Blue Eyes Photography: Sue Kennedy

Sue Kennedy left a secure bank job to start her business

Sue Kennedy’s Blue Eyes Photgrapy is the second of our Startup profiles, where we go straight to the hub of the action by speaking to entrepreneurs who have literally just started up.

We find out what made them decide to start their own business, how they got it off the ground, the obstacles they’ve overcome and the barriers they still face. We’ll look at their hopes and aspirations for the future, and then, in six months time, we’ll go back and find out how they’re getting on.

Name: Sue Kennedy Age: 31 Business: Blues Eyes Photography Type of business: Photography Start date: September 2002

You’ve just started your own business, why? It has always been my dream to run my own business. I left school at 16 and started to work because I wanted financial independence. But after working in a bank for several years, I felt that I was working hard for little reward, and I wanted to take a risk.

My mother’s death four years ago also made me think that life was too short not to follow your dreams.

Tell us about Blue Eyes PhotograpyBlue Eyes Photography produces high quality images to clients’ requirements.

I started out thinking I would just do stock photography and supply picture libraries, and then realised I would need to do some commercial and corporate work as well to boost revenue.

At the moment I’m concentrating on stock photography, but my vision for Blue Eyes is for it to have three areas of activity – stock photography, commercial photography and the publishing of photographic greeting cards.

What gave you the idea for the business?Once I’d gained my banking qualifications I started to study photography, completing a City & Guilds in 2000, and acquiring a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society the same year.

I’ve also met photographer Charlie Waite a few times over the years, and it was him that told me about stock photography, and encouraged me to have a good think about what I wanted out of life.

I remember very clearly the day I decided to pursue Photography as a career – it was September 1999, I was waiting for my plane to leave Glasgow airport after a brilliant four days spent in Glencoe, Scotland photographing the landscape with friends. Everyone else had left the day before; I had stayed on an extra night, which gave me plenty of time to think. Over the next two years I spent a lot more time thinking, and planning.

What makes you think there is a market for your business? Talking to people, knowing it was difficult to find a good photographer when we needed one at work, reading widely in the professional press, and instinct.

So when did you decide to take the plunge?I came across an article in the Women in Banking winter 2000 newsletter written by Heather White. It talked about moving from the corporate world to self-employment. I emailed her seeking further information about a course she had mentioned and after exchanged a few emails, we eventually met up for coffee one January (2002) morning.

By this time I’d decided I wanted to become a freelance photographer specialising in stock images. I’d already secured a contract with an agency, spoken to others that had done the same and read as widely as I could.

There were big changes happening at work, which threw up the opportunity for voluntary redundancy, which I was keen to secure.

My initial meeting with Heather motivated me to prepare a business plan, arrange a meeting with an accountant and volunteer as the local squash club photographer. The most important thing Heather gave me was support, she was the first person with whom I discussed my plans that didn’t either laugh, and/or tell me not to do it.

Over the course of several other meetings, Heather helped me concentrate on making my dream a reality, becoming my mentor.

Aside from Heather, what other help did you get? I attended a number of ‘networking events’ aimed principally at women. The speakers at these meetings had given me a lot of food for thought, and I was starting to shape a new lifestyle in my mind.

I also found out about picture libraries and read widely. The Busy Girl Network (www.busygirl.co.uk), my local Women in Business Essex (www.wibessex.org.uk), the Bureau of Freelance Photographers, British Institute of Professional Photographers, Startups.co.uk and Everywoman.co.uk all helped in different ways.

Do you think that when starting a business women face more challenges than men? I’m not sure women face more challenges, just different ones to men. It’s a thorny issue and undoubtedly there are people that struggle with the concept of a woman owned business, but they are in the minority. The best way to effect change is to have strong roles models, who are good business people and that people can aspire to become.

Did you approach your local Business Link for help? I did briefly but decided not to continue with it as it was difficult to talk to them while I was still working and they also want you to take up their mentor scheme. I already had this in Heather.

Does the government need to provide more help for people trying to start a business?There’s a wealth of information out there to guide people but it’s often a case of ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. You have to wade through a fair amount of information and I guess that puts some people off.

How did you write your business plan?Heather helped, but to format it I used the headings from a HSBC business plan and tweaked it to suit my needs. I didn’t use any specific software.

How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?It organised my thoughts and focused me, but I doubt I’ll stick to it. It will have to grow and evolve with my business.

How much did it cost to start your business?A lot more than I thought – about £15,000.

Where did the money come from?My redundancy money covered all of it.

How are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?By using what’s left of my redundancy money and an overdraft.

Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected?Not really, but I did apply for lots of credit cards before I left secure employment. In the worst case scenario I’ll rent my house, and move in with friends.

What stage were you at when you stopped working?I was still in start up mode. I’d done a couple of jobs, but wasn’t able to go aggressively after work. It took a long time for a clear release date and for my redundancy money to come through.

You’re working from home at the moment, why? It’s cheaper than renting office space, and I have access to a studio elsewhere when I need it. In the future I might seek a larger property with outbuildings that I can convert into an office and studio.

How are you finding working at home? OK. I’m pretty good at organising myself and planning. I have converted a bedroom into a proper office. I tend to keep all my papers in there and shut the door when I’m done for the day.

How many hours are you working at the moment? Too many! Probably about 50 hours a week.

What about staff, is it just you?It’s just me in the business, but I’m out and about with people either socially or networking so much that I haven’t found that a problem.

Are you looking to take somebody else on? Not in the short term – I may employ a virtual p.a. in time.

What marketing and advertising have you done so far? Mainly networking. Listing with free directories, registering with all the photographic directories. I’m also going to send a marketing email to all my contacts and offer a free portrait as a prize in a competition another contact is running. I need to do more, I know, but it’s a start.

Tell us about your website. It’s very important, I see it as my corporate brochure and a mini portfolio of my work.

Did you design it yourself? No, I found someone to do it for me. I wanted it clean and simple, so that it was easy to follow, and wanted a design that didn’t compete with the images.

It still took a couple of attempts, though. The original version very much reflected photography as my hobby and not my business. For the revamp I was much clearer on what I wanted, and I was helped by the feedback I had on the old site.

Where do you hope to be in 12 months’ time?I want to be comfortably busy, and heading towards profit. My own TV show would be nice too…

What are the main obstacles to growth? I think building a reputation locally, and finding clients willing to take a risk on you when you haven’t got loads of work to show them.

How will you overcome these? Determination and persistence.

What is your main ambition, to make a lot of money or enjoy what you do?Both, if I’m honest. If I can turn something I’m good at and passionate about into a thriving business then I will be very happy. I need to enjoy what I do, and for me that it is more important.

What do you wish you’d done differently?I’d have definitely saved up more money. From a personal development perspective the whole experience has been fantastic, but I didn’t appreciate the impact it would have on family and friends. I didn’t think they would be too fussed about what I did, but the reality is that people do a lot of worrying for you and sometimes that comes out as a negative comment like “what do you want to do that for?”

What skills and personal characteristics do you need to start your own business?A good source of clients, a very thick skin, total self belief that you can be a success, supportive friends, a flexible approach and eyes in the back of your head to spot the opportunities others have missed.

So what advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business? Listen to the advice given, get yourself a good mentor/coach, read widely, follow your instincts and then do what is right for you.

Thanks a lot and the very best of luck. Will you come back and tell us how you’re getting on in six months time? Oh yes.

For more information on Blue Eyes Photography, visit www.blueeyesphoto.com

If you’d like to feature as a Startup profile, email Matt Thomas at matthewt@crimsonpublishing.co.uk

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