Interview with self-employed landscape photographer Matt Goddard
Matt Goddard studied Computing – Information Systems at the University of Brighton, graduating in 2000. After a career in IT, he changed direction and launched Matt Goddard Photography last year. See his work at www.mattgoddardphotography.co.uk
Describe your business in a few sentences
Sussex landscape photographer offering premium prints to the 30-65 demographic. Sole trader with no employees. Model of direct sales to collectors, wholesale to smaller galleries, and consignment sales via gallery representation.
How did you get your idea for the business?
Landscape photography has been a passion of mine since being given a camera for my 21st birthday. As a hobby, photography has always been there in the background, taking a back-seat to my 15 year career in IT.
It became clearer, year-on-year, that office culture was slowly destroying my soul! Coupled with a diagnosis of a life-long incurable illness (Crohn’s) I found my career incompatible with who I was and my health limitations. Redundancy was on offer and it was time to change things up.
Being creative, spending more times outdoors, and the flexibility of being my own boss all led me to becoming a self-employed artist. Sometimes a catalyst is needed to create that spark.
Is your business unique?
An Artist’s USP is often their unique artistic style and the content of their art. In my case I specialise in the landscapes of Sussex and the South Coast, but predominantly seascapes from across Sussex.
My style is very personal and I hope captures the peace and serenity that can be found in our surroundings should we stop and take a moment. Presenting familiar places and scenes from a different perspective further adds to the uniqueness.
When starting your own business it’s not always easy to find a niche or set yourself apart. It’s often a good idea to think about what problem you’re solving for your customers. For some of us it’s more a matter of our products bringing enjoyment without solving any problems.
How do you market your business?
I keep an open-mind to all marketing channels. To-date, marketing efforts have been zero cost, other than my time and effort (which is extremely valuable and shouldn’t be forgotten!).
Social media, and Google organic SEO has provided a reasonable starting point. Google My Business is a must where local products or services are offered. It provides an overnight means to reach the top of Google without the long-term effort of SEO.
The best way for me, my brand and my art to get out there has been via physical locations. Opening a pop-up gallery in Brighton and the Artists Open Houses has allowed hundreds, if not thousands, of people to see my art.
Don’t forget that old fashioned marketing may still very much apply for many businesses. I’ve used the following with good success:
- Flyer drops
- Free postcards of my art for exhibition visitors
- Email newsletters
What has been your biggest business challenge and how have you overcome it?
For me it was hard, perhaps impossible, to price and market products without having sold anything first. It was a chicken and egg scenario but knowing your customer is fundamental to all businesses.
The simplest, quickest and best way was to launch and get selling. Face to face conversations, sales, and feedback surveys have provided a huge insight into who my customers are. I now also know what sells.
It’s become clear that some customer segments can only be reached offline due to technology not being so heavily adopted in the older demographic.
To what do you attribute your business success?
I’m not sure I consider myself to ‘successful’ just yet!
Having enough belief in yourself to get on and try is so important. My success to date has been a combination of artistic style, treating the venture very much as a business, and customer service. With the latter I don’t mean just being helpful and professional but being a human with it too. Be yourself, it can often be the deciding factor in a competitive market.
Also, don’t forget the 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration expression. Hard work has been vital and it’s often those who aren’t afraid to a) try; and b) work hard, that succeed where others fail.
What are your business plans for the future?
In a word, exposure. I’m starting to gain momentum and greater visibility locally but there is so much more to do.
Applying for the right events e.g. the Brighton Art Fair, and gaining gallery representation are my current priorities. Having others sell my art will allow me to get out with my camera and shoot new portfolio images, something that has taken a back seat during the start-up period.
Hitting the photography awards/competition submissions hard this year is a must for gaining exposure if successful. Think about industry awards specific to your products or services where possible.
What one piece of advice would you offer to someone starting up?
Just get on and do it!
Flippant comments aside… Take your idea, refine it, make it saleable and take baby-steps to try it out before committing.
This ethos is sometimes called Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Small steps are taken to test an idea and iteratively fine tune to deliver maximum returns with minimum effort and risk.
e.g. you want to start a cake shop but it’s a huge commitment and cost. Simple….
- Bake a selection of cakes and fine tune recipes using feedback from friends/family
- Hire a pitch at an event or street market and sell your cakes. What do customers say? Which ones are most popular? Are you often asked for something different e.g. vegan cakes?
- Take the previous feedback and work it into your next event.
- What next? Perhaps you receive an order for a birthday or wedding. Is there opportunity to provide cakes to local coffee shops?
- Momentum builds and you’ll understand if a coffee shop is looking realistic. Perhaps your current model is lucrative and suits you without committing to business premises and extra staff.
What three skills are the most important for an entrepreneur to develop?
Business sense – make sure decisions are grounded and based on business outcomes. Sure, your cake is flying out the door but if you don’t know your overheads how do you know you’re not losing money on every sale?
Humility – don’t be too proud to accept support. Reinventing the wheel isn’t necessary – look to others to see what they’ve done right and wrong. Look around for support and networking groups – Beepurple being a good example!
Tenacity – it can be a long hard slog, especially if you’re a business of one. That’s not even considering the set-backs that are inevitable along the way.
Any tools, resources or books you recommend?
Check for books specific to starting/running a business in the relevant sector. There’s a whole range out there covering many experiences across many sectors.
Invest in an online accounts package from early on to ease tax returns and scan piles of paperwork. No one likes stacks of paper!