I’ve decided to write this first thing in the morning (it’s just past 7am as I start typing), before looking at my emails, or planning my day, which I do every day. It’s the last day of the financial year and that feels more significant this year than it has any other year… the last day of my first first FY working for myself and however self indulgent, I feel like writing about it.
The past few months I’ve been starting work at either 7am (or on the odd occasion, 6am), or, about once a fortnight, LATE (like, ‘oh I can sleep in a little what the it’s 10am…’ late). It sounds extreme starting so early so often, but I always take a 2 hour break for the gym/exercise and a shower mid morning and that’s how I like it. It’s definitely taken me the full year to find a routine that works best for me (it started as an 8am start with a 4pm duck off to the gym and then some work afterwards, then there was the ‘in the gym by 7am’ phase which lasted about 2 months before I was just exhausted and tired of being cold and heading out in the dark), and it might change again, but that’s the beauty of working for yourself – it can change.
Anyway, to stop myself from babbling too much, I asked you on Instagram to ask me any questions you might have about my first year in business. I am using these as a guide. Thank you so much for your help in stopping me just typing forever, and while I’m handing out thank yous, I want to say that I might not have the most social media followers but I truly, truly feel like I have the best and I feel like I could gather so many of you into a room and have a fabulous party and have amazing conversation, so thank you for being the thing that keeps me coming back to social media.
A few of these special people have asked the questions below…
(you can click their names to check out their work, too).
It would be cool to hear what kickstarted your business/journey. How did you and what made you do it. What’s your background, how you got to where you are.
From Karla / @kfernandezmata
For me Karla, it started a long time ago and I didn’t even realise it.
When I was much younger (early 20s), I used to write a blog when I was unwell to pass the time. As I recovered, and after one of my best girlfriends, C, bought me a nutrition book so I could learn how to take better care of myself with food during my recovery, I discovered I loved cooking and my blog turned to taking photos of what I was eating (they were terrible – I’ve dug one up below). As I returned to work in an admin position just to get out and do something, I lost my passion and time for the blog, plus I was really bothered that people thought I healed myself with food (which I absolutely did not) and became paranoid people were copying what I was eating to try and heal themselves. Fast forward about 5 years and I was missing blogging so I started this, Healthy Natty, and discovered Instagram. I met a woman (now a friend), K, who was the first person to ever meet me as a person taking photos of food, and she told me that I can make a living out of this and I should go for it. It took about 3 months for that to settle in my brain before I thought, ‘yeah, maybe I should!’.
Specifically on how I got where I am? Lots and lots of hard work and practise, honestly. When I was working my full time job I would leave home around 8am and get home around 6pm, but I would work before and after work every day to perfect my photos, watch videos on photography, edit, engage on social media… whatever I could to help my goal. Plus I worked every weekend and had almost no life because of it…
An old photo from my old blog…
What finally pushed you to take the leap? Did you hit certain goals/skills/milestones that you identified that made you feel ready?
From Kathleen / @theflouredtable
The leap was scary. I sat in the meeting room with my two (great) bosses who I admire for the business they’ve built shaking and almost crying when I resigned, but one of the blessings of being unwell when you’re young is knowing wholeheartedly that life is actually short and can change in an instant, so I had to give it a go. Fear of wondering ‘what if’ one day definitely pushed me.
The goal I wanted to achieve before resigning was just to prove I could earn money doing what I love, so I worked on getting clients and small jobs for about 6 months before I left my office job. It’s the reason I was working morning and night! I’d do recipes and photography on the weekend, and edit/write during the week.
I figured my skills only had to be good enough that people wanted to use them for their business. I think closing in on turning 30 also pushed me, as a kind of ‘now or never’ thing.
Where did you start? Do you have a media kit? How did you start getting jobs?
Bahare / @healthy_belly
I’d say I started on Instagram, as a way to just practise and share my photography, build up my social-marketing skills and learn from others.
I do have a media kit, but it’s a year old and out of date now, and to be honest I rarely used it – every brief is so different, it’s impossible to have a one size fits all. I also don’t focus on my online presence, but focus on my photography, so a media kit is less relevant for me as I don’t see myself first and foremost as a ‘blogger’.
My first jobs came without me even wanting jobs, just through displaying my skills on social media and having conversations online and off with the right people. I loved what I was doing and worked super hard at it, and thankfully, others wanted to be a part of that.
One of my first jobs – for Chris’ Dips.
Do you ever fear you will fail? How do you manage that so it doesn’t hold you back?
Rani / @youtotallygotthis
I used to fear it more, Rani, when I was still gaining confidence in my skills and creativity. I’d get a job and spend SO long obsessing over it, then take hours to take one photo, then worry about and change the editing endlessly before finally sending it off and checking my emails every 10 minutes for feedback and to make sure they liked it (thankfully, they always did!). I’m a fan of scaring myself so it never held me back.
Now it’s changed a little – I still get nervous with say, a new client or a kind of job I’ve never done before (like the magazine recently), but I feel my work and style is pretty obvious from what I share online so if a client has agreed to work with me, they know what to expect and I’m confident in those skills.
How did you get into food photography and what equipment did you start with and now use?
Elise / @craverealfood
I fell into it, Elise. I thought I loved cooking and just took photos of it to share the love of cooking, but slowly, although I love cooking, I realised it’s the photography I was truly passionate about. I started with my Samsung Galaxy! For so long that’s all I used. Then I was surprised with a Canon 760D from my hubby and it had the stock 18-135mm lens that comes with it. It’s only recently I’ve upgraded my lenses with the Canon Macro 100mm f/2.8 a couple of months ago and just this past week, the Canon 24-70 f/2.8. Next step will be the body, and I am eyeing off the 5D.
What is a typical day like? What are your favorite parts? Least favorite?
From Kathleen / @theflouredtable
Most days vary slightly, but generally I’ll wake up and start work at around 7am with a cup of tea or coffee and catch up on emails/comments on social from overnight/plan out my day (I plan my months in advance allocating different days to different clients and locking in weekly tasks, and then I make a daily written list in a paper diary which I cross off as I complete tasks during the day).
After that, I’ll usually spend some time ‘being social’ on social media for myself and clients, which is so important for building genuine relationships.
Then I’ll hit up the gym, get home, and if I have time take some photos just to practise my skills.
The afternoon is almost always dedicated to client photography, recipes or videos and I try to stop work by 6-6.30pm.
My favourite part of the day is always the photography and editing, which I absolutely love, followed closely by building relationships and talking to people. Working from home, alone, is made so much better when you have friends online and wake up to 20 strangers saying kind things on social.
I think for a while I thought working full time was a hurdle that I couldn’t overcome on the path to reaching my goal, but I made it work (with a little exhaustion, but no one seemed to notice) and looking back I am so grateful I stayed in my job for as long as I did because I learned so much that has helped me in my own business. I always recommend people don’t ditch their day jobs as soon as they have the idea to leave for their own business.
I think the rest were just perceived hurdles – for example, I work in a room of my home, not a studio. I thought that was a problem and I needed a studio, but it’s really not and I make it work. I have a small-ish kitchen and no room to store a lot, but I’ve made that work and bought giant shelves for my office to help with storage of props and extra kitchen items (like, say, a donut pan or digital scales which I don’t use every day so don’t need to be in the kitchen). I thought the light in say, Winter, would be a hurdle, but I’ve learned to work with all light as I’ve developed my skills and I bought tabletop lights if I ever need them (I pretty much never use them…).
I remember reading in a magazine (I love magazines) a few years ago a feature of a beautiful 1 bedroom apartment in France that belonged to a successful food photographer. Every day, she’d rearrange her lounge room so she could get the right light to take photos on her coffee table. When I think I am lacking space in my 3 bedroom home, I always think of her.
How are you connecting with new clients?
From Kathleen / @theflouredtable
At the moment, most of my clients are either repeat or coming by recommendation which I am really grateful for. I think it’s mostly due to the value I place on building relationships and getting to know people, and the time I take to understand what they need.
Anyone that isn’t repeat or hasn’t been recommended to me is coming to via seeing my work on Instagram and liking what I do.
Soup for Power Superfoods..
Can you tell us how you got started finding clients? Did you build an online portfolio?
At the very beginning, apart from those first clients that just liked what I did and contacted me, I’d find brands I’d like to work with and do something for them without their knowledge and then send it to them to show what I could do, just to put myself in front of people. It didn’t always work, but it meant I could practise my photography so it didn’t bother me as I was still learning (and still working a full time job).
I am looking at building a proper online portfolio in the next FY!
Key skills/tricks you’ve learned along the way.
From Kathleen / @theflouredtable
Good question! I think light, and light in photography is what I’ve learned about most and grown most as a skill.
Not sure about tricks, I don’t think there are any tricks either in photography, recipes or social media… it’s all just lots of work (and tricks, in my opinion, don’t lead to lasting work or relationships).
I think perhaps one of the biggest things I’ve learned is to let go of worrying about numbers on social media which I placed such a huge emphasis on at the start. The photographers, designers, artists – you name it, I admire most in the world and have lots of work in some of the best publications/galleries/everywhere generally have small social media followings. The amount of work I’ve won has grown hugely, maybe 400% in a year, but my social media following has barely moved…
Penni wanted to know about my work or inspiration..
I am inspired by two main things – stories, and those who are the best in their field.
I love the stories behind food, and the idea of having a sneak-peak into someone else’s food life (like what’s in their fridge, or what they eat when they’re starving at 4pm). Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated by what my friends’ parents had in the fridge compared to mine. Although I like Instagram and many people inspire me there, I sometimes wonder if all the sweet potato toast and zoodles are what people are really eating, or what they thought would get the most likes. I’d much prefer to see your Nonna’s pasta, or the hummus you’ve been eating since you were a kid, or even the 2 minute noodles you love eating when you have a hangover…
Then there’s those that are the best in their field who I find via my favourite food magazines. I go to their websites and social at least once a month just to see what they’re up to and see how they’re using light and props and colour and styling and stories to make their photos amazing. I also LOVE magazines and read every word of my favourites. I read food magazines, obviously, but I also love home and design magazines.
I would love to know how much time you have dedicated to your blog? And how much you knew before vs now.
Caz / @gourmet.casa.kitchen
Caz, honestly, I spend almost no time on my blog! My focus over the past few months especially has been to work as a food photographer and a blog is not essential to that (in fact, you might see my name change in coming months). I only blog when I feel I want to or I’ve created something I’m particularly proud of.
How much I know now compared to when I started is insane… when I started on Instagram I didn’t know what a hashtag was. When I got my camera I was terrified because I’d have to learn how to use it and had no choice because now I owned it. I could write about 20 sentences along those lines and the most exciting thing? I still have so much to learn.
In the last year, were there times you loss your creativity or doubted your own work? And how did you overcome that?
Sarah / @capturingyumminess
Yes, definitely Sarah! Which especially scared me when working for clients. I find the best cure to a loss in creativity and doubting your own work is to free yourself some time just to play. Grab something, anything (I usually use some fruit or fresh herbs), and just play with your camera, with the lighting via curtains/filtered light and foam boards, and the backgrounds and props, and see what happens. My creativity always returns when I have total freedom and no pressure to ever share what’s created (I’d say about 50% of the photos I’ve taken have never been shared).
Tomatoes from my garden I never shared as I got to know the macro lens..
What message would you give your year ago self now?
From Kathleen / @theflouredtable
‘Remember you did not leave your job where you were stressed and exhausted from working too much to make yourself stressed and exhausted doing something else’. I’ve only realised this over the past few months. I’d add to it something along the lines of ‘Remember why you did this’, which, for me, was to do what I love, share it with others, meet amazing people (including amazing clients) and make a living from it, not to get rich by cramming as much work into a day as I can handle.
Thanks again so much for your questions, it really helped me share and get out what I wanted to say!
I think the last thing I want to share is what I think is so, so important when working for yourself that so many people forget – REST.
Taking a break from it all, scheduling it in and enjoying it without guilt is SO important not just for your sanity and mental health, but for your family, friends and your creativity. In a world where we’re all staring at Instagram and Facebook non-stop, we’re always switched on and it’s just not normal. Please, please rest. I personally log off every weekend.
And there we have it, first year over…
Next week? I am beginning to plan the next year (I never made a plan for the first one!)
Have a beautiful weekend,
Love it? Pin it!