Posted: Fri 18th Aug 2023
With a husband in the RAF and a former serviceperson herself, Barbara Leatham has travelled around the UK a lot.
As a result, the entrepreneur has had to establish her business in new towns. Here, she tells her inspiring story and shares her experiences of networking.
How did you come up with your business idea?
Without sounding like a cliché, I've always done photography. As a single parent, I went back to college and studied graphic design for five years, and I also studied A-Level photography. I realised I was much better as a photographer so I channelled that side of my work into my graphics work.
In 2002, I enlisted in the Royal Air Force and trained as a photographer, which might sound crazy, considering I've been doing photography for many years. But the training you get with the RAF is intensive and second to none. When I left the RAF in 2007, it seemed logical to start my own business.
How have you funded your business?
I had a basic set-up of camera gear that I'd bought over the years. But in 2010 when my father passed away, I invested £20,000 of my inheritance into equipment and branding.
I have no doubt that I would still have a successful business without my inheritance, but it would have taken longer to get established.
What start-up challenges have you faced?
Although I left the RAF, my husband was still serving. We had four children between us from our previous relationships, and now two young children too. Added to this was the fact that hubby would come home and tell me that he was heading out of the country for four months. Thus, starting a business wasn't easy at all.
At the time we were living in Suffolk. I was also studying for my master's and we didn't have family local to us to help when things got a little difficult.
What kept me going was the idea that I couldn't imagine working for someone else any more and that I had to do something that was in photography.
I started attending courses that were free to start-up businesses. I attended networking groups, mostly at lunchtime as breakfast networking was impractical. I engaged with the local community and I made use of my contacts in the military to ensure that if photographic jobs were on offer, I would be a name people referred to.
Watch this webinar to learn about the power of networking and why having a support system around you is crucial.
Then in 2010, hubby got posted and we had to move to a new county. Berkshire was so different to Suffolk; the engagement with the community was different and the vibe was different. It's hard to put into words, but approaching this new county and making contacts was going to take a different tack.
I used my connections to engage with clients. And by now the social media world was getting more established. I was using Facebook mostly, X (formerly Twitter) was just getting established and Instagram was hardly known about at the time.
I attended a 12-month business course that was just for photographers. It was a huge investment that required a bank loan and most of my savings, but it paid off in the long term.
It helped me define my business, who my target audience is and my pricing. I rebranded the business, I was moving away from family photography as more of my work was commercially based. I invested a great deal of money in my website and made sure I blogged.
And then in 2012, we moved again, to Wiltshire!
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Most know they're good at something and then someone says, "Why don't you do it as a business?" But no-one tells you about all the other stuff that is involved in making it work.
What is your next big business goal?
I want to get more clients signing up for a retainer so they can budget their shoots across the year rather than having a lump sum come out each time they book a shoot.
With that, I can hire people who are far better than me to do the things in the business that I'm not so good at. That will free up my time to do more shoots with my clients.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge?
Convincing the clients that a retainer is a good idea. A company can absorb a small consistent amount of money each month into their outgoings.
It's amazing how quickly they don't notice it, but it's not something many photographers offer. And so it's educating the businesses that it's better for their cash flow and they can budget their shoots and book dates throughout the year.
This also means they don't have to panic or do things at the last minute, especially if it's seasonal.
Which other entrepreneur inspires you and why?
I'm inspired by a lady called Fiona Scott, owner of Scott Media and a fellow Enterprise Nation member. We met when she did a story just after we moved to Wiltshire.
Much like myself, her business had grown and evolved and was treading a new path. She's a spark of energy in the local business world, super talented, inspiring and motivates other business owners.
She pays it forward with her support and advice and works hard for her clients who benefit from her years of experience as a journalist and media consultant.
What are your three tips for business success?
Go on as many courses as you can for free that the local council offers for small or new businesses.
Network, but don't expect to get clients there. It's about connecting with people so you become a name and face people remember – for the right reasons.
If you're not good at something in your business, find someone who is good at it and don't give up.
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