Sue Westwood-Ruttledge completes over 100 photoshoots a year with horses and dogs and regularly has a 12-week waiting list.
In order to photograph more cherished animals each year, the serial entrepreneur started franchising her two business – Horse Photographer UK and Dog Photographer UK – in January 2014. And dynamic mum-of-two Sue, 41, has already signed up her first Horse Photographer UK franchisee. She is now busy coaching her for a May launch.
“It all started on Facebook,” said Sue, who has been a fanatical rider since the age of six.
“Four years ago, on a whim, I persuaded a girl who works at the stables to pop on a prom dress and pose with one of the horses. I posted the picture to Facebook and within the hour, I had three bookings. Later than afternoon, a further six came through.
“I’ve been non-stop ever since. For some reason I can’t quite fathom, people are willing to spend more on getting their horses and dogs photographed than their children – which is obviously great news for my business.”
Sue believes that everyone can learn be a good photographer, once they’ve taken on board the basic principles. She said: “I am looking for horsey people and dog lovers who I can train. My franchisees don’t need to be photographers – I will teach that. What I can’t teach is the love of animals that will make each photoshoot magical”.
Sue is married to Paul, who has a construction company and has two children, Ellie aged six and Josh who is 16. The flexibility to work around her family commitments ranks highly in Sue’s reasons for running her own business. The lack of holiday pay and having to do her own accounts are two of the downsides.
“Not focusing on one area of photography was a mistake when I first started out,” said Sue, who is aiming to finding 40 franchisees between her two businesses. “I was a jack of all trades, doing weddings, babies, families, boudoir and pets. Now I specialise and have created a niche for my business”.
Family Friendly Working asked Sue a few questions about her business:
What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?
Franchising Horse Photographer UK is not my first foray into entrepreneurship. In my mid-20s, I ran an award-winning fire, flood and storm damage business. I was named runner up in Entrepreneur magazine’s north west entrepreneur of the year in 2002 – the only female business owner on the shortlist – and was also crowned best new start up business in my local area in the same year.
However, I was doing it purely doing it for financial gain. It wasn’t my passion, so I started struggling to motivate myself. I went on holiday and realised how much I enjoyed taking pictures. I bought a top of the range camera and then took myself off on an intensive training course. Then I set myself up as a photographer. I’ve always been in business, so I just saw it as a new challenge.
How did you get started?
I read a book called Screw Work Let’s Play by John Williams. There was a line that stuck in my head that read: “How can you teach other people to do what you do?” I had my franchise light bulb moment. That was August 2013.
What has worked well about your business?
Social media is amazing for my business, as it’s very visual. People like to share their images and off the back of that I get lots of interest and bookings.
How do you fit in work with the family? Is your partner supportive of your business?
I work in the day time when my children are at school and then again in the evenings. I’m a bit of a workaholic so I tend to work weekends too, but I make sure I have plenty of time with the children as well.
Do you have an exit strategy?
No. This is what I see myself doing for a long time. I love what I do.
Have you had your ‘I’ve made it’ moment? Tell us about it. If not when do you think it will come
I was very happy to sign up my first franchisee. That was a huge step me. I’ve not had my ‘I’ve made it’ moment as yet. Hopefully I will though.
Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?
I would like to have 40 franchisees between my two franchises, Horse Photographer UK & Dog Photographer UK.
“I’m in this for the long term,” she said. “I don’t think you can franchise a business and then move onto something else. I have commitments to my franchisees”.
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