Welcome to Saturday business chat. This weekend’s chat is with Charles Davis of Professional Photography. I met Charles at a local networking event and he is generous at introducing people to each other if he thinks they can help each other at such events, which is very encouraging to new people. He’s also happy to share tips and encouragement with other people about their photography and is generous with re-tweets, etc., in social media circles. Charles has brought his wealth of business and communication experience into his career as a photographer: as well as being good with the camera, a successful photographer must be able to engage with people. Like me, he’s not missing the politics and conflicting priorities that often arise as part of working for a large corporation, instead enjoying being his own boss! And giving back through voluntary work is also important to Charles: in his case this has resulted in new opportunities, too.
Let’s meet Charles and find out about his interesting background and widening portfolio …
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
My business is Professional Photography, and although I have produced professional quality photography for friends and family all my life, it was formally set up in 2010.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
After successfully growing both responsibilities, my Post as Fundraising & Communications Director for a large Charity was split into two roles for Fundraising & Communications. I therefore decided to take the redundancy package offered instead of taking one of either of the roles. However, as I felt I had successfully completed my work with the organization and I’m always looking for opportunities, I saw this as a perfect time to start my own business and do something I love.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
My father ensured I had a camera in my hands at a very early age and since then I’ve never stopped trying to improve my skills as a photographer. This, together with my love of beautiful images and state-of-the-art technology, makes for an exciting combination as a 21st century photographer.
Had you run your own business before?
My first career was in the Police Service, where I specialised in the protection of Royalty and VIPs as part of the Special Escort Group, and I further went on to become a Tactical Advisor & Team Leader in Firearms Operations, although the only thing I shoot nowadays is a camera! Yes, I’ve run a number of different operations, training and consultancy, advanced motorcycling and testing, a national association plus multi-million pound fundraising and communications teams for two high profile charities.
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
Full-time. The decision had to be full-time to be able to give the commitment, time and effort to give the business a good chance of succeeding. Building a client base is a slow but sure process and, as they say in sales, “you’re only as good as your last sale.” Well, in photography you’re only as good as your last few shoots.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
My previous experience prepared me for many challenges in business although I was surprised how many prospect clients are prepared to put up with a low quality or average quality of service from their existing provider and sometimes appear to be too lazy to want to make the effort to change to a new supplier. Essentially you need to make it as quick and simple for them as possible to make the change, whilst of course providing excellent images.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
“I should have done this years ago!” It’s the truth: I’m totally enjoying myself, doing something that I love with no one pulling you in different directions in terms of objectives, and essentially I don’t have to play the politics that are so often there in large organizations.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
The success of our new website, launched in October 2011, has exceeded my expectations, and looking back, when I started the business in 2010, I should have built a much better website from the start.
What are you glad you did?
Made the decision to do something I love and for myself! The satisfaction and lovely, lovely comments you receive from clients on completion of an assignment are a great reward as photographer. It’s not often in life you get to do something you love!
What’s your top business tip?
Network, Network, Network! As a big fan of social media and face-to-face networking groups, it’s essential to get you and your business out there! Time-consuming, I would agree, but with relatively no costs but your time, you need to meet new people on a regular basis and have state-of-the-art joined-up social networks.
Also try to give something back: it doesn’t have immediate benefits but long-term you will be surprised at the opportunities that arise. I’m part of a number of membership based associations, and in particular MIPAA, the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association. When I started my business, I also put myself forward to join the Operating Committee of MIPAA and its Executive Team. Since that time, numerous opportunities have arisen from my voluntary work. This also applies to local charities and new start-up businesses, where I offer to do the occasional photo-shoot to help them with an event or to get their marketing campaigns started.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
My portfolio of work is broad, and strategically so. I’m just as happy shooting a Cherish the Dress, Wedding or fashion shoot as I am on a commercial shoot for a product. Producing the best images possible, with a little editing, can really exceed a client’s expectations, and is so, so rewarding.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
I’ve recently been lucky enough to pick up interest from a number of up-and-coming fashion designers and been asked to become their official photographer, which is flattering to say the least. Whether reportage, still life, or traditional, using a variety of photographic styles is still key for me when telling the story. My photographic work offers a visual representation of my unique perspective, exploring the depths of beauty and style, whilst hopefully still portraying elements of the classical. I feel my work retains relevance to 21st century client, and I plan to keep it that way!
It’s amazing that you can meet someone a number of times, have in-depth conversations with them, and never know they have guarded royalty and VIPs! I wish Charles the best of luck with his new and expanding work areas, and look forward to hearing how he gets on over the next year.