Committed to the Business and Each Other: An Interview with Colin Murdoch Studio
Being in business with a partner or family member can work brilliantly, but it can also be extremely challenging. I specialise in working with couples and family businesses and I’m fascinated how the relationship dynamics can make or break a business.
I’m thrilled the introduce my new Committed to the Business and Each Other series. Each month I’ll be speaking to a couple or family who are in business together to find out what they feel is the secret to their success.
Today I’m speaking to Colin and Heather of Colin Murdoch Studio, a husband and wife team from Skipton, North Yorkshire. I’m very pleased that Colin and Heather agreed to be my first interviewees, especially as they had so many interesting thoughts to share.
Elevator pitch time! Please tell us about your business. Heather: We’re a husband and wife photography team, mainly providing wedding and portrait/lifestyle photography, with a little commercial work thrown in from time to time. We’re based in Skipton, North Yorkshire and work throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire, as well as further afield (we’ll go anywhere for a good wedding!)
Thinking right back to the beginning, what prompted you to go into business with your partner?
Heather: Colin and I had been living abroad prior to 2012 (we met and married whilst I was working in Bermuda, where he was born). We knew we didn’t want to settle in Bermuda in the long term (it’s beautiful but has an extremely high cost of living!) so we’d steadily made plans to move back to the UK and after lots of research and visits home, we chose North Yorkshire as the place we wanted to be. Colin had been self-employed for a lot of his working life, but we initially thought we’d both go back to ‘9 to 5’ jobs over here. However, after taking a bit of time out when we arrived, we decided that we’d go the different (and ultimately harder, but more rewarding) route of setting up our own business.
Colin: I have a Fine Art background and have spent most of my working life in creative fields, mainly in graphic design and photography. Having owned my own advertising agency at one stage I knew I didn’t really want to go down that route again, and had been trying to get away from design and move more towards doing solely photography for a long time. With the move to England it seemed like the perfect time to try just that and pursue a lifelong dream. If it didn’t work, at least we’d have tried it whilst we could!
Did you consider how your relationship would be affected by being in business together?
Colin: I had been in business with a partner once before, so it was definitely something that I thought about (and possibly worried about) more than Heather might have initially.
Heather: Spending all of our time together, working from home, wasn’t something that worried me but I probably didn’t consider how differently we both work when we first went into this. We both have our strengths and weaknesses and it’s learning how to deal with those so that we complement each other that can sometimes be the hardest. The biggest thing, of course, is that it’s hard to switch off from work, especially when potential clients email or call in the evenings or on our planned days off, and they can’t be ignored. We really have to make a concerted effort to take time out and not talk about work when we’re not actually working.
What kind of business planning did you do?
Heather: Once we’d made the decision to start a business, we took our time doing research about the local market (we were initially based in Harrogate), deciding who our target market would be, what exactly we wanted to provide, and putting together a business plan so we could see it all in black and white and have something to work towards.
Would you say that you and your partner have similar or different strengths, how do you use these?
Colin: Our strengths are quite different but they complement each other well. Heather is really organised and on the ball at dealing with clients, and is good at answering their queries and questions. So she generally deals with that side of things. She’s also really good at writing so she handles our blog, and copy for our website and marketing materials throughout the year.
Heather: Colin is a creative so although we both take photographs, I see him as more of the expert in that department and defer to him. He deals with all the photo editing (which he’s a complete perfectionist over) and things like designing our website and making things look pretty! So I think we work well together. Colin brings things together overall and has a lot of experience and I’m a stickler for the detail and making sure everything happens when it should!
What has been the biggest challenge to you specifically for working together?
Heather: Probably learning how to deal with the differences in the way we work. When we’re not out shooting, I quite like to work alone in my own headspace when I’m in the office. I like to be able to think and if I could sit by myself all day long writing and planning, I probably would (which probably makes me sound very unsociable…and I’m not, honestly!) Colin needs time like that when he’s editing, but he also likes to talk things through a lot. I’m all for that and I know it has to be done so that we can keep on top of things and forward plan but I know that I can sometimes get a bit antsy when we’ve spent all morning talking about things we need to do but haven’t actually done anything yet. I like to get on with things but I understand we have to have regular meetings to make sure we’re on track.
What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?
Colin: Next year will be our third year of photographing weddings and we’ve now hit the target we set for ourselves in terms of bookings for next year. There’s still room for more but each year so far we’ve more than doubled the bookings we took the year before and I think having moved to a completely new area where we didn’t know anyone and really having to build things up from zero, we’ve accomplished a lot.
Heather: We’ve also made a concerted effort to network with other local businesses (especially of the wedding variety) to get ourselves out there and known. I definitely feel that over the last six months or so, we’re finally reaping the rewards of that and people finally know who we are!
What impact has working together had on your relationship outside of the business?
Colin: It’s been hard to switch off from work which I knew would be a problem, having been in business before. Self-employment really can become all-consuming if you let it. So we have to make an effort to step away from that. Particularly when a business is new and you really want to put your all into it to get it up and running. You don’t want to miss anything and you want to get it right every time!
Heather: Yes, it’s hard to get away. I tend to expect a certain level of service from companies I deal with and I want to provide that same level of service to our clients, or potential clients. For example, if an email comes in at 9:30 p.m. with a wedding enquiry (as it did last night) I’ll reply to it that same night. And if I really can’t, I’ll at least reply saying I’ll be in touch first thing in the morning. I like to build a relationship with our clients right from the start and I know that I would appreciate that as a customer myself, so it’s how I want to handle things but it can be hard if you’ve been out for the evening on ‘date night’ and you come home to work that needs to be dealt with!
What advice would you give to other couples who are thinking of starting a business?
Heather: I had thought about what it would be like to self-employed, working from home and spending time in each other’s pockets, but I never really thought about the differences in how we actually work on a day to day basis. And how do you really know that until you start working with someone if you’ve never worked together before? So I’d say think about (and talk about) your different work styles – do you like a quiet workspace or do you like lots of chat and brainstorming throughout the day? Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and see how they balance out between you. If one of you is highly organised but the other isn’t so great with that, it might work perfectly within your business that one of you is doing the organising, whilst the other can do what they do best. You’ll each have different skills and talents.
Colin: Also, no matter how much you say you’ll make time for your personal life together, there will be (many) times when work will encroach on things. You’ll find yourselves talking about work when you’re out for dinner, or with friends who ask you about work and how it’s all going, and no matter how much you love your job there will be times when you need to get away from it but you can’t – so can you handle that?
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Heather: Once you iron out the challenges, it’s really rewarding working together and we know that our differences are actually what makes it work and makes our business go from strength to strength. I can’t imagine doing anything else now!
If you’d like to find out more about Colin Murdoch Studio, you can find them online at…
Thank you Heather and Colin for giving us such a great insight into your business!
I’m on the look out for more couples and family businesses to interview, so if you’d be interested in taking part please get in touch.
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