Welcome back to the Mama You Can series, a series started to share inspirational stories of Mama’s who have changed career direction, started their own business or negotiated a more flexible role to fit in with family life.
This week we have Amy Blackwood who is a Surrey photographer who sent me some really kind words of encouragement when I decided to take the plunge and leave my full time job as it was something she had also done! I was really inspired when she told me her story so asked her to share hers this week.
I’ll hand over to Amy to tell her story…
Mama You Can: Amy Blackwood
Hi, I’m Amy. I live in Surrey with my husband and two cheeky little boys. I’ve recently switched from working in a very secure, well paid senior HR position to running my own photography business – something I started several years ago as a ‘side-job’. Here’s how I got to where I am now…
I remember the day I officially resigned. It felt weird but wonderful at the same time. A sense of freedom and relief, a sense of excitement but also a sense of panic! No sick pay, no bonus, no holiday pay, no pension… but…and it’s a big but… I get time with my family and BIG job satisfaction. Plus I love that I am able to earn money through what I’m passionate about. Photography.
Rewind about 2.5 years ago and I’ve just returned to work after a years maternity leave. It’s day 3 of my return to work… and my child is sick. 3 days in and I’m having to make the dreaded call. A couple of weeks later and my child is sick again… so I’m making the dreaded call again. I realise I am far more stressed about the call than I am about he fact I have a poorly child. So then I feel stressed but also very guilty…
For me, it became apparent quite quickly that in the particular job I had it just wasn’t working. A 1.5 hour journey to work – and back again. Avoiding business trips I should have gone on because no, I wasn’t prepared to miss my son’s sports day or cancel his doctors appointment. Leaving the office bang on time so I’m not late for nursery pick up and for some reason feeling guilty and non-committed as I log off. Returning to work part-time yet still expected to do a full-time workload. Never feeling like I was ever going to achieve that work life balance. Feeling completely exhausted at the end of the day and expecting baby number 2! There had to be something else…
But I was already semi-doing it. In fact already earning from it. I just needed some encouragement to do it fully. Make it my main job and not see it as my ‘side-job’. This encouragement came in the form of a very supportive husband.
I’d been doing photography for quite a few years, it started as a hobby with my ‘point and shoot’ many years ago. People told me I ‘had an eye’ for it. So bought myself a pretty standard digital SLR. I used to go out for the day, wandering around, just me and my camera, taking photos of all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Clearly this was well before kids when I had time to wander around places at my own leisure! I experimented a lot and I played around with all the settings and started to gradually work out what everything did… aperture, shutter speed, ISO… I soon realised I was thinking about light and light source all the time even when I didn’t have my camera on me. I don’t think I ever started off using the ‘auto’ setting like most people.
And so my love for photography grew and I started to do a few small jobs at the weekends. I got myself a better camera. Then an even better one. I did a couple of courses (although the playing about taught me a lot more!). I contacted a wedding photographer to ask if I could shadow them on a couple of weddings and I did some family shoots for close friends. I set up a basic website, set up my Facebook page and started to fumble through the world of social media. Then… I got an even better camera – this time one of the best. And then another one.
A couple of years later and I was doing a lot more weddings and a lot more family shoots. I do look back at some of the photos from those very early days and I cringe. A lot. But I shouldn’t… we all start somewhere and evolve to our desired standards in time.
And so my photography did evolve and I became more and more confident. It had always been there in the back of my mind that photography could be a full time job as opposed to a side job. My incredibly supportive husband was very reassuring and we spoke about how great it would be if I could do just photography rather than return to work once we had children. Seemed like a dream, not a reality.
After my first son, I did go back to work part-time and I made a real effort to build up the photography business at the same time. I improved the website, I got better at the social media stuff and I started to focus more on the family photography (although I do a select number of weddings each year) and fortunately things started moving and developing quite quickly.
By the time we had our 2nd son, I was ready…. I was actually ready to leave the office job completely.
My work now fits around my family, not vice versa. I do shoots either at the weekend or on the days my boys are at nursery and I do editing, marketing, emails, etc. on those days too. This time a couple of years ago I was only taking on a few shoots a month but now I’m doing a couple every week and it’s getting busy.
I will just repeat myself here in case you missed it the first time… I have a very supportive husband! Yes, sometimes my evenings are spent at the computer and sometimes it feels like my weeks have zero structure to them! But at least it’s my choice.
I love the people and families I meet. Many of them have become great friends. I love hearing their comments when I send them those first few sneak previews from their shoot and I love how many families have re-booked a second or third time – I can’t ask for better feedback than that.
I only have one regret about ditching the corporate job and focussing on my photography business – and that’s that I didn’t do it a lot sooner.
If you’ve got a passion, a talent or a skill that you think you could turn into a career, I’d say go for it. Don’t rush into it and do expect to have to work at it – but make a plan and imagine the future. If it’s a future that looks good to you, make the plan happen!
Thanks so much to Amy for sharing her story with us. Your photos are absolutely beautiful and I can see why you have made what was your hobby into your now career.
Mama You Can will be back next Thursday. See you then.