I love photographing schools and nurseries. Well, actually I love running a photography business that has volume photography at its core.
It wasn’t always like that though…
It was a fantastic time. Weddings were all about creativity and working under pressure. There is no better way to learn your craft than to sweat it out every week, performing no matter what, and producing stunning images to demanding customers.
It all began when I married a wedding photographer just at the time that the ‘Husband & Wife’ photography teams were all the rage. When digital and reportage style weddings had just begun to boom.
But it turned out that working with my then-husband took too much of a toll on our relationship. We got divorced. I left the family home and he kept the business.
It was a messy and difficult divorce, but it meant that I came out fighting and determined to grow my own business. So I did what I already knew and created my own wedding photography company, and began doing weddings on my own.
Two years after the divorce I got breast cancer. Then I had a whole year of cancer treatment. In the last four weeks of my chemotherapy I photographed eight weddings – it represented £16,000 worth of work; if I hadn’t done the weddings my business would have been over. I was seriously ill, had no hair and terrible joint pain from the chemo, but there was no option but to get out of bed and make it happen – it is incredible what the body and mind can do when it has to.
It was a terrible time, but looking back it was the catalyst to me being able to grow and develop a proper, scalable business.
Once the treatment was over it did give me a chance to take a big long look at what I was doing with my photography. I knew that I needed to create a business that I could pay other people to go out and shoot the photos, a business that could run without me if I got ill again, and a business that would earn enough money to create a secure future for me and my children. Over the previous 10 years I had photographed almost 500 couples and I had begun to lose the love of shooting weddings.
It was time for a change.
In amongst the weddings I had two dance schools that I photographed each year which made pretty good money. This was a scalable business idea and I knew I had to make it work.
So I rebranded, got an office, and launched as a dance photography expert. I said no to any more weddings and committed to creating a volume business.
The best bit was that I created a business that reflected my personality so well. I like to do things well, but also efficiently, quickly and with a solid structure. It was perfect and it allowed me to become a business person and use my creativity to grow the business, train staff and muddle my way through sales and marketing.
I used the very basic premise of KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. Create your look, learn how to replicate it well and quickly, then deliver. Our dance schools moms could choose any size they wanted – so long as it was 7×5 (much like Henry Ford, rolling out his all-black Model-T Ford).
Seven years later we now photograph over 300 dance schools every year.
But it didn’t stop there.
Three years ago a local independent school asked my company, Carmel Jane Photography to bid for the contract for their school photography.
With so many large school photography companies out there it seemed a tough market to get into, and I had heard it was becoming a very competitive ‘race to the bottom’, so I had never really thought about doing school photography. But I never like to say no to an opportunity so I prepped a sales pack and then pitched to the school.
I got the contract! Then had a moment of panic. How on earth was I going to photograph 1200 students, give them all individual password protected galleries, and also produce the SIMS I.D. photos?
GotPhoto to the rescue. Being able to password-protect galleries so easily has changed my business. Along with the automated marketing options, this really pushed up the average sale.
But it takes more than just good IT and systems to grow the business. I knew that to compete against the really big companies we needed a very clear Vision, Mission and Culture statement. Defining who we were and what our company stood for would keep us on track while growing.
So I’m going to share our Vision, Mission & Culture Statement. It is our overall guiding principle and is what we refer to when making business decisions.
To create a legacy of stunning memories to be enjoyed for generations to come.
To become the best school photographers in the South East, offering a superior quality product, through lighting, posing and printing that parents will want to own and young people are proud of.
To become the UK’s largest dance school photography company. Known and respected by providing outstanding photography service to dance schools and dance parents.
CJP has a culture of kindness, empowerment and positivity. This reflects in all of our photos and how we treat our employees and customers.
We believe we have a duty of care to create an overwhelmingly positive experience and showcase the subject in a way that empowers and inspires them. We want to make each and every child feel special at the sitting and when viewing their finished photographs.
Communication Collaboration Empowerment
My core belief is based around the Richard Branson quote: “Look after your staff and they will look after your customers. It’s that simple.”
There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears to grow the business to where it is now, hopefully cracking 7-figure turnover this year. Systems were learned along the way, poor hires were made, and uncomfortable business decisions had to be confronted. But I love my volume business, the freedom it has given me, and the ability to employ and make a difference to other people’s lives is thrilling.
As a business person I am dedicated to creating a workplace and business that values quality and customer service, and grows organically through supplying outstanding service to our customers. Being extremely ethical in our business and looking after our staff is my primary driving value.
This belief that it is possible to create a profitable business which provides great services and truly creates a better world for its staff is why I have begun public speaking and coaching. I want to work with business owners who want to challenge themselves to grow to create great businesses.
Look out for more posts from Carmel Jane in the future, all seeking to help you achieve your goals as a school photographer. Have a topic that you’d love to hear from her on? Leave it in the comments on our post about this article on Facebook, or get in touch on social.
You might also be interested to hear from another professional photographer, Erica Morrow of Slow Road Photography:
- Erica Morrow: Let Failure Be Your Superpower
- How To Make The Most Of The Holiday Season
- Pro Tips To Succeed This School Photography Season
Or otherwise, check out our list of school photography resources, carefully selected for you by GotPhoto.