The Business & The Baby is a series of guest blog posts - from awesome mamas who have successfully started up in business after being on maternity leave.
This month, Ginny Koppenhol shares her journey to transitioning from a challenging career in mental health services to a successful photography business, whilst on maternity leave with her daughter.
Tell us a bit about your business...
My business is a dream come true in many ways. Since I was small, I have been creative. I loved drawing, painting and taking photos. I also love people and have a caring nature.
After sixth form, I faced a dilemma - go to art college or study a vocational health course? I went for the latter in the form of Occupational therapy and worked in mental health services for 14 years. However the pull towards doing something creative never left.
I eventually felt burnt out from years in this challenging career. I had been teaching myself photography behind-the-scenes (thanks to books and YouTube) after buying my first DSLR camera.
During maternity leave with my daughter, I decided to start my own photography business. Four years on and another child later, I am still running my business.
What made you want to start the business on maternity leave?
My dad is an inspiration to me. After he was made redundant, he started his own business teaching public speaking skills when I was a child.
I have always wanted to work for myself eventually and during a very challenging period at work, would wrack my brains each day trying to think of an exit plan. But I was thinking too hard to find any real answers.
Maternity leave offered the headspace I needed to allow the answers to come to me naturally and calmly. I was sitting with my daughter one day who was asleep after a feed and inspiration struck. I could start my own animation and photography business!
Alongside photography, I had also been learning stop motion animation skills and felt like I had the necessary skills to take my workshops to a wider audience. I now focus on photography, but the animation provided another string to my bow in the early stages of my business.
How did you go about starting up your business whilst looking after your child(ren)?
I started my business with a lot of support. My family have been amazing. My parents and in-laws have provided so much love and time for my children and the flexibility in child care they have offered has been invaluable. I am so very lucky to have them.
I have been known to take my children to meetings and even to the occasional shoot. Slings were my friend in the early days.
I do a lot of work in the evenings, and thankfully I am naturally a bit of a night owl. I also work when my son naps. I am quite good at prioritising and doing the urgent tasks first and in fact I am a very organised person on the whole. But there are days I get overwhelmed still - many days like that in fact.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during this time and how did you overcome them?
The overwhelm I often feel is the biggest challenge. The feeling of having way too much to do, leads to feelings of inadequacy and thoughts of 'who the hell am I to think I can juggle all these demands?' and 'who gave me the right to enjoy my work when so many don't?'
If I am not careful, these thoughts and feelings are afforded power which in turn, threatens to derail my business and my confidence. I have started to build in 'self-care' appointments for myself; a yoga session, a massage, a walk with a friend - things I have to write in my diary and therefore honour.
I also try to attend regular networking events. You soon realise you're not alone when you attend business events (but at women-only meet-ups in particular, there is a inherent comradery).
I also attended The Growing Club 12-month business growth programme for women in the early days of my business. The community and skills i gained from this course, formed solid foundations for my business. I also now co-run a women's start up programme called 'Roots & Shoots', another group run by Jane Binnion of The Growing Club.
Have you got any tips for other new mums who are thinking of starting up a business?
Being self-employed has afforded me the flexibility to work around the needs of my children (and also my own self-care and social plans too!) But it's challenging and it's vital to get support...we can't do it alone!
- If you are currently employed and are looking for a change, seek business support and equip yourself with the knowledge of all the elements that are needed to started your own business (preferably before making any huge decisions). Are there any skills, knowledge or finances that you could develop alongside a current job, before making the transition to your own business? I know this maybe sounds obvious, but I was very close to leaping before I was really ready on several occasions because I was desperate to escape my job. That said, there is never a 100% 'right time' so consider the balance and speak to those you trust about it.
- Be kind to yourself and accept that there will be tough and overwhelming days. They will usually pass, but get advice, support or practical help when you need it.
- Celebrate your successes and reward yourself when something's gone well.
- Get out and network. Networking can sound scary but there are many different forms and so many are friendly and safe spaces, and there are family-friendly ones out there too where you can bring your children (if you want to of course!).
Above all, enjoy this exciting journey. It's a lot of fun creating your own business and life you love, and it comes with a lot of perks (I still love making a brew for myself and not having to take orders from an office full of people!)
I am Ginny... well, Virginia if you're using my Sunday name. I have three children... well, two human children and my own business. I live in North Lancashire with my husband, 5-year old daughter and 1-year old son. I was born in Lancaster and love it here, although I left for a few years to attend university in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, another city I adore!