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Episode 3: Mike Drilling, Windborne Photographic Studio

LISTEN TO THE OFFICIAL EPISODE:

Our guest this week is Mike Drilling, from Windborne Photographic Studios and a new realtor at Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realty in Traverse City.

Mike’s been running his photography studio for over 4 decades now, and in that time he has established himself as an innovative, creative, and adaptive business owner. His new realty adventure is a culmination of his experience in the area, and his great eye for detail.

After our chat with Mike, Ruthy and Tim delve into the topic of backups, and why they’re so important in your business- and how Terrapin Networks has, in their relationship with Mike and his company, set up a backup system that helps secure the thousands upon thousands of image files he’s accrued over the years. We also talk about what businesses should look out for when it comes to their own backup systems, and the frequently-recommended backup system that Tim says is inadequate for business.

For more information on Windborne Photographic Studios or to get a hold of Mike, give him a call at 231.946.2940 or visit http://windbornestudios.com/

Show Transcript

Note: When we recorded the first few episodes of this show, the working title was Michigan Small Biz Stories. We have since rebranded to Terrapin Small Biz Connection. Apologies for any confusion!

Tim (00:00):

Well, hello, Northern Michigan and all the ships at sea. And thanks for joining us for this week’s edition. I’m Tim Gillen, owner of Terrapin Networks, a small business located right here in Northern Michigan in Traverse City. We do a small business computer and technology setup system and support.

I’ve been involved in small business my whole working life, going back to my parents and grandparents. I’ve always been fascinated with those who start and succeed in running a small company. Small companies are special and, I’d say, largely overlooked. It takes a special person, a special team, and a special kind of grit to make it work, especially up here in Northern Michigan. So that’s what we talk about here on Terrapin Small Biz Connection. And again, we work in our company, Terrapin Networks. We’ve been doing only small biz tech support for a number of years and are tightly intertwined with a lot of small companies up here and have been for years.

(00:56):

So we’ve gotten to know some of these people and really find them very interesting. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about. So together with my cohost Ruthy Kirwan, we’ll have conversations with other small business owners here in Northern Michigan, all the different things that they put up with and succeed with and thrive with- and overcome- how they started their business, what kind of customers they serve, what’s changed. And also how policymakers have affected their ability to run their business, made it easier, made it more difficult, whatever it might be.

Also how community members, and our other customers and so forth, how they may or may not ‘get it’. This is more than just a creation story of small businesses Up North. It’s more of an up close and personal look at what it truly takes to run a small business up here in God’s country, for better or for worse.

So with that, I will turn it over to our cohost Ruthy Kirwan. Ruthy, who we got this week?

Ruthy (01:53):

Hey there, Tim, how are you this week, first off?

 

Tim

Good.

 

Ruthy

Good. I’m glad to hear it. Our guest today has been running his photography studio here in Northern Michigan since 1978. He has been in business snapping photos for over 40 years. Now they’ve recently branched into real estate where their photography skills give them an edge over other agents, highlighting homes for sale with stunning photography. Please welcome, from Windborne Photography Studio in Traverse City: Mike Drilling. How are you, Mike?

Mike (02:20):

Good morning, Ruth and Tim, how are ya?

 

Tim

So, Mike give us a quick intro on your business now, and Windborne Photography Studio.

 

Mike

We’re located at two 25 East 14th Street in Traverse City, in an old warehouse style building that my wife purchased for her dance studio, the Dance Center. About 17 years ago previously, I was on Garfield Road for 28 years at a custom built studio that I built back in 1990. So we’ve moved over here and downsized our operation just a little bit.

(03:00):

Back during the film days when we were on Garfield Road, I can’t remember the exact year, but one year back in the mid 2005 or 6, just as digital imaging was coming along, we did over 400 high school grads in one year. Grossing almost a million dollars in sales. That was the peak of our business. That was quite a lot of production. I had six people working for me at the time, including myself but I did all the shooting and that was really incredible.

Tim (03:45):

But also incredibly stressful and an awful lot of business for yourself.

That’s really churning out. That’s a real assembly line.

Mike (03:49):

I think an assembly line is a good way of putting it, Tim. I was thankful to have the business because we did have a lot of people working for us at the time.

You know, I think, for a small town photography business, six employees is quite a few.

You know, customer service, Tim, and you know this because your whole business is customer service… Customer service is always where it’s at.

 

Tim

Yep. No different in my business.

 

Mike

Client wants to go to Manistee. We’re going to Manistee.

Not being a high volume photographer any longer, I can do that for my customers.

 

Ruthy

Yeah. That gives you that space to be able to offer that.

 

Mike

It’s not stressful at all. It just isn’t.

Tim (04:30):

I don’t know if that’s because you and I have both been doing this for a few decades, and I don’t know if that’s a message that we would send to our younger self or not. Because we’re doing the same thing here, a you know, as we’ve talked about. We [Terrapin Networks] pushed away a lot of the…what you’d think of as high volume stuff.

We don’t do municipal governments. We’re not contending for large factories, like a lot of people in our line of work are. We’re just partnering with small companies and really getting in with them and helping everything work better, work the best it can be, the safest, be the most efficient, the most effective we can make it.

So we can, at a much deeper level, get involved with those folks. It’s a lot less stressful. Like you mentioned, it’s a lot more rewarding and says why I got in the business in the first place, which is to help people’s technology really work and help their business flourish.

Tim (05:26):

And sometimes we think, you know, we’re just done with the grind. I mean, doing eight sessions a day, got to be a bit much, but there was an emotional component to it, I’m sure. Cause there was for me and I didn’t realize it until I started to shift this direction. How much more rewarding this is. The financial compensation is, really, and the bottom line side because your payroll nut is a little bit different. That weekly or biweekly grind that you have to meet, it really changes your ability to open your mind up and get inside your business for the whole reason you started it and, or got involved in it in the first place.

Is that a message you’d send to the younger Mike too? That maybe doing 400 grads isn’t really the goal, that maybe connecting with someone and helping them really be an expression of themselves is really why you got into photography in the first place?

Mike (06:23):

If I could give advice to a younger Mike concentrating on customer service, I can tell you this because I had such an incredible staff. We always provided the very best customer service that we could for our clients, but I think as long as long as you are not only interested in your client, but you’re interesting to your client, you will always have that great connection no matter what. That connection, once you’ve established that, you know, your clients will appreciate the fact that you’re, no pun intended, focused completely on them at the time that you need to be.

Tim (07:16):

When we’re doing professional services as a small company, you’re always thinking, I wonder if I’m giving folks what they actually want, right? And when you start to have the connection and you start to realize, because they’re telling you, man, this is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks.

And you start getting that kind of feedback, and you start shifting gears a little bit. And man, it’s not about volume. It really isn’t.

And that’s maybe, again, why some of us live up here. We’ve got some stuff that’s pretty unique to us up here, right? That really makes it worth it. And changes that dynamic from pumping it out to really making the business why you got into it.

So that takes me to my next question. That’s neat how that works, right? All this time you were running around with dogs out in the field with shotguns chasing birds. Am I right with that?

Mike (08:21):

Absolutely. Yeah. That started with my dad. When I was a kid he had beagles growing up, so he always liked to rabbit hunt and always went hunting with dogs.

I’ve always wanted them. I got my first pointer when I was 17 years old, a rescue. He never turned into much of a dog, but we sure loved run in the woods together. And you know, I had him for quite a while and-

Tim (08:51):

Was he good at finding birds?

Mike (08:53):

No, not that good. (laughter) But we thought we were doing it right. My Llewellyn that I have right now, Trixie, is probably the best hunting dog I’ve ever had. She’s just got an incredible nose and bird finder. It’s been a lot of fun chasing her around.

We make a trip to South Dakota every year with now my real estate mentor, Mike Street. Mike and I have been going out there together for years and he’s been busting my chops for a long time to get into the real estate business.

Remember the old Cheech and Chong skit, What I Did on My Summer Vacation? So what I did on my COVID vacation was, I got my real estate license. And so now I’m spending a few days a week with Mike and learning the real estate industry.

You know, I’ve been really lucky to have two really good mentors. And of course, Mike has been my friend for a long time, but

Tim (09:56):

He’s a real pro he really is. He well known in the area.

Mike (10:00):

Oh yeah, he’s a great pro. I’m thankful that I’ve had two really good mentors, Lanny Haven, my first mentor in photography, and now Mike. The interest in real estate really has combined from developing a couple of projects on my own that I’ve done over the years. Some commercial property that my wife and I have invested in, developed, and the process is very interesting to me. It can be stressful, yes. But it’s still very interesting.

And then the architectural photography. I mean, being in some incredible homes up in Northern Michigan. I’m telling you, we have some builders up here that are absolutely incredible craftsmen, as good as anywhere you would want to see.

Tim (10:53):

You’ve been in this town doing this kind of work for so many years, right? So many contacts, so many connections, you’ve been doing architecture photography. You’ve been doing a personal photography in the outdoors, all over the great north country. And so to move into real estate as one additional segment of what Mike Drilling does would seem to be a really good fit. I mean, really, it made logical sense to me. You’ve got a great mentor in someone like Mike Street, and your ability, of course, if someone’s going to list with you for a home, to be able to present that in the best light. I mean, some of these, you go on a multi listing thing, you look at some photos of houses and you think they’re actually trying to sell this with these pictures?

 

Ruthy

We’ve all seen that listing!

 

Tim

We’ve all seen that.

(11:54):

And so your eye, your photographic skills you know, that’s going to be an awfully big plus for someone who’s going to list with you, I would think.

 

Ruthy

It’s like the new curbside appeal.

 

Mike

Exactly, Ruthy.

 

Tim

Well, Mike, one of the things that you bring of value to in any of these commercial relationships is your eye. That’s what got you into photography in the first place. And you’re able to see things that a lot of us don’t see. That’s what makes a good photographer.

 

Mike

I don’t bring an eye to photography. I bring both eyes, Tim.

Ruthy (12:29):

(laughing)

Tim (12:30):

Mike’ll be here all week, everybody, thanks for coming.

Ruthy (12:35):

Mike, let me ask you this. What do you think that people don’t quite understand about both your photography business currently and also the real estate business and the convergence of the two? What do you think that, if you just met somebody at a party, what’s something that you might try hard to convey about what it is that you do?

Mike (12:55):

You know, that’s kind of two questions. So you, you asked me what don’t people understand about photography. And I’ll tell you a couple of things about our industry. It’s made a big shift from the digital image, the printed image to the digital file. People are trying to purchase or want to purchase digital files. And I think that… Ok, I’m really going out on a limb here, but I’ll say it, I’m too old to hold back now:

I think that people believe that the value of the image is in the paper that it’s printed on and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

So explain that a little bit more. What does a piece of photo paper cost, only costs about a buck and a half. All right. So they say, why should I pay you $75 for that?

(13:46):

Well, the paper doesn’t work on its own. It’s got to have something of personal value to you to put on that paper. All right, well, what is that? That’s your digital image.

You know, some people, the clients will think that, well, why can’t I just buy the file from you? Why does it have to be so much? Because it’s everything, it’s the verb. It’s the innate value. The value of their work is in their effort, their ability to create a product that people want to print, but they might see the value more in the paper as opposed to what goes on the paper.

 

Tim

Well, and of course probably goes without saying, we get that too. People think, any knucklehead can do it, my kid can set up a computer. What’s the big deal here. Run some virus software. As you have found working with my outfit for so many years, my is just a lot more to it.

 

Mike

Gosh, my brother-in-law’s worked for IBM for 40 years and he always I love it when he says, Mike, you know just enough to be dangerous. And that’s me in the computer world, Tim. I know just enough to be dangerous. And there are a lot of photographers that operate the same way. They know just enough to be dangerous. And when I say dangerous, I mean, dangerous to themselves.

 

Tim

As you know, I’ve had to unwind a few things for you.

 

Mike

Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Tim (15:23):

I’m sure it’s the same on the photography side. Someone takes a digital photo and you think, well, that looks great. And then you actually fix it and they go, Oh my gosh. Yeah, it happens that realization.

 

Mike

I would imagine Ruthie runs into that on the chef side, I’m sure.

Ruthy (15:46):

Or in recipe development. I run into it more so with recipe development, people think I just throw a bunch of stuff together, but the concept of creating a recipe so that other people can also make it in the same way that you made it: That’s really where the little intricacies lie.

Tim (16:02):

It takes some skill, and it should be worth the money. It’s the old story about the fellow who breaks his leg and goes to the doctor. Dr. sets his leg. Man says, My bill for a hundred dollars. It took you 10 minutes. How could you? The Dr says, It was a dollar for setting the leg and $99 for knowing how to do it. And that’s told in any number of different ways, but it’s so true that the actual knowledge has real value and sometimes can get overlooked.

Ruthy (16:36):

Well Mike, if people want to get ahold of you with Windborne or also with your real estate industry, what’s the best way for them to do so?

 

Mike (16:42):

231-946-2940 That’s my studio number, my office number, my personal number is (231) 499-3366. I do everything by appointment.

Now it’s been a bit of a transition. I was told yesterday by my friend, Mike Witkop. He said, We go through seasons of our life. And so this is just another season for me, you know? And some people, you know, fear change. I don’t really fear it too much. I really don’t. I can’t live in fear of anything. So it’s just another season. It’s just another way for me to fulfill my life and be a good husband and a good father. So, you know, I’m looking forward to it, you know, the next few years are going to be pretty incredible, I think.

 

Tim

Amen. Amen. Absolutely.

Ruthy (17:33):

Well, thank you very much for hanging out with us this week, Mike. I appreciate your time so much, and it’s been a joy to know you and your business all these years, and we’re looking forward to seeing what you do.

Mike (17:45):

Thanks Ruthy, this was fun. I really appreciate you having me and letting tell a little bit of my story.

(17:50):

It’s been great. I’ll tell you, Traverse City is an incredible place to live.

 

Tim

It is, we’re all very lucky. We’re very blessed up here. There’s no doubt about it’s a very unique place and we all like to think so, but Ruth is someone who’s been around the country a bit and she can relate back to this too. Every place has its advantages, but there’s something about Northern Michigan, Northwest lower Michigan, Traverse City, that’s a little bit different, for sure. And for those of us who are able to actually carve out something here, we’re all very blessed. Well, thanks, Mikey. We really do really do appreciate it.

 

Mike

Thanks Tim, thanks Ruthy.

Ruthy (19:16):

Welcome back to Terrapin Small Biz Connection, I’m Ruthy Kirwan, here with my host Tim Gillen. Now this is the part of the show, Tim, where I want to talk with you. It’s just you and me here, Mike has left, and I want to hear about your takeaways from what we just spoke about with Mike.

 

Tim

Well, two things kind of stand out to me. One is that Mike and I both are professionals. And by that, I mean, we get paid for what we know. A lot of people are: attorneys, doctors, any number of things where you get paid for what you know. We also get paid for what we do. Mike gets paid for actually clicking the camera shutter, but he really gets paid for what he knows: how to line up a photo, how to process it.

Ruthy (20:00):

Yes, that’s just what we talked about in the episode. We tend to underestimate that, but that’s really where his value is.

 

Tim

And as we chatted briefly, a lot of us who are professionals, meaning we get paid for what we know, are always whining about the fact people don’t appreciate all, how hard we’ve worked to get there and all that kind of thing. But there’s a certain part to that.
But, you know, here’s what’s changed for both Mike and I. I’ve known Mike for years, as I said in the show, and his business, as he told us, is quite different than it was when he started back in the eighties and even in the nineties. But he’s still a photographer. So you say, well, what’s different? Because now he doesn’t go into the dark room and all that, which is true, but really it’s more than that, his opportunities have changed.

(20:47):

What people will pay him for and hire him for is actually a little different because now his ability to frame a photo and get lighting, right, and bring out someone’s personality. He does that architectural photography. He knows how to make a building look a certain way. And the light painting, that was hardly talked about as much 25 years ago.

Now it’s the same for us at Terrapin Networks. We used to be a store at one point, when we were Terrapin Computer Company. When we first opened it, we had a walk in store with stuff on the shelf and stuff we inventoried. We had walk-in repair with a bunch of guys on a long desk who were, who were fixing computers and upgrading computers. It was just a different world. And as that changed, what made that change was the construction and stuff of computers and building computers changed.

Tim (21:41):

And frankly between the internet and big box stores moving into town, nobody needed to buy a computer from me. And so I started to see that people were coming in to get advice from me so that they would know what to buy online or so that they would know what to buy at the big box store. You know, first thing is you get irritated by that. But then I kind of occurred to me, like it did to Mike, when everyone has a really good camera in their flippin’ pocket right now, you know, maybe I need to think of this a little bit differently. Instead of getting angry at people who are asking me about computers, I just started to realize that it’s changed. Now we’re at the part where people will pay me for what I know, and the business kind of moved in that direction. And so many of us in small business have to do that. If you’re in a small business for a while, that’s the nimble part.

Ruthy (22:25):

Indulge me, if you will: You and I also were briefly talking before we got on our interview with Mike earlier about the concept of backups.

Tim (22:32):

Yeah, we talked about lot of things, but we talk about IP. An IP address stands for “internet protocol”, that’s a real common term in tech, but IP also is used for “intellectual property” and man, a man like Mike makes his living off his intellectual property.

His ability to make those pictures is Mike. And that kind of thing, you don’t just recreate most times. And certainly a guy like Mike Drilling has something that has that, that whole big bucket of intellectual property. These are photos he’s created that he wouldn’t be able to recreate. He’s not going to get the lighting, right. Especially if he’s outside with a subject.

 

Ruthy

It’s a moment in time.

 

Tim

And because he’s a photographer, he takes big honkin pictures, man, those guys take these raw pictures and they’re just mammoth data files. And Michael takes several hundred at any given time.

(23:21):

So a guy like Mike’ll have several hundred thousand files that go back years. And we have gathered these on a server stored in his building. And they’re all copied out in the cloud. They’re all backed up out in the cloud, like 11 terabytes worth a huge chunk of data, a lot of data. So we had to set up some stuff for Mike, which we do for any company. Anything that you’re thinking about with your company, this kind of backup, you just don’t want to mess with on your own. And so we at Terrapin always follow the basic rules of proper backups. We want the data in three places, we’ll settle for two, but we really want it in three: the place where you data’ll be created, let’s say your laptop, your desktop. Plus a separate backup in your building. And then a third backup that’s out of the building. That’s what we always prefer.

Ruthy (24:10):

So two places inside your building and a third outside the building, that’s the best case scenario.

Tim (24:14):

Yes. And it has to be encrypted, which, which in our case, it is, it has to be genuinely a commercial type of backup.

Ruthy (24:23):

What about something home-based? I always hear about Carbonite, that backup system. And I know a lot of businesses that use it. Do you recommend people just get like a really good version of Carbonite or does it have to be something different?

Tim (24:37):

I mean, I would never throw a name out there from people who don’t do that kind of backup like a Carbonite. I would never say to use that company as a business. We hear some of these tech shows on the radio and Carbonite seems to sponsor everybody. And Carbonite does a nice job of backup for home backups. They’re fine for it, but they’re just not so good for commercial. And why not? Because of the way they’re able to do it so cheaply, the way that they compress the data. Mike can have his photos changed at all in the backup. They must be backed up exactly as they’re taken. So a thing like Carbonite will shrink those files down, make them smaller. So will Google photos and that kind of thing. They’ll, change the photo to save space on their servers.

(25:15):

That’s partly how you pay less money for something like Carbonite. And it takes forever to do the upload, to get it up to the cloud. And it takes forever to do the download to get it down. Another way they save money is to, is to control the bandwidth. So you have to get a bonafide commercial backup, one costs a little bit more, but it doesn’t do anything to your file. It makes no changes to the file, the files and it’s encrypted. So it’s protected, but it’s not compressed. So it’s not changed.

And the last thing, which is the most important, it’s all hands off, Mike never touches it. Mike just does his thing and I have everything happening in the background. So it’s all backed up where it has to be virtually in real time. Now that it’s all been seated, it just happens. So it’s never something that he has to actually do manually.

Ruthy (26:02):

Like he never has to remember to do it, say, every Friday morning.

Tim (26:04):

Mike never clicks “back up”, “back up now”, “start back up”. Never. None of my customers do. And if you’re doing that, you’re doing it wrong.

It’s just too easy for something to be happening. I just can’t tell you how many times someone’s handed me this disk and said, here’s my backups. And then I go to open Quickbooks and the most recent file, is 3 months old. It’s happened to me for 25 years. It’s real easy to overlook it, to miss it, to not see it. You click, okay. And it actually comes up with a real quick error. You don’t even see it. So you have to have a situation there. It’s a hands off that then it’s all automated. And it sends someone like me, whose job is to keep an eye on that,

(26:48):

well, we actually put our eyes on our consoles every day. So we know if the backup works and then it sends us an alert. If the backup, for some reason failed, even one file, didn’t get copied. We can alert,

Always act like we’re going to need that backup tomorrow. We’re going to need today’s data tomorrow morning. You want to always act like that always. And if you don’t, you’ll learn your lesson as soon enough. And it won’t be pretty. I promise it’s no fun to go through that to need data and not have it.

 

So that’s the other thing with Mike. We had to figure out a way to safely, and in an automated fashion  and encrypted and all that kind of thing, and without changing the files, get those backed up. And it was kind of tricky. It’s very doable, but it’s not just something you buy for $39 a year and plug it in and say, go, that’s not what you do.

Ruthy (27:32):

All right. Well, I think that has to, unfortunately bring us to the end of our episode here this week. Tim, thank you for explaining all of that and kind of like breaking it down for us a little bit more. And let’s hang out again.

 

Tim

All right. Thanks. Bye.

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