Many parents dream of starting a business that allows them to spend more time with their children. With more people than ever before turning away from big business, we talk to Isobel Challis, a Chelmsford-based mum-of-one, who decided to train in photography after being pushed out of her day job.
Tell us a little bit about you, your life and your family
I am 35 years of age, and I live in Chelmsford with my husband, Matt, and two-year-old daughter Sienna. My husband works as a Technical Recruitment Consultant in the City. My previous work was also in the City as an Architectural Recruitment Consultant. I come from a big family, with four siblings and a full tribe of nieces and nephews.
When did you first become interested in photography?
About a year before Sienna was born I decided to learn photography as I was bored of recruitment and needed a new challenge. My interest soon became a passion and I started to specialise in newborn and family photography. I started to think about maybe using my passion as a career to give me the work life/family balance that I have always wanted.
What inspired you to change your career from working in recruitment in the city to running a photography?
My return to work in the City after one year maternity was awful and a very upsetting experience. They realised I would have family commitments, couldn’t do the days they wanted, and that I would not be able to commit in the sales capacity as before. So, on my second day back at work, they suggested that I should resign.
It’s hard enough leaving your child for the first time, travelling to the City, then to be unwanted in the work place. I decided to look for a local job and I was happy to take a step down in my career. After lots of number crunching with my husband, we decided to manage on one salary and still pay for two days childcare a week for Sienna, so I can train and work hard to set up my business in photography. Matt’s mum has Sienna one day a week which means I can commit to the business three days a week, plus evenings and weekends.
Has your husband always been supportive?
He’s been very supportive. We bought our house in Chelmsford in May 2014 and it meant a larger mortgage, bills, etc., so it was a big risk for us to start a new business all on one wage. We made a few cut backs and thankfully we both see that in the long run we will be much better off financially, and that my second wage will eventually be a healthy part-time one.
Matt has also offered emotional support when needed as there has been times when frustration and tiredness have got the better of me. He has been incredibly patient, not complained about cutbacks in spending, and has helped out more with Sienna if I needed the extra time to ensure I got my images edited on time for my clients.
How do you keep a stable work/life balance?
I manage my photoshoots and editing Monday-Wednesday. I work some evenings/weekends, however I always make sure my Thursdays and Fridays are full of fun and activities with Sienna; she does gymnastics on Thursdays and swimming on Fridays, plus she has playdates with her friends. My husband’s job is Mon-Fri, so we are lucky that we always have weekends together.
What the hardest thing about working for yourself?
The hardest thing I have found is learning a totally new skill set on your own. My photography diploma was very hard, it was a distant learning course all done online so there was no one there to ask questions about editing or photography techniques – thank goodness for the internet and YouTube as I have no idea how I would have done it otherwise.
The idea of working for myself had never really appealed to me either, as I talk a lot and love to be surrounded by people in a busy environment. I have actually learned in setting up the business that I do also love my own company and I have a new found self-discipline I never knew I had.
I think it helps that I do still meet new people, I can offer support and guidance to new mums if they want it and I am passionate and proud about my new skill. I also feel so incredibly blessed to be in the position to be using my passion as a full career.
And the best?
The best thing about it is having a career that I love and one that I can manage around my time with Sienna, it means I can always make sure she comes first in my life.
What gets you through the tough times?
They say 10,000 hours is average to what you need to master a new skill and I think it’s not far off to learn photography, and more so as you are constantly learning new skills. It’s always the end goal that gets me through, knowing we are making sacrifices now, but in the long run we will be in a much better position to have a comfortable family life and enjoy the luxuries we used to have before.
What advice would you give to other women who dream of turning their passion into a business?
This one is a tough one, my initial response would be to follow your dreams – just go for it – but, sadly, it’s not that easy for everyone. I think there is an element of luck, as well as commitment and drive/passion, which enables a woman to change career or to turn their passion into a business. It’s hard for mums with young families to change career as they have so little time to do it.
I think ultimately if you have a passion and you want to turn it into a business then keep going – don’t give up, even when it gets really tough. Just be mindful that it might take a bit longer than you want it to. It might not come to fruition until your children are in school and you have more time. It might be that you need to work out finances, work out what is most important for you, and what cut backs you can make to get there.