Not long after the Hurley family moved to Wilton, Maine Melissa Hurley’s husband lost his job. In response, Melissa opened her photographic portrait business Memories by Melissa Photography. Her husband worked part-time while in school. Despite these efforts, the family ended up relying on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Melissa said, “We didn’t want to ask for assistance, but we were grateful to have the help when we needed it.”
Their life was turned upside down when their oldest daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Melissa curtailed business activities to care for her daughter during the three-year illness. Her daughter passed away just before her eighth birthday.
When she turned attention back to her business, Melissa was referred to Women, Work and Community (WWC). She worked with Microenterprise Specialist Shirley Hamilton. “I didn’t want to look at the numbers. I just wanted to work with my customers. But Shirley helped me to understand the money.” As they worked on her business plan together Melissa realized that a rural portrait business would not be able to support her family. She needed to expand her market. Shirley helped her to draft a proposal to the local school district Mt. Blue. This bid was unsuccessful, but she did secure a five-year contract with S.A.D. 58, Mount Abram. Then In 2014 she secured a contract to be the official Mt. Blue Regional School District photographer. Her business has increased 250% and she has 2 part-time employees. The family no longer receives TANF and Melissa’s business is a significant contributor to the family income.
Reflecting on her experience, Melissa said, “A lot of my business growth came from working with WWC. Working on my business plan forced me to take a close look at how the business of photography has changed in this digital age, to look at my competitors, to understand what my costs really are, and how that affects my pricing. As much as I want to be an artist, I know that I also have to understand the money side of my business so I can support my family.”
Melissa gives back to the community in a number of ways, including a volunteer photographer for “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” (nowilaymedowntosleep.org).