Kerrie Mitchell is a successful wedding photographer, Regional Finalist of the 2014 Wedding Industry Award and has been featured in several publications including Wedding Ideas Magazine. As a self made, self employed success I put some questions to her on starting up her business in hope the readers at WMW could gain some valuable insight. Here’s her responses.
WMW – What inspired you to start your business?
Kerrie- I’d just returned from working on a cruise ship as a photographer and there were no jobs. I couldn’t even get a basic admin role despite having a degree. Depressed about visiting the job centre and having to sign on, I decided that perhaps working for myself was the only other option.
WMW – What skills/experience did you already have? What did you need to train in?
Kerrie – I had some skills in photography, and using editing software. I knew that I wanted to photograph weddings and I also had a basic knowledge of web design which came in handy for developing my online presence. Before working on the cruise ship I had worked as an accounts assistant for three years so I also had knowledge of recording sales and ledgers (although not as much as I later discovered I needed!) However, looking back now I wish I’d studied my degree in business as skills I discovered I needed were things such as marketing, promotion, brand awareness, tax, pricing etc.
WMW – What was your first step towards starting your own business?
Kerrie – A friend of mine told me she had enrolled for The Princes Trust Enterprise Scheme, so I quickly got involved too. From this we were taught how to write a business plan, and were given the opportunity to present our business ideas to a panel to receive a loan for our new start-ups. Luckily I was picked, and the loan I received helped me to pay for my first full frame camera body and a designer for my website and branding.
WMW – What were the main difficulties?
Struggling by for months making no money, having no clients booked in but still thinking it could work out! Also lots of people didn’t take what I wanted to do seriously and thought it was a hobby. So persevering was the hardest part, especially when I was constantly being told ‘no one was spending money in this economic climate’ or ‘people were having budget weddings’. I worked part time as a school photographer for the first 3 years so fitting in editing and answering my emails in office hours also became hard as I was trying to appear like all I was doing was weddings.
WMW – Where did you go for advice?
Kerrie – I was really lucky to meet a very generous wedding photographer who took me along as a ‘second shooter’ to lots of her weddings. This work was unpaid, but I learnt so much that it really was invaluable. She taught me so much not only about photographing the actual day, but she helped me with marketing ideas too. To this day she is a good friend (although now I’m working full time on my business I have no time to second shoot with her anymore!) and I think without her my business wouldn’t be where it is today.
WMW – Was there any stage when you were thinking of giving up?
Kerrie – Plenty of times! In the early stages it was hard because I saw lots of my friends getting amazing promotions, earning lots of money, buying houses and new cars etc… and I was still living at home with zero savings to my name. I often thought about giving up and getting a normal job, but I knew that after having a small taste of self employment and being my own boss, that it just wouldn’t suit me anymore.
WMW – How long did it take you to get your business off the ground?
Kerrie – It took about three years before I made a profit. Before then everything I earned I ploughed back in to purchase better equipment, marketing, advertising, training. I’m currently in my forth year and this is the first year that I have paid myself a salary each month.
WMW -Any pitfalls to avoid when starting a new business?
Kerrie – It’s really easy to get sucked into irrelevant training courses. Outline what you personally need help with and then seek out courses that can help. For example in the beginning I was tempted by courses being run by amazing photographers but I was nowhere near ready to learn what they were teaching (I couldn’t afford the editing software they were using, or the studio lighting etc) so a lot of the information went over my head. Focusing on what you need is important. In those early years I needed to know much more about targeting my ideal client, and how to market to them. And basic business skills.
WMW – Any advice you would give to anyone starting a new business?
Kerrie – Persevere. Most people tend to give up on their business idea because they think its not working, they’re not getting customers etc.. but so often its just around the corner. I was told by a family member that I shouldn’t expect to see anything pay off until about 3 years in. And that turned out to be true. If you really enjoy what you do, and think its going to make a difference then just keep going despite what anyone else may say.
WMW – If you were to do it again is there anything you would change?
Kerrie – No. I think the journey I’ve taken has been really important. Everything I have discovered I needed to know, I’ve had to teach myself or find someone to learn from. It’s hard work, but it makes it all worthwhile. There is no easy route!
WMW – What is your most effective marketing strategy? Online? Word of Mouth etc?
Kerrie – Four years in I’m starting to see the benefit of word of mouth marketing but that took a long time to build. I’ve noticed that most of my customers tend to find me first via a google search, which is why having a eye catching website is the most important thing. Outside of SEO for google, I also have a Facebook page which I keep regular updated. Outside of the internet I’ve found wedding fairs extremely good at generating new business and also networking with other photographers as we’ll often pass work each others way if we’re already booked.
WMW – Did you need/have any specific qualifications to set up your business?
Kerrie – I had a degree in media with a specialism in photography, but for working in Wedding Photography I wouldn’t necessarily say you’d need a photography degree. in fact I learnt more whilst working on the cruise ship as a photographer for 6 months than I ever learnt in my three years at university. If you’re thinking of going down the degree level, I would definitely recommend a degree in business or marketing.
WMW – What business experience did you have/train/learn?
Kerrie – Being a creative person numbers just aren’t my thing! So accounting has been hard, as has understanding tax and filing tax returns. Learning what you can and can’t claim for and setting aside enough to pay the tax bill at the end of the year. Working out profit and loss and also working out how to price myself in the market I’m in whilst being competitive and making a living has been challenging.
I make sure I attend a couple of training courses a year, usually run by photographers in the industry I admire. These range from workshops about shooting techniques, business and even technical things such as editing software training.
WMW – Do you do all your own marketing, accounts etc or outsource?
At the moment I do everything. From the actual photographing of the wedding, editing, uploading, backing up files, social media, marketing, admin, accounts. It’s hard work and takes up a lot of working hours! One day I do hope to be able hire someone for admin tasks and to help out with editing and maybe even possibly train to become an associate photographer. But until the business is in a better place financially its just a one man band!
WMW – How does your work balance out with your home life?
Kerrie – I’m quite lucky that my job works for my relationship. Whilst I’m out photographing weddings on weekends my boyfriend is playing cricket, so not seeing each other on Saturdays is fairly normal anyway! I do find that my friends tend to forget about me throughout the summer because so often I have to turn down invitations for nights or days out because I’m working, but that’s just how weddings work! Generally my family has been really supportive though, even if they don’t get to see me often through the summer!
So if you are thinking of starting your own business (or in the long process of) take heart. It can be achieved you just need a clear vision, a lot of determination and the ability to economise until the profits start to roll in!