Lessons from a lifestyle change

May 18, 2017  •  1 Comment

Richard GillRichard GillRichard Gill

One of the most common questions I get asked when I am in the middle of a photoshoot is, "how did you get into this?"  I usually get the feeling that the questioner is not quite happy with their own lot, maybe envious of what I am doing or just intrigued about the lifestyle choices people make.  When I explain that I decided to switch careers after spending 20+ years in the corporate world working in the lighting industry, their interest is even more piqued.  Consequently I thought maybe it was time to put this into a blog post and share my experiences with you of how I made a lifestyle change in my career.

From the outside it looked like I had a great job.  For the last ten years of my corporate career I was an international sales director, jetting off to a different country every week.  Moscow one week, Munich the next - how glamorous? But the reality was something rather different.  The sights I saw were mainly airport lounges, hotel rooms and meeting rooms.  It was an endless slog of 4:00am get ups to check in at the airport for 6:00am combined with CEO's pushing me to meet the monthly sales target. Then when the month ends, it all starts again with the next month's target breathing down your neck.  

On previous occasions when I got really fed up with this cycle I would look for another job.  The change of job would satisfy me for a few months, but then the honeymoon period would fade and the same old gripes would get me down.  I realised I needed to do something completely different.  As you go through life a few major experiences also focus your thinking.  For example the death of a close relative, or a friend contracting a serious illness makes you realise what is really important to you.  On a Sunday evening when I started to check my emails I wanted to be excited about the coming Monday not dreading what messages I would find in my inbox.  I knew working for myself was part of the answer, but I also knew I wanted to do something that I would love doing.  I looked carefully at all my interests and hobbies to see if one of those could be my new way of earning a living.  I had been keen photographer since I was seventeen and thought that I could make a living from it if I focussed (no pun intended) on some specialist areas.

As my children are all grown up, my financial needs were not as great as they used to be.  So I started saving a business start-up fund and read everything I could about photography.  I went on courses in my holidays and booked days with professionals who could mentor me. Having done some research on what other photographers in my area were offering I decided to specialise in property, food and commercial photography.  My sales and marketing background was a great help. Although pitching to a prospective client is quite different when you are not representing a big brand, now I am representing Richard Gill - it's personal!  I also realised that the routes to market for creative industries are quite different to those of manufacturing and lighting.  It took me many months to figure out the best route to get customers.  

Richard Gill photographing foodRichard Gill photographing foodRichard Gill photographing food

Three years down the road I can honestly say I don't regret my decision.  I love what I do.  My old colleagues and friends joke that I am semi-retired, but the truth is I work as hard and as many hours as I did before.  One big difference though - now it is my choice. My working week is not defined by normal Monday to Friday hours.  If I haven't been booked to do a shoot on a Tuesday and the weather is fine I might choose to have a ride round the Lakes on my motorbike.  I will often be working at the weekend which makes up for anytime I have off during the week.  

It's by no means stress free. I don't have a CEO chasing me to meet my sales target, but that doesn't stop me worrying about the number of bookings in my diary and whether I will earn enough to pay the mortgage this month! If I am not booked I am not earning, that is a major motivator.  I also have to earn enough to cover the lack of benefits - no paid holiday, no sick pay, no company pension.    

Lessons I have learned

  • Do you research thoroughly - don't just look at the customers and market size, but really figure out who buys your product and the routes to market.
  • Don't spend forever doing the research and writing the plan.  You won't figure it all out,  at some point you have to go for it.  If the plan isn't working change or modify your plan. As the business grows your plan will need to be revised and updated anyway.
  • Be flexible at the start, you just need to gain some momentum, you can come back to focus on your core interest as you get the income rolling in.
  • Have a contingency fund so you can get through the lean months at the start and the quiet times of year.
  • Don't be scared to make the leap, the net will catch you, opportunities you weren't expecting do come along.







Angus Matheson(non-registered)
Great article!

I had a very similar experience to yours only my work involved driving all of the country.

I took the plunge in 2013 when I enrolled on Bespoke Group 40. It feels like a long time ago now!

I think the most important lesson that I have learned (out of many) is to be prepared to turn your back on some areas of photography that you thought you would enjoy and may have even paid to be trained in. You can't be everything to everyone and, slowly but surely, you discover your niche.
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