Business Ideas For Mums: Photographer (Part 1)

I’d like to introduce today’s guest blogger, Karen Gunton. Karen runs her own photography business www.smileplaylove.com, in Adelaide, Australia, which is a very long way from where I live in England!

We met (virtually) because we both own blogs that help mums start businesses – Karen’s is called Build A Little Biz and is great, so do go take a look. Karen also has a fabulous Facebook page where she answers questions and starts great discussions about being a business mum.

Hi there! My name is Karen – I am a stay at home mum of two girls age 5 & 2 and I have a little photography business which I run from home: www.smileplaylove.com

My journey into the world of being a work at home mum started when I had my first baby and I got into doing digital scrapbooking. I was a complete amateur photographer but I got very skilled at using Photoshop to create fun and unique ‘pages’ with my photos. For my daughter’s 3rd birthday I took some professional style photos using my point-and-shoot camera and used my ‘scrapbook style’ to turn those photos into beautiful portraits including her name, age and sweet quotes that made me smile. That was the moment the idea for a photography business was born.

My friends asked me to do that for their kids and soon their friends were asking me what I charged. I had very little knowledge of the mechanics of photography at that time, but people liked what I did with the photos so I decided to give it a go. I always had a feeling that photography was in my blood; once I gave myself permission to pursue the idea of a photography business I felt energized and excited. It has taken two years to build my photography from a hobby, through the portfolio building stage, to where I am at now, running a professional children and family photography business. (I started this journey the same month my second child was born, and started basically from scratch. Depending on your skill set and the time you have available it may not take you as long as it took me!)

Photography is a great business for a stay at home mum – you can do it from home or at any location in your city, and if you already have a camera and photo editing software there is very little start up cost. Right now there are heaps of mums out there that are attempting to start a photography business. They have been told (like I was) that they take cute photos of kids. That, plus the availability of affordable dSLR cameras means that every other mum seems to want to start a photography business. I definitely recommend going for it, but there are some things you need to do if you want to start a biz that will have long term success, and stand out amongst the crowd of mummy photographers.

PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE

It is not enough to take ‘cute photos of kids’. Cameras are so good these days just about anyone can achieve that. What you need to do is take amazing photos every single time of every subject that hires you (not just your own children), you need to have the ability to interact confidently with your subjects and you need to be able to create something that is of a professional quality. The best way to get good enough to charge professional rates is to practice. A lot. Do free sessions for friends to build your portfolio and don’t charge for your work until every image you produce is of a very high standard.

LEARN BOTH PHOTOGRAPHY SKILLS AND PHOTO-EDITING SKILLS

If you want your photos to be the highest professional quality you need to master both of these things. Take courses either in person or online and find groups and forums that will help you learn and master these skills. Some free ones that I love are: the forum I Love Photography http://ilovephotography.com/, the facebook group Photographing Children http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=13514981755&ref=ts and the blog MCP Actions http://www.mcpactions.com/blog/

DEFINE YOUR STYLE

Figure out what type of photography you are going to do (babies, families, pets, teens, school photos, weddings, boudoir etc.) what style you will have (modern, traditional, candid, romantic & dreamy, photojournalistic etc.) and how you are going to do your sessions (set up a studio, do locations only, go into people’s homes etc.). Again, this will come with all of that practice, but it is really important to figure this out. Don’t try to be all things at once. Figure out what you love to do and then master it.

If you’d like to start a business that fits around a family you’ll find my new book Start a Family Friendly Business really helpful. If you buy it from Amazon this Friday you’ll be able to download a pack of bonuses too, including e-book and a podcast.

Click the link to go to part 2 of ‘Business Ideas For Mums: Photographer’

Running an Online Shop: Pros and Cons

Today I’m introducing my first ever male guest blogger Trevor Ginn of HelloBabyDirect.co.uk!  Dadpreneur Trevor is going to give us the basics on running an online shop. It would be great to have a few more blokes around here, so if you’re a dad who started a business to spend more time with your baby or toddler and would like to be featured on Business Plus Baby then drop me a line! Anyway, over to Trevor…

The huge amount of money which parents spend on products for their newborns inspires many parents to think about setting up some sort of baby focused retail businesses.  The baby sector is an attractive option for would be entrepreneurs as it has been hardly been touched by the recent downturn.  Recession or no recession, people still have babies.

An increasingly popular option is to ignore the traditional brick and mortar shop in favour of selling online.  This strategy is in many ways sensible as, while the rest of the retail sector is in the doldrums, online sales are still experiencing double digit year on year growth.  Buying online has great advantages for parents in terms of convenience and increased product availability.    In addition, the barriers to entry online are much lower than traditional retail.  So how easy is it to set up an online baby shop?  This post looks at the pros and cons of this business opportunity.

Pros

Easy to start

Sites such as eBay and Amazon make it easy to start selling online.  These marketplaces have a huge, international user bases which allow sellers to get off to a flying start.  Very limited technical knowledge is required, although a basic understanding of HTML can help to make listings more visually attractive.  There are also no set up costs to sell on eBay or Amazon.

For people with more technical know-how, setting up a transactional website is also not as difficult as it used to be and there are lots of solutions available off the shelf at a very low cost or even for free.  OS commerce and Magento are popular open source solutions for creating an online shop.

Cheap

An online retailing business can be started on a very limited budget.  All that is required is some stock and an online presence on eBay or Amazon or your own website.  This is all easily achievable for around £2000-5000.

(Note from Helen:  If you want to know how to do it for less than £200, check out How to start an online shop on a budget)

Sales 24-7, worldwide

Unlike a high street shop, sales on the Internet can be made 24-7.  The Internet also opens up a business to an international audience.  Around 20% of eBay sales are international and the current strength of the Euro makes UK prices attractive to people in the Eurozone, even when additional postage is considered.

Not limited by geography

An online retailing business can be run from any location and an expensive high street location is not required.  Many sellers work from home, although this may become difficult as sales grow.

Cons

Admin intensive

Running an online shop is hard work.  Creating product listings are time consuming and maintaining the product catalogue is a never ending job.  The proposed VAT increase, for example, will mean the retailers must reprice all their products.  In addition all sales should be packed and dispatched on a daily basis.

Customer service

There is no getting away from it, customers can be a pain.  Being a retailer involves dealing with the general public and so it is important to be patient.

Solitary

Running an online retailing business involves very little face to face customer contact and so can be a little lonely.

High competition, low margins

Let’s face it, the web is where people go to get bargains and consequently competition is fierce.  Margins in online retail tend of be lower than on the high street and so retailers need to compensate by selling more.

About the author

Trevor Ginn set up and runs the online nursery shop HelloBabyDirect.co.uk and you can read his blog at www.trevorginn.com



How To Run An Information-Based Website as a Business (part 2)

This is part 2 of a post by Sarah Sharp of familiesrecommend.co.uk. You can read part 1 of How to run an information-based website here.

Adding information submitted by others to the website

One thing that people expect of the Internet is that everything happens instantaneously! If you receive user content and  moderate it before adding it to the site then be prepared to work at odd times of the day. We often work until late into the evening to make sure all the reviews we have received that day are on the site within 12 hours of receiving them. It can be a tiring process but actually pays off as reviewers see their review on the site in a short period of time.

Incentives

A good way to bring visitors to your site is to incentivise their visit. Offer them something for free or the chance to win something. If you can keep in contact with them, you can be letting everyone know what you have to offer via your newsletter, Facebook and Twitter.

Patience

Making money from a site that does not sell a product, takes time. You need to be patient and work at developing a following of users. Once you have that, getting businesses to advertise will be much easier. No advertiser is going to look twice at a site that has only a few visitors per day. This is too much of a risk for them.

Affiliate Schemes and Adwords

You can make money through adding adverts to your site through affiliate schemes or Google Adwords. Affiliates schemes generally pay you if a visitor clicks through from your site and then makes a purchase to the site they’ve clicked through to. We’ve used these on our site, but unless you’ve hundreds of thousands of visitors coming to your site immediately on launch then its unlikely you’ll make much money from them. We’ve never used Google adwords on our site, but I guess the same principle applies, and you will get paid per click, so if not many people are clicking through, you are unlikely to generate much income. Plus, through using both of these methods, you are then allowing the user to leave your site.

Take marketing advice

In order to attract advertisers, you need to provide them with all of the information they need in one go. This is called a media pack and will tell them all about the your site, the number of visitors you get on average, the options they have to advertise and how much it costs etc. Take advice on the right pricing structure as you do not want to price yourself out of the market nor do you want to be giving it away too cheaply. A professionally designed media pack will also help.

Getting offline and getting face to face

Sometimes it just helps to get offline and get face to face with either your target user group or with people who can help. I have found business mums networks to be the most helpful and useful forums to promote my business. I’ve also been to talk to the people in the industry, and have used their advice and expertise to get the name out there.

I hope I haven’t put you off setting up your own information based website business. It is worth it, but a little time, thought and patience will make it a successful venture. And finally, if you have an idea and it you keep thinking about even after a couple of weeks of thought and research, don’t dismiss it – just go with it.

Sarah Sharp is the co-owner of www.familiesrecommend.co.uk, an online review and information site for discerning families. She is married to Lee and is mum to Thomas, who is almost three years old. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.

How To Run An Information-Based Website as a Business (part 1)

Running an online store is a popular business choice for mums because you can work from home at any time of the day or night. Another option is to make an income from offering information online, but it’s not as easy to understand how it works.  If you’re not selling a product how do you make money? Sarah Sharp of FamiliesRecommend.co.uk to tells us how.

When Helen asked if I would write a short article on starting and running an information-based website, I jumped at the chance. There is often a misconception that running anything online is both quick and easy money. From my experience it’s not quick and it’s certainly not always easy. However, there are opportunities out there, but they take effort and patience to achieve.

Let me give you some background…

I set up and launched www.familiesrecommend.co.uk with my husband in early 2009. The idea for the site came about following a family holiday in 2008, just before I was due to head back to work following my maternity leave.  On our holiday we spent days out in lots of little towns in North Yorkshire and before each we would search the web for things to do and found lots of sites with lists of venues. What we couldn’t find were real life reviews from families outlining if it was suitable for getting a pram in and out, feeding, baby change etc. There didn’t seem to be anything we could find which did this whole review element on a site by itself that focused on families. Then on a trip to Pickering, we attempted to have lunch in a pub. After finding a seat and getting a menu we were told that children were not allowed in the bar. (Fair enough – but there were no signs to say this.) We were told we could eat in the restaurant but couldn’t bring the pram into the restaurant. Now this is entirely fair – the owners made a decision and we respect this – but it wasn’t for us. We decided to leave. However, had someone recommended a place in Pickering where we could be accommodated for our needs we would have headed straight there.

On the way back to our cottage we talked about a review site where we could read real life reviews from families about recommended places to go. After much searching, we couldn’t find a website that exactly met our brief; we decided to set up our own.

We got a local web designer to develop a bespoke site and once it was launched we set about trying to get it populated. We wanted (and this still remains the case) the content to be user generated and user led. This lead us to a dilemma, how do you get people to take your site seriously when it has very little content. And why would advertisers want to pay to advertise on your site when you have little content and little traffic? So, in the last 12 months, we’ve worked hard, generated a following and now the advertisers are starting to come to us.

If you are thinking about setting up an information based website here are some things to consider.

Domain names

If you have a business name or a name for your website, then buy the domain names as soon as you can. At the very least buy .com and .co.uk versions of your name. If you can buy the other top level domain alternatives such as .info and .me this is a good way to retain your brand. When your site becomes successful no one can try and steal your thunder with the same name but another address. It also allows those who do not know the exact address to still find you. Also consider misspellings for example people often misspell recommend and so may type ‘reccommend’ – we therefore have a domain called familiesreccommend.co.uk

Content

Think long and hard about how information will be added to your site. Will it be your own content? Will it be user generated? Or a bit of both? How will you get external (web visitors or commissioned writers) to write for you?

Then think about the type of website you need to answer the question above, and if it involves user generated content, then how will this be done, through email / web forms / other? And will the content appear immediately? Will it be moderated? Will you need to do work on the content before it appears on the site?

Budget

We used our entire budget on getting a great looking custom-built site. We really didn’t think too much about marketing it. As such our marketing strategy has been built about what we can do that is free and inexpensive, although perhaps this has made us slightly more innovative in the approaches we have taken. However my advice is to put aside a little bit of your budget for marketing and PR. Do you need a custom built site? Could you develop your site through an off the shelf package or online resource such as WordPress? These can be cheaper and effective.

Making people aware of your website

There are millions of websites out there. The chances of people finding you by accident are quite slim unless you work at getting people to visit you. Search Engine Optimisation is a must, but is a labour intensive process. Your website needs to have the right search terms included in the right places in order for the search engines to pick it up and list it. If you don’t get SEO right, you’ll not appear high up the search engine rankings and people will never find you. We employed an SEO specialist to tackle part of our site for us, and it’s starting to show good results. But SEO takes times to do and to show results – it’s not a quick fix. We have to SEO every new review and every new page on the site in order to make it visible to the search engines, which can be time consuming.

Keeping in touch with your visitors

You need to get people to your site and keep them coming back again and again. As you are not selling a product you need to keep reminding people you are still there.  We ask users to register with us when they want to submit a review and to subscribe to our newsletter, this means we can keep in touch with them at regular intervals. Even if they don’t read the newsletter, just the fact your name appears in their inbox may trigger a visit to the site.

We also use social media to engage with our users everyday. By using Twitter and Facebook we actively tell our followers about what is new on the site and encourage them to visit us. This way the site is always being promoted but in an uncostly way. Also, we have a blog. We write about the things that we don’t cover on the site, like the decisions behind the colour scheme of the site to our own recent family trip to Butlins.

Go to part 2 of How to run an information-based website as a business.

Sarah Sharp is the co-owner of www.familiesrecommend.co.uk, an online review and information site for discerning families. She is married to Lee and is mum to Thomas, who is almost three years old. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Business Ideas For Mums: Gardening, Ironing, Cleaning and More

Tell me more…

People often want help with these tasks around their homes:

  • Cleaning
  • Oven valeting
  • Gardening
  • Ironing
  • Pet sitting
  • Dog walking
  • Window cleaning

As older people now want to stay in their own homes for as long as they can, demand for this type of service could well be on the increase.

What are the benefits?

This type of business is usually simple, cheap and quick to get started (although getting a steady stream of clients will usually take some work).

  • You can do as many hours work as you want.
  • You can choose to offer as many of the different services (listed above) as you want.
  • If you get too much work for you alone, you could employ other people.

Things to consider…

  • Word-of-mouth is a very effective way of finding clients for this type of business. Make sure your friends, family and neighbours all know about your service so they can refer people to you. Even better, get some business cards printed and leave a few with all your family and friends so they can pass them on.
  • Agree with your clients exactly what you are going to do and when. Will you be using your own materials and tools (e.g. cleaning products, lawn mower) or theirs? Which cleaning tasks will you do in the time you are working for your client? This helps you avoid disagreements later on. 
  • You could try to think of a way to stand out from other businesses in your area. How about using only eco-friendly products?
  • Because these types of business are quick to set up, it could be easy to overlook the basics of starting a business. For example, get adequate insurance as you could accidentally break a client’s window, stain her carpet or burn and item of his clothing with an iron. If you’re offering an ironing service, will you need a heavy-duty iron and ironing board to avoid replacing your ordinary one frequently? Also, don’t forget you will need to register as self employed.

Further information

Not convinced that helping others around the house is for you? Take a look at other business ideas for mums.

Photo by Impicard