Gavin translated his love of life behind the lens into a full time business in 2015. He describes how being the MD means being all things to all people, and the importance of absorbing, testing and adapting.
What is it the company does?
I’m a photographer; Gavin Forster Photography provides bespoke creative images for businesses, and I also do wedding photography.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
Easy! I am my business, so whilst my primary role is as the photographer and editor of the images I take, I’m also the marketer, salesman, admin, call centre and anything else I need to do to allow my business to function.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
Well, after a degree and masters in Chemistry from the University of all things I started my career doing environmental audits for Groundwork Leeds. This shifted to a role in their communities’ team which lasted 3 years; making a difference to the greenspaces of West Leeds was a fantastic experience. Throughout this work I was playing around with a camera, but didn’t realise where that could lead.
Over the next few years the photography bug grabbed me, and I ended up filling all of my spare time taking photos. This led to work with Bupa on the Great Run series, as well as some large companies including Kier group and Leeds West Homes.
I moved back up to my native North East in 2013, did some face to face community development work part time in Hexham and really kicked the business on.
In September 2015 I became a full-time photographer, and I haven’t looked back!
What do you believe makes a great leader?
A good communicator. Having worked in big organisations, and with lots of smaller ones, being able to listen, take in and react with your team is a great asset.
Allowing your ideas and thoughts to be well communicated and understood/justified is great, but without being able to listen and react they are not always as effective.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
It’s managing my time. I have a 2-year-old daughter who I look after when not out shooting, so balancing out work and play is difficult - but fun.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I try my best to take time out. In the past one of my escapes was to be out with my camera! Now that just seems to create extra work so golf is an escape. Being away from my desk and concentrating on anything but what’s on my ever-increasing to-do list has to be a good thing.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I still remember asking my Year 6 teacher how to spell ‘Attenborough’, as from a young age I was fascinated by his documentaries and wondered what was out there beyond Prudhoe. I still love watching them, just makes me realise that there are so many things out there you couldn’t see all of even with a lottery win!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
As I work for myself most of the time it’s me on my own so it’s a difficult one. It’s actually keeping my own desk clear. As I look at it at the moment I have a mixture of farmyard animals, receipts and memory cards all over. No one to blame but myself.
My challenge for this year is to try and keep a clear desk policy!
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
With the positive growth in the last 12 months I’m not 100% sure! I have a range of ideas that I would like to implement in the next 2 years so if they all came off... perhaps employing staff?
I would like to be able to grow to allow me to employ at least one more photographer, and potentially some admin and social media support to free me up to grow.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Absorb, test, and be ready to adapt.
I have been told so much information in the last few years that will ‘help my business grow’. Some of it has, some of it hasn’t. Take on board information from people you respect, and see what works for you and your business. The ‘right answer’ for one business may not work for you.
You have to be ready to adapt to an ever-changing market, which could mean the ‘right answer’ today may not be in the future.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
You will need to be able to do a million jobs that are not just taking photos! I’m now a social media person, a networking person, a sales person and all the rest.
I’m not saying I expected that I would just be able to do my job and all the rest would just happen, as if by magic, but the business side of getting to where I am has been a very steep learning curve.
For me now the training I have been putting myself through has been mostly in the business and not the photography side. The classic line ‘every day is a school day’ is very apt, and certainly fits to my business!
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