, Lisa, a factor that has made getting through lean times easier.