Sometimes you look at people and think ‘How do they do it all?’. Leah Ladson, of Leah Ladson Photography is one of those people. She runs her own successful photography business, working in different spaces–weddings, portraits as well as commercial work.
Her business is flying, with more inquiries than she has days to shoot. She juggles this while also bringing up her two girls, Missy, six, and Audrey, three; along with her husband Dez, who also runs his own business. Leah has also created and fostered a supportive network for other women who run their own small businesses in Bendigo, in regional Victoria, and mentors budding photographers. Phew! We chatted to Leah to find out a bit more.
Ampjar: Leah, thanks for taking the time. Can you tell us about what you do?
Leah: I’m a photographer. In the past two years I’ve found my niche in business branding photography, with mostly female-led businesses. Basically any imagery that’s needed for websites or social media for any kind of business–headshots, flat lays, lifestyle, product.
Ampjar: Why did you get into photography?
Leah: It sounds so corny but I think I was just always supposed to do it. I can remember being as young as six when I used to blink and pretend I was taking photos. I still do it actually!
Then when I was about 10 Mum let me use a Fujika 10, or whatever it was, which was a film camera.
Ampjar: You say ‘whatever it was’, but I bet that’s exactly the make and brand it was!?
Leah: Yeah, absolutely. I would take photos and develop the films. My first ever job I was only 14 and I walked into a camera shop in Bendigo and apparently he was blown away with me so he gave me a job. I used to work three hours every Saturday and earnt $18. I’d spend all my money on getting new film or developing film.
Ampjar: So did your career as a photographer just continue from there?
Leah: I shot my first wedding in 2008 but I was just doing it as a hobby back then. I went to uni and got a degree in graphic design but then actually started working in construction admin. A friend who owned a local building company needed a receptionist for two weeks, I stayed there for three years, and I got really good at what I was doing–then ten years later I was still in construction!
Ampjar: Do you think there were things in that job that prepared you for running your business?
Leah: Organization was a huge thing. I am a really organized person anyway but in my construction job I created a whole heap of systems and I’ve definitely taken some of that on to my business now.
Ampjar: Like many people we meet, you really kicked off your business while on maternity leave. Tell us a bit about that.
Leah: I registered my business name in 2012 when I went on maternity leave with my first daughter and then I went back to my day job in construction. I really regretted going back so early with her. So, when I had my second daughter in 2015 I was like, right I’ve got 12 months. I’m going to give it a really good crack and if it works it works, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. And it did.
Another big factor that played into that decision was that my dad had passed away when my first daughter was two years old and so I kind of changed my way of thinking a bit, in that life is really short, do what you want to do. If it didn’t work, it didn’t work, but I just wanted to at least try.
Pete: What’s the balance of your time between weddings, commercial and family portraits?
Leah: Well, it’s funny because since I’ve been doing commercial work, I always get asked if still do weddings, but I’m doing the same, if not more weddings. I’ve always struggled with the idea of being able to show that I can stay relevant in all areas while saying ‘I do weddings, I do families, and I do commercial’. But I don’t want to stop doing commercial, I don’t want to stop doing weddings, and I don’t want to stop doing families. I’m just doing what I like doing. There is no real plan behind it. I used to do newborns and I found out really quickly that I didn’t like working with them!
Ampjar: How does it work for you, juggling running your own business and working from home, especially with a young family?
Leah: I’m getting more inquiries than I can handle, it is tempting to say yes to everything and especially if they’re really good opportunities but I need to keep reminding myself of my why, why I’ve started my business and the main reason there is so I could spend time with my kids.
I’d really like to just try and keep the balance that I’ve got at the moment and hang out with them for the next couple of years until they’re both at school and then see what happens. So, I’ve put some rules in place for myself and I try and only travel once per month (to Melbourne).
My daughter goes to daycare three days a week and I work from home those days.
Ampjar: Do you have an office at home?
Leah: Yeah, just a little office at the front of the house and I’ve just got all my favorite things. I’ve got my dad’s old bookshelf in there with all of his books which is really nice and I just look out over beautiful paddocks… I’m really strict about working at home too. People ask me about putting on a cheeky load of washing or cleaning up the house. But I’ve got my blinkers on. When I’m working I’m working. I’m only working three days a week so I just need to make that time count and the mess can wait.
Ampjar: Your Instagram and Facebook are quite active. What’s your approach to marketing and social media?
Leah: I wing it. I have no idea why I’m constantly booked out. I honestly don’t. The only thing I can kind of see is that I’ve subconsciously made myself the brand, and I think people like that because it kind of humanizes it.
Ampjar: Did you go and get any training to help you with doing what you do now?
Leah: A real catalyst for me starting commercial photography was The Digital Picnic. Cherie (owner of The Digital Picnic) came and did a class in Bendigo and I just absorbed everything and then like a little nerd I stayed behind and I had my list of questions and she stayed back and answered them all for me. She’s become a really good friend now.
I also have a group of friends; Issy from Seriously Milestones, Emma from Happy Hands Happy Heart, and Morgan from Slightly Shirtee, we talk every day in a group chat and they’re just the best supporters of what I do. We all started around the same time and all found our feet at the same time. I’ve got friends who are not in the business scene and one in particular, she has been amazing to me, but I don’t think you can get it how time consuming and how ‘on’ you always have to be unless you’ve actually done it.
Ampjar: And your business literally shares your name, can you tell us about some of the opportunities and challenges with that?
Leah: I’ve built this name or brand for myself and I’m able to branch off into the educational side of things like mentoring and workshops, and I’m already trusted as, I guess, somewhat of an expert in that field because of humanizing my brand that way.
Then, on the other hand, I think if I had another photographer on the team and you booked with ‘Leah Ladson Photography’ I feel people would be disappointed if I didn’t turn up, but that’s something that I’ll focus on later when like both the girls are at school and I’ve got more time to scale.
Ampjar: So, tell me about the Bendigo community, were you born and bred there?
Leah: I moved to Bendigo when I was 13, but before then I grew up in a cute little town called Talbot (an hour from Bendigo). So, I was basically born and bred Bendigo–I absolutely love it.
Pete: There are so many cool brands coming out of Bendigo–what’s in the water there?
Leah: There are so many creatives in Bendigo it’s absolutely amazing. There are heaps cool businesses, so I started a group called ‘Girls From The Go’ a couple of years ago. It started as a hashtag, something cute and a way to pool our images and work together on Instagram.
Then I created a Facebook group. Currently, there are over 100 members. We catch up probably once a quarter but also you can ask for advice or use the members as a sounding board. It’s really nice to see all the connections forming. I’ve had some really beautiful comments about how it has changed people’s lives, as being a sole trader is sort of isolating.
Ampjar: And being in a country town it makes it potentially harder as well. I think that if you go into it with the thinking ‘This is not a zero-sum game’, that others don’t have to lose for you to win.
Leah: Yes! Community over competition every day.
And to finish off, our Quick Fire Five:
Ampjar: What’s your website built with, and do you like it?
Leah: Showit. It’s a new and emerging kind of website platform that is based I think mainly for photographers but also creatives.
Ampjar: Do you have a favorite work app?
Leah: Is Instagram too obvious?
Ampjar: You’ve got a big follower base on Instagram. Is there one thing that was the catalyst of strong growth?
Leah: No, not really. I’ve just been really consistent. I haven’t had any like massive quick growth periods. I started at the end of 2015 I had 215 followers–it’s just been slow and steady.
Ampjar: And how many unread emails do you have in your inbox?
Leah: One. I’m right on top of my notifications, and having one is painful to me!
Pete: Now, we have a screenshot of your phone home screen. Is there anything you want to explain?
Leah: On the first page I’ve just got phone messages and contacts. I don’t even really use the music. I’m pretty boring, hey. Then page two is like all marketing and my business. Zero is my accounting and then apps that I use, like Google Analytics and Mailchimp.
Thanks for your time Leah!
A snapshot of just a few of the things we learned from Leah:
- Community over competition Leah is a big advocate of supporting others and building up small businesses around her. Others don’t need to fail for you to succeed!
- You can learn as you go Leah happily says that when it comes to marketing and social media, for some of the time she is winging it. You might not have all the answers straight away but persistence pays.
- Back yourself Of starting her business during maternity leave, Leah said “I’m going to give it a really good crack and if it works it works, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. And it did”.