In the middle of 2012 I phoned up a lovely lady called Catherine Conner and spelled out to her that if I couldn't get to grips with my business I would have to hang up my camera and find a job. I was heart broken and wondering what on earth I was going to do.
After a good chat, a few giggles and a long hard look at my situation Catherine suggested I pop along to the Bespoke Insight Day at Aspire Photography Training. The course is 12 months long, and it's hard work. They give you the tools for the job, but the bottom line is that you are the one who has to put in the time and work to make things happen.
Deciding to go on the course wasn't easy, I was already at breaking point and even now I've no idea how on earth I managed to do it all, but I have and it was the best thing ever that I could have done for myself and my business.
During the year I learned a few home truths, including the fact that it's not a bad thing to be a good photographer, but that you have to love the business or it won't love you back - and they are so right! I'm more aware of my strengths, and my weaknesses are just obstacles that I need to overcome to be successful.
I need to give a massively HUGE thank you to Jane Breakell (business guru at Aspire), for being my sounding board, my voice of reason and a wonderful friend when things got tough. I also need to thank the other 13 delegates of Group 38, with special mention to Michelle and Janet, for being so wonderful, supportive and helpful too. Much of what I've learned over the 12 months came from their support as well as that of the Aspire team - you guys rock!
The biggest difficulty with getting my business established was the fact we kept getting posted to different parts of the country. In two years we moved from Suffolk to Berkshire and finally we moved and settled in WIltshire. Every time I got settled and started to get the business known locally we had to move. The cost of getting re-established every time was draining the business. But even buying a house didn't make things completely trouble free. Less than a year after buying our home, and the week after I'd paid my first instalment on my course, my husband found out he was going to be doing a four month deployment in Afghanistan - seriously bad timing for me, right at the start of the summer holidays, with two children wanting to be entertained and a business to run AND towards what was going to be the end of my course. However, thanks to the gratefully received support and help from our families we all managed to get through it.
I want to take this time to give a special mention of thanks to my sister-In-law, Catherine Leatham. One of the hardest things about being a creative and trying to start/run your own business is that many people close to you see it more like a hobby than a career choice. Getting them to understand that your "hobby" can actually pay the bills and isn't just a passing phase is something most of us have to deal with.
Always an avid supporter of my work, Cathy understands what it means for me to do the job I love. She's constantly putting my name forward for commissions and anything that is remotely linked to photography. And this year I had the chance to repay her support by doing some work for Maxx Design Ltd. The company that she, Dermot and Jackie have invested many years in to create. Last year I worked on some amazing projects with them; it's reminded me that Commercial Photography is something I really love doing and that it is a way for me to explore my skills, not only as a people photographer, but as someone who works well under pressure in unusual circumstances.
My thanks to Dermot as well, for the insightful chats during the drive to and from London on commercial jobs, I'm more sure about many areas of photography, and more philosophical about life too.
Along with the support of Cathy, I really have to thank my awesome husband David, who has always told me to "go for it".
Even when it was likely to plunge us into debt; he always has more faith in me than I do myself. When things are hard he's there for me, (and he does all the ironing AND my book keeping too, he's a saint!)
He sees all the late nights/early mornings I put in when I'm trying to finish a job for someone, the worrying, huffing and puffing as well as the funny faces I pull when things aren't quite the way I want them to - and he doesn't mock me - too much. He thinks I'm somewhere between a perfectionist and a suffer of OCD… He may have a small point.
Although he still doesn't "get" photography the way I do, he does see how I light up when I've done a job that I love more than any other (always the last job I've done I'm sure) and he sees the child-like excitement that exudes from me when someone is happy with the images I have captured for them. He's my rock and saving grace; along with my children (who give the best mummy hugs in the world) he keeps me grounded and mostly sound of mind too.
Thanks also to my friends Nikki, Sally, Nedine, Rachel and Tania for letting me rant at them when things get tough and helping me find my sense of humour when I think it's run off with my mojo - lots of tea drinking, cake eating and long phone calls!
To all my wonderful clients, many whom have become friends, Thank You. For trusting and investing in my work, allowing me to be part of your lives for a small amount of time and to have the opportunity to create beautiful images for you.
I know there are many more people I should be thanking for this last year, although I've not listed you all here I am grateful for your support. Thank you guys!
Two of the jobs that really stuck out for me last year are both family shoots. Firstly, the Williams/White family shoot; the family wanted to capture some magical times before Claire got more ill and wasn't able to join in. In the last 12 months since she was diagnosed her symptoms have escalated to the point where moving about or just talking is a lot of hard work for her. Seeing her share a magical day with her family was priceless. Since the shoot she's had her favourite images framed and are now sitting proudly on her wall to help her have a reason to smile every day. She reminds me to count my blessings every day.
The second shoot was the Cole family. Melissa spoke to me over a year before to arrange the shoot and between one thing and another it never happened. We finally did the shoot a couple of months ago, it was supposed to be of her two children, but I squeezed her in a few of the shots too and she loves them. These are so precious to her because not too long ago she lost her own mum. It's a constant reminder to me that there will be a day when I won't be here for my children and all they will have left are the memories and the photographs.
So, 2014, what is in store. I've absolutely no idea to be honest. I've got plans to do more commercial work while I build up the portrait side of the business. I'm also working on a personal project that I hope will be good enough for an exhibition. I have two weddings in April, one of which is in America (making me excited and scared in equal measure) and then I think I'll be focusing on finding new subjects to create photographic stories about so I can keep blogging.
I've also registered with a charity group called Butterfly Wishes Network. An amazing group of professional photographers who give their time to photograph families whose children have potentially life shortening illnesses. I'm hoping that I'll be doing my bit this year for some families who I know will cherish the images I'll create for them.
I'd love to teach in a school as a visiting lecturer and go on to inspire a whole new generation of photographers the way my tutor (thanks Carl Hopley) inspired me. Otherwise I'll be hoping to make my mark in the Wiltshire area, making new contacts and networking with like minded businesses, but most of all, making the most emotive, heart warming and inspiring images I can.
I hope you'll all keep with me for the forth coming adventure. I'm so excited and feeling truly positive about everything - it's going to be a hell of a journey!