1. Why did you start your own business?
For many years I was in advertising. I loved my job and I loved the excitement of a 9 – 5 corporate job. All that changed when my daughter was born. It was a morning when I had a very important task and a team that depended on me presenting to a new client. My one year old woke up with her first fever of her life at 4am. That day I had to choose between the instinct of motherhood and my work ethics. I felt forced into something that went against every grain in my body and went to work. Luckily I had the family support to fill in at home but still I cried all the way to work. That was the day I decided to resign and find a future for myself that allowed me to choose my own hours. I needed to be there for the sick days, the milestones, the sporting events, the tears, the smiles and I needed to make that change quick. Photography at that stage was a hobby and my husband was already a renowned wedding photographer so it seemed the subsequent logical step.
2. What are the hours that you work?
8 – 2pm and 8pm until around midnight SEVEN days a week. Although we recently ruled Sunday as a NON WORK DAY in our house. (Easier said than done).
3. How many people work in your business?
Just me with the occasional help from an assistant/accountant. My husband is a wedding photographer and I am a newborn photographer so there is some overlap work but mostly we run as separate entities.
4. What are the goals for your business?
Initially my goal was to be the “go to person” in Cape Town Southern Suburbs for newborn photography. I chose to specialize in newborn photography because of my love for babies. I could choose to shoot on weekdays instead of weekends when most people want family shoots done. Also newborn photography is booked months in advance so you can feel secure in the fact that you have an income coming in. This is my 7th year of shooting and I am already almost full for the whole of 2016 (70% newborn, 20% family shoots and 5% birth photography) so I guess I have reached my initial goal. The next goal is to develop workshops where I can teach other photographers how to work with newborns, how to pose them and editing methods which are unique to this type of photography.
5. How do you handle pressure?
Not very well. I am a planner and with newborn photography there is very little planning. You never know when babies are arriving and when there is a bottle neck of births you are shooting back to back. For this reason I can only take on 6 newborns a month. I photograph them in the first week that they are home so as you can imagine when 4 come on the same day (yes this has happened) it gets a bit crazy. The editing time is very long on each shoot and turnaround time needs to happen within 7 – 10 days as I promise in my terms and conditions. I don’t like to over promise and under-deliver so it is at times like this when I end up doing all-nighters.
On shoot days it can get a little stressful when parents are still trying to figure out feeding routines and they can’t settle the baby. I prefer then to take over and do my thing but there is a fine line between helping and being intrusive. I have to earn the trust of the parents first. I have a lot of patience and babies need a lot of settling until they are ready to be photographed. Sometimes new parents get themselves all stressed out and it’s up to me to reassure them that all this is normal and that the happiness of the baby is most important to me and second to that getting good photos. Babies will only be nice and sleepy when they are ready and that is why patience is my middle name. No newborn shoot should be rushed and a calm, happy morning for all is what ultimately works. I always tell clients to never schedule any meetings, inoculations or visitors on the day as rushing the session will result in a very high pressure situation for all.
6. How would a man run your business differently?
There are very few male newborn photographers. In fact I know of one who has managed to do it very successfully. It does not mean that it is not possible it just is harder to break in to the market. A lot of new moms feed in front of me and seem to need somebody who has gone through it before. I have even been asked to help a mom get the baby to latch so my duties often go far further than just being a photographer. A lot of moms tell me that they would not feel comfortable having a male in their space. I have worked with so many different newborns and different personalities of parents that I have come to know all the challenges of different babies. I have had projectile all sorts in my face and nine times out of ten end up urinated on. Motherhood taught me something that I am not sure I would have if I had not gone through it firsthand. I remember the emotions and I remember the breast feeding challenges. Before I offend anyone please understand that there are exceptions to the rule but I do think I have more knowledge and hands on practice with newborns that I wouldn’t have had if I had not gone through it before. I don’t’ think it’s a male or female thing rather than a been there done that and got the t-shirt.
7. Would you ever go and work for a boss again?
The answer if I was not a mom – in a heartbeat! There is something to be said about having a job where you are valued and paid a monthly regular salary. You get to be part of a team and you get to leave work at the office where it belongs. I miss that Friday feeling and I miss that feeling when after a hard days work you walk in and kick your shoes off and appreciate your home. I miss lunch hours, I miss colleagues and I miss pay day. My home is my work and my office door is never shut. Any moment I can I am working. If I don’t work I don’t earn so taking time off is not an option. I miss weekends.
Newborn photography can be a labour of love. If you look at the hours you put into each shoot and work out your average hourly rate per shoot it is far lower than what I was earning before. The South African pricing structure for newborn photography is not nearly as profitable as it is in UK, US and Australia. We give away far too much for too little. I recently went onto a few UK websites recently and the equivalent of what I am giving per shoot would be a rate of 2200 pounds!!!! In South Africa not so much!!
Having said all of the above I cannot put a price on dropping my daughter off at school and seeing that smile when I pick her up or help with school outings. Every gala, every school final assembly I am there. I answer to nobody and she at all times is prioritized over work. I may work harder now than I ever have but every hour and every sacrifice is worth it all when I get to be there. I get to be the mom I dreamt of. I have photography to thank for that.
8. Do you ever take work home with you?
My office is in my home so the answer is yes yes yes. Everyday. My office door seems to have an open door policy and sometimes I wish I could just be disciplined to close it. If I am not in there I am feel guilty.
9. What do you do to relax?
I have to schedule in time for me. Gym is my sanctuary. Being with my little person and taking in every moment. Nutrition is my love. I am currently doing two courses online which I do while I edit Don’t tell me mom’s can’t multitask!
10. What would you like to know more about to run your business better?
I have spent a lot of time streamlining editing so I can reduce my editing hours. If anything I would like to know how to say NO. How to not supply 70 photos when you promise 50 in your package but I don’t have the heart to not hand them over. I would like to know how to charge for the extra 20 photos you are supplying because that would be a better business model. I would like to know how to be more tough.
11. What would you do differently if you had the chance?
Nothing. I have loved every minute of building my business and giving so much to each little baby. I am so grateful for all who helped me get to where I am. My first month I was worried I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills and now I am almost full up for 2016. Every baby touches me and I realize just how privileged I am to be invited into people’s homes to capture such a very extraordinary time in their lives.
12. Did you have to borrow money and if yes what route did you follow?
Initially there was quite a lot of financial outlay as I upgraded and stocked up on new lenses, lighting equipment and newborn props, hats and backdrops. I also spent quite a lot of money on online courses that helped me refine and improve my skills. I spent many hours just practicing and learning Photoshop and Lightroom. I invested in better computer equipment so that my editing time was not wasted on waiting for my pc to process an instruction. Luckily I had savings from my previous job and income starting coming in from month one so I didn’t have to take a loan but I was prepared to if need be.
13. What satisfaction do you get from running your own business?
I love telling people what I do. I love that I get told I am known as the baby whisperer. Those are the parts I want to be good at – the emotional parts. I love that I can look at my work and know that I created that and forever that image will be a record of those new beginnings. Running my own business really has it’s challenges but mostly I love that I get to say, “ I did it, I worked hard and now I get to share my knowledge with those wanting to go down this career path”.
14. What makes your business successful?
If you provide a calm, beautiful morning for your client where they trust you with their baby you will always get referrals. People remember the experience as well as the final product. I am true to my heart when I am working and I think the fact that I only take on 6 a month makes it very personal and less like a production line. I make connections during my shoots and forever that family will be remembered.
15. What form of marketing do you use?
Coming from a marketing background I had a whole marketing plan in place. I implemented only 10% of my plan as I didn’t need to. With photography your product is visual and when clients are delighted they share your work on Facebook. Facebook launched my business and continues to create awareness beyond what any other platform can offer me. When bookings are low I do blogposts and facebook posts and when they are high I halt. I am currently sitting with about a year’s worth of unblogged shoots as editing takes priority over marketing at this point. But when bookings slow down again Facebook is my friend. My advice to any photographer is give your client high res images to print off as well as low res images with your branding on so that clients are encouraged to post your images with your name on them. It’s a no brainer.
16. Do you have a favourite mantra or quote that keeps you going in tough times?
This too will pass. Inhale. Stop and smell the roses. And with babies that are more difficult than others … “in his or her own time! – patience people patience!”.