How I Built A Business From Scratch
So you have a business idea, but where do you start? Working for yourself and waking every day to do something you love is what most people dream of, but Yorkshire-based photographer Meagan Pope is living proof of how vision and passion, mixed with some strategic thinking can make your dreams a reality.
Despite Meagan's success, 2020 has been an unexpected year that none of us could have predicted. Her business felt the impact as did others across the world. So how does a small business plan for a pandemic? The word pivot, one I previously only used when referring to pesky Excel tables, has become the word of the moment. Diversification of businesses has been key to surviving the economic affects of COVID-19 and Yorkshire-based photographer Meagan Pope is proof that it can add more value to your business that you might've thought.
Here Meagan shares her story of building her empire from the ground up, and how she made sure her business survived the pandemic.
Who are you and what’s your story?
I’m a family and portrait photographer based in Yorkshire and have been for around 10 years now. Before I went to university in Newcastle and then Carlisle to study photography, I worked for photographer David Lawson. To me, he’s the most well known photographer of the North East. I did some work experience for him and when he came to my house and offered me a job, I thought ‘oh I must be good at this then!’
After university I worked for Premier Inn for a few years in Manchester. I did a few photography jobs for friends and family and one day I bought some huge A1 flip chart paper, tore all the pages off and stuck them all over my wall. I made my five year plan and wrote it as big as possible, including my business plan. It was very messy and sketchy! I took a risk and rented a studio at Awol Studios in Manchester, which was full of artists and photographers and it was great. Straight away I got a gig working for a fashion company and the risk paid off!
I dipped my toe into everything I could. I photographed a company that made sleeping bags and dressing gowns out of fabrics that were thrown out of the hotel industry. It was funny how my previous life crossed paths with my new one! I worked for loads of people, and it was all through word of mouth.
Along the way, everyone always asked me whether I photographed kids or weddings and I had never considered that path before, until we moved to Leeds. I realised that there was a market for it and I changed the downstairs of my Mum’s house into a studio. A few years later I saw a studio in Horsforth and I immediately pictured myself there. The rest is history! I didn’t anticipate the amount of work that it would take, but having Jordan on board really helped me!
What has the entrepreneurial journey been like for you?
I think it’s made me very confident and being an entrepreneurial woman has been very empowering. Before I was quite shy, but now I have an urge to climb the ladder and reach higher every day. You have to work through your insecurities first and then learn the world of business. As I started to work for myself, people respected me for that and I loved it! I could never go back to working for someone else now.
How did you drum up business when the pandemic broke?
During the pandemic, I put a Facebook ad on my local group to take doorstep portraits for charity. People paid what they thought it was worth to my JustGiving account, raising money for NHS Leeds. If I hadn’t done the charity work I wouldn’t have the same business I have now. I was really enjoying my job again and it wasn’t for the money. It was something I was happy to do and it rubbed off on my clients. Word of mouth travelled fast because people were sitting at home. And because I was stuck indoors too, I used the time to vamp up my website and refresh things I never had time to before.
How do you measure success?
I have a lot of competition and it often feels like a popularity contest. Success for me is having engaged followers online and being known in the area. Success is also when you can afford to have people working for you so you can do the things you want and need to do. I always run in five year slots and feel like a business takes that amount of time to achieve success.
You’ve started to mentor other aspiring photographers. What brought you to that decision for your business?
I love teaching. If I hadn’t had my own business I would have taught. I believe that all of the people I’ve admired and talked to within the industry have given me their best secrets. I believe that sharing tips is part of being a successful photographer. I want people to value my skills and feel that they can approach me. Everyone will have their own style and aesthetic, and a bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone!
How do you balance your creative nature and business savvy in a small business?
It’s the finest line I’ve ever walked on. Pintrest and Instagram have had such an impact -people want what they see on social media. They want what someone else has created but I’m trying to be unique all of the time, like with a new backdrop or props. I try to take risks to break the mould but it’s all trial and error to see what people like.
You also hired an assistant a few years ago. When did you know the time was right to grow your team?
When you realise you don’t have time to do anything to further the business. When nothing is moving forward because you can only do what you can do. My assistant has taken all of the stress of the admin away - those little nagging voices in my head have now gone away!
How important is having a strategic vision for you? Where did you begin?
I didn’t realise at the time, but I was making a plan for my future with the A1 flip chart paper in my room in Manchester all those years ago. For me, I don’t create a rigid plan so much as I follow a feeling, an emotion rather than logical thinking. That drives me towards my vision.
What is your biggest takeaway from working together on your business vision and strategy?
My biggest takeaway is to accept that without the structure and foundation in place, my ideas won’t happen, or at least not as quickly or sustainably as I want them to! They need to be implemented properly and I need to understand timelines. Don’t be afraid to add time and space things out, do the little things, and don’t overwhelm yourself.
You can’t be successful on your own. You need people around you who keep you accountable and striving for success. We all have days where we think ‘what am i doing?’ and Jordan is the backbone I needed. I always felt she was there even when she wasn’t. I would always think ‘what would Jordan do?’.
Do you have any top tips for small businesses who are setting goals and planning for the future?
I would say ‘don’t jump the gun’. Get the little bitty boring business bits done in the beginning. Set up accountancy, insurance, etc. first before you do whatever your business is. And then start growing your idea. I had to back step so much and I wish I’d done it all at the beginning! And invest in someone like Jordan to help you kick it off!
Meagan is based in Horsforth, Leeds and loves capturing family moments on camera. Drop her a message if you're in town and want a stunning portrait!