516 Fairmount Ave, Towson, MD

Trash Pickers and Stay at Home Moms: On Running a Small Business

on running a small business

Trash Pickers and Stay at Home Moms: On Running a Small Business


In between portraits, on a beautiful day, you will find John outside. You may think he’s taking photos or enjoying the weather. In reality, he’s picking up trash on our neighbor’s property to keep our studio area looking clean.

When their son Johnny is sick, Mary Lou stays home. She curls up on the couch with her sick baby and VPNs into the studio to work on restoration projects or answer emails. (Thank God for VPN.)

There are times where you will find Brynn on a photo shoot with John using one phone to negotiate a new photo shoot and check emails with the other.

Running a successful small business isn’t as idyllic and simple as people may think.

This isn’t a post to complain or preach. It is easy to open up shop and say, “I have a business.” There are people that do not understand the time, effort, and creativity needed to not only run a business, but make it prosper.

For Coyle, our goal is to go beyond the dollars and create a thriving, meaningful community. How do we do that? What goes in to cultivating a culture that drives a small team toward excellence?

Understand that owning a property comes with responsibilities. When a blizzard hits and drops 30 inches of snow, you are the ones responsible for digging out the driveway (even after the plows have blocked you in).  You are the one in charge of property maintenance and insurance. Our team spent most of last summer repairing and painting the front porch as well as renovating the offices. Working in an environment that we can be proud of is important to us.

Create a team that is willing to wear more than one hat. Mary Lou is our president. The title comes with prestige, but she is in the trenches working on restorations, meeting with clients, and scrubbing out the toilets. Our Master Photographer is John, but he is also our groundskeeper, building repair man, and messenger. Brynn not only keeps tracks of everyone’s whereabouts, but negotiates contracts, handles Quickbooks, assists on photo shoots, and cleans out the stuff in the back of the fridge. If everyone had one job, we wouldn’t be able to function. The words “That’s above my pay-grade” or “That’s not my job” will evoke rage in John that is rarely seen.

Teamwork is essential. If everyone is performing multiple functions, then the team members need to be able to support each other when necessary. Effective teamwork eliminates the risk of miscommunications and allows the job to get done efficiently. Now, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the pressure builds up, and epic battles ensue. However, our goal is to work together to deliver an excellent product and experience for our team and client.

Understand the pros and cons of running a business. Owning a small business gives you complete control and responsibility. Going through cancer treatment and having a child with severe medical issues would be next to impossible in a traditional, corporate job. Owning a business gives us the freedom to work from home when necessary or block out time for surgeries and recovery. We don’t have a board to answer to, and we can control our corporate message in a way most companies cannot. Having a small team allows communication to flow so that everyone can handle a potential emergency effectively.

On the flip side, there is the possibility of never having a day off. John has worked through his son’s surgeries and cancer. Both Brynn and John worked through the recent passing of their fathers. Mary Lou always takes her laptop and notebook with her to Johnny’s doctor’s appointments. When the two of them are out, Brynn is holding down the fort. Everyone is on call during vacations.

The stresses can be overwhelming and can make you want to throw in the towel. So why do it?

We love our work – even the crazy parts.  

It may make us a freak show to some people, but the community we have created is what keeps us going. When we work with a client, we treat them like they are a part of our family because they are a part of our family. Our clients are amazing and deserve to work with a company that cares about them.

That is the ultimate meaning behind Coyle Studios: community.