Shared Office Space

Forth Spotlight: Melissa and Becca of A Little Photo Studio by Natalie Pavela

We were so excited when Melissa Salvatore offered to host the Forth spring salon at Hertiage Littles, the adorable kids bike shop/milk-and-cookies bar that she owns with her husband Mike. The Heritage Littles space is unique because it houses three additional businesses in the basement - A Little Photo Studio which Melissa owns and operates, Avery House photography, and the Chicago branch of Smilebooth. On top of that, Melissa recently brought on her long-time friend Becca Doell to join in running the operations at A Little Photo Studio.

At our spring salon both of these ladies shared valuable insights on the joys and challenges of women working together in business. Today Melissa & Becca dish on the transition from 'just friends' to being 'friends and coworkers', sharing what they've learned about each other since the partnership began, how they've benefited from sharing a studio space with other businesses, and tips they'd give women who are considering going into business together. Read on!

The two of you have been long-time friends, but just recently started working together. What were the some of the biggest considerations you each had to address before deciding to move forward with expanding your relationship from friendship into the co-worker/co-collaborator sphere?

(Becca) Our biggest concern was hashing out numbers (salary, etc.) and making sure everything was super legit and contractual to avoid potential arguments/conflict over vagueries in that department later. The funny thing is, we were so concerned about that, but we still haven't actually drawn up a contract! My feeling about that though is if Melissa were to sit me down and say, I don't think we're working well together and we need to go our separate ways, I would say cool, thanks for thinking of me in the first place. If she were to sit me down and say, I have to stop loving you because I think you're a terrible person, I would be devastated. For me, business, money, contracts, etc. are fleeting and terrestrial, whereas my love for her and our friendship is forever. That may sound naive, but it really is true for me. I think the depth of friendship you have with someone can make a huge difference in the success or failure of a professional partnership. A solid base of open communication can get two people through anything. If you know each others' strengths/weaknesses/annoying quirks/body odors, and you've already had years to figure out if those quirks or body odors are deal breakers in terms of how much time you want to spend with this person, then it's hard to fail.

(Melissa) Well, Becca beat me to the punch in answering these questions and how can I compete with that answer!?! I mean, this is how we work so well with each other. We each have our own voice, talents and skills but at the same time can finish each other's sentences. I have a few friends who it just doesn't matter what you do with each other or where you are at in life or where you live, you will still be friends and she has always been one of those. We approached this move with caution (on paper) but also (in reality) with a leap of faith. It just happened that the timing worked out (all very quickly actually). There was a 7 year lull where we hardly spoke on the phone or kept in touch, but once we reconnected and the idea was brought up for her to move and join this creative venture, it just worked. I personally approached it from a standpoint that if it works out then great and we will figure out all the details along the way. It was very important to both of us that the contracts and money needed to be discussed and firmed up, but there also needed to be fluidity in the process. My biggest fear was that she wouldn't feel comfortable or "ownership" of the ideas or space since it was not hers to start, but she is so great at diving right in that my biggest fear has already been curbed.

What is one thing you've learned about each other since starting to work together?

(Becca) I've learned that Melissa's energy level is as expansive as the universe. It has no end and no beginning and is accelerating as we speak. As long as I've known her, she's done at least 3 things at once, but she amazes me every time she finds the fuel from one muffin and a coffee to photograph 3 families with 3 three kids back to back, answer 4 email accounts, return 5 phone calls, go home and make dinner,give her son a bath, read him two books, put him to bed, clean up dinner, AND watch Shark Tank with a clear and happy head.

(Melissa) Can you ask Becca questions every day so that I can hear all these wonderful things? I'm blushing. I don't know if it is as much of what I have learned about Becca, but what I already knew - that she can roll with the punches in new situations. With our new studio and how much is on our daily plate, it has really been less training and more diving in and getting to business. She is great at keeping to tasks and helping the studio execute our ideas (the ones that would be on the never ending to-do list if I was doing this alone.) I also re-learned about her amazing talent to sing a song while burping.

Your space houses four businesses under one roof. Can you share one way think your businesses/you as creatives have benefited from co-working? What are some challenges of a situation like this as well?

(Melissa) It is wonderful to have the shared usage of such a large space and also to share with such creative and equally as motivated people. The space is shared between 2 couples: Myself and Mike who own Heritage Littles and A Little Photo Studio and Matt and Stevi Savage who own AveryHouse and the Chicago franchise of Smilebooth. There are ways that our businesses all intertwine with each other and we are able to bounce ideas off of each other and cross-promote. The biggest challenge is scheduling and working out how and when the space is used. As organized as we were with the set-up, at the end of the day, your customers decide how a space is used. Overall, this was a cautious approach to opening another retail space for Mike and I and it was done between friends with the knowledge that there would be challenges and an adjustment period. We also followed our golden rule of not leaving things too vague and hashed out many of the details when putting together a contract before entering the space together and we both were in understanding that when it comes down to it, it is a business decision and if it doesn't work out in a year, it wouldn't affect our friendship.

At the end of the day, It was important for both of our families to have work-life integration with some balance and by sharing a creative space together this has opened up many opportunities and freed up a lot of family time without feeling burdened by the overhead.

What are 3 tips you'd give women considering going into business together?

1. (Becca) I think you definitely need to weigh the pros and cons of you both being mothers and what that means for productivity and workflow. We don't have that problem yet, but I know it was a huge consideration for Melissa and other friends she's thought of working with. Because I don't have kids, I'm not tied to any schedule other than my own. I can rearrange my day for work, whereas some days Melissa has to rearrange work to fit into her home life. I know if and when I do start a family, Melissa would be more understanding of the different ways family can interrupt a work week.

2. (melissa) I'd say respect - woman have a tendency to compete with one another. There needs to be a level of respect for the other person and their workflow. And with that said, for me that meant the need to have the same work ethics as the person I hired as my "right-hand-woman". I wouldn't have collaborated with anyone that didn't work hard regardless of what is going on in their personal life. I think that for women the entire benefit of being in your own business is that the flexibility outweighs the stress of running your own business. But it is goes full circle because for the flexibility to be successful, you have to have a great work ethic.

3. Keep an extra box of tampons at work.