Wild Bird Gallery     Companion Bird Gallery     Bird Greeting Cards     Articles

Look Inside Yourself

By Miriam B. Walling

I remember studying about inventors in grade school. Later I learned about the laws of supply and demand in economics class. Never in my wildest dreams could I ever have seen myself discovering the need for a product and filling it. But I have! My niche is bird greeting cards, and I want to tell you about how my regular life has led me right to finding the opportunity. My own small business is a work in progress to this very day, as you'll see below.

It may seem like a roundabout way to tell the story, but the idea came to me in a roundabout way. The concept that I want to get across is that you have to be yourself, do things your way, and maybe, if you're innovative and attentive, you will find your own niche and be able to turn a love into a business.

I have always been fascinated by birds. My parents let me get a finch when I was about ten years old but the little bird aggravated my asthma and so I was forced to give it away. After allergy shots and the growing process, I discovered in college that I could sleep with a feather pillow. My first parrot was purchased on a trip to Florida during the late 1970's when birds as pets were not as popular as they are today. I knew even then that I wanted to have birds around me. After I moved to Florida, I had to control my bird acquisitions or I would have ended up with a flock of dozens in my house. I would still like to have lots of birds in my condo, but I've lived with only my two companion birds for the last 15 years. Since parrots can live for over 50 years, I take their care very seriously. For example, they visit the bird veterinarian at least twice a year and I've made provisions for them in my will.

So what about the greeting cards? Well, next I have to talk about photography. I went on a trip to the Peruvian Amazon to see wild parrots in their native habitat. What a wonderful thing to see! What really struck me is that those wild birds show the exact same behaviors as my own domesticated birds. I wanted to record examples of that to show my bird friends. Many people on the trip had cameras and spent a great deal of time recording all there was to see. I had brought a small point-and-shoot camera, and I found out later that it was just not capable of capturing all the wonderful birds and rainforest the same way that the other, more versatile cameras did. Later I resolved to buy a "real" camera that had interchangeable lenses. I bought the camera, read the manual, and started taking pictures. To my surprise and distress, the photographs I was taking were not much better than I had taken in the past. I went to the library, checked out books, read them cover to cover, but I did not absorb the material. My next step was taking a photography class at the local community college. This really sparked my interest and I eventually enrolled in an actual photography night program.

The nickname "bird woman" was bestowed upon me within the first two months of starting photography school. I always grinned when that reference was used, because that was who I was! I was determined to understand the relationships between aperture, shutter speed, ISO, film developing, and photograph printing, and I took lots of outdoor bird photographs because, after all, what other subject was there?

I progressed from the darkroom to the computer room and eventually finished school. At this point my day job was coming in VERY handy because it was providing money to further my photography education and business venture. (What I'm saying is - don't quit your day job until you have a solid income from your second business that's greater than your existing income!) I bought a computer just for doing photography, along with a film scanner and printer. My idea at that time was to take photographs of birds, make prints, and sell them. I had no idea how I was going to market myself but I did know that I wanted to cut back on my day job and become a professional photographer. (That is my goal to this day, although I don't expect to reach it for another few years). Since I had accumulated quite a few good photographs of both wild birds and pet birds, I became convinced that a website showcase would further my marketing goals. I hired a professional website designer to initially give me a web "presence".

Then came the breakthrough! I still remember the day. It started as an ordinary day and my plans were to go to a birthday party in the afternoon. I decided to print up a card and personalize it. I used a photograph of a cute bird because, of course, that was the only subject matter that I had in the computer. I copied a speech bubble from a clip art program, pasted it onto the bird photograph, and filled it in with something innovative like "Happy Birthday, Katie". The card looked so good that I printed a second one for another get-together scheduled for the following week. This time I left the bubble blank and figured that I would just fill it in with a pen when I thought of some catchy phrase.

Where's that breakthrough, you ask? Well, right about that time I remember thinking that I'd never seen a card with a bubble that you could fill in to personalize it. And, I was so happy that I had all my bird photographs in the computer because there were not many cards around for bird lovers. I put bubble and card together and came up with my new venture. Just like that.

Of course, what I really mean is that I came up with the IDEA that day. Let me be the first to tell you that scanning, editing, making all those files for my website and printing my card inventory is not something that can be done in just your spare moments. My business is not yet at the point where I can have my cards produced by a commercial printer. That will happen when the demand for individual cards reaches a certain pre-determined level. I spend a lot of time on this business doing planning, photography, printing, and filling orders.

My advice and words of been-there-done-that: You must be dedicated and determined and willing to spend hours and hours in preparation, execution, and maintenance of your venture. Your customers want the product that they've ordered NOW and will not tolerate a week's delay while you're otherwise busy with family or on vacation. You are competing on the internet (and otherwise) with companies much bigger and financially secure than yours. You must be prepared for anything to go wrong, because, believe me, it will, and at the worst possible time. This is not to sound negative. It's just that a new business will not succeed without a lot of planning, time, and effort on your part.

Start thinking about what you love. Flowers, cars, advice, food, horses, places, children, holidays, plumbing, iguanas, time, garages, haircuts, trash, poetry, rocks, clothes, football, computers. The list is endless and as diverse as the human population! Have you ever tried to find a [you fill in the blank] and couldn't? Could YOU fill that void? There's no time like right now to get started. Look inside yourself and start thinking about what you would really like to do.

© Miriam B. Walling / We Shoot Birds

Your Bird's Portrait Contact Information Related Links