The highs and lows of self-employment after children

We are both really fascinated by how other small business owners manage balancing being a parent with working for themselves. This month we chatted to Sara Dalrymple, a London headshot photographer and family photographer who made the transition from investment banking to people photography after she found out she was pregnant with her first baby in 2013.

The transition between working for someone else to running your own business is huge. We both came into Nuttery Buttery wide eyed and bushy tailed. One and a bit years on and we recognise how tough it is.  We have both at times found it hard to maintain motivation and concentrate on our business, especially when you have looked after children all day, but hearing stories about other mums in business really helps us remember why we’re doing it! Read on for Sara’s journey to running a successful people photography business:

How did you come to the decision to work on your own?

I came out of Uni with an Economics degree and NO idea what I wanted to do, and ended up moving to London and getting a job in banking without really a clue about investment banking and what it was all about. It was fast paced, sociable and fun – perfect for my 20s but I’d seen first hand how the long and inflexible hours became problematic for those with children, and the very male dominated environment meant flexible working requests were barely entertained. I stayed for a decade but as soon as I fell pregnant with my first child I knew it wouldn’t be a job I could do while being the kind of present parent I wanted to be, so started thinking about what could be next. I’ve always loved photography and taking photos, but had never had any formal training or a proper SLR camera, I was very much the friend with a camera on nights out, at weddings and anywhere we went I’d be trying to get lovely, natural shots of all my friends smiling and having fun. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it sooner, but taking photos of people is something I’ve always done, so I set about exploring the possibility of turning it into a career. I found an amazing course with The Trained Eye, which was an academy program to take it’s students to professional standard via technical and practical workshops, mentors, model shoots and lots and lots of practice over the year. It was EXACTLY what I needed and from day 1 I knew I’d made the right decision! By the end of our year, we had all set up our websites and launched our businesses!

How was your first year in business?

In the first year I built my business up any which way I could: by doing family shoots for all my friends with babies, offering up my services to anyone I knew who was getting married, as well as advertising locally, networking and doing a couple of wedding fairs. I threw myself into getting my name out there and providing amazing customer service to every single client I worked with, and I blogged as much as I could to get my SEO working for me. Before I knew it I was getting referred on and the bookings started coming in, but I’m not going to lie, the first couple of years were a lot of hard work getting everything established alongside a 1 year old. I was working late into the evenings and most weekends, but I made a pact with myself that I would allow myself to do that for 18 months maximum and if things hadn’t settled into a groove by then, to make a change.

How did you make the transition from weddings to headshots and family shoots?

In the beginning I was doing a lot of weddings – I’m a hopeless romantic and love everything about a wedding day, from the many family interactions you see to the fun atmosphere and full range of emotions, each one is magical and completely unique. As wonderful as it is to be able to photograph such a special day, I found that the more bookings I got the more and more weekends I was spending away from my family, and I had to remind myself that wasn’t the reason I wanted to be self employed. My main goal for my business was to support myself while being present for my family, and suddenly I was tag teaming with my husband and we barely had any time altogether. So even though I loved the work, I knew I had to make a change. I thought about what it was that I loved about weddings: photographing people and their stories and connections has always been what excites me, and I realised I could do this outside of people’s wedding days. I started taking on more family shoots in my local area of East London, focusing on keeping my style very natural and unposed and working a lot in local green spaces and family homes. More recently I’ve also been photographing female business owners who are often Mums too, which is a niche I absolutely LOVE! Being able to give people photos of themselves that make them feel really confident and happy makes my heart sing.

6 years into my business, I’m lucky that I still do a limited number of weddings, but I now finally have the balance I craved with the majority of my work being family shoots and fun, feel good headshots.

How do you find the difference between your pay before you made the transition to self employment?

Ooh, that’s a good question because when I worked in the City I had a really good salary but absolutely no flexibility in my working hours or location and limited job satisfaction. I don’t earn the same money from photography but I also don’t have the same childcare costs as I did, and what I’ve gained is a job I can honestly say I love and I’ll be doing forever, that fits around my family and makes me happy every day! I earn well enough to support myself and pay the mortgage, so even though the numbers aren’t the same, I feel SO much better off now.

How do you think you have made it work?

In the first couple of years it was a case of pure grit and a determination to succeed – I knew I couldn’t take my foot off the gas and that it would get easier once I was established, but it was hard juggling everything. I had to invest heavily in myself and my business and everything I earned in the first couple of years went back into training or equipment that I needed – I know I’m really lucky that I was able to have that time and be supported by my husband in my decision. It’s not easy running a business or being self employed but for me it’s been absolutely worth it, because I wanted to be the one to take and pick up my kids from school and now I have a job I love and that allows me to do that.

What is your one piece of advice for juggling self-employment with childcare?

Planning is key! One thing I really noticed is that the school day is SHORT compared to a typical working day, so making every hour count is the only way it works for me! Even though I work from home a lot of the time, I have to ignore the piles of washing or domestic chores until I’ve done my work – there is always something at home that needs doing but prioritizing your work to do list is a must. I batch cook, my slow cooker is my best friend, I leave my phone in the other room so as not to get lost on an Instagram, I am an obsessive listmaker and since I’ve started bullet journaling I’ve become so much more efficient! 2-3 nights a week I work in the evenings, and this means that I don’t feel guilty for finishing work at 3pm and spending until 7pm with my kids. I no longer spend 2 hours a day commuting, so that helps too! Whichever way you work as a mother it’s a juggle, but it’s finding what works for you and minimizing the lost time in between!

Sara is a people photographer who is passionate about helping camera shy women get a set of photos they really love – you can check out the natural style of her work here @saradalrymplephotography and