From Pharma to Photography: Heba Salama’s Success Story

Heba Salama of Chapel Hill, North Carolina had burnt out on pharmaceutical sales and realized she had the often unobtainable ability to turn her passion into a career. Without any formal training, she decided to dive in by shadowing a few professional wedding photographers and “reading everything on Google.” Ten years later she’s still inspired and challenged while winning awards for her fresh and artistic photography. She talked to WE Source about her journey.

Headshot of Heba Salama, smiling and facing the camera while wearing a black top and wearing multicolored bead necklaces.
What made you decide to make the leap to going out on your own?
HS:

I wasn’t interested in working to build a business for someone else even though I was afraid of being on my own. I was in pharmaceutical sales, but decided I was ready to work for myself.

How did you know you were ready?
HS:

I had been working freelance for two years and just didn’t want to go back [to a corporate job]. I knew I was creative enough to do this. I didn’t want to have a box anymore.

Did you need funding?
HS:

My dad bought my first set up. Then I ran a Groupon 9 years ago and sold 484 sessions. I made $55 off of each one. The package was a session with me with 5 images and 2 prints. I worked 200 sessions that year. 8 sessions a Saturday. And this was before Dropbox so I was mailing CDs! 60-70% of those clients bought more photos than the Groupon, and a lot of them are still clients today. They are like family. They book me every single year. It got me started.

“I love what I do. It’s my passion. All lot of that “do what you love” is true. I can be with my child. I can work as hard as I want and I can take time off.”
Women just starting a business wonder about the nuts and bolts. How do you accept payment?
HS:

I take credit card payments through my website. It integrates seamlessly with my website so I’ve never had a problem.

Do you have a business plan?
HS:

No, I’m a shoot from the hip kind of a girl. I read everything on Google and absorbed what people were doing. I am continuously learning and growing.

Black and white image of Heba Salama taking a photo with a large digital camera as seen through a slightly open door.

 

You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. If you’re not self-motivated it’s not for you or just try it out on the weekends only.
Heba Salama
Who do you ask for advice?
HS:

My own wedding photographer is a mentor to me. My dad is always a good sounding board and I follow other photographers online for inspiration.

What’s been the single biggest struggle since you started?
HS:

My (now ex) husband and I opened a restaurant. And had a baby. I was getting all these leads from brides, but the moment I started to do other things the funnel dried up. So I refocused on doing more social media and increasing my vendor relationships, which was super important.

What are advantages or disadvantages to being a woman in business?
HS:

In my experience, in [wedding photography] women and children feel more comfortable with a woman.

What resources have been helpful to you?
HS:

Katelyn James [the photographer] started when she was younger than I am and she sells guides and templates. I shadowed a couple of photographers. Watching other’s success on YouTube is helpful.

How did you increase your bookings so much?
HS:

More Instagram postings! I didn’t realize that I wasn’t sharing enough of my work with my Instagram followers or with vendors so they could share them as well.

How do you deal with failure?
HS:

I like to challenge myself. I get upset for a minute and then I learn from it. I didn’t send thank you gifts to my referrals the first few years, but I learned that even if it’s just a gift card or coffee mug it’s a way to keep in touch.

What will you be celebrating in a year?
HS:

I have worked hard this year in getting my bookings up. Next year is 60% booked. What I’ve been doing has been paying off.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
HS:

I’ve thought of starting another business, expanding into corporate photography, and maybe having another child.

What keeps you motivated?
HS:

I love what I do. It’s my passion. All lot of that “do what you love” is true. I can be with my child. I can work as hard as I want and I can take time off.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
HS:

You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. If you’re not self-motivated it’s not for you or just try it out on the weekends only.

Our success story Entrepreneur

Heba Salama

Heba Salama Photography: Wedding & Lifestyle Portrait Photographer Southern Weddings Blue Ribbon Vendor, 2013 Best of the Knot and 2012 Best Photographer: Chapel Hill Magazine


heba@hebasalama.com | www.hebasalama.com