My Business Journey: How I left my 9-5 to start my own creative business (in a new country!)
I often get asked how I managed to leave my 9-5 job and start my own business, so I thought I’d take the time to share my story. I suppose mine is a unique story to tell- because on top of leaving a comfortable career to create business, I also decided to do it in a new country (crazy, I know!)
Maybe you’re thinking about leaving your career to start a business. Or maybe you’ve already started one on the side of your 9-5, and are working towards doing it full time. Perhaps you’re dreaming about turning your hobby into an income. Or possibly, you’re as crazy as me and thinking of taking a huge leap to start a business in a new country. If any of the above sound accurate- this blog post is for you! I can tell you quite confidently that if I can do it, you can too.
Here’s the story of my journey to entrepreneurship, from the start until the now (because I’m nowhere near finished yet!)
Before it all began:
A bit about my background: I loved taking photos of anything and everything as a kid, running about with my little point and shoot camera. My parents were kind enough to actually develop most of these for me (yes this was back in the days of film- aging myself here!) and I still have a box of these photos to this day. You can see evidence of this below, along with my very descriptive photo titles; thankfully I’ve improved a little since then, or at least I like to think so.
As a teenager I was a total film nerd and was really into anything visual: photography, film, and theatre especially. I was also an avid writer and when it came time to graduate I was pretty sure I wanted a creative career, I just wasn’t sure doing exactly what. I started out in film & theatre studies, taking a few writing courses as well, which led me to a degree in Rhetoric & Communications (majoring in journalism). I worked as a journalist for my first year, before moving on to the marketing & communications industry (arts sector) where I stayed for six years.
During those years, I spent most of my free time learning photography: both through several arts school courses and by teaching myself with books and online workshops and lots of practice. I started doing photography on the side, very part time, and mostly just for people I knew, or friends of friends. I was generating a little bit of income but I wasn’t ever thinking about leaving a safe career to give it a go full time- it just didn’t seem possible. But then everything changed.
The big move:
In June 2015, I set out on the biggest adventure of my life: I left my home in Winnipeg, Canada and moved 3500 miles across the ocean to Glasgow, Scotland. I had always wanted to do more travelling, and the idea of living in another country had appealed to me for as long as I could remember. I had done an overseas internship in England as past of my university program and I had travelled over to the UK a few times before- plus I was making the move over here with my Scottish then-boyfriend (now husband), so I wasn’t going into this completely blind.
I couldn’t help but think this could be my chance for a fresh career start, the opportunity to do what I’d long dreamt about doing, but never really thought I could. The timing seemed perfect: I didn’t have a job lined up and we had some money saved up to get us by on one income for a while. There was only one problem: figuring out how to start a business in a new country, in a city I didn’t know, with no contacts, reputation or support network (pretty big problem, right?)
Starting a business in a new country:
I’ve always been a total extrovert and my norm was to dive headfirst into pretty much everything I did. Since I was a kid I had always found it easy to make friends and adjust to new things, I was a pretty confident person and didn’t really see failure as an option. But this all changed for a bit when I first arrived Scotland.
Not only had I moved to a new country, I had moved to a completely different continent and while there wasn’t a language barrier (aside from having to learn the local slang and different terminology) I was in totally unfamiliar surroundings, surrounded by people I didn’t know and not quite knowing where I fit in. All of the sudden I was the new girl in a city where no one knew my name- it was lonely and I felt totally disconnected from everyone and everything that I knew. To top it off the photography industry was as saturated as it comes- and for that first little while I really struggled to find the determination and confidence I was so used to carrying.
Thankfully I got over it and my determination and stubbornness beat out any self doubt I was feeling: I was going for it. I decided to start small, by reaching out to some others in the industry, introducing myself and seeing if they would meet for coffee. I met some of my (now) closest friends this way and it really helped me to get out of that shell I had built myself into. I found a few groups online, for photographers and small business owners and I started to feel little bit like part of those communities. The more I reached out, the more confident I became and soon I was taking part in styled shoots (collaborative creative shoots with other industry suppliers) and working hard on my branding. I had a new website built, I was able to add some local work to my portfolios and I started to build my social media following.
At this point, I was focused on my wedding and family work and on building up that side of things and I decided to take a part time job in the wedding industry. I found a great half time position at an event decor company to learn more about the industry here and make some contacts. This was great for me: it allowed me to see lots of local venues, meet loads of other suppliers in the industry and to generate some income while I was building up my own business. I was starting to get bookings in and grow a little bit of a following, and I was still working hard at networking and marketing.
At the same time, I was investing a ton of time courses and workshops, both in person and online, to learn more about running a business. I took courses on things like website design, SEO, digital marketing, book keeping, and branding to name a few and though I had learnt a lot of this as part of my degree the industry is constantly changing and it really helped me to go in with a fresh perspective- and with the goal of running my own successful business instead of working for someone else’s.
It was a busy schedule, working 20 hours a week for one small business and spending another 25-30 hours on building my own, but it was worth it! Fifteen months later, in early 2017 I had built my business up to the point that it was a solid income and I needed more time to keep up with the growth: I was ready to give 100% of my time and energy to my own business.
Just to throw a curveball in, I had also recently found out I was pregnant with our daughter- another factor that added both positives and negatives to this decision to go completely self employed. Our timing wasn’t ideal ( a summer baby due smack dab in the middle of wedding season- see photo of me & bump working hard below!) but we made it work. And after I took some time off to enjoy my maternity leave with my daughter I was more excited than ever to get back to my business.
My first brand: Rhiannon Neale Photography
I came back from maternity leave full time in 2018, which was year three of running my Rhiannon Neale brand. I spent the next two years working hard to grow my business and strengthen my brand and I am so proud of where it stands. I’ve made a name for myself as a relaxed, fun and contemporary photographer in Scotland and I have definitely found my niche. I work with the most lovely people: friendly and easy going and appreciative of what I do and my clients are so supportive and encouraging. I now get almost all of my business through word of mouth and referrals and I have a lot of returning clients- best part of the job is getting to know people and watching their families grow. I do still work hard at social media marketing and I spend a lot of time building relationships with my community but I don’t do any paid advertising anymore- I’m really happy with where things are.
A shift in focus: creating a second photography brand
For the past three years, I have been working under my Rhiannon Neale brand with a focus on lifestyle wedding & family photography. I was doing some brand photography as well, but it wasn’t something I was actively marketing for: I was mostly working with friends, colleagues, and the local businesses in my neighbourhood.
I was and still am really enjoying my wedding and family work (it’s not something I ever want to give up), but I was starting to miss the marketing/communications work and I wanted to diversify what I was doing a little bit. I knew working in commercial photography would allow me to use that other skillset but I wasn’t interested in working for big companies or large budget ad campaigns- I wanted to work with small creative businesses like mine.
I was brought up in a family that really valued small businesses and tried to support local wherever possible and that stuck with me- it’s something that is really important to me and my own family now too. If I was going to offer commercial photography, it had to be for small businesses, to help other entrepreneurs to strengthen their own brands and stand out online.
Here the idea for Small Fish Photo Co was born: a joining of my photography skills, my marketing & comms background and my experience of building up a creative brand from scratch. I decided to offer brand photography for creative small businesses, modern headshot photography for creatives and photography training for entrepreneurs.
I started working on the concept and branding last summer (2019), had a colleague design a logo and some brand materials for me and I put together a portfolio of the brand work I had done previously, as well as creating and adding in a few new shoots. In January I officially launched Small Fish Photo Co. and I’ve been happily working away at it ever since! I’ve done over a dozen shoots under my new brand name (and would have done a bunch more if it weren’t for this pandemic!) and I’m looking forward to working with lots of small Scottish businesses in the months and years ahead.
Speaking of our current lockdown:
Like most small businesses, the Coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on my income and the money coming into my business and that’s been really tough to swallow.
On a positive note though, it’s allowed me the time to further develop the training side of my work and the part of my job that helps small businesses the most, and for that I’m very thankful. I’ve had the time to do more blogging, put together tips and info on brand photography and to create a community on facebook where small business owners can learn about brand photography and how they can improve their photography skills. Right now this is my focus, and while I miss creating photos for other small business owners its amazing to see the progress in my group and really get to know some of the other small business owners in Scotland. So not all doom and gloom- I’m enjoying wearing my teacher hat and feel good about being able to offer some value at a tough time.
That’s my story in a nutshell- if you’ve made it this far you deserve a medal (I know I tend to be a bit long winded- it's the writer in me). I hope that this offers you some inspiration, motivation or the confidence boost you needed and I’d love to hear about where you’re at in your business journey! I’m a social gal, you can connect with me over on instagram, facebook or if you prefer a good old fashioned email you can find me at email@example.com.
How can I help you?
If you’re looking for help with your brand photography, you’re in the right place! I offer brand photography in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife and all across Scotland and my brand photography training has both online and in person options.
Drop me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or click here to set up a complimentary consultation over Zoom/Facetime/Skype- a nice relaxed chat about your business and your photography needs (obligation free) over a coffee or a glass of wine.
Want to learn how to take better photos for your business in a relaxed & supportive place? Join my (free) facebook community "Brand Photography 101" by clicking here.