Spotlight on Spouses – Lucy Lawrence
SPOTLIGHT ON SPOUSES
Lucy Lawrence – Raceday Photos
What is your career background?
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I started doing promotions work for the ‘Junior Jumpers’ children racing club.
A kind marketing person asked how I got on. My marketing brain, dormant for so long, had gone into overdrive and I launched into 45 minute monologue detailing my ideas. Instead of dismissing me as the ‘cheeky, self-important nutter’ I was, she asked me to write down my ideas and email them to her. This I did and to my surprise she contacted me to ask if I would be interested in some freelance work.
I explained the situation and to my surprise they were happy for me to fit a few hours in around the childcare. In those days the childcare and petrol costs, where probably more than I earned, but I loved being part of a team again.
Six months later I heard about another ‘opportunity’. The racecourse present ‘goody bags’ to the winning owner after each race. This contains a framed picture of the horse jumping the last fence and a card featuring the race footage and commentary. However, the tight time scales meant that the photographers were struggling to manage this process themselves and it was causing everyone a lot of headaches. In addition, their other commitments in the days following each meeting meant they were struggling to meet the demand from sponsors and clients.
The Head of Marketing asked me if I would be interested in seeing what I could do. He felt there was an opportunity for making money, but he didn’t have the staff or resources to make the most of it. We agreed that I would shadow the team for a day and then discuss it in more detail.
Three days later I was introduced to ‘my team’, two student runners and two rather grumpy photographers, who seemed to be at each other’s throats and close to open revolt against the racecourse (call it the artistic temperament).
They, whilst polite, unsurprisingly wanted to know what management were ‘playing at’ bringing me in.
I started writing down every word they said and felt totally overwhelmed. I had defiantly not been told everything I needed to know about this ‘opportunity’.
They explained how the team operated, the very tight deadlines, what they needed to do their job and generously, gave me a crash course on photoshop so I was able to help process the shots between races. Jumping in the deep end was the only option. The day descended into chaos; people running back and forth, printer issues, broken frames, cross complaining clients and even worse, the death of a much loved favourite. I was exhausted, sweaty, muddy and completely hooked.
The passion, the drama, the total lack of any sort of organisation or planning, I loved it all and the crowd of frustrated owners and trainers wanting to hand over their hard won money, had my commercial brain whirring.
These incredibly talented, obsessive, emotional wrecks were just the people I wanted to work with. Here was the seed of a business which I could get truly excited about.
How did you move from the idea to the actual business?
Well.. in the days that followed I wrote out my notes and a very long planning document outlining everything that needed to be done and tried to choreograph the most efficient way of doing it.
I also outlined the tools and staff that I would need and what I wanted to get out of it financially. After some negotiation, we developed a ‘Terms of Business’ document which clearly outlines areas of responsibility and the level of support I could expect from the Racecourse. It was in their interest that I succeeded and they were generous with their time and allowed me to use their existing equipment, cutting my set up costs significantly.
However, I was being employed as a ‘Sole Trader’ to reduce their work, not add to it. I was on my own, sorting out health and safety forms, public liability insurance, designing a retail website and all the other fun stuff. It was a steep learning curve.
Just over a month later I was back. Champions Day 2016, the start of the biggest week in jump racing and I was being paid a not insignificant amount to make sure things ran smoothly. What could go wrong?
How do you spread the word about what you do?
Every way and any way. I wish I could say there was an organised plan but really it’s been about making the most of every small opportunity. The terms of business I have with Cheltenham Racecourse means I am limited in terms of my use of social media for example, but have presented other opportunities.
Racing is a small world and lots of my business comes via personal recommendations and word of mouth. I never say no to anything which could be a networking opportunity. I don’t pretend to be an expert in racing but genuine enthusiasm takes you a long way.
I have adverts in the racecard and in the course magazine (negotiated as part of the payment package with the course) and at my request, a link to my website on the racecourses ‘Owners and Trainers’ page (which costs nothing to them but brings in significant traffic).
Repeat business is also important. We make sure every order has my details on the back and is dispatched with a leaflet detailing what other products we do, hopefully generating further sales by ‘cross selling’.
Also given the photography office is within the Owners and Trainers Pavilion, we do our best to advertise our service on racedays, including flyers on each table and showing off the latest photography at the trainers tables on iPads.
As my client knowledge has grown I have added to the products I sell and I am currently on the 3rd version of my retail website.
More recently, I have started working with the ‘sponsors’. They need art worked montages for their boxes and framed prints for their offices, as well as digital photos to use one their own social media.
Even the racecourse its self has become a client, buying montages and prints as leaving presents and Christmas gifts.
As a Military spouse, what has been your biggest obstacle when trying to balance work/ kids/ your spouses military commitments?
Um… well getting a call 5 minutes into 2017 Cheltenham Festival to say that my son was being excluded from school and I had to come and get him wasn’t a highlight. Having to go straight into day one of a three day race meeting, after getting my sons Autism diagnosis wasn’t much fun for any of us either.
Being 150 miles away from family means I don’t have someone I can ring in an emergency and this can be difficult for civilian employers and colleagues to understand. And as I don’t take part in military life much anymore, because I am either working or looking after my children, I don’t know my neighbours as well as I would like.
Luckily my husband has been able to be around when for most of the 16 days I need to be at the racecourse and is very supportive. Like so many working parents, where possible he takes his leave when I have to work and Saturday is nearly always spent apart, me in my office catching up with orders or emails and him entertaining the children.
Jokes have been made that I am fictional, because not many of his colleagues have met me, but he couldn’t care less. We are a team and he doesn’t need me to sit next to him at a regimental dinner to know that I support him. We make the most of being able to have supper together as a family and we put our children to bed together most nights …then we both go back to work. It may not be perfect, but it works for us. We have never seen ‘Love Island’, but I, for one, am fine with that.
My work is flexible and I am usually quiet during the summer as the jump racing season runs from October to May. Despite this, both my children have spent days off delivering orders and my 3 year old daughter once happily invaded a very important meeting of racing top brass, while shouting she ‘needed a poo’ on a day we were on site measuring a frame. Bet Richard Branson never had to explain something like that.
Working on your own from SFA can be very lonely. Spending days in front of a computer a yard from the biscuit tin isn’t great for those who are body conscious and it can be difficult to switch off if you’re a stress head like me. I am not good at putting my ‘out of office’ on and I always need to take that last call. It just might be a big commission.
What has been your proudest moment?
Making enough money in my first year trading to pay for my son to go to a small private school and get the support he needs.
Feedback from owners delighted with a montage of photos you art worked and framed for them.
A jockey’s mum calling in tears because she loves the print you did for her.
Praise for my (still very much developing) skills as a photo editor from top racing photographers.
Being able to employee other military spouses.
Over hearing my ‘boss’ at the Jockey Club say:
‘I’ve created a monster! There is no stopping her now’.
Why is work so important for you?
Because I have a pathological need to please and I don’t get enough praise as a mum? Because I was privately educated at a school that told us we were amazing every five minutes and I can’t cope without that validation? Because I am still paying for those qualifications I am not using!! Because we need the money? All true!
Oh dear…. Is that too much information? I promised myself I would be brutally honest about this. I haven’t found the transition to military life or to being a mum very easy. I am that wife who always says the wrong thing and when I get intimidated I tend to talk too much. Not a good combination.
After a brief period of perinatal psychosis (much more fun than depression, but pretty terrifying for my (incredible) husband), I fell madly in love with my children and became that infuriating helicopter parent we all know. But my self-confidence, my sense of worth was, I discovered to my shock, still tied up in being good at my job. Without my job I felt lost and even jealous of my (totally brilliant) husband’s success.
However, even then working just a few hours a week gave me a release. In the early days it was less about having my own money (whilst that was nice) but more about having my own identity. Being judged as someone other than my (totally fantastic) husband’s wife or my (totally amazing) children’s mum. At the time I suppose I stupidly felt too guilty leaving my children to just go and have a coffee with a friend and taking a part-time job was the only way I would allow myself a little ‘me time’?
…And I am a really, really bad house wife. Really, really dreadful. My friends have feared we would all drown in a sea of washing. Luckily my husband barely notices and my family eat like Labradors (they don’t care what it is, as long as there is lots of it). Dear reader, I went back to work so I could hire a cleaner.
That said there have been plenty of times when I have thought I just don’t need this, why am I doing it ….but the good days really do outweigh the bad. Mostly it’s been a ‘lifeline’ giving me something else to think about when things were tough.
..and we need the money.
What advice would you give fellow Military spouses who want to start their own business?
Eek.. well…I have been very lucky, but I suppose I helped make that luck by grabbing every opportunity and making up what I lack in business acumen with dogmatism and balls.
- Set goals (without them how will you know you’re winning?)
- You have to blow your own trumpet. No British reserve here.
- Ask yourself the hard questions and be honest. Is there really a need for your business? Do you have time? Do you have the emotional resolve? What do you need to get out of it? Turning a hobby into a business, may just ruin a hobby.
- Don’t be proud. Ask questions and take help and advice from anyone who will give it. Adopt what works for you.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things. Who knows what hidden talents you might discover?
- Be prepared. Things will get hard. You will want to give up.
- Don’t expect to get it right first time. I made loads of mistakes and the perfectionist in me found this hard to live with, but real life will get in the way sometimes and you just have to muddle through.
- Don’t be afraid to be cheeky. If you don’t ask you don’t get.
- Plan, Plan, Plan…then amend the Plan again
- Criticism is really useful. Praise feels great, criticism makes you better.
- Be kind to yourself. Being a ‘working military wife’ doesn’t somehow make you develop superpowers. Accepting that things will happen that are beyond your control is important for your own sanity.
- Be realistic. I am aware that at times my ‘need’ to work has caused unnecessary problems for my family, without much financial gain. Military Life is hard enough without giving yourself added pressure if your focus needs to be other things.
- Hire a cleaner