The 16 things I have learnt in 16 years about business
an aerial view of hands and notepads in the work meeting on a desk

It is 16 years since I finished my Diploma in the professional practice of photography at the London College of Communication, University of Arts, London. It was June 2007! My business is Sweet 16!! Yay!!

So much in the way that we do things in business has changed since then, so I wanted to share 16 things I have learnt in running a successful venture through either experience, courses and others in my network.

1 Cash is King

Yes I know this is a favourite saying of accountants and I was reminded it of it recently on LinkedIn when an accountant mentioned it.

In the early days of running the business there was a huge amount of investment in photography equipment, desktop, software, insurance, networking fees and of course the website! I did borrow money then – I didn’t have a choice as being a mum at home for 6 years I hadn’t saved to launch myself into the big wide world from my monthly food allowance. I don’t like the fact I had to borrow money but I see it now as an investment.

To have a backup reserve is crucial in a business to ensure that any unforeseen cost or problem can covered. I now have 6 months reserve to cover my pay but also the basic outgoings of the business if it stood still for 6 months. This was a godsend to me in 2020 when as a photographer I certainly couldn’t work for quite a while until restrictions were lifted.

Being a Limited company too meant that I couldn’t take the £565 furlough to start with as it would have meant that I would not have been able to work at all on my business. Not even a social media post would have been allowed so having a reserve was a comfort . So glad we are through those times now….

2 Accounting, bookkeeping and boring stuff

To ensure that my accounts are up to date I always need to know where I am in order to plan to where I need to be.

At one time I didn’t keep a track on what money was coming in going out which made it difficult to make informed decisions and monitor cash flow. That was an early lesson in not how to run a business!

Thankfully, early on I had an accountant so all the bits I would procrastinate about I paid them to do.

I have used Xero since 2016 and it has been great to be see how well I have been doing on a daily basis. Using a professional accounting software has released so much time for me.

Making sure that my accounts are submitted as soon as the last financial year has finished has enabled me to know how much is due and that I have time to pay. Instead of finding out 28th December (Corporation Tax) and not having any money set aside to pay the tax!

Image taken on a virtual shoot

3 Networking – the foundation of my business

I meet other businesses through Athena Network, SisterSnog and also my local Chamber of Commerce. Networking has been a game-changer for me! It has allowed me to establish valuable connections and learn so much from others. Expanding my network has given me access to a wealth of resources, knowledge, and even collaborations. Not only that, but it has also significantly boosted the visibility of my business. Through networking, I have been able to connect with new clients and form partnerships that have opened up exciting opportunities. So, I can’t stress enough how important it is to get out there and build those relationships. It’s an investment that pays off in so many ways even though at times it seems to be a slow build.

Image – taken at one of the Sister Snog Wonderful One off events!

A montage of images by Annie Armitage showing colourful women at Sistersnog at Brigade
Self portrait of Annie Armitage photographer on her side with eyes closed

4 Establishing boundaries

Establishing boundaries has been a game-changer for me. I’ve learned that setting clear working hours and communicating them to clients has help me create a structure and separates my personal time from work-related responsibilities. Designating non-work time for relaxation and spending quality moments with my family and friends has made a huge difference in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I’ve also realised the importance of outsourcing tasks outside my business which has helped enormously with my productivity and helps prevent being overwhelmed.

Self Portrait

5 Good customer service

Good customer service is crucial! When I provide excellent service, it makes my photography clients happy and satisfied. They’re more likely to stick around, recommend my business, and leave positive reviews. That’s how how I have built a strong reputation and stand out from the competition.

I love Claridge’s as they give the same service whether you are a millionaire or not. So I alway say to myself “What would Claridges do?”. “How would I like to be treated?”.

Image taken while on a visit to Claridge’s

6 Time is money

Yes, all those photography shoots I have gone to which have taken me hours to get to for not much money in return! I have had to learn that there are plenty of potential clients around me in SW London and north Surrey, so I keep my networking circles tight and my marketing within the area of how far I need to travel. My time management is not perfect but certainly much better than it was but I have seen the evidence that looking at the relationship between time and money is key to success in both my personal and professional life!

images of Jo James on a virtual shoot leaning over a wall with the sun on her face with blue sky behind her in Portuagal taken by Annie Armitage

7 Investing in a business coach

I have had a business coach on and off over the years . It is an investment in the business and they have provided guidance, support, and kept me accountable. With their expertise, I have been able to make better decisions, stay motivated, and grow my business.

Image of Jo James of Amberlife. This was a virtual photoshoot of my business coach.

8 Being a business person first – photographer second

Being a business person over being a creative has been the only way to be successful. I have had to have a strong understanding of business to allow me to manage finances, operations, and planning effectively. By balancing my creativity with sound business strategies, I have been able to identify market opportunities, target the right audience, and develop my service offering.

A detail shot of books, cappuccino, phone and pen on a wooden table as part of Mel Larsen's brand shoot

9 Imposter syndrome

I’ve experienced imposter syndrome, which is when I doubt my abilities and fear being exposed as a fraud, even though there is evidence of my competence. However, I’ve learned that recognising imposter syndrome and seeking support can help build a healthier self-perception and confidence.

10 Having a great EI

As a photographer, emotional intelligence plays a vital role in my success. It helps me connect with clients on a deeper level, truly understand their needs, and capture images that truly resonate with them. By building trust and creating a comfortable atmosphere during photoshoots, I can create a better collaboration and deliver photographs that exceed expectations. Emotional intelligence also helps me navigate challenging situations, communicate effectively, and manage client expectations.

11 Being authentic and VISIBLE

I’ve learned that being authentic and visible is crucial in my business to build trust, foster meaningful connections, and stand out in a crowded market. Authenticity means staying true to my values, beliefs, and unique personality, allowing my genuine self to shine through. It involves transparent communication, honesty, and consistency in my actions and interactions. When I am authentic, clients can relate to me on a deeper level, forming a genuine connection beyond mere transactions. Additionally, being visible means actively showcasing my expertise, sharing my story, and engaging with my audience to establish myself as a trustworthy authority in my industry. We all want to Know, Like and Trust who we are working with.

12 Embrace competition

I’ve come to realise that my competition can actually be my friend in business. While competition may initially feel intimidating, it has several positive effects. Firstly, it pushes me to continuously improve and innovate my products or services. It encourages me to stay flexible, adapt to market changes, and strive for excellence. Additionally, healthy competition expands my network and exposes me to new ideas and perspectives. It creates a sense of urgency, motivating me to work harder and achieve my goals. Competition also helps me identify my unique selling points and stand out from others in the market. Embracing competition as a friend rather than a foe has ultimately led to personal and professional growth and fostered innovation. So, even though I keep my blinkers on most of the time to avoid the compartivitis, I do check in to see what is going on in the world of photography.

13 Personal and professional development

I’ve learned that investing in both creative and business development is key to thriving in my creative business. Creative development has nurtured my artistic skills and allowed me to explore new ideas and techniques. It has helped me stand out from competitors and offer unique perspectives to my audience. On the other hand, business development has been crucial for ensuring the sustainability of my business. By improving my knowledge in marketing, sales, finance, and strategic planning. Prioritising both creative and business development has laid a strong foundation for growth, profitability, and long-term success in my photography business. For example, I try to once a year to go on a photography course which might be totally different from the usual imagery that I produce and a business course!

Image taken while on a photography trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina

black and white image of a pair of tango dancers on the street with graffiti behind them in Buenos Aires in Argentina
london and Surrey Dr Terry working on her journal at there desk with a cup of tea and wearing a turquoise summer haltereneck dress

14 Better done than perfect

I like to be perfect! But I have had to embrace the idea of “better done than perfect.” So, to finish tasks instead of striving for perfection. Avoid getting myself stuck in perfectionism, self-criticism, and procrastination and focus and prioritise completion over perfection.

Image of Dr Terry Loong on her personal brand shoot.

15 Don’t let the business overtake your life

It’s important to find a healthy balance and not let your business take over your life. I love what I do and always striving to be better in business and creatively. While being dedicated and passionate is admirable, neglecting other aspects of my life has lead to burnout and diminished overall well-being. I have to prioritise self-care, maintaining relationships, and pursuing personal interests outside of my business has been essential for maintaining a fulfilling and balanced life. I have had to remind myself that my business is just one part of your life, and nurturing other areas will ultimately contribute to my long-term happiness and success.

Image taken of Caroline Kremer on her personal branding shoot.

Caroline Kremer by a river reaching out with her hands to the camera on her brand shoot
Annie Armitage at the house of Lords wearing a red dress and holding a banner

16 Celebrating success!

Celebrating success is important and I don’t do it enough in fear of looking conceited and showing off. Recognising and appreciating my achievements has validated all my hard work and reinforces the belief that I can achieve great things. So, take the time to celebrate your successes as an entrepreneur and keep the positive momentum going!

The image to the left was taken in February 2020 when I was named Top 100 f:entrepreneurs in the UK.

More recently, I am a finalist at the Best Business Women awards 2023 in the creative category with the gala final in September 2023

I am so grateful to my husband, Tony. Who at first must of thought what was I doing but he is my rock and always there for support and advice.


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london and Surrey Mel Larson the Vision coach wearing an orange top and blue trousers sitting having a latte
london and Surrey Mel Larson the Vision coach in the woods wearing a yellow top

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