Spotlight on … Packshot and Stills
Barrie Gordon is the founder of Packshot and Stills, a photographic company focusing on commercial product and fashion photography, he has grown his business with the help of the Business & IP Centre’s Innovating for Growth programme. We asked him to share his experiences for getting his business off the ground.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I’ve been a photographer for more years than I care to remember, most of those as a freelance, working for various companies. At the time I started the business it just seemed like a natural progression for me to move from a “one man band” to a scalable enterprise.
The timing was also right in the sense that the industry had changed with the onset of digital media. Shooting digitally, especially for e-commerce, has opened up new opportunities whereby brands could hire a company to do their photography rather than one sole photographer. I realised it’s a huge market and I thought, given my experience, I could set up a successful business.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I’ve always been a bit of entrepreneur - from selling penny sweets at school to starting my own photography retail website - to varying degrees of success. I always liked the idea of starting a business and successfully running it. Over the years I’ve learnt lots from the various companies I’ve worked with, even if it is just things I would do differently.
What planning did you do before starting up?
I’ve grown the business organically so there has been very little financial risk associated with the business itself. I was already making a decent income as a freelance photographer and was able to gradually make the transition from sole trader to running a team of photographers and retouchers.
However, there were a few important questions that needed answering before I considered starting the business.
Can I make enough money from this to sustain a profitable business?
I knew the industry very well and I’d been working in it for quite a few years. If they weren’t already online, all businesses were gradually making the move to online trading and therefore needed high quality, attractive images. I identified that the market was huge. Don’t get me wrong, I realised I was competing with well-established competitors but still felt we could establish a market share that was certainly big enough for us to survive, thrive and grow.
Will clients like my product enough to buy it?
Again, having the knowledge and experience of working for big clients on a freelance basis, I already felt that I could deliver a level of quality that was better than or equal to my competitors and at a price that would be appealing to potential clients.
How much can I charge for the images and how much will it cost us to produce it?
Quite a bit of market research went in to answering these questions. I obviously felt the need to be competitive whilst keeping the margins at a level that, in essence, would make it all worthwhile. In fact, over the last couple of years, we’ve continued to revise our pricing to increase sales and maximise income.
What competition was I up against?
It was vital for me to explore what my competitors where doing. Being aware of what you’re up against with regards to the competition and analysing what we could do differently (and better) was extremely important to starting my business and establishing our unique selling point
With these questions answered positively, I was happy that I had a fighting chance to get the business off the ground and to survive.
What challenges or obstacles have you had to overcome?
I‘ve been quite fortunate; because of the steady growth of the business the whole operation has been scaled in a very manageable way and we’ve been lucky enough that we haven’t really encountered any major obstacles. Over time, we continually assess and adapt our working practices to prevent any major problems arising.
However, that said, as with probably most start-up business, my company has been heavily reliant on me (the owner), and perhaps a little too reliant. It’s been tough at times, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to do everything you need to do. Subsequently, I’ve had to become an expert in various skills that initially I didn’t have an understanding of, from web design and marketing (offline and online) to IT and HR. I’m eager to learn new things, so apart from having to manage my time it really hasn’t been a major problem. I see it as part of setting up the business and I enjoy the challenges it brings. Also, when the time comes to bring in hired help, it’s such an advantage to have that understanding as you’ll be speaking to them like a true expert!
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
I’m under no illusion that I’m in a highly competitive marketplace, but the one key differentiator (apart from the quality obviously!) is our flexibility and speed at which we deal with clients requests. We are expanding, but no matter how big we become, our ethos will always be to treat every client with the attention and attentiveness they deserve and expect.
It’s very important for our growth that we are always fine-tuning our internal processes to achieve maximum efficiency from a client’s perspective, and to deliver a smooth project from their brief to completion.
How do you promote your business?
Initially when starting the business one of my main objectives was to let potential clients know we’re around and “open for business”. As a company that provides a service with no physical store, the best means to get in front of potential clients is via online marketing.
I’ve worked to very tight budgets so have personally been very hands-on with regards to optimising the business online. This has in turn brought in quite a lot of work that “kick-started” the business. In all honesty, it would have been a real struggle to get the exposure that I initially had without the internet. We continue to reach potential clients with our online strategy and try to be as active as time will allow on social media platforms.
When we first started up, we also went to trade fairs to offer our services which brought some success.
I am very aware that we need to start to do more offline activity, there’s definitely room for improvement on that side and that’s something I’ll be addressing within the next couple of months.
Which entrepreneurs inspire you?
I was lucky enough during my freelance days to work at ASOS. During that time it grew rapidly from a relatively small company to the company it is today. Having been part of that company at that time (no matter how small a part) was truly inspirational.
If you could have given yourself one piece of advice when you started what would that be?
I would give myself a reality check! If only things were as easy as I thought it would be. I’m not sure I could have done many things differently but at least I would’ve been prepared for what lay ahead!
We are now taking applications for the next Innovating for Growth programme find out how you can apply today.