“I was lured into the larger corporate world by the money, the identity and the potential for a longer career. I ‘tried’ that for 18 years!”
“I used to escape from work – now I don’t need to.”
“In my first job working within an educational IT company, what motivated me was helping people learn and communicate. Latterly, I focussed on primary and special needs sectors where IT helped individuals to be part of a community, to connect and to learn. I loved that!
Then I was lured into the larger corporate world by the money, the identity and the potential for a longer career. I ‘tried’ that for 18 years! I did a partnering role for 10 of those years and loved some of the charity stuff but realised after a while that I was in the wrong business as my values were so different to those of the company.
While there were some great people, everyone there was white collar middle-class and not hugely diverse. I didn’t feel a real connection to organisation’s goals or values. I realised that I missed doing something that I really cared about.”
The trigger for change?
“I used to cycle from the city office and remember leaving the office one January in total darkness. It was freezing outside. I wondered to myself why I was doing this? I was so unhappy but couldn’t articulate it then other than describing the concept that my mood matched the total darkness of the evening.
I knew I had to do something different. My boss was aware that I was not happy as even though I was doing a decent job, I wasn’t excelling. Around my 40th birthday I remember saying to a friend that I might take a sabbatical to do a 4-month cycle ride from the top to the toe of Africa which would allow me both escape my unhappiness and have some time to think. I just knew I couldn’t do another winter feeling like I did.
Roll on a couple of years, and I ended up taking a 4 month sabbatical to cycle and volunteer in both India and Nepal. 5 months later I returned to the UK, met with my boss and agreed it was definitely time to do something different even though I still didn’t have a clue what that was.”
“A friend suggested photography and a little spark of interest lit up inside me. It wasn’t just the 7,000 story-telling photographs taken during the trip that resonated with this idea.
It was also an experience with Raisa, an organic model farm consultancy, in Tamil Nadu, southern India, that cemented the idea of visual story-telling in business through images. I got to share my knowledge of the SWOT analysis tool (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) to this creative social enterprise leader which really connected. They had so many projects spanning wildlife conservation, commercial coconut farms and local householders with mango and banana trees in their back yard. This defining moment gave me the biggest clue to my future.
I knew that both the photographic and business coaching markets are very crowded but I also knew gut-instinct wise that there was something unique here in this combination. I could see from my research that there was a huge lack of understanding of visual impact. Essentially, we’ve all been seduced by the amazing technology that it’s almost been forgotten that people connect with people, in both the ‘real’ face to face world and in the online world too. The ‘first impression’ impact occurs when we meet in person but also when we’re reviewing someone’s profile photo on LinkedIn, their website or social media business accounts.
Subliminally, we’re establishing trust and whether we can see ourselves doing business with the person we see. People in almost every area were under-valuing the power of the visual. Especially in the small, medium enterprise space.
At base level – I could see professionals on linkedin.com with headshots which were certainly not helping them in their goals to create trust and rapport. I realised that rather than being just another photographer, my 23 years business experience would help people to understand the impact of the visual and this has become my unique selling point.”
It’s not just about profile photos though. As a result, we have a 3-step process to help our clients become more visible, attractive, trusted and connected to the clients they seek.
What Denise learned over the course of her career change?
· “Networking is key but can be superficial. Actually, just getting out there and talking to real people is crucial. Finding a niche where I fit and share values has taken time.
· I’ve researched lots of different networking groups and settled on a couple of key ones:
1. The Institute of Directors which I initially joined as a young entrepreneur and then later joined their Advance Group programme and have found it really valuable.
2. A more local Chiswick lunch group where there are none of the 60 second pitches, that attention-span-wise have me reeling after the 5th person.
· Moving from a social office to an isolated environment doesn’t work for everyone. If I spend more than 2 days by myself I go crazy so I’ve built that knowledge into planning my week.
· If you want something deeper than a networking group, join or create a mastermind group.
· Coaching is a very useful tool when it is done right, by the right person ie one that matches your values, as a minimum.
· Connecting with people who have the same shared values and are in a similar situation make it all so much better.
· Understanding your own personality helps to make decisions accordingly. For instance, I’m introverted in the way I process information and thoughts but my creative process is more extroverted and needs external stimuli. This knowledge helps me to define where I am when I need to focus on different tasks.
· Outsource some stuff – the stuff that you are not good at – as early as you can afford to. This frees up time to do more value-adding.”
What Denise would do differently if she had to do it all again?
“I would have found a mentor that worked for me earlier. I did have one lined up, but for various reasons their implementation got delayed. So, not only had I unfortunately already handsomely invested but I felt in limbo for more months than planned. My learning? To go with my initial gut feel. My gut feel was that their profile photo was significantly out of date, and that was a red flag warning signal to me. I overrode my gut instinct but realised it was actually spot on.”
How it feels on the days when she knows he has made the right decision?
“I just love what I do! I love enjoying my work without the financial/profit/corporate stress/misaligned values and without feeling so frazzled.
I used to escape from work – now I don’t need to. I have my sanity back.
I just love what I do!
My creativity is unfettered in both the entrepreneurial sense but also the hands-on visual portrayal of each client’s ‘personality, messages and values’ to their target clients .“
“None…although I do have an impatience and want to do everything faster, you have to work through the ups and downs to creating a brand that works.”
Learn more about Denise and her business: