Real business story: Christopher Owens

Christopher Owens is a North East based photographer specialising in portraiture for editorial and commercial clients. His business launched in 2015 after being made redundant.

You started your own business after being made redundant. Why was this your preferred solution to the situation you found yourself in?

As it’s a niche skill set it’s generally accepted within the industry that very few ‘in house’, salaried jobs for photographers exist. I felt that finding a role that both matched my skill level and ambition for the work I wanted to make would be near impossible even if I went through the upheaval of relocating to a different part of the country.

I had a couple of small fairly regular freelance clients that I’d worked for on the side, so I decided to treat the redundancy as the kick I needed to become fully self-employed. As the redundancy was with immediate effect I went through my diary and identified who would be let down by my former employer ceasing to trade. I contacted the clients directly, explained the situation and declared myself available for the commissions on a freelance basis.

Within an hour of being told I’d lost my job I had secured £1500 worth of business. It felt liberating to dive straight in and the commitments I’d made to those initial clients provided a focus and confidence to go for it.

What are the benefits to being your own boss?

The biggest benefit of being your own boss is being in control of your own destiny. I’ve always tried to approach my work with dedication but in the past felt that it was irrelevant, as however hard I worked or pushed myself as the outcome was the same – my boss did well and I didn’t benefit.

Being in charge allows you to be the beneficiary of your own hard work and determination. For me the terms and values in place when undertaking work is really important. Having the power to decide upon and configure these is a really valuable part of what makes my business work rather than operating under someone else’s idea of good practice.

I can be creative and spontaneous and decide which work I take on. The autonomy to choose the projects that are best suited to my own business development has opened up opportunities I wouldn’t have necessarily had the chance to pursue in employment. I can live with my own bad decisions, but I refuse to carry the fallout for other people’s poor judgement.

How did you manage risk and what business support did you access to get up and running?

In my case it was vital to first and foremost identify my potential client base. To do this I pursued and took retainers that would help me carve out a niche within that community  and give me the security of a regular base income that I could build additional business around.

A small redundancy payment provided some buffer around start-up costs and careful management of my outgoings provided the foundation to build upon, which negated the need for a start-up loan or grant although I researched the support available and would have qualified for this.

I relied heavily on my established network and many people helped by providing mentoring and advice. Although this was done informally the benefits helped navigate the potential mistakes and pitfalls it’s easy to make in these initial stages. Keeping running costs down was critical and I still operate in this way when investing in equipment etc. Buy what you need, improve upon it when you can.

What would you say to others considering a new business launch right now?

I’d encourage anyone finding themselves in a similar position to consider setting up your own business despite the economic situation. Like many things in life there is rarely a ‘right’ time to take the leap and ‘just do it’.

Of course, it’s sensible to develop a solid business plan and evaluate what you financially need to meet your commitments, but remember to adopt a positive mindset and have faith in your abilities. Great things can be born out of necessity or unforeseen circumstances.

Identify a need for your service or product and examine your own skill set, ascertain your weak spots and fill these by developing or new learning. Reach out to your network for help; other business owners will surprise you with a willingness to provide support as they have likely been there themselves. Pay for specialism services you need, it’ll save you money in the long term. Research apply for and take advantage of formal business support as you need it.

Start as you mean to go on and establish what your brand is, what it stands for and market that with conviction.

Find more advice and support for startups in our Business Startups Toolkit.