So over the last few years I’ve been invited into schools, colleges and universities to tell my story; the irony of this is that I was terrible at being in school – so to be giving advice to people now feels confusing. But at the same time I am relishing in having a platform to tell young people what I was never told…
That it’s okay to feel like you don’t fit into the social constructs of education and employment, and that you too can be successful regardless of having mental health problems. They don’t have to be the end of your life, just the end of your life as you know it, in a good way! Because having mental health issues gave me the fight and drive that I needed to do what I loved as a career in order to take control and be happy in my everyday life.
This blog is to give you an insight into what I bring to the talks – a combination of photography, illustration, business, inspiration and mental health awareness.
Things I wish I had been told as a child, teenager, even now! Half of the things I write on social media and in blogs are to remind myself on the bad days that things aren’t always that bad.
So here we go…
I tend to start with this video, because for me, this is really one of the main points where my career began:
PART ONE: The Conservative Speech
This was back in 2014, speaking at The Conservative Party Conference. My views aside, I did this as another platform to be able to speak about my journey and my business, and again to reach out to people who have mental health issues and show them that we are still people and can still succeed.
I came to do this because after completing The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Workshop, a non-profit organisation named Business Enterprise Support (BES) wrote about me and my story. From here it was picked up by the Department of Work and Pensions because I had used their New Enterprise Allowance Scheme (NEA). This was a series of payments, a benefit if you will, that enabled me to set my business up at the same time as having something to bounce off. Unlike other benefits out there, you can work with this one, however it only lasts for 13 weeks.
I was asked to initially be on a panel with the Employment Minister at the time – Esther McVey. Once I had written my story for them, they contacted me, told me everyone in the office had cried at it and wanted me to do a 3 minute speech and introduce her to the stage.
Initially I was under the impression that it would be to a small room of people and definitely not live on BBC Parliament to several thousand people. Coming from someone who, in particular at the time, has crippling anxiety, this was a HUGE leap for me! But I did it, and I loved it. Although I did come home and cry for hours afterwards because I got scared I’d made myself too vulnerable. However only good came from it!
PART TWO: Since That Was Filmed…
Since that was filmed I have been further diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (For more information on my mental health please see previous blogs).
I went through 20 weeks of emotion management in 2016 which was incredible – and again there is a previous post about this. See STEPPS sessions 1-6.
BLOG: STEPPS Therapy!
I’m currently awaiting more therapy for OCD and CPTSD through the form of trauma based CBT.
At the beginning of 2016 I also relocated from Worcestershire to London, this was a huge leap for my career and stability with my health.
PART THREE: Photography Experience
Throughout my career I have had the pleasure of working with such names as Vidal Sassoon, Hamleys, The UK-ASEAN Business Council, The Vietnamese Embassy and ASOS.
I have also been published hundreds of times both in print and online – including Company Magazine and Professional Photo Magazine.
PART FOUR: Social Media
The main platforms I use are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Ever since I began this journey into photography back in 2006 this has been an excellent way for me to connect directly with my target audience, make contacts and network.
I also find it important to involve your audience in your journey and feel like they have invested in something as well as gaining a product/service from you.
Social media is one of todays most important tools when it comes to working in the creative industry, not just to market yourself but also to learn.
We can never stop learning – we must realise that in order to keep progressing. So use blogs, YouTube tutorials and talk to other creatives for advice!
PART FIVE: University
Originally I went off to Southampton Solent University. Here is a classic lesson in why you should not rush off to uni straight after you finish your A-Levels. Or why you should at least read the course description…
I only needed one D to get onto the Fashion With Photography course which should have been a bit red light in the first place, or a compliment that they made this offer for me.
However, what I didn’t realise was that this course was 2/3rds fashion and 1/3rd photography. A number of other students didn’t even own a camera, and I distinctly recall one lesson that actually taught us where the battery and memory cards went in a camera.
Then we drew pictures of coats for three months and I learnt the 9 heads rule. These are things I wasn’t particularly interested in, so I made a huge decision to up and leave. It was the best thing I ever did, but at the time it felt like I was a huge failure and I’d made the worst decisions at every part.
Little did I know that all of these changes and movements were leading me to where I am today.
So I moved home, I applied to university again and got into Nottingham Trent.
This time I didn’t want to rush off, so I deferred my place.
Instead I learnt to drive, I got a full time job and I then decided to go off to Birmingham City University to do a Foundation Art and Design Course. It wasn’t fantastic, mainly because I already knew what I wanted to do, and I didn’t want to make bikinis out of wire or paint cardboard sculptures all white. BUT it meant I had access to a studio fairly close to central Birmingham, very few students used it to I utilised this and began to build up contacts and a solid portfolio.
After BCU I went off to Nottingham Trent. It was a difficult but wonderful three years. I’ve written a previous blog in more depth about this. But for now I will say one major point that has helped me get to where I am today. I used my student loan to bounce off.
We were in very few hours a week, the lectures and seminars didn’t interest me. I just wanted to make work. So I teamed up with a lot of the fashion design students, I photographed their work. I made contacts with local models and MUA’s that I still work with to this day.
So for me, this was the main benefit of uni. I had three years with a lot of spare time in which I could prepare myself to fall into self employment as soon as I graduated. And that happened!
PART SIX: Home life
My home life wasn’t easy and my father passed away in April 2013 when I was in the middle of my 12,000 word dissertation and putting on two final exhibitions, one in Nottingham and one in London. I was back and forth from Nottingham to Worcester to help care for him and finish my work simultaneously, whilst also trying to cling on to some form of normality.
Eventually after he passed things became more complicated, I ended up with no home, very little money and no safety net.
We all assume our parents will be there to bail us out, so we rarely have a back up plan. I definitely didn’t. So I was lost, extremely lost. I had nowhere to turn to and felt like I had no one until a various friend’s families took me in and my boyfriend and his family did everything in their power to help me regain stability.
Originally my father was going to help me set myself up as self employed, but obviously he couldn’t. So I had to find a new way to do it, and that’s when I went off to The Prince’s Trust!
PART SEVEN: The Prince’s Trust
The importance of asking for help here is paramount. It does not make you weak, in fact it makes you stronger. Having more people in your corner, people to ask advice, people to spur you on – it drives you!
I did the Enterprise Workshop which is 4 days where you learn everything from taxes and marketing to trends in sales and your target audience. I was then given a mentor to help me put together a business plan where I then presented it to a panel in order to get a permanent mentor and business funding.
This all went through and I became officially self employed as of September 12th 2014.
PART EIGHT: Advice
The balance of loving what you do and being in it to make money is important. If you love what you do too much you won’t make money, if you are after the money too much you will become disappointed that it’s not happening as quickly as you’d like and often that’s why so many businesses fail in the first year.
Have patience, things won’t happen overnight contrary to clickbait articles that make you think people go from rags to riches in seconds.
My favourite quote to live by is “The grass is always greener on the other side unless you take a little time to water your own”. This helps keep me grounded (no pun intended) and it reminds me to stop comparing myself to others.
The creative industry is often tarnished that we have to have some kind of ‘Devil Wear’s Prada attitude problem’ in order to be successful. My business morals are to stay nice, help each other and do as much as we can do be kind. The nicer you are to people the more inclined that are to help you out in return – whether that’s a week or a year after you help them initially.
To compare yourself to others is a big mistake, one should only compare themselves to their previous self. We’re all on different paths, in different chapters and working different goals. Keep to your own, and don’t waste time fretting that someone else “seems” to be doing “better” than you. I put those in quotation marks because are they truly doing better? Or does it just seem that way…
Remember that others will compare themselves to you, and think you are doing far better than them too!
PART NINE: School
I never fully felt like I fitted in, I often found myself in trouble for not concentrating or doing something completely off task. My concentration was a big struggle and especially when it came to authority figures. I had no respect for them because I didn’t understand the social constructs and boundaries being put in around me, everything felt alien to me and I would always find myself looking for other options and different ways of completing the tasks in hand.
I was also severely bullied at school and moved around 8 times – this caused me to struggle but also taught me that I can cope, I can overcome things and I can be dropped into a room full of new people and cope, even just for a small amount of time before I felt I didn’t fit again (but now I see a lot of this links to BPD before I even knew about it!)
My family were also all academic, whereas I was the sporty and artistic one. Although I was given encouragement to be who I wanted to be, when it came down to it I was told time and time again to “get a real job”. But what is that? Stay in waitressing or retail for the rest of my life? Sit behind a desk and be miserable? From how I coped doing that at school I knew I wouldn’t be able to last long.
PART TEN: Employment
So I tried employment. I went through every goddamn job from Matalan and Republic as a Sales Assistant, to waitressing at weddings and restaurants and even cleaning jobs and working in a burger van.
Almost every job without fail I left on bad terms. And again, before I even realised, these are classic BPD traits. I didn’t fit in, I couldn’t mould myself around the structure and routine. I needed something to work around me! It sounds selfish but it’s the only way I have been able to get a hold on having some form of normality.
PART ELEVEN: When is the best time to set yourself up in business?
There is never a good time. It won’t feel right, it will feel scary and weird and unknown, but what you must do is never give up.
Money and equipment can be built up. You do not have to have millions to start – there are options, funding and mentors out there! Everyone is capable of setting themselves up, it’s just how you go about it!
Networking and self promotion is a very important thing when it comes to being self employed. Learn your best platforms, and the way you should promote yourself. Do you want to be the brand or do you want to run a brand?
I myself am my brand.
Originally I would promote my photography as a separate thing from myself, never even showing my face with my work. Then one day Facebook began to shut down business profiles so I had to combine my work and personal one. Suddenly there was much more activity on my work, people wanted to know about me and my life and the person behind the images! They began to become a part of my journey and a part of my business too and it was fun to have people on board even if they weren’t employees as such!
PART TWELVE: Accounts
I am a sole trader. This means I am my business – one day when my business is larger I will convert it to a LTD company but right now, all I need is to be a Sole Trader. This means I can work legally and pay my tax and National Insurance contributions. After all, you don’t want the tax man after you, and if you get your books in order you have the ability to apply for mortgages etc like anyone else in employment!
One of the most important parts for me is to keep on top of my accounts monthly with profit and loss spreadsheets and envelopes to separate all my receipts. Get a good system on the go and you won’t feel like a rabbit in the headlights come the end of January when your tax return is due!
I have considered getting a book keeper but right now I’m fairly good with my books and don’t feel I need it. I’m considering getting an accountant soon as my income is increasing and I’m not having as much time as I was to do this.
The difference between a book keeper and an accountant is that a book keeper will balance your books, and an accountant will help you spend wisely and work out ways you can run your business for a better financial outcome for you!
PART THIRTEEN: Photography as a Business
Where to start? Generally this begins as a hobby – so when you’re ready to take the leap into running it as a business it’s a little confusing as to where to begin.
Firstly you should build up your portfolio and network, get contacts and make yourself known.
Specialise in an area – fashion, family, weddings etc.
Don’t be a jack of all trades however you will need to take on extra work sometimes to keep the money coming in.
It’s all about how you advertise – I only tend to advertise for Fashion and Beauty Photography. However I will take on Family Shoots, Weddings etc as well – my aim one day is to be working Fashion and Beauty jobs all the time! But for now I’m happy trying out different styles in different areas to keep up revenue (and keep me on my toes!)
Your technical ability is important – anyone these days can grab a DSLR and stick it on auto before announcing they are a photographer as their profession! Get your technical knowledge sorted – cameras, photoshop, computers, graphics tablets, lenses, everything! Learn what you can and keep learning!
However – although I said it’s important you must also have a creative flair and a want to bring your own ideas to the table. What will bring client in in the end is your style, your business acumen and your personality!
PART FOURTEEN: Criticism
You WILL get criticised – whether that’s by a client, a student, a teacher.
Universities run crit sessions to analyse each others work and it can be tough! The trick here is to work out who to listen to – don’t dismiss advice, but decide whether you feel the criticism is constructive or just plain old criticism!
Be kind – you are allowed to compliment other people’s work – it will not deter from the quality of your work. As it can be a competitive industry you will feel jealousy and you want that to drive you, not make you tear others down. You should be able to channel that jealousy into an admiration for others work and their abilities! Support support support and people will take you up with them!
I get a lot of work sent my way by other photographers and I will also recommend those who are good to me and whom I admire.
PART FIFTEEN: Happiness
Make. Sure. You. Are. Happy.
It is possible to be high functioning with mental health issues – the trick is to find something you love doing and utilise it!
Start small and take your time, there is no rush. No rush at all. Listen to your motivation and your mind, if you can’t face working that day then don’t. Sometimes you will find yourself completely manic, drive that into your work and get as much as you can done then eventually you will learn to balance yourself out and understand when you can and can’t work.
If what you do doesn’t make you happy, then find something that does, or find a way to make it work differently for you!
PART SIXTEEN: Cons of Self Employment.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it but it’s so so so tough some days.
The money can be tight and lacking some months, you will struggle.
Time management is a hard thing to get when your motivation swings back and forth.
Your concentration can lag because you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck so you procrastinate easily.
You will spend a LOT of time on your own – you must learn to love this time otherwise you will get cabin fever and drive yourself crazy!
Managing difficult clients is now your job, there is no one higher up to pass them on to.
You must keep on top of your accounts, because you don’t want to get fined by the DWP!
PART SEVENTEEN: Pros of Self Employment
YOU ARE YOUR OWN BOSS WOOOHOOOOOOO!
There is no limit to your income, as much as some months you could easily earn nothing, other months you could just keep on earning and earning!
You can work from home – I have my dogs with me, a cuppa in hand and the TV on whilst I write this, it’s great! I didn’t even have to put makeup on today and I sure as hell am not in a pencil skirt.
Relocation is possible, you can take your work anywhere if you know how to adapt yourself to new places, people and situations! You aren’t limited to working in the same building for the rest of your life.
You can choose your clients! Often if I don’t feel a client fits correctly with me I will recommend another photographer – much like getting your hair done or an interior designer, you want someone that is fully on your level to complete the work to it’s full potential! So if I take your job on, it’s because I know I’m confident in completing it to it’s highest standard!
You get to do what you love, which again links back to happiness and mental health!
It never feels like work and you can choose when you work. No more Sunday night blues, and Monday sadness for you!
PART EIGHTEEN: Photography
This for me began as a hobby – by taking an A-Level to fill up space in my timetable!
It’s one of the most fun and fulfilling things in my life, both as a hobby and a business – I’ve met so many amazing people through it and it can take you all over the world!
PART NINETEEN: Illustration
So again, bizarrely this started by accident. I never initially intended on finding hobbies to turn into businesses but so far I’ve got a track record of 100% for doing this!
Back in August 2016 I decided I needed a hobby as my first one became a business – I needed something to do for fun again! So I started illustrating. Completely forgetting that I used to be able to draw quite well, I’d somehow convinced myself that I just couldn’t do it, until I began playing around with digital art…
The bonus to this was that I already knew how to do business and I already had a following – somehow I developed a style for myself quite quickly and within my first few months I had over 100 orders! It was insane!
The best part of this is I can now mix up my workload, it never gets mundane because I can always switch up what I’m doing and it keeps me on my toes. Not to mention that I now have a second income to fuel my main business – photography!
PART TWENTY: Don’t Give Up
I promise this is the last part…
But don’t give up.
You will never fail as long as you don’t give up!
“Live a few years of your life how most people won’t so that one day you can live how most people can’t!”
So that’s me! This is some of the information I use to take into schools, I tailor it to the age group, whether they are business students, photography students or a mental health awareness session.
Thanks for reading and I hope that some of it is useful to everyone out there, this doesn’t have to apply to just photography and business, these points can be used to adapt to your life and your own way of working! Find what works for you, and most importantly, be happy.