Bringing opportunity into focus

Preston Ball obtained a seed capital grant of $10,000 from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority for needed equipment.

Preston Ball believed his photography hobby had value, but it took the Southwest Virginia SBDC to bring the idea of starting a business into focus. Turning a hobby into a business, he launched Preston Ball Photography LLC in December 2018.

“I got started with taking pictures of my own kids,” he explains. When other parents asked him to take photos of their children, Preston began to think in terms of his own business. He decided to visit Margie Douglass, Director of the Southwest Virginia SBDC. “When I went to the SBDC, she asked me a bunch of questions that I didn’t have a clue as to what the answers were,” he relates. “Did I have a business plan or a price sheet? How do I handle taxes — a lot of things I’d never really thought about.”

Preston went home to work on a business plan, a process he compared to looking through the viewfinder on his camera. “It was a real eye-opener,” he says. “Once you start putting things on paper, you see a lot of opportunities out there.” He appreciated the help the SBDC provided along the way. “They gave me sample business plans,” he explains. “Any time I had a question, I would call and ask about it.”

Margie was also instrumental in connecting Preston with the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA), which led to a $10,000 seed-capital matching grant. “It was a lot of work, but it paid off,” he says. “The seed-capital grant helped me purchase new lighting for my photo shoots. In the future, I hope to develop an indoor studio to provide a space for more portrait photography.”

The grant not only helped Preston grow his business, it literally took him in a whole new direction — up. “I purchased a drone, and I’ve been taking a lot of photos for local realtors,” he notes. Preston believes drones are a new frontier that photographers like himself can explore. “They’re using drone photos for tower and bridge inspections,” he says. “That’s a lot safer than sending a human up to do it.”

One major long-term goal is landing a contract for school photos. “We have four schools in Lebanon — and no sports photographers in town,” Preston relates. “That’s a huge potential market.”

Preston is pleased with the progress his business has made in its first year and credits the SBDC for much of that success. “I had no idea the SBDC does so many things,” he concludes. “The SBDC will help as little or as much as needed. I definitely plan to keep on working with them.”

Virginia SBDC