“I SPOTTED A GAP IN THE MARKET – AND CREATED MY JOB”
Saskia Nelson used to be a programme director for a charity, but when online dating came into fashion she spotted a gap in the market - people needed professional photos for their profiles! Aged 43, and a keen photographer in her spare time, she decided to change careers completely and start her own photography business. She’s never looked back - and recently won her first award at the UK Dating Awards 2014...
Tell us about your job...
“I set up my own business last year, so I’m lucky in that I work for myself. I literally do every role in the business – from tea maker to chief executive – which certainly makes my job varied! Every day, I do some of the following:
- create engaging Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest posts
- respond to emails and social media interactions
- do a photo shoot on location somewhere in London
- edit and retouch client photos
- write a blog post for my own blog and a guest post for another blogger or website
- track my day’s expenses using an iPhone app
- add information to my financial spreadsheet
- send an email to at least one new contact found on Twitter or Google – with a view to working together or offering to help them with something
- send a thank you card or email to someone out of the blue (I heard this is a good thing for self-employed people to do)
- brainstorm new marketing ideas
- make cups of tea!
“Even though I work for myself and can choose my own timetable, I actually work very long hours – probably because I care so much about my business succeeding. Being my own boss means I don’t have anyone supervising me, so I value talking about my day to my boyfriend when he gets home from work. He’s a useful sounding board and can help me decide whether some of my ideas are totally crazy or not!”
What are the best bits?
“I love being the boss and getting to make all the final decisions. I really like meeting my clients, getting to know them and hearing their stories, and then going out on a shoot with them and capturing them at their best. And I enjoy collaborating on new ideas with other people in the dating field. I also enjoy writing blog posts, either for myself or for other websites – I’ve always enjoyed writing so it’s great to use my skills and passions beyond photography.”
Did you always want to do this as your job?
“I created my job – I spotted a gap in the market for an online dating photographer! I had lots of personal experience of online dating and recognised that it was a growth market (it’s predicted that within 20 years more than half of couples will meet online), so I knew there was a rock solid business case for it.
“Sometimes you have to find your own path and carve out your own role rather than follow others – but you need to do your research before you dive in.”
What subjects did you love at school?
“I loved languages and English literature, though none of these are very useful in my current job! I hated maths, and have since discovered that I have a condition called dyscalculia – which is like number dyslexia – so that probably explains why. Having a good grasp of maths would definitely help me understand the technical side of photography, but having a creative eye is just as important, if not more so."
What training or courses did you do to?
“I was 35 when I first picked up a camera. On a whim, I decided to do a short photography course. I chose Central Saint Martin’s at University of the Arts, London, and surprised myself by loving the work I produced. I followed this later in the year with another short course, at the same place, spread over 10 weeks. The standard of teaching was brilliant and I found some of the other students really inspirational too – which I wasn’t expecting.
“After that I taught myself, mainly using a combination of books and (often free) online tutorials. I went on to buy myself cameras from eBay and Amazon, upgrading every few years as my passion grew. I used a very old camera for years while I taught myself the basics, and only recently upgraded to the professional Canon 5D that I use now.”
Did you overcome any difficulties to get where you are?
“Yes – fear! I was terrified of doing photo shoots with people at the beginning. I started by attending lots of photography ‘meet ups’ through meetup.com. I paid a small fee and was able to go out on shoots with models. I learned a lot by practicing with the models, which was scary at first, and watching other photographers whose work I liked. I then moved on to working with friends, and then friends of friends, and soon after that I started charging people who I had never met before!
“The other big difficulty was with money. Setting up your own business puts you in a vulnerable situation financially. I was lucky enough to have good ties with my old job, as a programme director at a charity, and my previous employers asked me to come back to do some part-time consultancy work. This helped me to manage cash flow – something that many new businesses struggle with.”
What advice would you give to a budding photographer?
“Avoid spending a lot of money improving your skills. I did a couple of short courses, but I mostly taught myself using YouTube and Phlearn.com.
You don’t need to have an expensive camera to start with either. I spent a year experimenting on my mobile phone!
“Be wary of what others say too. I found that all the photographers I met would give me conflicting advice – and it was totally confusing! One way around this is to find someone you admire and approach them to be your mentor, or just ask them for advice. When I was starting out I also used meetup.com to meet other photographers and practice with models and share knowledge and experience. Some of the meet ups are free, and some you have to pay for, but they are generally pretty cheap.
“The best advice I was given was to not compare myself to others – just to focus on my love of photography and then experiment. That’s how you find your own style and voice.”