Belinda Bullock’s motivation for starting her own business was pretty grim. Covid had forced her into redundancy from Air New Zealand and her husband David, a pilot on the same international aircraft couldn’t work when he developed melanoma.
What had started as a hobby, quickly catapulted into a business and Belinda Bullock Photography was born.
Belinda needed to hit the ground running while her husband went through $150,000 of treatment, not funded in New Zealand. She decided she needed some practical business advice to support what she describes as her “erratic” creativity!
Belinda went to the Chamber Mentors programme and was matched with Mark Sweeney, a highly experienced specialist with Syon Investments for 11 years.
“From the beginning Mark was really analytical, and believed in putting processes in place,” says Belinda. “We focused on who I was, what I was selling, analysing the amount of time I spent, and having a realistic budget.”
The budget was not just for finances. It included Belinda’s time, which she was asked to track through a continuous app on her phone so Mark could see exactly how she was spending her day - frustrating to begin with, but worth it in the long run.
Mark asked Belinda to identify just what she was about.
“That wasn’t clear at the start. I loved all areas of photography and I was all over the place with my prices,” says Belinda.
Belinda’s offer covers maternity, children’s dance, headshots, weddings and her now very firm passion - boudoir photography, an intimate, romantic form of photography.
“Boudoir photography has not been popular but made a resurgence during Covid. Women needed a lift, and are learning to love themselves again,” Belinda says.
She started by photographing friends from Air New Zealand for free, to build a reputation and then after seeing how good it made the women feel, she became hooked. “I want to build an army of women who know how beautiful they look, because they were photographed by me.”
Belinda says there are “a lot of dodgy people” in the industry and her plan is to emerge as someone people can trust. To do that she has made videos about herself, addressing common concerns.
Mark has worked hard to boost Belinda’s marketing. For example, she started a private Facebook page where women could talk about the photography and their feelings generally. On her open page, she advertised for models and Mark pushed for conversion into clients.
Website and Facebook analytics were encouraged to measure results and Mark has also asked Belinda to out-source things like website and social media management as soon as she has built her own understanding of the platforms. This will allow her to step away and simply monitor performance herself. She also is working on outsourcing editing.
Another key takeaway from her mentor is his encouragement for short, medium and long-term planning.
“He asked me to look ahead. For example, if I want to sell parts of the business, they need to be unique. Do I want to teach or eventually franchise? We are always looking ahead to keep options open.” At the moment Belinda shares that she wants to be the best boudoir photographer in New Zealand, but she also has an interest in teaching
Both agree she needs to focus on what makes the most money, but also that her heart is important as well. “Mark is about balance and thinking outside the box.”
Belinda warns new business startups to talk to family and friends when they start. “For the first couple of months you can’t see the wood from the trees – you need to have a plan that involves family and friends. And then, you need to bring in a Chamber Mentor. I can’t thank the programme enough. Mark has truly guided my business in the right direction. I’ve learnt so much more than I thought I would.”
So far, her business journey has been incredibly rewarding but certainly not without it’s trying moments.
“But if it was easy, everyone would do it, right?” she adds.