Feature written by Mike Kemp
From her childhood, Rebecca Williams has always had a “pull to document”. That desire followed her through a corporate career into a new marriage and several moves until she landed in Cabot.
“I grew up in Ohio, the oldest of nine children - my youngest brother is just 10 years younger than I,” she explained. “From a young age, I loved to write. My mom wrote unceasingly to everyone - the editor, the senators, the governors. She taught me the power of the written word. I used this skill to write about our family when I was little - I’d write poems, stories, essays, and letters to grandparents. When I was ten years old my dad gave me a 12x12 leather scrapbook from Hallmark, and he told me it was for me to ‘record the Hays family story’.”
“I took my job seriously, and wrote in the book every adventure, vacation, or just day on the farm we enjoyed. My mom had a little Kodak 110 push button camera and she taught me how to use it to capture photos to go with my stories. As I got older, I kept writing and kept taking pictures - developing both talents.”
Williams earned a college degree in computer science after an early marriage and the birth of children, landing a job as systems engineer for Wendy’s International. Through it all, she photographed and scrapbooked all of her family’s milestones.
After a divorce, she met her husband Ryan, beginning a new adventure as a military spouse living in Texas. “I had to leave the job I loved, and I had more babies,” Williams said. “My new husband’s squadron was deploying on a four month rotation cycle (home for four months, deployed for four months), and we decided I would stay at home with the kids.”
“I was grateful to be able to stay with my babies and not go to work, but I wanted to start a business - do something to satisfy that part of me that craves checklists and numbers and most of all - learning! I wanted a profession that would travel and I decided on photography. That was about 13 years ago, and I had no clue what I was getting into.”
Her first steps were studying every photographer she could find, as well as joining the Professional Photographers of America and earning her Certified Professional Photographer certification. However, with her family relocating often due to her husband’s rotation schedule with the United States Air Force, she struggled to re-establish a client base and rebuild a business each time.
“When we came back from Turkey in 2015, I didn’t start taking clients right away,” she said. “I was disheartened - the thought of starting again was daunting. The tax license, the business license, the client getting, the ‘you’re too expensive’ . . . I wasn’t ready to go through it all again.”
However, with her recertification approaching, Williams decided she was at a crossroads professionally. “I faced a decision. There was no reason to maintain my certification if I wasn’t taking clients,” she said. I estimated I was spending about $5000 a year just to maintain my professional photographer status....and I was bringing in ZERO. I needed to start taking clients again, or stop doing photography as a business.”
Concentrating on families, maternity and women’s portraiture, she pushed to become Cabot’s most recognized name in photography. She joined the Cabot Chamber of Commerce at a time where she was reading “The Go Giver,” a book in which the authors propose the idea that the number of clients you have is directly proportional to the number of people you serve.
“It seemed like common sense and I was inspired to find a way to serve my community,” Williams said.
To that end, she began a social media campaign called “This is Cabot,” in which Williams does a 10-minute session with local business owners and creates a short bio. From there, Williams creates a post that she puts on her blog as well as her social sites. If the business owner belongs to the Chamber, she also sends the profile to the Chamber.
“ The business gets a professionally designed ad, and I get my business name out in the community. The business owners love it,” she said. “The unexpected blessing for me has been that I am meeting the small business owners of the community, who are exceptional people - people who decided to live their passion, take a chance, open a business. It is inspiring to talk to them each week.”
After her husband received his final orders recently, keeping him at the Jacksonville Air Force base, Williams decided on another leap – her own storefront studio.
“The first words out of my mouth when he told me were, ‘I want a studio!’,” she said. “While he wasn’t enthusiastic and jumping up and down with me, he did understand the reasoning; although many photographers work successfully from their homes, having a storefront adds legitimacy to the business, especially to someone new to town.”
Her studio is located at 12406 Hwy 5 in Cabot. “I love having the storefront - it gives me space to do consults, sessions, and order appointments. Also, I have all of my “stuff” set up and ready to go when I want to dedicate time to practicing my craft,” she said.
“One of the biggest ways having a storefront has helped me is I now have a GIANT sign with my name on it, and people say to me, ‘Oh yeah - you’re the photographer!’”
See more of Rebecca's work at www.rebeccawilliamsphotography.com
REBECCA ON THE APPA
When I first joined APPA it was because I wanted the "street cred" being part of a professional organization gives. That applies to my CPP as well - being "certified" in a skill lends more credence. I was certified through Microsoft in my previous career, and, so when I entered the photography profession I started working on my certification. However, with both the certification and the APPA membership, it is the friendships and bonds that are the greatest reward. Knowing that if I need a lifeline - or advice, or just someone who "gets it" - I have an entire network from across the entire state of Arkansas I can call on.
LEARN. PRACTICE. GROW with REBECCA AND APPA