A Fresh Start in Frankfurt

As some of you are aware, we’re on the move again soon and will be packing up and heading to Frankfurt in just a few weeks (all things going well).

It will be our third move to a foreign country since January 2014. My fifth apartment in the same space of time.

For the past two years I’ve split my time between our home under the blue skies of Madrid and various homes in Bonnie Scotland. It’s been both hectic and brilliant, both tiring and rewarding.

Image of a sunrise out of a plane window with "Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone" quote

However, it hasn’t helped me keep my business goals clear, as the playing-field, never mind the goalposts, keeps moving.

In Madrid, I jumped in head-first and not fully prepared for what was coming. I got caught up in trying to “make it work” and took on projects that were nothing to do with my original business plan. Some successful, some not. A degree of flexibility is a huge asset to working abroad, especially if you’re self-employed, but I was bending over backwards trying to find my feet in this new place.

It was an attempt to make it feel like home.

Every few weeks I was also flying back to the UK and running parts of my business from there. The first few years of being self-employed are difficult to navigate at the best of times, never mind when they involve a fractured set-up from two different countries. It’s a constant rollercoaster and that old foe “self-doubt” regularly comes out of the shadows for a visit. I wasn’t doing things as well as I wanted to and I’d fallen into the trap of being busy but not productive.

As our move to Frankfurt edges closer, I’ve been feeling somewhat apprehensive. The idea of starting all over again and learning how to run my business as a stranger to yet another city makes me understandably nauseated. Being a soloprenuer and small business owner is not for the faint-hearted. It takes drive and determination. Dedication and confidence in not only your product but also yourself.

Feeling like a stranger is enough to make anyone feel lost and unsure. It took its toll on me these past couple of years and has had big implications for my business. Don’t get me wrong, the last couple of years were by no means a failure, but right a that point where most small businesses face a time of reflection and reassessment, I’m faced with starting over. Again.

It took a conversation with a friend (who really should consider a career as a life-coach) to recognise what deep down I really knew. Our move to Frankfurt is one full of opportunity and new beginnings. A chance to take a step back and “pivot” so my business can evolve into something I’m happy with. A time to refocus and adjust as necessary.

But to do this properly I actually need to take a step back. To take the time to get to know my new city and find out what works there. Decide the best way to continue working with the wonderful colleagues I now have in Scotland, England, Norway and Spain. Make sure what I’m doing has the impact I aim for and stays relevant in a industry known for changing at a fast pace.

As other small business owners will know, the whole reason you started can sometimes fade behind the growing expenses and realisation you’re working for less than a few pounds an hour.

So for the next few months I’ve decided to take a little bit of a break to allow myself to remember why I’m doing this. With the exception of the bookings I’ve already got in the diary (and a handful of people I’m working out dates with), I won’t be taking on any more clients until later this year.

Instead, I’ll be rewriting my business plan, taking some classes, learning about Search Engine Optimisation, updating my website(s) and practising my craft. I’ll keep in touch through blogging, eNewsletters and my #MeiPhotoChallenge so I won’t disappear altogether. It’s just time for new chapter in both my business and personal life.

And I’ve got some German to learn too…

12 things I’ve learned in 500 days of Mei Photography

500

FIVE

HUNDRED

The number of days since I started my own business.

That’s actually a lie.

It has now been 523 days since I started my own business.

I’d fully intended on posting this more than three weeks ago but, as I’m about to write about, things don’t always go to plan. However this next part is true – I can’t quite believe I’ve been self-employed for over 500 days. I’ve learned so much from my successes and my many, many failures! So as a little bit of revision for me and hopefully some helpful tips and advice or even just a chance for any small business owners to see that they aren’t alone, here are a few things I’ve learned…

1. So many ideas, so little time…

more focus WR

I started this business the way I start pretty much everything. Headfirst with a million ideas all jumbled about in a heady mix of excitement and nerves. I’m a planner, an organiser and I’m ambitious. My original idea was to combine my 3 loves: photography, dog training and conservation science communication. My Business Gateway Advisor’s head was spinning when I first rushed in with all my ideas. And my “elevator pitch”? At best garbled and had to be delivered on a trip up the Empire State Building to get through it all. The truth was, I knew what I wanted to do but I had no idea how to do it all.

Since then, I’ve become a bit more realistic. I couldn’t do everything all at once. No matter how much I tried or wanted to – it just wasn’t a feasible business strategy. To survive as a small business owner you have to be focused and work out how to make your idea make you money. It seems a bit basic but the reality is, if your business doesn’t make money, it won’t survive. Successful, sustainable businesses need money.

So I focused on photography in this first year with a little bit of conservation thrown in.  This made most sense for me. I love taking photos and capturing moments for people. I also love the art of it.  The creativity and ideas behind it. I’ve temporarily shelved a couple of my other ideas until life becomes a bit more stable – then I’ll throw another ball into the juggling mix.

2. Value what you dowhat you're worth WR

This has been a tough lesson. Especially when just starting out and working in a creative business. Creative work is personal. We do it because we believe it improves other people’s lives even in just the smallest way.  We do it because we want to make a difference.

Figuring out how much to charge has as much to do with confidence as it does maths.  You need to cover your costs, have good enough profit margins to be able to reinvest in the business but still be competitive and also be able to take a wage so you can, you know, live. Simple? Yes? Not quite.

It takes a lot to put yourself out there and this becomes more apparent when the product you’re selling is a creative one, it’s like an extension of yourself and the way you feel about yourself is reflected in your prices. Getting the price you deserve for your work starts with you. Know your worth and value your work, or no-one else will.