Rhea Landholm contributed to this blog
Not everyone can say their hobby became a successful business venture, but for Tonya and Chad Ottemann, that’s exactly what happened.
The couple has spent the last decade building their business, Ottemann Photography, from the ground up. What started as a hobby, taking pictures of their own children, has gravitated toward taking pictures of friends’ children, and eventually obtaining a professional studio space. Today, the business specializes in newborn, children, family, and wedding photography.
“My husband and I were fascinated with taking photos,” said Tonya. “We both had full-time jobs at that time, so it was informal at first, but we have done really well since we moved to Nebraska City.”
Before relocating and setting up shop, the Ottemanns lived outside of Johnson, Nebraska. They were using the basement of their home as a studio, and wanted to move to a storefront. That’s when they contacted Janelle Moran, Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) loan specialist with the Center for Rural Affairs.
In addition to finding space for the business, the couple also hoped to upgrade some of their equipment. With Janelle’s help, they were able to do everything with ease.
“Working with Janelle was a breeze,” said Tonya. “She helped us create a business plan and also offered advice to make sure we were making a good decision. It was really helpful to step back and make sure we weren’t making that decision blindly, and Janelle helped us with that.”
The couple obtained a REAP loan in the early stages of their business, and Janelle continues to partner with them as their business grows and expands services.
"The Ottemanns have been a pleasure to work with,” Janelle said. “I appreciate their willingness to learn the business side of things, as Tonya was already a great photographer when we met.”
Working with REAP has paid off. Tonya says finding a new home for their business helped Ottemann Photography gain credibility.
“Having a storefront gives me legitimate accreditations,” she said. “Getting the loan to help out with that, and to buy new equipment, was exactly what we hoped for to make the changes necessary to be more successful.”
With all the funding and upgrades now complete, the Ottemanns are happily continuing to do what they love best—getting to know their clients and taking beautiful photographs.
“I feel our business thrives on building relationships with our clients and earning their trust,” said Tonya. “Being able to capture the memories from newborns to children growing up is a big commitment for people.”
Tonya strives for the personal touch with her photographs, and hopes to gain lifelong customers with her extra care.
“It’s exciting to me, to know I did a client’s wedding, and they continue to stick with me,” she said. “There are a lot of photographers out there. The competition is definitely intense, so building that relationship with my clients is truly important and has helped our business.”