Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in photography but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Barbara Leatham, a professional commercial photographer based in Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

My business is called Barbara Leatham Photography. I have been a commercial photographer for 15 years, working with business SMEs and sole traders, capturing their stories, products, and/or services. Most of my clients are service providers, so we work on showcasing the customer journey or highlighting their most profitable service. The images I create are for their website, social media, marketing, and printed materials.

I also teach photography to others, whether it's for pleasure, like learning what all the buttons do, or to help a business improve its own skills to take its own social media images to the next level. Recently I've also found that some businesses want to have a style created for them, so I can help with that too.

Tell us about yourself

I'm married to a wonderful man, and we have seven children and six grandchildren between us. The two youngest are still at home, the older ones are scattered across the UK, in Lincoln, Norfolk, and Manchester, and one is in the Royal Navy. Family is very important to us.

I have been doing photography for over 30 years. After studying graphic design at college, I did an A-level in photography. I loved that photography was very instant - I knew when I had nailed a shot, and it was easy for me to see how I could use the medium in a creative way and mix it with the graphic design.

In 2002 I joined the Royal Air Force and trained as a photographer. I served for five years before leaving and starting my own business and a Master's Degree in the same year. Last July, I celebrated 15 years in business. In all the years I've been in business, I have never had a bad day at work. I love creating and delivering images to a client and seeing them love what I've created. Best of all is when I'm teaching, and I see someone having their "penny-dropping" moment after struggling with something. Teaching is so rewarding; there is no other feeling like it.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

For the first 13 years of my business, I had to deal with various pressures. When I started it, we lived in Suffolk. Then my husband got a posting, and we moved to Berkshire. It was like starting all over again. Then two years later, we moved to Wiltshire, and again it was like starting from scratch. My husband was still serving, and we had times when he was out of the country for several months. It puts big pressure on you to balance running a business, looking after the family, and just dealing with the day-to-day when someone you care about is in a place you only see on the news.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

The hardest thing for me about running a business is making decisions. I find it hard to actually "run" a business; it requires certain skills that I've had to learn and don't come naturally to me. For example, I've just had a call with a client, and she's got an idea for a shot she would like for her business, and I was instantly all over it with brainstorming and being all creative. Whereas I have a couple of emails I need to reply to, and I will find something in the house that needs tidying. I know it's going to take more out of me figuring out how to word my reply than it will be scrubbing the kitchen cupboards. It's easy to procrastinate on things you find difficult.

A sole trader wears many hats, some of which fit better than others. My photography and teacher hats fit very nicely, whereas my admin hat swamps me. If I can give you any advice, get on as many business courses as you can that your local council will be running. As soon as you can afford to, outsource the bits you can't get to grips with. It will save you stress and money in the long run.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Do your homework, make sure you get things in place, and don't be afraid to ask for help. There are free courses online and in person that you will be able to study. Get on everything you can and learn what it means to run a business.
  2. Surround yourself with other businesses who are travelling a similar journey. I have a wonderful family, but none of them runs a business, so they can't help with decisions that need to be made or talk through the tough things that might be stopping the business from moving forward. Likewise, I will have a great day in the business, and I'll tell my hubby about it, and he's pleased "for" me but not "with" me. Having someone on the journey with you makes a difference. I attend a networking group every week, and they are the ones I talk to and ask questions from. Networking is very important.
  3. Whatever business you start, make sure it is something you totally love and don't do it for the money, that will come, but not when you chase it. Imagine you find you have the knack for widgets, and you're not excited about it, but hey, it pays well. Then think in 5/10/15 years, you are still doing something because it pays the bills, you can start to resent it, any low points in the business will drag you down, and getting up to face the drudgery of the day can drain you emotionally.

    Now imagine you are doing something you really love; getting up is never a problem, the low points are just little things to get over, and the high points are amazing. There's a saying that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life again. I count myself blessed that I can do what I love and make people happy with the business that I have.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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