From International Horse Groom to Photographer, Jo Robbens
Hi, and welcome to The Second Chapter of the podcast where Kristin Duffy, the founder and producer behind Slackline Productions, (that's me!) talks to women who started the second, third, or even fourth or fifth chapter in their lives and careers after the age of 35. If you're enjoying The Second Chapter, remember to leave us a rating a review. It helps others to find us and then they can enjoy it, too. This week, I'm joined by Jo Robbins. Jo spent her life running- from her home, from relationships, from commitment. Her early escapes led her to grooming horses in Italy and Australia. But through finally finding love and starting a family, she learned to stop running and started a new life
as a photographer. Hi, Jo. Thanks for joining me today. How are you?
I'm very well. Thank you. How are you doing? Yeah, I'm
doing all right. Still recording from lockdown...so...
there's a light at the end of the tunnel, though I'm feeling I'm just not looking at the news and just keep looking forward and going things just gonna change? And is there ever going to be quite the same as they were once upon a time? But maybe that's not a bad thing?
It's true. I've had a lot of conversations about are we going to go back to this what we call normal? Or can we go back to something maybe a little bit better. So you never know, we might have learned something over the last year. God. I hope over last year I've learned something.
I don't think any of us envisioned having to go through a pandemic in our lifetime. Just that was one that was sprung on everybody.
I remember when we first went into the initial lockdown kind of saying, Okay, I'm really going to settle down and just say, it's going to be at least till the end of May. If I say it's till the end of May, and then it's less time, then I'll be fine. was so optimistic. And I thought I was being a pessimist.
Yeah, I know. We would just be going away in the May I think my with my best friend and her family. And she said, Oh God, do you think we're going to be able to go and no problems? It's going to be fine. Don't worry. It's nothing. Oh, oops. Didn't quite turn out to be nothing, did it?
None of us want to talk about pandemic... none of us want to. And then always the conversation starts with pandemic, Nobody wants to listen to that. We're all living it.
Yeah. It's the corona coaster, people. We're done with it. Thank you very much. Yes,
we won't, we will talk about times that did not involve living only in our houses. So you're here because you've had some interesting life and career changes. And I want to talk about all of that. You left home at 16. Tell me more about that.
I've always been, I was brought up very, to be very independent. And as a family, the roles in the family, I took on quite a big role. As far as looking after there was there were four of us four kids, and I've always taken on, I've taken on a mum role. And I do that it's just part of my DNA. I love looking after people. The reason I left home at 16 is because my mum and dad got divorced, or they separated. And about a year from about eight years old. It wasn't a very nice place to be. So when I got to the age of 16, being so fiercely independent and having had to look after myself and three other siblings I didn't do at all my mom did an amazing job, but I'm just a very strong character. So to call on lots of responsibility, just fiercely independent. Always have been, always will be. So yeah, so 16 I was just very much Okay, I need an out here because I can't keep doing this. And I got an opportunity. And I had a very inspirational teacher, English teacher at school. And I loved horses. So I went to be a working pupil at a one of the top showing yards in the UK. So packed my bags, and we're about half an hour, 40 minutes away from home. And I went to live on the yard. And that was just Yeah, I was happy as Larry had the horses, the horses there were incredible. It was a top yard. I was getting top instruction. It was a tough place to work, do you Everything was done to the highest level. And so I work very hard there. But yeah, I just felt that actually, at 16 I had the tools I needed to go and go to go alone. So I just made that choice because just home wasn't great.
Was it something that you'd grown up around horses or like you said this English teacher was really inspirational
as a kid I be always down at the stables over the weekends and helping out and and it was that was always my way of getting away helping take out rides and just getting involved but spent an awful lot of time with horses. So when I started talking to my English teacher, and she knew the ramseys who ran the yard and yes, he introduced me and they had an opening there. So it just it was I think hand on heart It was probably okay this is a way out because I didn't want to go into further into education. It was that simple.
You don't take psychoanalyse yourself at 16 and go, why am I doing this? But given the opportunity to do something, I think we all have this sort of childhood dream of being around horses. I think I say we all maybe not. But I know a lot of people that had that kind of dream. Absolutely. The surface level is I get to go work with horses, but somewhere deeper as well. I think I get out. Yeah,
but it was just that independence. That was a bigger, bigger drive, it was the ability to more than look after myself. And it was Yeah, it was an opportunity. And it was an adventure who gets to move out 16 and have their own place, although it was a mobile home at the time that there's something in that and to go to the top shows in the UK, to have all that amazing experience. There was definitely that involved with it, for sure.
And with I think at 16, we definitely think we are older than we actually are more mature. I know I was very mature at 16. But looking back, it's like I was 16 I didn't think I was a kid.
I was ready to take on the world.
Oh, yeah, no, in hindsight, it's a great thing, isn't it? And you think why make that choice to go out into the big wide world when you can be at home and have the luxuries of the home comfort? It just seems to me i'm i've always gone with my gut. And I just went this is a great opportunity. Why not one adventure, worst case scenario, I come back.
And that led you to becoming a riding instructor. And ultimately, I guess the first international move.
Yeah, it's a serial reinventing. You've got to hear so yeah. So right. So from there, I met a gentlemen. And we moved to a riding school. And I've taught riding and from there, there are themes that go through my career journey and why I've made decisions, but I love looking after the horses, I think with the horses as well, I love I'm an outdoor person, and I just love being outdoors. And so when I went to teach riding people, I'm a people, person love looking after people and things, but I love teaching, it really gets me excited. And we'll come on to what I'm doing now because I've integrated teaching to that, because I just love it.
It's funny to hear somebody say I love teaching, but not but
not in the classroom now, not in the classroom. But I love I think that the teaching element of it is and I think this goes throughout my career and different roles and things that I've done, but the heart of it is actually I love bringing the very best out in people. I love spotting talents and going okay, let's How can I support you in growing that? How can I help you? or How can I help that person that's in front of me develop confidence, develop a new skill, develop whatever it is, how can I encourage them? And that's what I think I loved about the writing. Although I was quite a strict teacher Actually, I remember my peoples you same culture is gonna start shouting at us again. But then when you see somebody develop a skill, it's really exciting and to see them growing confidence in something. Yeah, I find it really inspiring. Yeah, I did that for a while. Then I moved to Italy, because why not? There was an opportunity and at the time, there were a lot of English grooms working out in Italy because we were great grooms. So yeah, I went to work for one of the International showjumpers based in North Italy ratio, which is just by Lake Garda and I was there for three years. That nice, yeah, that was lovely. And the food. Insane. I think that is the one thing I miss about Italy is the food. It was incredible. But that was was an experience. We were based in Italy, but we would travel to we went to Hungary, France, Germany, Austria. We travelled Europe can talk about Italy alone to ages to very funny stories from there, but that that was amazing as well to be able to travel around Europe with horses. We did lots of national shows, as well as the international shows. And it was during the showjumping season. We were away from the yard every weekend. But again, I just love I love being outdoors. I don't mind getting my hands dirty. Yeah, I just love it. And horses, just you can't go wrong with horses.
I have to say I'm looking for a good excuse to live in Italy. He's looking for that excuse. I just love it. And like you said the food I think, kid you want to live a place just because such a glutton for the food. Yeah, I can see grabbing that opportunity.
It was just incredible. It really was. And it's tough working when you're looking after showjumpers. I had six horses. There were two riders, and I had six horses that I'd have at home. That was you didn't there was no one else there to look after them. You're there. You have two weeks off a year, if you're lucky, where I'd come home. So I was away for three years and it was very much Yeah, you're there. Because if you're not there, then who looks after those. So for chronology purposes, at this point,
what kind of age frame are we talking about?
I was 20 to 23. That's
Yeah, just also out of curiosity. If you're working with this Sort of upper echelon of showjumping, you're in this kind of elite world or this very elite world, but I can't imagine that as a groom you were living this elite lifestyle. So what was the lifestyle like being around all of this wealth but as more of a an employee?
Yeah, I think that gentleman that I was working for his father owned all of the dairy cows, for like northern Italy, he was Oh, yeah, no, we were talking, there was plenty of money. To give you an example, the horses that I were looking at was looking after they were purchased for a million pounds. They were not cheap horses. And that in itself brings a lot of you have to whenever you're arriving there might be working them in before a show. And you're just like, please don't trip don't fall, don't they didn't go out in the field because they might hurt themselves, or we had lots of on that now, all the memories are coming back. But yeah, it was a tough life or you're working as a groom, you're ultimately shovelling poop, but also the other side of it, you get to work with some of the top trainers that there are because obviously money is no object for them. And the horses didn't want for anything. You always had the best supplies. So from that perspective, it was not a bad place to be. And from definitely moving up from a mobile home. We lived on the yard and there were three grooms accommodations and three groom's flats. And they were very nice. They were they were two bedroom flats on the yard. You're looking out on to beautiful landscape. It was not a bad place to be. But yeah, it's tough when you're on the road all the time. We also had a big horse horse, lorry. And that had that was like a mobile caravan. But again, we weren't lacking anything. And it was just a mobile lifestyle.
So why'd you leave? Oh,
why did I leave? Another of my broken relationships. I had I moved to Italy with with the gentleman. And we got engaged that yeah, that didn't pan out. And I needed to go and get a bit of a sense here. I like to run. I really stopped running when I got married. But I was a runner. So I'd go right. Okay, let's just upstairs and that was just my default when it got to a point where I wasn't it wasn't quite going right or I just wasn't fazed by upping sticks and starting again. So I decided to come home and I went and moved back in with Mum, who I was with mum for and I don't know about anybody else who's been away and then moves back home when your first is independent Ziad that was never going to be a long term viewpoint.
It's funny because my partner gives me a hard time when I'm with my mom. Now I turned back into a teenager very quickly. Because my mom and I are fast friends, we get along so well, but I could not go back now or even then it becomes this kind of like,
I definitely like 14 years old again. Even just a couple of weeks. It's I'm so sad to leave, but I can't stay
So I just did I did just that. I decided I was like what where do I go now? What do I do now? And so I went to Australia for a year. Yeah, I do. I really do. To do that. I just make a decision. That's what happens if don't mess around. maida. That's what I'm going to go and do. So I did that. So I jumped on a plane and landed in Sydney. And we had a family friend over there. And he scooped me up from the airport and we went to a place called straddie North stradbroke island which is just off the coast of Brisbane and beautiful amazing place. So you can imagine coming from there to landing in this beautiful Australian kind of beach is was was incredible. I was like good decision Joe
said travelling opportunity or did you work while you were there? Or
I was was a bit of both it's it was on a working holiday visa so you're only allowed to work certain times I went did what I knew which was going I found myself a yard and went to go and work there and it was incredible to see very different from going from million pound horses to horses that they're out in the field and to watch them work as a hired was was incredible to see the real raw horses in the wild. Let's and some of them really went wild. That in itself was incredible. And then yeah, then I you only were allowed to work for a specific length of time on the visa that I had. So yeah, I went to Sydney I stayed in Sydney for about four months in manly and did temp work. I had some funny roles there. I had stacked shelves between sit between midnight did the night shift six until no 12 until six in the morning that but that worked perfectly because that's when you're younger. No Yeah, this is amazing because I must have been what 2023 24 at the time they go and do that at nighttime and then beyond the beach by 1112 o'clock. You can live on very little sleep right at that age. I was seeming great and I have worked in pharmaceutical factories packing, athlete's foot cream, just really mindless jobs that I loved it
when you said temp work though, because I'm thinking I've done temp work, but it's always been like office kind of stuff. So my stories are like they put me in front of this switchboard with 26 lines. And actually, that did happen once that there was about 26 lines, and it was a health service. So I was like, I could be killing people because I don't
know how to connect this.
So people would call, like, I was convinced that everyone that I did not connect properly was going to die.
Oh, bless you, that was probably
never done. I have lasted and held out in so many jobs that were so stressful and so terrible. But I honestly think that lasted maybe a day or two and I don't remember if maybe it was supposed to be a week and I did last the week, but I never wanted to do anything like that.
Well, I don't blame you.
So I'm picturing you in an office and instead you're packing athlete's foot cream
and working in pharmacies who like putting packing the tablets but it was amazing again, like I just I find myself in these places. And I'm sat there with three four kind of call them like grandmas because they just were so I just sit there that just come in and chat away. Doesn't matter who people are just and listening to their stories but it was just mindless stuff I didn't need to there was no pressure anywhere. It was just I'm doing this because it's very it's manual. It's not I don't have to think about it.
Presumably you had only a visa that lasted so long. Was it another I'm running? Or was it I have to go home though it
I had to go home. I think there was an element of it was time to go home because I however messed up family is there still family and I was out there on my own and I needed to come home and see everyone, which is ironic now because my family and now all over the world we like to get about arsenal. But now I think to answer your question, I yeah, I came home because it was my visa was up
is this when quote unquote, real life starts. Not that it's not all real life. There's that moment when you're like, I have to go home. Now what?
Yeah, I came home and I went, Okay, I need a career, I need to be generating some money. Like I can't keep working in temp that do temporary roles and things like that. That was exactly what I needed at the time. But then was very much Okay, so what do I do now, because I wanted a career, I wanted to earn money, and quite frankly, working with the horses, although it's lovely, and it's great. The pay isn't great. And as far as having time off and developing. It's a very kind of, particularly in the sort of the showing world and the groom world. It is a very tight knit community. And yeah, I just said to myself, no, I need to get a career.
Were there challenges to that? Because you'd been travelling so much, because I think it's a bit different here. In the States. It's like you finish whatever schooling you do, and you're expected to go immediately into a job. There's not this idea that you can travel or gap year or whatever, but you spend spent now what, eight years or something travelling and having different jobs. And so are there challenges around the fact that you hadn't really had an education past 16. And there was all this travel,
I didn't go to university, but I'd tell you what, I did go to the University of life, and that is going to teach you as much. It's mindset, everything It really is. And the more and more I know, I'm running my own business, it is mindset. It's what you want and why and how you go about it. And no, I didn't have quote unquote, qualifications that did not stop me. Never did stop me. In fact, towards the end of my office based career, I was generating as much money as my husband and son. So I didn't have didn't go to university didn't need to did that's just not how my path went and do not get me wrong. There are times when I thought actually have I missed a trick here. Have I made this more difficult for myself because I don't have a degree or you know this, but then surely you look for a solution. And that's, that's how I operate. When I came back and went right. I need to I need to have a need to get a career. I will I went into I got myself an office manager role. I just temped and I went right. And that was enabled and I will always be grateful. When I arrived in Australia. The lady that looks after me sad called Kara Woodhouse and I will be forever grateful for what she did. She said to me, you're going down, you're going down, whilst you're bumming around and having fun and doing all that you will go and learn to touch type and you will go and learn office skills, whether you use them or not. You're going to go and do it and I was like, okay, so I did. I learned how to touch type. I learned how to, you know, word and all that sort of stuff. So I went into an office I started as an office manager. Actually I didn't I started as an administrator at a construction firm and then within not too long. I was then promoted to office manager and then it went from There, I just kept seeing opportunities and building them. I went to work in a marketing agency, a financial marketing agency. And again, I started, I started as an account manager went up from account manager to account director worked there for a while, went into burnout. That's the reason I left there. Because I really was in burnout. And I do it to myself, I'm learning when I need to start. But I do have this thing of I go so hard. And then I'm like, Oh, no, maybe I've got a bit too hard now. So then I went to New Zealand. And the reason I came back from New Zealand was because my husband flew over. And not he wasn't my husband, then my husband to be flew over and asked me to marry him, which is why I came back.
I have to backtrack a little bit. Because Firstly, the thing that one thing I've learned, I've learned a lot of things during this podcast and through my own life, but what you said about having a kind of different paths, I think we all have people think that there's one path. And what is really interesting about everyone that I've spoken with is that none of the paths are the same. They're the people that go to school, because their parents say they have to, and they still end up 20 years down the line miserable and doing something else, because it's never what they wanted. Or they're the people that say I didn't choose to do it the traditional way. And I went through this and this, and it ultimately led me to this, which I think is fascinating. But there's also this person sometimes you mentioned Carol, yeah, there's this kind of person that steps in. And for whatever reason, they give that one little piece of advice that kind of influences a path or is just helpful when you need it most. But also you said, Oh, my husband to be came over and proposed that I came back. I need to know a little bit more about this. I was with somebody that we cared about each other enough that we wanted to get married, but yet
Oh my god. So we've got enough time to cover that one.
Okay. Brief bullet point.
Brief bullet points was I met my husband in the pub in O'Neill's and at the time, I'd come out of, obviously, my relationship with a guy that was going to get married ultimately, so I was not in a good place as far as like relationships or men. I just wasn't. So we came very good friends, very good friends. And I guess then that kind of went into there. But then we were like, special friends. But I refuse to commit
people that are only hearing this and not seeing it on video. She's doing some air quotes around
friends, casual friends, he come out of a relationship. I was at a relationship. We just weren't in a space. And when they say Timing is everything. It really was in our case, and I think we must have again, Miss independent here. Refusing I don't need a boyfriend. No need boyfriend for I'm doing what I'm doing. I'm very busy lady. I can't be doing with any of that. But I think we might have gone out for a week. And then I dumped him because I was like, No, I can't No, I just don't need a boyfriend. I just have no. So anyway, but then we so we split and we go for six months and not talk to each other or see each other. But then whenever we got back together, it was just always so right. So I at this point went right. Okay. I think it was after New Year's Eve. And I was Yeah, I'd said I'm going to New Zealand because I wasn't in a relationship there. I must have been over in New Zealand for about I think it was about six months. And we were on the phone the entire time talking. And
at that point in time. It's it's not like international dialling plans on a mobile phone, either. It's
a no. And you have to go down and by the International card that would give you cheaper minute. And it was really it was bizarre because we again, we're very different people he grew up in and around Sunningdale and their family. They're not travellers. They're not independent. They're very exceptionally family orientated and lovely. They're kind of in the village. They live in the village. That's where mum and dad have been forever. Whereas I'm jetting off left and centre and they're just like, Who is this woman that has our son is completely besotted with. And I think this is kind of a nigma guy who is this because he was on the phone to everyone was saying, just go, will you just go and see this woman. So he flew out to New Zealand and very kindly took me to Fiji for two weeks, which was very nice. Yeah. slimming event.
Wait, you're like, maybe I could be with this guy.
All of a sudden, I'm like, Yes, this could work. This could this could actually work very well. Indeed. I said to him the day he was flying home. I was like, What would you say if I came back with you? And we knew at that point, so I think we I said that he was flying out the next day. And that was about three o'clock in the afternoon. And we had my flights booked back at five o'clock that afternoon. Yeah, flew back with him. still hadn't proposed at this time because he wanted to ask my dad which was the right thing to do. And my dad was very was delighted that he did ask him but the rest is history. far as that goes, I'm glad I asked because
that is definitely a story. So was there any connection back here in the UK? And was there a connection to come back into a job? Or was it starting yet again,
I'm starting yet again. Because at the time, I Steve had a job. And I was footloose and fancy free, and it was pretty okay. I'll just go and talk to the recruitment agencies and see what temporary work there is office space this time, and I worked for some of the big agencies up in town, we then we got married, but I've been doing temp work up until we kind of got married. And then I fell pregnant with my eldest. Yeah, I have my eldest about a year after we got married, he was born at 26 weeks. So that was a bit scary.
How small is a 26 week old,
though, to give you an indication, when he was born, he was two pounds two when he was born, and his entire hand fit in my wedding band. Imagine Oh, his whole hand. I have a picture of his hand in my wedding bands just to it. He was tiny. So he spent three months in the neonatal unit. And that was, yeah, that was tough. That was tough. So yeah, we had William and but again, having being so resourceful in the neonatal world of really interesting, but I put a very project my project management hat on because it was my way of coping. But he just didn't you never know when you're going into a neonatal unit. What's going to happen? I could call in the morning, or I could call it say, I'd be up at three o'clock anyway, express thing I'd call then. And he's absolutely fine. A call just before I go to the hospital every morning at seven, absolutely fine. But between leaving here and getting to the hospital, he's crashed. He's gone blue, we've lost him. We bring an impact. It was it's a roller coaster. It's a total roller coaster. And because they're just too tiny. They shouldn't be here. But he's incredible now. So he's a little miracle. That one? Yeah. So then. So that was Yeah, that was a really tough time. But again, I was at that point working, I'd started working for a marketing agency in just in one's worth. And it was my previous agency career had been in financial marketing. And there was something to me, I couldn't market mortgages or credit cards, I couldn't encourage people to get into debt, which is ultimately you know, what you're doing, if you're marketing something, you're saying, Okay, how about you take out another credit card, I used it, one of the accounts I worked on was a credit card, I couldn't, there was just nothing that was filling my soul with warmth, about selling somebody a product that that didn't feel right to me. So I was lucky enough to have, again, looking for sort of temporary work because I was still having come back from New Zealand. Obviously, I was just temping having or contracting, which was working. And then so I found this marketing agency. And they, it was an education specialist. So we were creating educational content for use in the classrooms. And working with sort of the big CSR departments in big corporates in town. So one of my biggest clients was sky, they have an incredible learning facility at their studios. So we created all the content to go in there. And we marketed it to schools. So it was really, it was so valuable, because it was again, I could go in there, see how the learning and the teaching bit comes in. That's because that's it was all about seeing kids and teaching kids soft skills, like confidence. And they go into these studios and work as a team was all like curriculum linked, which justified them coming into the classroom. But ultimately, they were Skye's objectives were to to build the skills in, in, in children. And so it felt in that role. I loved working for that marketing agency, because it was all about taking big budgets from big corporates, turning that into stuff that's really going to impact kids and help kids Oh, I do that I do work at that agency to be able to have such a positive impact and just know that what you're working on is helping children to learn and develop skills was amazing. I don't think I would have stayed there long or have moved into the role that I did there. If I didn't feel so passionately about it. But to see the impacts that the agency's work was having on schoolchildren was was always my biggest buzz and was why I stayed there so long. And it was from there that I moved. I think I started there as an account director. I went off to have my second child and then I came back and towards the end of that I was running as client service director and I was running a team 28 running the accounts department I sat on the board. I was just so excited by it because it meant I knew I was doing some goods loved it until until you are working on pitches until four in the morning. You You're getting back into the office half past nine, you're then running a department and pitching business and wearing so many hats, and coming home to a child that's still on oxygen. And Something's got to give. Something had to give. Before I gave. I was near breaking point. And I had to address it. I had to stop. I had to give up something because the kids weren't getting me. And the business wasn't getting me because I was it was just all too much. So I said, Stop.
How long had you gone on that way? How old were your kids at this point?
They would have been about William would have been six and Henry four. Yeah, I would say probably until they were Yeah, three and three and five. I'm going back. But it's about that age where William was at a primary school. And Henry hadn't quite started primary school. When I left,
see said stop.
I said enough. So I said enough. And I took a year out, she was quite exciting to spend some time with my boys. And it was the best decision because you don't make a decision like that lightly. from a financial perspective. Obviously, there's pretty big implications on that. But I knew it was the right decision. When I went to the school gate about a week after I'd finished work. And the teacher says to me, is something happened at home? Or is it something changed for William because because he's a completely different child, he is so much happier, he's so much more confident. And I was like, okay, that's priceless.
At this point, you decide that you need to carve a career around, being able to spend time with our boys. And as much as it's about the family time, it sounds like it was about you too, because your own mental health and your own drive was driving you to the point that you needed, you needed to say stuff. How did you get to this point where you're owning your own business and finding a life that you could have it all with family and I hate that term? Have it all that's not the right term. But yeah, where you can have the balance that you need it,
I took six months where I did nothing and got myself well, is what I did, I think I put on an exceptional amount of weight because I was eating to stay awake. And so I took six months to get myself Wow. And just just to go stop this is to get myself well, is what I did. I then started to explore what I might do. And my husband for a minute suggested that I just get a little job that would would just tide me over.
Doesn't sound like your personality at all.
Thank you. I was like I'm sorry. I was like… does my husband actually know me?!
I was gonna say does he know… had he did he had he met you at this point?
I think he might have still been Fiji not entirely sure. But he suggested that might be the safest route. I think because that's probably the one of the biggest differences is I'm I'm anything that's safe. I'm like, let's just try it. If we don't if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. But it will work. When I was like I had with all my travelling, I was sorting through all of my photographs that I take in and in actually I've done loads of in between everything else that I've done. I've always had a passion for photography, I think that came from my father, he cuz again, he was very, he was very family orientated. And he's a bit like that he was a bit like a godfather character. I'm not sure that's a good thing. But and so he, they won't be able to see this. But like behind me, these are all our kind of relatives. So my father kept all the old family photographs, and framed them all beautifully. See. And then when I realised I have album upon album that I've put together from all of the images that I've kept from all of my travels, and I've always ever had a camera in my hand. So I was like, hang on a minute, Why can I not build a business that works around my children with the skills that I have? So I did a skills audit, let's call it that and go these are the skills that I have, and how can I use them? So
I feel like skills audit to your thing because I had the question before about ucat came back and how did you find what your career path should be when you've been travelling and all over? So it does seem like you're really in touch with your I'm starting afresh What skills do I have to do what I want to be doing?
Yeah, and I think that's come from the University of life. You find yourself in situations that you've got to deal with, you're on your own and I've been in some hairy, hairy situations and I've just learned how to manage them and coat them sometimes they've come out alright others haven't. or others I've slightly more skates by but I've learned because it's been me and you have to you find yourself in a situation and it sounds dramatic. It's not it's just the way that I have learned and it's just I don't stop learning and even now, since I've set up my photography business, so much of that is about continuing to develop my skills as a photographer, as a business owner. And that's exciting. My best mate, I'll tell you, there's never a time when I'm not thinking something through to create something, even from nothing. It's necessity as much as or it has been necessity in at times my photography business. For me, it's everything best decision I've ever made. Definitely not the easiest one. But the best decision I made. Hands down,
I read an interview with you, as a local small business photographer, the struggles behind that, and how important it is for people to be supporting their local and smaller businesses, because what you do is family photography, business photography, so it really is about people, what is the benefit for somebody who's either supporting a small business or going to a smaller photographer who really is working the way you do
as a small business owner, but I find as you pour your heart and soul into your business, and I'm really lucky to work with some phenomenal small business owners, particularly locally, and I'm a small business owner, myself, and again, just part of who I am is about supporting them. And there's a thing that goes around on Facebook, this is when you buy from a small business owner or small business that only actually does a happy dance. It's so true that by supporting local businesses, not only are you supporting your local industry, your people, the families on the ground, because if my business goes well, then you know my family are happier. That's not it's not all about money. But it means that there's a much less stress in my household that the bills are all covered and everything like that. And then I think another benefit from buying from small business owners is that you get that personal service. And I can talk from it specifically from a photography business perspective, in that there are some big chains out there, just like you've got the big tescos you've got your small shops, where you've got your big, I won't name any names, you've got your big studios and your big franchises out there that then are modelled in a way that supports them having prior COVID Studios and big marketing systems behind them and all of that jazz, and they are priced exceptionally expensive for what they provide for really what they provide people. I know that when I set up my business, I did a lot of research on what sort of what types of photography could people have? What were people selling that for what were people buying it for? The reason I set up my business my way was because I don't have any Do I have no, you know, interest in having a studio my entire life, I've been happiest when I'm outdoors. And when I'm on location, and I'm not confined to an office nine o'clock in the morning until five o'clock at night, within four walls with artificial light all day. That's just not me. It's a very bespoke service that I provide my clients and I get to know them and I spend time with them before the shoot, I spend time with them. Obviously on the shoot. It's not a conveyor belt families that come through that it's okay, you've got 15 minutes in the studio time. And I am by no means, you know, saying that this is studio photography is bad. I think everybody should have the photography that their heart desires. And from my perspective, I've just shot I've been really lucky to have just shot last weekend, in fact, a wedding for a family who yes in these COVID times, but they're one of their family members was diagnosed with basically terminal cancer a week before. So they had special permissions, everything COVID tested up to the max, social distancing. But actually the power of capturing a moment and not just a pose, I'm going to stand in front of a camera and say cheese moment but to capture a document a real moment that someone can treasure is so unbelievably powerful. I wish I had more pictures of my own dad, I do you know what i would give everything I own to have more pictures of my dad. And you know, that's all well and good saying that now, but it's too late now, because he's not with us anymore.
My dad recently passed away. And he was a pretty avid photographer. But it's interesting that you say that about wishing he had more photos of your dad because he was the one always taking the photos. As an adult. I took pictures of him at every kind of fab family gathering. But when we were kids, it was always him behind the camera. A photo really does capture a memory and and interestingly, we were not ones to really have a lot of family photos taken except for the church directory. And one very specific photo that I remember it only came out every five years or something or you know, whatever. So there's one photo and it's so stiff and posed. And my sister had been ill she was literally holding a barf bag behind her. She's as pale as a sheep. It's just it's one of these kind of photos that you're talking about where I remember that we were all miserable. Somebody had been crying my sister have been throwing and there was none of this what I've seen on your website or my brother has had some photos taken with his family in a similar small business or outdoor world. And it's not these kids running around and capturing a real moment. met with a family it's we must all have our photo taken cheese get this one right guys, there's so many of us we all need.
Yeah. And I have to say them my favourite pay I did a self portrait family portrait which I set up and then ran into and that for me, everybody everyone was looking behaving except granddad, who was a pickle, but except my son, but my son the way that he's looking at me, everyone's looking at the camera except my eldest son who's turning around, and he's literally gazing at me in adoration. And it's just precious. And it's not always about capturing what somebody looks like. That's one thing. Okay, yeah, I look like this. And yes, I'd love a few less wrinkles. And we can sort all that sort of stuff out in post if necessary. But mums, get in those photos and capture those moments, because I'll tell you what, I know what my son is thinking in that picture. And I get to see it every day. And and that's for me what photography is and what I'm trying to inject into my business. There's the moment I spend time with my clients, they trust me, and then they let me in to their family and their story. And that allows me to then communicate their story because I know what I'm looking for. I'm listening to them. And then it's easy. It's easy to capture that.
So you mentioned continuing with the teaching element as well. Are you teaching photography? Yes. Okay. That was a yes. Actually, does that have anything to do with COVID times because I know that obviously, like you said, short of special permission,
you're not in a business that is easy to run it COVID times as it normally would be. So obviously, when the first lockdown came in, out of everyone went into shock there, but I was like, Whoa, okay, that means that I can't go and tape it to people. And because it I love being with people. And that was going to be a bit tough, but I'm also very, as a person, I stay within the rules, if I'm the don't find the ways I'm very happy to do. And again, I'm going to refer as my best friend again to as makes me laugh because we say different. She's like a complete pickle. But she won't mind me saying that. Whereas Don't be a pickle. If there are rules, I have to follow them. And I can't lie like an uncharted I just calling it just can't, my heart won't allow me to do the same. I was presented with some options. And when you're in a place that I've worked so hard to get to where to start from scratch. So the hardest thing for me was if I'd have gone from Okay, I'll set up a consultancy using all my marketing background contacts agency, that would actually have been a lot easier for me as far as getting it off the ground. But you're starting a business from scratch part time. That's that's hard, and particularly me that I'm like, it was gonna happen tomorrow, tell all these big dreams. I'm like, Well, why is not happens yet. That's design must be rubbish. And it's like, No,
I have no patience for my dreams.
I'm like, What do you mean, I started this business like yesterday.
And I don’t understand why it's not the number one production company or podcast.. like no it has to happen yesterday.
I have no patience. So I understand.
Wonderful, great. So you get that. So I was like, okay, the reality of it is starting a business from scratch. It's its reputation, it's awareness. It's all the good old marketing funnel. It's all of that sort of stuff, as well as setting up systems. And thankfully, through my skills audit, obviously, like the business piece of it, and financial planning and all of that. Not problem. I think most people would have looked something like this, how long have you been in business, I've got forecast target so that I've got it down the lot. And then I was like, Alright, I've now got to go out and market and find myself some clients and I've got to build my brand. And so I love all of that I have digressed a bit well recently about
it's funny because you said I said about the patience thing we were speaking the same language and then you started talking about forecasts and various types of targets and I was like,
Oh, we just stopped speaking the same language. We're talking about how the teaching and how what you did to COVID safe yourself basic so
I was looking around and go Okay, so there was the doorstep thing and and that's great, but it just didn't sit well with me I because I wasn't allowed to go and see like my in laws. So I just didn't personally I didn't feel that it was right that I was driving around walking, taking pictures of other people on doorsteps when I couldn't even see the people that would nearest and dearest to me. So I thought okay, what do I What can I do? What's in my skill set here? What can I do? And I toyed with running some beginners courses for adults. And yeah, to be honest, I've never really taken off. So I was like, okay, don't really fancy the whole adult thing. So why don't I start teaching kids online? love kids love teaching. I set up an online photography course for creative children. There's another course running in Easter holidays. And again, I was in a networking meeting and I was procrastinating about it and this amazing lady with Tim classic breakout room and I started talking about it. And by the time we'd finished in this 10 minute breakout room, she said to you now I'm going to go back into that meeting and tell everyone, you're launching a course on Monday. And I was like, right at home. And that's exactly how it happened. So there I was, I went from there to I have a lot of course content already. So I just had to sort of child find it. And yeah, so there was born my online photography course, for kids. And again, I'd love it. I love it. Because they start, they come in starting off very bit nervous, but I'm here because you know, I taking photographs. And by the end, they're like, Oh, my gosh, look, this is the picture I took. And then at the rest of everyone on zoom goes, Oh my gosh. And I always run over. And I feel like I keep I do say because it's all online. And invariably, you've got parents in the room. And the mums are usually in the background go home, yeah, quite like this, they have a go as well. So it's like a family thing happens. And I'm going to be building on that. So go forward. But there's lots of courses out there that are online. And you work through that, for me that the special thing is that they get to speak to me and we I teach them that's a bit boring, I inspire them with a skill from photographic skill, they go away, and they take their pictures, and then they send them back. And then we review them all as a group. And it works in that sort of script structure. So what I'm also trying to get the kids to do is learn how to critique and learn how to articulate and their ideas and things like that. And I just again, I just you can see, every time I talk about teaching or inspiring, I come alive, because I love it. I just love it,
you're obviously really passionate about it. And I do think because kids get cameras in their hands, whether it's through their phone, or through their parents, watch. There's all kinds of things at this point that a kid has a camera in their hands from birth, almost I like the idea that you're inspiring them to do it in a way that's thought out, as opposed to just I'm amazed at how my nieces and nephews are so fascinated with photos. And yeah, I think given the right instruction or the right inspiration, it definitely will develop into a passion as opposed to just let me take a picture. Let me see it. Let
me see it. Yeah, and that's exactly what the first session is all around learning how to tell stories through your photographs and not just taking snapshots because everyone can take snapshot, but you want your viewer to think or feel something. And so I the first course you they can do it with a mobile because it's really and the reason I did it that way was to give them the building blocks before you put a complicated tool like a DSLR into, you know, a child turns it suddenly becomes about oh my god, how do you get this to work? And that comes but once I've got those building blocks of kind of composition and light, it's all about lights. So we have a whole course on Where's your light coming from? Think about it, and how do you play. So they just build from there,
we will put your links in the show notes so that people can find you. And if they have kids that are interested in taking a photography course, for example, they know where to come. So I usually don't cheat and ask people about their quotes before we have our conversation. But I did ask you about yours. And I think now that I've spoken with you for a while, it makes a lot of sense. But would you share your quote the quote you've brought today?
Yes, my quote is, “Family is not an important thing. It's everything” because it is just as if for better or for worse had ups and downs of you as you've heard that actually push comes to shove however driven I am however ambitious I am or plain do Lally Let's face it, family is family, their family need me and
and you've managed to build your business around the fact that you wanted to spend more time with your family, but also hearing you talk about the photography, it really is about capturing the memories of other people's families. And in a way bringing them together not even the photos but bringing them together for the time with you and like you said, getting to know them. And there's something beautiful about capturing that moment in time. Yeah,
I take it as a real privilege. Whenever I'm editing any even if it's a business shot, I know our business, you know what the business owners challenges are, I know that I know that they placed their trust in me, but I just think from a family photography, you're capturing some quite intimate moments. And I'll be honest, I whenever I finished a family shoot and I load the gallery, I do the cry test. And if I cry, I know that I've done them proud.
I'm glad you found the business for you and the place that you clearly are meant to be.
Yeah, I think this is me. I'm not running anymore. This is me. This is this is who I am. I know that this is what I'm supposed to do. So no, I feel very privileged, however tough. It's you know, the challenges because it's tough being a small business owner or credit to every single one of them out there, support them.
I absolutely agree. It's been a privilege getting to hear your story and getting to know you bit more.
You're more than welcome. Thank you so much for your time..
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To see Jo's work, visit:
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On The Second Chapter, founder of Slackline Productions, Kristin Duffy, chats with women who started the second (or third… or fifth!) chapter in their careers and lives, after 35. You’ll find inspiring stories, have a few laughs, and maybe even be motivated to turn the page on your own second chapter!
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