A special, unique business and my wonderful learning journey
Posted on 19th October 2021 at 10:02
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Starting a new business journey can be both an exciting and daunting prospect for some. It most certainly was for me. Especially when I read the statistic that 20% of businesses fail in their first year and a whopping 60% of them will go bust within their first three years. https://fundsquire.co.uk/startup-statistics/
The thought of leaving your job security and taking the plunge into the world of self employment is an incredibly brave thing to do.
I have to say I absolutely loved my old job working in the legal industry. I specialised in conveyancing and had made a very good career for myself. Unfortunately, having this type career does come at a price. The lack of family time. I was always the mum who was never at any school events due to work commitments. I can actually remember having an afternoon off and going to collect my daughter and the lady at the door asked me who I was. I cringed, my daughter’s nursery did not even know me! I wanted something to change.
A saying that my dad always used to say was “you work to live Karen not live to work”. Well at the moment I was living to work and I missed out on a lot of family time.
Then an opportunity arose as my husband Peter was made redundant so we both felt that this was the time to do it. A sign shall we say.
I wanted to do something which combined the love for my family and use my knowledge and skills of having a child with special needs. Peter, my husband had a passion for photography and we felt this was the ideal business opportunity for us to venture into. Therefore we created our specialist photography service which could be accessed by any one who had a special or complex need. Our own personal life story gave us an excellent understanding and knowledge of what was needed in this area of expertise.
I am not a business coach, and I not intending to tell people what to do or how to do it. I wanted to share my business journey from where I started off (aka as a deer in headlights) and where I am now (a more grounded and knowledgeable business owner).
Nothing anything actually prepares you for working for yourself. All of a sudden you have received a massive promotion and a 100 different working roles, admin, accounts, marketing, sales and so on and so. I have to say when I first started working for myself I lacked complete confidence and faith and was really scared that no one would take me or my business seriously.
One thing that I knew I wanted to get right was my website. Although my entrepreneur skills lacked many things, in my heart I knew that having an appealing and good looking website was important. My husband is quite tech savvy so I thought oh it will be easy to design a website. So out I went and brought a Word Press for Dummies book for him. A week later or so later and my husband was no further forward so we decided to invest some of our money into our website. I have to say it is one of the best things I have ever done and the company that I used then I still use today.
We needed just one school to get our idea off underway, so we could show off our skills and start to create a portfolio. We therefore approached my son George’s school and they advised that they had already had a photographer booked in. My heart sank, then the head said oh stuff it, I will cancel them and give you a go, no one ever likes their photos anyway! And so began our special needs photography business.
I can remember first walking into the school and thinking please can all of this come together and it be a success. It was an incredible day and as soon as we were there working, I knew this is what I wanted to do and that going back to the legal world was not in my remit.
It was an overwhelming success and the feedback from the parents and staff at the school was more than I could ever hoped for. So there we had our platform to start our portfolio and marketing.
The only form of marketing we thought of doing at the time was leaflet dropping. When I look back at our first ever leaflet we designed and sent out I absolutely cringe at the sight of it. However, at the time we thought it looked good and ran with it. We drove to so many special schools trying to sell our services but unfortunately nothing. Until one day a school rang and said they would like to give us a try.
From there we had our second school and I am very proud to say that I still have that school as a client now and we work with them on all sorts of projects and to date they are my biggest client.
Things went a little stale after that, I really started to panic about where the work was going to come from. We tried another leaflet drop but that didn’t seem to go anywhere. I felt a little stuck and wasn’t sure what we would do next. I was starting to think that our that our idea wasn’t viable and wouldn’t lead into anything successful.
This lead me into my first business mistake, which I am sure everyone has made one. I started taking any work that I could and my original business idea was lost. I was taking wedding bookings, live band photography, pet photography and other bits and pieces that anyone would offer to us. When I started uploading photographs to my website it became a massive mixed message to people, when I was trying to sell my original idea of specialist photographer and I felt like I was losing a grip on what I wanted to do.
I spoke to my friend Gemma Young about where I was and that I was feeling a little lost and she suggested that I should go to one of her Athena Network meetings https://www.athenanetwork.org/ . I was a little apprehensive about this at first as my husband had been to a networking meeting and he came back extremely pale and worried about all the pressures that came with the networking side. Gemma assured me that Athena was not like that at all, it was all women and she said that I would be absolutely fine.
Gemma then introduced me to Kate who invited me to an in person, yes back in the day when we could see other in the flesh rather than a floating head on Zoom cappuccino connections meeting. I was hoping that Gemma was going to come with me but unfortunately she couldn’t attend due to a clash in meetings. I had committed and wasn’t going to back out now.
It was also at this point that I decided to take the plunge and go back to my original specialist photography idea and this would be the make or break point of whether or not I could make this work.
Walking into that first meeting, I was absolutely petrified. Now if someone had asked me to stand up and talk about the conveyancing process of buying and selling of a house I would be absolutely fine. This was very different though, this was something personal to me and I wanted people to be interested in what I had to say and offer.
Some lovely ladies took me under their wing and made me feel very welcome. After the meeting, people actually wanted my business card and started talking to me about all sorts of charities and opportunities I was really quite shocked at the response. So I took the plunge and decided to join, nice ladies, a bit of lunch in a nice hotel sounds lovely. Then COVID hit.
I was honestly thinking that someone is trying to tell me something as there just seemed to be so many obstacles in the way of making my business a success. I had a huge meltdown at the start of COVID, George, my son with special needs, was not coping well at all and this was a difficult time and had an huge impact on our family life. How do you even begin to explain COVID and the whole lockdown to a child with special needs. Also, with George being non-verbal all he could do was vocalise, loudly at us, to try and communicate.
I missed the launch of my meeting and I honestly wanted to crawl under a rock, who is going to want a specialist photographer when COVID is around and the negativity kept eating away at me.
However, I am a fighter and I was determined to keep going. I dusted myself off and pulled myself together and said Karen if you don’t try and put the effort in then nothing will succeed. Another thing I kept hearing in the back of my mind was something Kate had said which was “in love absence makes the heart grow fonder, however in business absence makes the world forget you” harsh maybe but true.
Now the ironic thing about COVID is that I actually had my most successful year of business. A photography project I carried out for my daughter’s year 6 class photo became an overriding success. I pitched it in a couple of Athena meetings and this lead to referrals and I took on other schools on this project which has lead to return business.
For someone starting out on a new business venture I have to say that networking helped me with more than just making sales and taking on new business it actually lead to so much more than that.
One of the first main things is having confidence in myself and the confidence in the services I provide. I couldn’t believe how interested people where in what I had to offer and what I was trying to achieve with my business. Speaking to people in 1 to 1s not was only about referrals some of them were just women like myself who have someone with special needs in their life or just really wanted to hear what I had to say or do.
The other has been worth it’s weight in gold and that is taking the time to invest in yourself and your business to ensure that you are making the best of your potential. I have to say two years ago I was scared to put money into something that I didn’t know that was going to succeed however if I had perhaps I would be further ahead in my business than I am now, however, I am where I am supposed to be and I am happy with that.
The word “outsourcing” or “investing in yourself” scared me so much. However, I think if you are going to fully commit to making it work for yourself you have to be prepare to take some risk along the way. So don’t be scared to invest time and money into yourself, as it only helps you to make your business work for you. I know it may sound incredibly daunting about spending out but sometimes you need to speculate to accumulate and that is certainly true in my case.
I would just add to that. If you are looking to invest in yourself, I can understand just going through the internet and plucking someone from there can be a risk. I would therefore really look at extending your networking skills. By meeting people and networking, you get to know them and you can make a choice as to who you feel you have a good connection with and want to work with which helps you get the best out of what you want to achieve. Plus you are giving your money to reputable person you know you can trust.
My business has grown beyond any of my expectations, it has taken a lot of hard work, effort and commitment to get here but now I am, I am extremely grateful for all of the help and support I have been given by such fantastic people along the way.
Always have faith and belief in yourself and what you have to offer. If you're looking to start up a small business definitely have a business plan and a set of goals of what you want to achieve, seek help and advice where you can. You also could be providing a unique service, which may not be of use and interest to all, but will be to some and if just a few people benefit then it is worth going for it.
I would like to end on a quote by Leonardo Di Caprio of all people but I really like it and it is “If you can do what you do best and be happy, you’re further along in life than most people”.
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