We had the good fortune of connecting with Carissa Gray and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Carissa, is your business focused on helping the community? If so, how?
My business helps the community I live in and my state by providing services that either help make planning their special moments easier and more stress free or by bringing joy and fun into every experience we share together. I also like to give back by donating free sessions and services, as well as heavily discounted ones, because I know life is expensive and I want to help those I can whenever I can. My business has also donated thousands over the years to charities and to individuals who have struggled with cancer, other illnesses, loss, and more when I am in a position to do so because I have been through a lot myself and I know how much the help I have received has done for both my family and myself. I often say that it takes a village to get through this crazy thing called life and so many times, I have found out how true that statement is. I, myself, have faced loss, illness, injury, loss, and financial hardships. I deal with mental health illnesses daily and that alone has been a challenge. It is because of my support system that I am here and because of them, I want to give back whenever and however I can. Sometimes it’s giving a free holiday session to a single mom who is struggling or sometimes it’s donating money to someone’s Go Fund Me page that just lost a loved one and has a lot of funeral expenses. Sometimes it’s giving a gift card to a family of six who might need a little extra help and sometimes it might just be meeting up with someone to give them an ear to talk to, a shoulder to lean on, and a friend. My business has allowed me to give back in such amazing ways and I am thankful for every opportunity I can do so. Without my business, I wouldn’t be able to do nearly as much as I have. What I do isn’t just about providing services, it is about so much more than that! I have many in my amazing village and I am honored to be a part of other’s, because we all need one another.

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I started out doing solely photography in 2016. As the years went by, I added on event coordination and planning. I started offering the coordination and planning as an add on to my higher tier photo packages because I started finding myself playing the role of one whenever they hadn’t hired someone to do these things and decided to make them official services. As the need for coordinators and planners rose, I decided to offer them as stand alone services. After photographing several weddings and help plan/coordinate others, I decided to get ordained. Watching people get married is a beautiful experience and as I watched ceremony after ceremony, the desire to get ordained grew and grew. Along the way, I also started running a Polaroid booth. That was inspired by daughter, as she has developed a love for taking pictures, but I wasn’t about to hand over my expensive gear to my little girl. I figured a Polaroid would be fun. I grew up in the 1980’s and LOVED them, I mean who doesn’t enjoy seeing the picture right away? She has definitely loved taking her own pictures and filling up her albums. As I watched that joy grow, the idea hit me that maybe my couples would like it too. So, I started offering it as an add on and then as I saw the request for photo booths rise, I decided to offer that as a stand alone service as well.

It has not been easy, as there are so many in the industry. It can be very hard to keep it going when it can feel like there are more vendors than couples. There are definitely far more couples, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Another thing that makes things hard these days has been COVID. When the lockdowns hit, that brought my business to a screeching halt. At that point, I was entering year four of my business and starting to make some headway, but that took me and many others so many steps backwards. Somehow, I am one of the lucky ones to have made it through. I made it because I have a lot of help and support from others, most especially the many who keep referring me to others who see my name and decide to reach out, as well as my husband, who is my rock throughout everything. I am where I am because of them and because I refuse to give up. I am determined to build something that will allow me to help my family, be something my kids can look at and see what hard work and determination can bring, and because I want to bring joy to others.

I have learned so many things. One thing I learned is, even when you’re self-employed, you are not doing this alone. You need others to build your brand and make a name for yourself. You also should be willing to give back, because it’s not just about one person or one business, it’s about a community of people and businesses coming together. I always say we are the most successful and happiest when we work together. I have also learned, it is okay to say no. I used to take on any clients I could just to bring in business, that has led to many heartaches and a lot of stress. It is okay to say no when you don’t think you’re a good fit. It is also okay to say no when someone tries to walk all over you and take advantage of you. Many I work with/for are amazing people with beautiful hearts, but there are some who want to take businesses for a ride to get something for free or to scam people out of their money. I won’t glorify our industry and say everything is peachy. Many make me thankful I do what I do and it has been and is amazing, but some people really can make you question everything. I have learned some things the hard way, but I am learning. I have learned that there are many wonderful people in our industry, who want what I want, to give top notch services to our clients and who also view our clients as not just another face or another paycheck, but as people with thoughts, feelings, and ideas all their own who should be heard and valued. I have been blessed to work alongside many terrific people. They are definitely a part of why I am where I am. I have learned that it is okay to take a break and step back for sanity’s sake and also because our families need us too. It is important to have a good home/work balance. I have learned to wear comfortable shoes. All day on your feet can be taxing and when you wear the right shoes, clothes too, it helps a great deal. I have learned that the cheapest isn’t always bad quality and the most expensive isn’t always the best. Everyone prices things the way they feel is fair and that doesn’t always depict talent, customer service skills, and personality. I have learned that this is the only career I want to have. I have worked many jobs over the years and none of them brought me this much joy and fulfillment as this does. I have found my path.

My business name used to be Carissa Gray Photography, because it was easiest to just use my name and I was proud to have my name on my brand. As I added more services though, it didn’t feel right anymore and so, I decided to take one of my mottos and catchphrases and make it my business name. I used to say, Catching life’s precious moments and turning them into forever memories because that’s how I view pictures, memories you can hold onto and revisit whenever you want, especially because our physical memories fade, but a picture can bring it all back in an instant. My business name is now Forever in a Moment Entertainment because I have found it only take one moment to feel and experience so much and I want to be a part of those moments. I feel that my approach towards clients and potential clients sets me apart. I know many view my informal approach as odd and some may feel it’s unprofessional at times, but I got into this business to best serve my community, network with others, and yes make friends. I know that not every client will become my friend and I am okay with that, but I leave the door open to those that want to. I feel I do my best work when I am fully invested in their day and who they are. If they were simply another face to me, a means to make money, I would quit. I don’t want to do business without putting not only my head into it, but my soul as well. I want others to know this. I put all of me into what I do. I do take things personally and that can lead to issues from time to time, but more often than not, it has lead to me amazing opportunities, growth, and great friendships. I won’t be someone I am not for the sake of money.

My story is a long one, but I will say that I walked along a broken road to get here. I worked many jobs that didn’t suit me because bills needed to get paid. I was rarely happy, though I did work with some great people over the years and did work a few jobs that brought me some joy. I was a single mom, trying to raise a young son. I felt so lost. I met my now husband on January 14th, 2012. Little did I know what would all come from that day, a day that seemed pretty insignificant at the time. I barely noticed him and vice versa. Still, that led to so much more down the road. We started dating in October of 2012, got engaged in June of 2014, and got married in May of 2015. Along the way, so much was happening. I grew in ways I didn’t realize I needed to. In April of 2016, my daughter was born. In July of that year, we moved to a different city, to be in a better place and a bigger house. In August of 2016, just after my daughter turned four months old, at the urging of a dear friend, I began my photography business. I had no idea what was in store for me when it all began. Here we are in April of 2022, my business is still going and has grown so much, as have I. I will say it again, I wouldn’t be where I am without the many who support me. It is not easy to keep going, but because I know I am not truly alone, it is easier to keep putting one foot in front of the other. My path is less broken, but it still has some mending to do. I am committed to laying that groundwork and bringing the best to my clients and others around me as my business grows and as I do as well.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If you would have asked me about West Bend, Wisconsin before I moved here, I would have said, it’s so small and there couldn’t possibly be much to do and everything super close by couldn’t all that popular either. Now though, I have found that our little city has a lot to offer! For food, I would definitely take them to Riverside Brewery, Charcoal Grill, Bibinger’s, The Stillery, and The Mineshaft for dinner. Of those, my favorite is Riverside Brewery. I like everything there, especially their potato skins, yum! Bibinger’s is really good too. Ask my husband about the cheese curds! For breakfast, Copper Penny and Skinny Vic’s is where it’s at! For me, Skinny Vic’s is my favorite because I have a gluten allergy and they are able to make most things on their menu gluten-free. I love how amazing they have been about it, making sure I am well taken care of!

I would take them to Riverside, Regner, Quaas Creek, and Ridge Run to explore our amazing parks. Sandy Knoll, Ackerman, and Yahr are great as well! Regner is definitely the happening place to be in the summer, they have so many activities, especially for families. They also have a beautiful Labyrinth Garden. I love going there, just to take in all of the beauty! I would also insist we go to Shalom Wildlife Sanctuary, it is an amazing all outdoor zoo. The animals have so much room to roam and just be. You can rent a golf cart or walk your way through it. You can feed many of the animals along the way too! They also have petting zoo there. At the end, you can pick out a small ice cream cup to eat before you go. It is an amazing experience! Main Street is home of our downtown and is action packed during the summer as well. They have Music on Main every Thursday evening. They also have a great Farmer’s Market, put on various festivals, and more throughout the year. They host a fun trick or treating event for the kids, an ice sculpture display, and so much more. There are a lot of cute shops to explore and some have amazing goodies, like Laughing Mountain. They have great popcorn! Sal’s or Inferno are the places to go on Main for pizza. I prefer Eaton’s, because they have a good gluten-free option! The old movie theater opened up, which isn’t just for movies, they also have comedy shows and more there as well.

I would also take them to King Pin to go bowl a few games. Depending on when they came, if there’s a parade, we can sit on my porch and watch it. If I want to take them out for a few drinks, it would be off to Pint & Chaser for us. I love their staff, the food, and just the atmosphere of the place. I have gone there and ended up having some of the best conversations with people I just met. I even booked a wedding with someone I had met there. West Bend and the nearby towns have so much to offer. I would try to convince my friend to stay longer so I could show them some more!

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Where do I start? I owe my success to so many people, as I did not get to where I am or where I am headed all on my own. First, I would like to thank my friend Dola Kirk. She has done so much, starting with and definitely not limited to giving me my initial push to start my business in the first place. She asked me in the summer of 2016 if I would be willing to take family pictures for her, because she’d seen the pictures I take of my family, nature, and so on and would love it if I could do that for her. After I agreed, she later asked if I had ever considered doing it for a living. I told her I had, but didn’t think I was good enough. She quickly put an end to that frame of mind and told me I was being too hard on myself and that if I have a passion for it, I should give it a try. If nothing came of it, at least that is one less what if floating around in my head. After our long talk, I decided to go for it. Since, she has referred many people to me and has booked me herself several times since. Without her, I am not sure I ever would have gotten the courage to try.

I also owe so many thanks to my amazing husband. He does so much!! He helps me clean the studio before sessions, hang the bigger backdrops, load and unload my car when I have a wedding or other offsite event, rearrange his schedule on the weekends when I am super busy so he can be with our daughter and I can work, runs something out to me if I forget or run out of something and I am nearby, listens to me whenever I am either super excited about an amazing opportunity, happy about how a session or event went, or when I so upset by how a client is treating me or how stressed out I am, reminds me why I love what I do when I feel like giving up, and is simply my rock through everything. I don’t think I would still be doing this if I didn’t have his support in all I do all these years later. Sometimes it feels like he is my silent partner, who doesn’t get paid to any of what he’s done. I am so thankful to him for everything he does and for how supportive he is.

My friend, Briggett Wills is and has been a major inspiration to me. She is also a photographer, whom I met through a photography group. She has been my cheerleader and champion, giving me advice when I need it, praise when I have done well, and above everything else, genuine friendship. She has taught me that we do not need to view one another as competition, that there is more than enough room for us all to succeed and that by working together to help our businesses grow, we are not only helping ourselves and each other, but the communities we serve as well. She has become one of my best friends and I am so thankful to her. She has helped me through both personal and business related problems. I can come to her and know she has my back. She has helped my business grow by recommending me when she can’t help and sharing my business posts. She helps me keep going by reminding me why I started this in the first place, to bring smiles and joy to others and to capture that joy so they can remember it for a lifetime. She is truly one of the best people I know and I want everyone to know that.

There are others, so many who refer others to me, share my posts, book me themselves, offer to pass out business cards, and more. My village, made up of friends, family, past clients who became friends, and fellow wedding vendors, many of whom also became friends. I am not where I am because I did this all on my own. No, I think anyone who has achieved any kind of real success can find people who have helped them along the way, even if they don’t realize it at the time. I go back something I said in another question, it takes a village and I have an amazing one! I am where I am and am going where I am headed because I am surrounded by many amazing people! Thank you, every single on of you!!

Instagram: www.instagram.com/foreverinamomententertainment

Facebook: www.facebook.com/foreverinamomententertainment

Image Credits
The picture of me: Rachel Folger of R+B Photography

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