This article was first produced for Lincoln’s CityX in June 2020, during the pandemic, as they sought insight from local businesses into the impact of coronavirus.
It provides insight into my business, what changed as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and my thoughts on the future.
On 4th August 2023, I added updates to the answers as a way of checking my own thoughts and progress.
Tell us about your business, what is it you do?
I am a specialist commercial/ business photographer. I use my creative photography skills, combined with my sales and marketing experience, to produce images for businesses to use across all aspects of their digital marketing strategy.
I work with marketing professionals, business directors and entrepreneurs to help them stand out from the competition and attract their ideal customers. I mainly concentrate on headshots, personal branding, business branding and corporate events.
Update 2023 – although much has changed in the world, my business has the same objectives as before. I am on a mission to create standout images for businesses to boost their sales. Although I am the same passionate photographer as before, I have now gained even more knowledge in the implementation of visual brand strategies and the tactics needed to get more engagement on social media.
When was the business formed and how has that changed over time?
The business started at the beginning of 2019, six months after I moved to Lincoln. I was only going to be here for a few months, but I soon realised it was a great place to live and set up my business.
I saw an opportunity in the market to focus on what the business community needed to promote themselves more effectively online. I love photography but for me it’s all about an effective outcome – i.e. what’s the image for?
That’s why I take time with customers to understand the real business needs and how the images will be used before creating something.
Update 2023 – I now talk about ‘pictures with purpose’ – in essence the same thing, but I am now much more strategic about how I help businesses. Spending more time on the before to ensure we get the best results. Gone are the days where the stuffy, boring headshots get noticed. I create dynamic, well thought through images, that really showcase your personality, values and identity.
Tell us a bit about what the business has done in the past year?
The last year has been a challenge but also tremendously rewarding in many ways. I got my first customer (Make an Entrance) in mid-2019 and worked with several small businesses doing headshots and personal branding images over the summer. I went to pretty much every networking event I could afford to go to.
I also joined Lincoln Business Club in 2019 and became their event photographer, leading to a place on the committee. I am always keen to get involved in the business community and use my skills to give back. I also do volunteer work with Sage Gardener which included creating their fund-raising calendar for 2020.
2020 started off positively as I was commissioned to photograph the Business Expo and the Lincolnshire Living launch by CityX and to do a luxury indoor swimming pool shoot for Njord Ltd alongside headshots and other branding projects. I have also photographed St. Barnabas’ Adventures in Networking, The Leap Ball for Acts Trust and The Lincolnshire Tourism awards with Visit Lincoln.
But, as with many businesses, the Coronavirus pandemic stopped me in my tracks, and I had to halt my work. However, things have picked up recently and prior to their re-opening I was asked by Soper of Lincoln to create images of their Covid compliant BMW showroom for promotional purposes.
Update 2023 – the last 12 months have been the best for my business. Last September, I said it was like launching a new business with 3 years’ experience!
For me the need for visual branding within businesses of all sizes has got stronger. The competition is fiercer and the only way to stand out is to be totally aware of your target audience and how to engage with them. Weak, poorly created and shot imagery just won’t create an impact and you will lose opportunities to connect.
I have continued to grow the business – working with some fantastic customers, such as ASC Metals, eComOne, Ferry Ales Brewery, Human Alchemy, Lincolnshire Marketing, Nicholsons, One Degree Training and Lincoln University. I also continue to be involved with Lincoln Business Club – helping new startups and growing a vibrant business community within the city I now call home.
What are your proudest moments within the business?
I’ve worked in business a long time, not necessarily working for myself, but under the autonomy of a field sales role. In business there are many disappointments, but the highlights are twofold.
Firstly, getting the recognition from business people that my work is of a high standard and they therefore want to work with me makes me very proud. I remember early during the lockdown I had a Zoom call with Peter Watson of Distract. He said, “You’re smashing it; I see you as the event photographer in Lincoln and you’ve done that from nowhere.” That kind of recognition is priceless.
Secondly, giving back to the community is extremely important to me, both in a charity sense and in an added value sense. I’m happy to say that many of my business connections and customers are now good friends. I love helping others achieve their ambitions.
Update 2023 – I continue to be humbled by the recognition I get within the city – recently being shortlisted for Entrepreneur of the Year in the Lincolnshire Marketing Awards (results still to be announced). I also continue to work with local charities including Acts Trust, Lives, IBCC, St. Barnabas and YMCA.
How has the current coronavirus pandemic affected your business?
As I said, work had to stop because of the lockdown and many customers were affected by the pandemic. Uncertainty is by far the worst thing about the current situation. It would be fair to say that at times it has been a huge mental challenge – it’s tough as a sole trader living on your own.
As a one-man business there was no-one to furlough, but as a new business there were also no grants or other schemes that were applicable for me. That hasn’t stopped me remaining positive and moving forward.
Update 2023 – now we are pretty much out of the other side of the pandemic, it’s not simply business as usual. The war in Ukraine with its knock on affects together with the changes in how people choose to work all impact business. In addition, the rise of AI is also having an impact (some positive, some negative).
However, as a business owner you either have to decide to embrace what’s going on or do something else. Change is inevitable – AI has had a positive affect on my business, allowing me to develop ideas quicker than before and becoming a new member of the team!
Are you doing anything to diversify your business in response to the pandemic?
I haven’t specifically diversified or pivoted, as seems to be one of the new pandemic words. However, I have spent time carefully considering my purpose and what I can achieve with the business. This has involved a huge amount of reading and learning to ensure that I can take the business forward.
I am going through a rebrand and developing a new website (now finished – you’re on it) designed to provide potential customers with a clear understanding of how I can work with them for maximum benefit.
The aim now is to show how I will maximise their return on an investment in photography.
Update 2023 – strangely, 3 years on this is the new iteration of my website, based on all the things I have learnt. But the emphasis remains the same – to stick to my core values and provide customers with an exceptional photography experience that truly delivers their objectives and goals.
Can you offer advice to businesses struggling during this time, whether they are in the same industry as yours or not?
I think it’s vitally important to have a support network round you. That means family, friends and, of course, your business network. Early on in lockdown, I started a peer group called ‘Learning in Lockdown’ – initially this was a few business contacts checking in to see how everyone was doing, give everyone a boost and provide any useful information.
That soon developed into sharing valuable information on doing things that made a huge difference – like creating a better LinkedIn profile or guest speakers talking about how we should be marketing ourselves.
I know it’s easy to say but being positive and talking to others goes a long way and getting some of the excellent help that’s out there does too. Being part of Lincoln Business Club and its sense of community has been hugely helpful. As one of the committee members I was involved in the decision to take our monthly meeting online. Over the last two months we have managed to recreate the same buzz as our previous in-person meetings.
I’ve also heard great stories of businesses that have either pivoted or spun completely to something new. A business owner making pizza in his pizza oven in the garden and a Michelin star restaurant delivering meals and turning over more on a Friday and Saturday than when they were open! Entrepreneurs will find a way.
I’ve said it all the time in the last 3 months, but #strongertogether is the mantra for me – we will only get through this with collaboration and helping each other. There will be many challenges ahead but whilst there are sadly many casualties, there will also be many opportunities to bounce forward.
Update 2023 – although we have moved on from the pandemic, pretty much everything above still holds true. You need a support network of likeminded peers; you need to hold your values and you need to invest in, and look after, yourself. Mindfulness has become a big thing for me.
What are your future plans for the business?
Despite the pandemic hitting at just the time the business was taking off, I am still very positive about the future. Now is a time when businesses need to consider their brand image and get themselves seen above everyone else. Standing out is hard, but it’s surprising just how many businesses don’t use high quality images.
The main thing lockdown has given me is time. I’ve been able to reflect, reboot and reconnect – work out what’s important to me and the way I can help potential customers. A clear focus and providing added value are key in my opinion.
It’s about ‘photography and’ – what I mean is, I offer photography and sales/marketing help. Many SME’s don’t have those skills so it’s an area I can add something.
As I’ve always said, I’m not just another photographer!
Update 2023 – with the work I’m now doing with some superstar entrepreneurs (Daniel Priestly and Nick James) I have re-energised my business. I am now even more focused on my added value and determined to help businesses (that I share mutual values with) achieve exceptional results.
What do you think the future holds for your industry?
I think there is an incredibly bright future for photography. No matter how good mobile phones are, great pictures are created not ‘snapped’. Over the coming months and years there will be more need for photography not less.
That’s not to say it’s going to be easy – anyone can pick up a camera and call themselves a photographer. But you need lots of skills to be a professional photographer. I started with a film camera before my days at Dixons selling them!
Update 2023 – in the last 3 years even more photographers have decided to jump into personal brand photography, whether as an add on to their existing photography such as weddings or exclusively. However, corporate brand photography is about diving into the narrative, capturing the story through still images that create emotion and connection, and then implementing them to deliver results.
With my love of sales and my determined focus I know I can be the go-to photographer for ambitious, values-driven businesses.