© Sophie Skipper Photography 2016
5 Things I Have Learnt In Year 1 Of Being My Own Boss
SOPHIE SKIPPER PHOTOGRAPHY celebrated its 1st Birthday in February and with this in mind, I have decided to share a few things I have learnt in my first year of business.
It was in February 2016 that I decided to take the plunge into self-employment. After about 1 month of preparation (things such as branding, social media and website building) .. I left my full-time job as a Medical Photographer and launched myself into the unknown. It is no lie when I say, that at that time, I had enough money in my account to pay my rent & bills for 1 month (max) and absolutely ZERO potential clients. On top of this, my partner of 3 years unexpectedly left me about 4 days prior to me starting my business, and I was irrevocably heartbroken to say the least. Given the circumstances.. it may not have been the best decision, but by this point there wasn’t really any going back. My full-time job was no longer available and I had already invested a few hundred pounds into my new venture…I was also very aware that investing in myself and focusing on my work would most likely be the only remedy to my sadness at the time.
So I wanted to share some of the things I’ve picked up along the way so far. If you’re thinking of starting your own business, but you’re struggling to make the jump, then maybe this will give you the push that you need… If I can do it, so can YOU!
- Take a Leap!
Before you can be the amazing business owner that you have the potential to be… you HAVE TO take a risk, and it sure feels like a big one! However, it’s not always as bad or as scary as you might think, I promise!
This is probably the stage in business where most people get stuck, and ironically it’s before you’ve even started. When I used to fantasise about self-employment, I was filled with excitement alongside a stomach churning fear of failure. It wasn’t until I stepped back and looked at my situation rationally, that I began to realise the emotion holding me back was simply my body reacting to the unknown. I had a strong network of support around me in my family and friends, and realistically, even if the business didn’t succeed, I would really be in a very similar situation to the one I was already in.
Most people looking to start their own business, have a set of skills/knowledge that they believe people will see real value in and you must believe in them too. Those skills aren’t going anywhere and you’ll have them for life so… GO FOR IT. Take the risk, and realise that there is no such thing as failure when trying something new, there’s only regret to be had for not trying in the first place.
2. I will, I will, I will
This is a method of thinking that helps me every single day when running my business. As someone with a tendency for pessimism and stress, I battle constantly with my mind to eradicate phrases such as “I hope..” or “I wish..” or “If only..” and exchange them for “I will have..” “I will do..” and “I absolutely can..”
Uncertain statements are completely useless when it comes to moving onwards and upwards in life, and they have absolutely no place within your business. I’m not a religious or particularly spiritual person, however I do believe in the power of positive thinking, because not only does it work, but it makes for a more content and happy life. There have been many times over the past year, when I haven’t had a booking or even an enquiry for weeks, and the panic has slowly started to creep in. It’s incredibly difficult to keep out, and after a few weeks of bad luck it’s almost impossible. The important question is, ‘how do you deal with pure bad luck?‘. I believe the answer is to completely ignore it. Bad luck doesn’t require a reaction, in fact.. a reaction is exactly what it wants! As soon as you turn a panicked or negative attitude towards your business, and yourself for that matter, you are no long focused on bettering yourself, you are no long focused on improving your work, and you are no longer focused on the service/product that you are selling, therefore it will naturally lose value and attention to detail.
Businesses naturally have peaks and troughs, the trick is to use the troughs to meet new people, read-up, and do all those jobs that you don’t have time to do when you’re busy with bookings/orders. Patience is key, and if you are great at what you do, it will all be fine. Tell yourself the work will come in tomorrow, and before you know it you’ll be back in business and wishing you had more time again!
A great book to help with those moments of panic is: The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
3. Find Your Niche
Study your skills and talents with a fine tooth comb, find the parts you’re great at, adapt them, evolve them and create something that no one else in your industry is doing. As a photographer, this is a phrase that’s thrown around A LOT when you tell people you’re thinking of going freelance. You may find people will wince and say something along the lines of “ooooo…. that’s a competitive market though isn’t it. You’ve got to have a real USP..”
These are not the words you wish to be hearing before starting but I believe there is a big misconception about the importance of having a unique product/service. You don’t actually have to offer something COMPLETELY different to your competitors, in fact.. you don’t even have to offer something quite different. You just need one thing… one thing that makes you unique, one reason for a customer to choose you. When you start to analyse it, that niche of yours is probably going to be pretty small in comparison to the scope of your business, but it can make a huge difference to your sales.
For example, I get most of my enquiries for my commercial photography packages. This is not because my head-shots are better or worse than another photographer’s, it’s purely because they are different and more importantly, they are recognisable. I truly believe I offer truly unique product, portrait and meet the team packages.
Once you’ve discovered something different to offer your clients, you can take it and apply it to lots of other aspects of your business. It only takes a small gem to kick off your niche, so don’t panic! Think it over, and once you’ve found it, run with it!
4. Learn To LOVE Business!
So you’ve got this great talent… and you reckon you could earn some decent money from it. That’s brilliant, and you need passion for your craft of course. There’s something else involved now though, and that’s your business. The accounts, the admin, the marketing, the design, the networking, the time management….. the list goes on and on and on!!!
Not many start-ups are fortunate enough to have a team of staff working on all of these aspects already, so that means you will have to learn a whole load of new skills that you may have no, or very little experience in. As a photographer, I would estimate that I probably spend about 20% of my working hours on actually being a photographer. The rest of my time is spent on the business and all its demands! To some, this might seem incredibly daunting, however my advice would be to embrace every last nook and cranny of your business. You most likely already know your craft inside out, but now you have the amazing opportunity to learn a brand new talent, and it’s a talent that will serve you well for the rest of your life, and can be applied to countless situations. Running a business, be it big or small, isn’t just about money, it’s about people management, time management, brand awareness, drive, discipline, creativity, and it is invaluable in teaching you to pick yourself up again when you fall, be that in your professional or personal life.
I would go as far as to say that the business aspect of what I do, I love more than my craft itself. The reason being, understanding business opens many doors and other potential avenues, which keeps life exciting and means you always have new experiences to look forward to!
5. NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK
I can’t stress enough the amazing things that networking has done for my business. If you can grow your business on word-of-mouth referrals, then you are growing your business in the most organic way possible, and you will dramatically reduce the chance of coming up against difficult clients!
I started networking from pretty much day 1, and I am SO glad I did. I’ve met hundreds of contacts in a very short space of time, and although the flat feels like it’s full of business cards, the network I’ve built is invaluable. When you receive an enquiry from a potential client, who has already seen your work, received a recommendation for you, and already appreciates the value in what you do before you’ve even spoken, this is ideal and makes life so much easier.
One thing you will quickly find, is that there are A LOT of networking groups, and not all of them work. Networking is often perceived as a quick-fix as opposed to a long term solution. In order to network successfully, and not be branded as a ‘serial networker’, it’s important to commit to a group or a couple of groups, and really build some proper relationships with other like-minded business people. It takes time for people to really understand the make-up of your business, therefore it can take time to start getting those great referrals. Another thing to consider is the structure of a networking meeting, if you’re sat at a meeting and feel like you’ve had a great chat, but haven’t noticed anyone passing around any good leads… then alarm bells should be ringing. A proactive group is social, but also committed to helping those around them, and this stems from a clear and structured meeting.
So get yourself out there, and meet meet meet people! Clients will buy into you and your personality, so be the brand and be someone that people want to be around! 🙂
I could keep typing the endless list of things I have learnt in my first year of business but I will leave it at my top 5. In short, it has been a year of ups and downs but I have loved every single second! Here is to another year of many happy clients…