With a strong background in photography, Robert Ashton was convinced he was on to a winning idea with his Chorlton-based pet photography business.
Rarely does success come easy. Robert had been “credit crunched” (and for a few years wasn’t even working in the industry) then lost his non-photography desk job, leaving him unemployed for a short while.
However, not to give up on his passion, he got his second chance at photography via the New Enterprise Allowance scheme and also received a huge amount of support and encouragement from his wife, Nardia.
Robert made the decision to focus on a niche market – and relaunched trying to focus on pets (after previously being a food photographer in London) with some instant success.
However, he needed help finding new sales and support developing a more robust strategy for the business. “I knew that I couldn’t survive purely on private commissions,” he explains, “and that I needed to get involved with vets, pet shops and other related businesses in order to get my name out there. The question was how.
“My main issue seemed to be getting these businesses to engage with me; speaking to receptionists was hard work and emails seemed to draw a blank.”
Robert was introduced to a volunteer mentor for the Hub, Raja Taseen Sajjad, a start-up business specialist, who explains: “When I first met Robert he had some large canvases of his work with him and they were absolutely fantastic. So really my job was pretty easy, and I simply said to him that the best way to market yourself is to go out and show people what you can do.”
So Raja actually set Robert a challenge there and then – to go out and visit two local businesses and then come back to discuss how he’d got on.
“I was incredibly nervous,” continues Robert, “and although the first business was closed, I did spend time with Liam at Waggy Warehouse in Shaw, Oldham. It went well and since then I’ve been back to hold four or five photography events with them.
“The idea of just popping in somewhere still doesn’t come easy but I know it’s what I’ve got to do to succeed. I now try to spend one day a week making unannounced visits and it’s helped transform my business because making these contacts leads to more commissions, more introductions and more sales.”
Meanwhile one of the Hub’s digital specialists, Neil McCluskey, provided advice around market positioning and segmentation strategy, social media, business planning frameworks, value proposition and effective client engagement strategy. In fact, over the last two years, the business has grown by over 200% and continued growth indicates that Robert has found a successful formula.
Robert adds: “Neil has been brilliant in giving the business a shot in the arm, enabling me to strengthen the things that work and develop new ideas to hopefully unlock potential revenue streams.
“Two years down the line I’m developing new projects which will enable the business to consolidate its current position, while also helping it to expand into new areas.
“I’m mindful that my ever-expanding business may well outstrip my personal capacity, so I hope to take on another pair of hands so that I can share both the workload and my expertise.
“I’m hugely grateful for the support of my mentor, my wife, the Business Growth Hub and, of course, my clients and look forward to taking Robert Ashton Photography onto even greater things in the future.”
And Raja adds: “It was a simple piece of advice but it seems to have really resonated with Robert. Sometimes you have to really push yourself to do things that don’t necessarily come naturally if you want to succeed. Robert was prepared to do that, and business has never been better as result.”