Beyond the Boardroom: Pixels by Emily's Emily Donohoe (2024)

Beyond the Boardroom: Pixels by Emily's Emily Donohoe (1)

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It’s good to be EMILY DONOHOE come late spring, when the small business owner takes part in what’s become an eagerly anticipated family tradition .

“I am sitting in St. John in the Virgin Islands as I write this,” Donohoe reports. “It’s our summer getaway every year. My husband, son and I come here to relax as hard as we work the rest of the year. My husband and I both work remotely while we are here, but the change of scenery from corn fields to turquoise water, ocean breezes and palm trees is a huge win and so good for our souls.”

Home the rest of the year is Mahomet for the Jacksonville, Fla., native, who pivoted from a career in accounting to photography, opening her own studio months after being hooked by a park district class.

The Pixels by Emily owner — who shares a home with her Gies College of Business professor husband Michael, their 13-year-old son Nicholas and Rusty the cat — took time out to answer questions from Editor Jeff D’Alessio in the 234th installment of our weekly speed read spotlighting leaders of organizations big and small.

My philosophy on meetings is ... if a meeting can be handled in an email, it should be. A Zoom call would be my next preference so that a ton of time isn’t lost driving to and from.

To fly directly in the face of what I just said, though: I do think face-to-face interaction and being in the same room can be beneficial in certain circ*mstances. I guess what I am saying is that it depends on the why for the meeting.

Why do I feel like I am already failing at this whole interview? LOL.

Beyond the Boardroom: Pixels by Emily's Emily Donohoe (2)

The hardest thing about being a leader is … feeling like you don’t actually know what you are doing. Imposter syndrome is a very real phenomenon.

I can’t live without my ... Full Focus Planner and glass white boards.

The three adjectives I hope my staff would use to describe me are … tenacious, meticulous and kind.

I knew this is what I wanted to do for a living at age … 36. I was on the backside of terrible postpartum issues, had moved 1,200 miles from home, was a stay-at-home mom after moving to Champaign from Florida, hated being in public accounting and felt talentless, but knew I needed to start working outside the home again.

My son was starting to go to preschool and I needed to be with people again. During my search for “what am I going to do” from a work standpoint — because I did not want to go back to accounting — I happened to take a photography class through the park district so I could figure out how to actually use the DSLR camera I bought when my son was born.

It was a six-week class and halfway through it, I came home and told my husband I knew what I was going to do: I was going to become a photographer and open a photography studio. He fielded that very well once his eyes settled back into their sockets. Bless his heart.

Photography saved me. It truly did. Pixels was born just after that class ended and we are starting our 11th year in business this September.

My creative role model is ... Shannon Squires-Toews. She also happens to be my creative coach and a great friend.

My business role model is Jeff Dachowski, my business coach and a former president of the Professional Photographers of America. I can’t stress enough the importance of working with professional coaches to help you reach your personal goals for your business.

If I could trade places for a week with any other business person in town, I wouldn’t mind switching with … tough one. I love what I do so much that I am having a hard time coming up with something I’d rather do for a week.

I guess it would have to be Andrea Hunt, owner of CU Flowerhouse, or Valerie Swain, owner of Flora Gems. I think working creatively with flowers would be fun and I also really like sparkly things, so being in a jewelry store for a week wouldn’t hurt my feelings.

My one unbreakable rule of the workplace is … openness and honesty.

My favorite moments of all-time in this job … are many:

—May 1, 2023, when my part-time employee, Staci Britten, came on board with Pixels full-time. She has been with me since almost the very beginning — almost 10 years — and she is honestly how Pixels runs as well as it does and is my literal right hand. Having her with me full time was a goal we’d been working towards for five years and has been a huge game changer.

— Cutting the ribbon for my first business-owned building that we gutted and basically built from the ground up. That was a moment I’ll never forget because it was a decade in the making. So much blood, sweat, tears, late nights, missteps, failures and restarts, plus some smart decisions, a whole lot of determination and the willingness to jump off a cliff with no guarantee of a safety net is what that moment represented to me.

— Having one of my client newborn images selected as a GIA (Grand Imaging Awards) top-10 finalist. I compete internationally with my work each year through the Professional Photographers of America, along with others, and the GIA category is the top 10 best of the best by genre for the annual International Photographic Competition.

I didn’t win the GIA for the children’s category, but having a client image go that far was very much a personal success. I love what I do so much, I could literally name 10-plus moments that I’ll never forget.

Creating fine art photography is so much more than a job to me. It saved me from feeling very lost and untalented and is literally soul work to me. Every day is magic.

For lunch … I usually work through it with a salad at my desk, but when I do go out to meet a friend or client, Big Grove, Seven Saints or Sunsinger are where you can likely find me.

I wind down after work by … spending the evenings with my boys — son, husband and crazy orange cat. I’m outnumbered 3:1 in the boy-to-girl category.

We do dinner together, wrap up the day, shower and spend a little couch time watching a show or two together.

Beyond the Boardroom: Pixels by Emily's Emily Donohoe (3)

The most beneficial college class I took was … my first accounting class at Indian River Community College. That class sent me down the accounting career path and while I am no longer an actively working CPA, that degree and experience not only paved my way to do what I love as a photographer, but also to manage the business in a way that I stay in business.

All small businesses are 80 percent business and 20 percent whatever your business does. Having a solid background in that 80 percent has been immeasurably helpful in navigating the ups and downs of the economy, the pandemic and the ebbs and flows of business as usual.

Many creatives don’t have a strong background in the numbers side of business, which can make things really challenging. I owe a lot of my success to the solid accounting background I gained in my first career.

The last good book I read was … “10x Is Easier Than 2x: How World-Class Entrepreneurs Achieve More by Doing Less.” Hands down. Life-changing.

It was quickly followed by the other two books those two authors wrote together — “The Gap and the Gain: The High Achievers’ Guide to Happiness, Confidence and Success” and “Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork.”

All three have collectively revolutionized the way I think about my business, my life and my past, and I have made very real changes to how I am moving forward in life since reading them. I cannot recommend this trio enough.

I’m up and at ’em every day by … 4 a.m. I have a whole self-care routine that I spend the first 2.5 hours of my day doing to get myself set for the day. I work out, meditate, read and journal every morning.

When it comes to my exercise routine … I have terrible back issues and have spent the last three years dealing with back surgeries, therapy, injections and more, so my exercise routine looks a lot different than it used to.

I either walk for 35 to 45 minutes, do a PT routine for 45 minutes to a hour or some combination of those six days a week. I do a private Pilates session at Living Legacy once a week. That is about the max I can do.

My Peloton and weightlifting days are tabled indefinitely — and maybe permanently — but I do miss those.

The first job I ever had was … at Body Shop, the clothing store in the mall that had all of the bright-colored Bongo jeans.

The worst job I ever had was ... telemarketer for a security system company when I was in high school. The worst.

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Beyond the Boardroom: Pixels by Emily's Emily Donohoe (2024)


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