I started my business in 2017 as a family photographer – I worked it around a part-time day job and still do, although I’m now in the position with my business that I’m thinking of reducing my day job hours. Family photography was fine, but at the beginning of 2020, I became aware of a new emerging genre of photography: personal brand photography. So in January 2020, I switched over to this.
This new genre appealed to me, as brand photography isn’t just about creating beautiful photographs, but you also need solid communications and marketing skills too. After all, fundamentally, what you’re doing is digging into your client’s brand and translating the key messages into imagery that will help them sell their service.
My day job background has given me hugely valuable skills in this: not only have I a postGrad in IT and have learned a lot in IT roles I’ve previously held, but I’ve also worked for years in comms and marketing. Couple that with knowing how to take great photographs … Any half-decent portrait photographer can take a nice photo of you which makes you look good. Still, I go MUCH further than that by digging deeply into your brand, what you do and what you stand for, then I translate that into images that support your marketing and help you grow your business.
I reckon I’m left-brained AND right-brained. Personal branding photography is a combination of art and science, so it is the perfect way for me to help people using both sides of my brain and leveraging all the day job skills I’ve acquired over the years! But there’s another reason I’m doing this. It’s well known that many women are still grossly undervalued in the workplace even in this day and age. I believe that running our own businesses is a viable solution to this and that all women should have the freedom to choose to do so. I want to help women who believe there must be more. Those who think there must be more to life than the daily grind and want to achieve practical and financial independence by running their own successful business. Empowered women make things better for themselves, their communities, their nations and ultimately, humankind. If my photography can help women succeed in this, then I’ll have played my tiny part in changing the world.
I’m the heart and soul of my business, so it made more sense to use my name – after all, how much more personal can you get than using your own name? Plus, there are so many twee names out there for photography businesses – but oh wait, I’ve just googled and seen that “Fabby Photies” is available! So should I change my business name? What do you think? Hehe.
I started in family photography after many people saw my children’s photographs, and I was getting requests to photograph THEIR kids. I started thinking, well, I love doing this; people like my photography, so why not offer it to others as a service? I know. Sorry. I feel such a stereotype of mum-with-camera! It’s not been easy, though, juggling getting this off the ground with a day job and two children of my own. Whenever things feel overwhelming (which is often!), I always remind myself that I’ve come too far only to come this far. And that even one small step forward is better than stopping or giving up. At many times throughout my life, I’ve been accused of being stubborn (or “Thrawn”, as we say here in Scotland), but the upside of this is that it’s given me incredible tenacity. Or just sheer bloody-mindedness, maybe!
As I fit this around a day job and kids, I don’t have a typical workday for my business. I’d love to say I get up at 5.30 am every day, go for a run, meditate, do lots of work on my own business before starting the day job, but I don’t. I’m much more likely to stay up burning the midnight oil, working on my business. The number of times I write emails insanely late at night – I’m SO glad I can schedule emails to go out at a respectable time like 7.30 am! So if you get an email from me that early, I’ll let you into a secret: I’ve probably written it at 3.00 am, because my brain is like cold porridge until about 10.00 am! But otherwise? It’s just all about being organised and planning things out. Every Sunday, I make a work plan for the week, reviewing my annual, quarterly, and monthly goals. Goal setting is crucial – I’d be completely adrift and “oooh look, squirrel!” otherwise.
I’m not very good with numbers – in fact, I didn’t even pass basic maths in school. No, actually, I wasn’t even allowed to sit it as I got 12% for the prelim. Oops. Nonetheless, it hasn’t held me back as I managed to get a good honours degree without it, and anyway, with a calculator on my phones and my fingers to count, what more do I need? Ha. Book-keeping, as it turns out. One day I’ll draft in help with that.
Apart from the photographers’ staples of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom and a couple of other photographer-specific tools, I use Canva a LOT. I make branded graphics for my clients in Canva, using the brand photographs I’ve taken for them, plus I also use it for creating my own graphics for social media. Google software is also a necessity – I keep my clients’ documentation like their brand clarity workbooks in my Google drive, and my content planner is a Google spreadsheet. The IT geek in me LOVES a spreadsheet, but mine has to be accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, not just my desktop computer in the house.
Obviously, I’m going to say getting my own brand photography session done! There’s a real art to taking a high-quality self-portrait, and whilst I could have faffed around with my big camera and my tripod and taken a handful of images of myself, that was only ever going to show a tiny part of who I am, what I do, and why.
So I engaged Laura Walter from Stonehaven, an excellent brand photographer, last year to photograph me, and it was the best thing I could have had done. Having “proper” photographs of myself that I could put on my website and social profiles substantially changed how confident I felt in promoting my business. Professional brand photography is a commercial necessity nowadays if you want to take your business seriously.
Work on your mindset! Oh, I heard this often enough, but I didn’t believe it until it dawned on me a while ago that I was scared of being seen. The thought of doing live video crippled me, and my imposter syndrome raged away in the background, holding me back significantly.
Last year in lockdown, I worked with Lynette Gray, a life coach whom I can’t recommend highly enough, and now these issues no longer plague me. I now understand the importance of mindset because if yours isn’t strong enough, you can do all the business training in the world, but you’ll never get far.
The other thing I’d tell people is, it’s a numbers game. (I know, rich coming from someone who failed high school maths!) So keep an eye on your profit averages over the year, and when you’re on the roller coaster of winning some jobs and losing others, provided your profit averages are where they should be, it’s easy to remember that things just ebb and flow in business in terms of highs and lows.
I always used to spend ages editing photographs, but last year I decided to outsource it. I was nervous about the expense of doing this until I realised that the value of the time I saved in doing this myself was far greater than the cost the editing company charges. Plus, getting back to the old mindset gremlins, I subconsciously thought that outsourcing was for “real businesses”, and who was I to be so fancy? The difference outsourcing to my editing has made to my life, and my business is huge because of the time it saves. Fancy is GOOD!
I also outsourced design work to Marcie James Designs – read on to find out why I’m so happy I did!
I had been following Louise for a while on social media and always loved the look of her bright yet simple, elegant designs, and when I saw she was offering Canva templates for social media, I knew I needed her help. I had a complete mish-mash of designs in my Canva account, and I was spending FAR too long doing something that isn’t my core strength.
I have an excellent eye for photography, but my eye was failing me big time in producing my own Canva designs for social media posts. I tried to replicate Louise’s own clean, simple designs and got nowhere – unsurprisingly!
After putting me through her consultation process, she gave me exactly what I wanted but couldn’t come up with myself: a cohesive collection of graphics branded especially for me that I could use for different types of posts.
Now, if I post a testimonial, I know exactly which template to use. If I’m posting a client image, it’s a different one. And so on, for all the different types of posts, I do. So, for the first time, my social media post images are completely consistent and in harmony now, thanks to Louise.
I’ll cheat and cite two: my husband and my dad. Mr G has a brain like a vice and is one of the most organised, down to earth, clever people I know. I hugely admire his integrity – as well as being really kind and drily funny, he’s just one of the most decent people I know.
My dad shares his integrity, kindness, and sense of humour, but nobody could claim he’s organised! He’s very scatty, but the other thing I look up to in my dad is that he’s 78 and is always learning. Maybe for an ex-teacher, that’s just a natural part of his mindset, but he’s always keen to learn about new technology, takes a massive interest in world affairs and has considered opinions on most of them, and spent lockdown learning Gaelic on Duolingo every single day. A true life-long learner. I’m the same now, and I want to be the same when I’m his age too.
I played the pipes in competing pipe bands for a long time and even joined the Army Reserves as a piper. Those days were probably the most fun of my life, and I’d tell you more, but what happens in the beer tent stays in the beer tent.
I’m also a HUGE Guns’ n Roses fan – in their heydey, they were filthy, nasty, and utterly foul dynamite, but they rocked my world. I went to see them in 1994, and it was the best concert I’ve been to in my life. I’ve got tickets for their gig in Glasgow next year, so let’s see how these ageing rockers hold up.
The autobiographies of the GnR guys, of course! (Wish Axl would hurry up and write his though.) Oh wait, you mean business books? Probably Donald Miller’s “StoryBrand” and “Marketing Made Simple”. For mindset? “The Middle Finger Project” by Ash Ambirge. Hilarious, human, and insanely helpful.
Thank you, Donna, for taking the time to talk to me; it was brilliant to find out more about you and your business. If you would be interested in getting some high impact brand photography done for your business, then head over to Donna’s website here for more information or take a look at her social links below.