Posted: Fri 10th Sep 2021
Enterprise Nation member Sophie Carefull shares the story behind her business, Sophie Carefull Photography, and tips for building a meaningful brand.
Introduce yourself and your business.
I'm a personal branding photographer for purpose-driven creative women based in Bristol and working with entrepreneurs all over the UK.
I create bespoke portraits and stock images for my clients' websites and social media channels, all based around their vision, mission and values. I work primarily with designers, coaches, digital consultants and wellbeing professionals.
Where did the inspiration for starting your own business come from?
I launched my branding photography business at the end of 2016, after having done wedding photography alongside various full-time digital marketing roles for the previous two years.
I'd always loved taking photos but it never seemed possible to make a career out of my hobby, so I didn't pursue it seriously until I found myself extremely unhappy in an office job that wasn't right for me. It felt like a 'now or never' moment, so I went for it!
When I went self-employed, I knew I'd need to create some contacts and generate business ahead of wedding season, so I signed up to lots of local networking events. It was through chatting to other small business owners that I realised how crucial having good-quality images is to establishing a strong brand and web presence.
These talented, ambitious, creative people were struggling to create consistent visual content and get across what they do and why in their photos, so I decided to make branding photography for creatives my niche.
I knew that my marketing knowledge would add value to my photography services and I could help people leverage the power of soulful portraits and intentional imagery to grow their businesses.
What's your advice for someone who aspires to start their own business and wants to base it on something meaningful to them?
This can take a bit of soul-searching. But it's worth it to create a fulfilling role for yourself and to keep yourself motivated on the hard days, of which there can be many when you're running your own business!
Reflective questions are a great way to start this process. Ask yourself:
What would I do for free?
What would make me jump out of bed with excitement if it was my job?
What do people often come to me for help with?
What would my friends and family say I'm really good at?
What's the one thing I'd change about the world if I could?
See what comes up for you and jot down your answers without giving it too much logical thought or jumping ahead to the 'how' of turning those things into a profitable business.
You can cross that bridge when you come to it, because an idea based on what you're fired up and inspired by is far more likely to succeed than an idea that's purely based on monetisation (see my point about the hard days!).
Also, remember that all brands evolve over time, so you can expect to look back a year from now and see that your business has shifted.
This is natural since you'll have so much more information by then such as sales figures and customer feedback, but also your own thoughts on what works and what doesn't, including who you enjoy working with and which products bring you the most joy to create.
If you've put in the work upfront to define your core values, these will give you a solid foundation on which to change and grow with integrity.
How does a brand translate its values?
A brand's values inform all of its marketing activities, from the obvious touchpoints such as website copy and social media content, to things like the other brands they collaborate with or advocate for online and at live events.
Every time a member of the public (customer or not) interacts with our brand, we have the opportunity to act in line with our values.
The language we use, the images we share, the packaging we choose and the whole way we operate should take their lead from the things we care about most.
So, do you want to be known for being eco-friendly, inclusive, transparent, empowering, down-to-earth? Consider your keywords at every step of your marketing cycle, from picking your brand colours and selecting stock photos, to naming your products and services, and communicating with your audience on and offline.
As a simple example, if one of your values is caring about the environment but you share a stock photo of a person drinking from a one-use coffee cup, this will be out of alignment and could be jarring for your audience.
However, if you put every item through the filter of what you stand for, you'll get an instinctive reaction when something doesn't sit right. This will help you stay true to your values and build a relationship of trust and respect with your right people.
Sophie's tips on how to style your brand and delight your ideal clients
Start with why
What has drawn you to your business idea? Why are you inspired to work with your ideal clients over anybody else? Why will bringing your product into the world make a difference?
Get clear on your purpose before you move on to visuals, and you'll find they take on much more meaning and last longer too!
Make clarity your priority
The best way to attract your ideal target audience (and repel those who aren't the right fit) is to make it crystal-clear what you stand for through everything you share online.
So, be strict with yourself and only post the work you want more of and talk about things that align with your core values (this goes for your website too).
Don't be a magpie
Following on from my previous point about clarity, try to keep your visuals as cohesive as possible and resist the temptation to get swept up in popular trends, as this will only serve to confuse your audience. And confused people don't buy.
Building a recognisable brand takes time. If you commit to one colour palette or photographic style, slowly but surely you'll see that you're creating an overall aesthetic that represents who you are, and appeals to those who get you.
Make your customer experience as good as possible
Spend some time (and money, if necessary) crafting your on- and off-boarding processes to make them as simple and pleasant as possible for your clients. This makes up their experience working with you and is what they'll tell their contacts about.
Under-promise and over-deliver
This could be popping an unexpected free gift or hand-written note into your order parcels or delivering your branding files or wedding photos earlier than you said you would. You could also invest in small but thoughtful gifts to send to new clients to express your excitement about working together. The more personal to them, the better!
Create free content that uplifts and inspires your target audience
If they feel good after visiting your social media profiles or blog, or receiving one of your mailing list emails, they will associate you with that positive feeling. As Maya Angelou put it "people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel".