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She Shoots, She Scores: CEO Sarah Wilkerson on ClickinMoms

In 2008, consultant-turned-photographer Sarah Wilkerson discovered ClickinMoms, an online community of mothers who love photography and want to learn more about and improve their craft. Within two years, she'd become CEO.

The site, founded by Kendra Okolita in March 2008, began as a private, online forum for beginning and intermediate photographers — but word spread quickly. Under Wilkerson, the business has skyrocketed. Revenues grew from around $180,000 in 2009 to $2.8 million in 2012, earning ClickinMoms the 300th spot on Inc’s 2013 5000 List. (In 2013, Wilkerson says company revenues topped 4.3 million.)

Today, it is the largest subscription-based community of female photographers with 16,000 members. Wilkerson, who's also a mother of four (all under 8!), talked to us about ClickinMoms' and her own evolution.

Describe your evolution with ClickinMoms. 
I found them when I joined as a member! I wasn’t a beginning photographer; I was more of an intermediate. I learn best by teaching others, so I’d research things I wanted to know and turn around and teach the community through forums. In 2010, I asked (founder) Kendra Okolita if I could write an online workshop — at that time, we only had forums. She agreed and the idea exploded. We had to hold a lottery for places in the workshop! 

Now these workshops make up a central program of ClickinMoms. Then, I realized there was a lot more we could do. I got to know Kendra quite well and expressed an interest in spearheading programming and taking on work behind the scenes; she indulged me, and one thing led to another as we began to work more closely and programming initiatives took off within the community.

What prompted your leap from law to photography to CEO of Clickin Moms?
Entry-level telecommuting opportunities for attorneys, at least when I graduated from law school, were scarce; I wrote briefly for a legal publication as a freelancer, but I found it was more lucrative to apply my more general legal skills to other industries. Fortunately, the skills that are emphasized in the legal world — such as research, writing and creativity — easily translate to other fields. My husband and I formed a small business as technical and media consultants — fields much more compatible with remote work — and our success in that venture gave me a great deal of confidence and new direction as a business professional. During that time, my personal interest in photography led me to the online community at Clickin Moms. 

Why do you think ClickinMoms has been so successful? 
Truly, it was a matter of being the right place at just the right time. It filled a void and exploded. There was no place for women who owned a camera to learn photography. The first month, there were 100 members. By the end of the year, there were 1,500 or so members. Now, six years later, we have 16,000 members. It grew very organically — a word-of-mouth thing.  We put in a lot of work to be responsive to members and what they needed.
  
How does ClickinMoms make money?
Through memberships, workshops, our online store (which sells small pieces of gear, like camera straps, bags), subscriptions to our print magazine — the fastest growing magazine in the photography industry. While magazines are folding, we have 30,000 subscriptions in a year! We also have advertising on site and in the magazine. And we’re hosting a conference for the first time this year in Salt Lake City (with Elizabeth Gilbert headlining).

What are you doing now to grow the business? 
Just this year, we’re starting to do formal marketing. We’ve saturated the market that was available to us. And now, we’re seeing competitors spring up, so we’re looking outside the industry to expand the audience. We began with beginning and intermediate photographers — our demo — and now we’ve moved beyond that. We need to find that audience again, those who are just beginning, so we’re looking at bloggers and scrapbookers to help find those women.

Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur? How do you describe yourself professionally?
Entrepreneurship usually implies both business innovation and personal financial risk. In that respect, Kendra and I treat our working relationship more like an entrepreneurial partnership that divides up aspects of that role. While she has given me full freedom to explore, experiment and implement, she and I also speak daily and collaborate on all major decisions. As to what I call myself, I suppose it's less of a noun and more of a verb — I usually say, "I work for Clickin Moms," which accurately sums up my role: I work for both the company and the community. 

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