Orange branded background image with Libby Langley in a dark top with Charles in a black hat and t-shirt on the left hand-side. Grey text on the right hand side reads 'pivoting your business because of the pandemic

Like many, Charles from @jpadcheer has had to completely change his business over the last 12 months. No more events to photograph

Libby: Hello, welcome to today’s episode of Social Media and Me, I’m really excited to be talking today with Charles from J Pad Cheer. They are a photography company that photographs cheerleading and dance events, which is not something I know a massive amount about, I have to admit. But obviously, I understand the challenges that the company has gone through in the last 12 months because, you know, events and all that stuff aren’t able to happen. I am very much looking forward to talking to Charles today.

Charles: Are you alright?

Libby: Yes, I’m very well, thank you. It’s very nice to meet you.

Charles: Very nice to meet you, too. I see from your stories, you’re a bit knackered today. What’s going on? Have you been networking or something?

Libby: Yeah, it absolutely throws me. I had the networking, the small breakfast networking this morning and just being up dressed by twenty past seven in the morning is just it absolutely upsets my equilibrium. Right when I’ve done this that’s it – it’s Friday.

It’s funny. I’ve worked for myself from home for over nine years now, so I’m kind of used to it. But I think everybody is working at a slightly different pace now. There are no meetings to go to or any of that kind of things when it’s that really early, you know.

Charles: You do the slightest thing and you’re knackered aren’t you?

Libby: Oh, I know. I like to run my world a different way, but no it’s all good. Really looking forward to talking to you today because I think it’s probably been quite an interesting year for you.

Charles: That’s one word you can call it. Yeah.

Libby: Well event photography is the broad-brush description of what you do isn’t it? Do you want to do a quick intro? I did a quick intro saying that sort of specialist event photographers. Do you want to do a quick intro as well?

Charles: Yeah, cool. I’m Charles from J Pad Cheer! We are a specialist on-site print for fast paced sporting events. Obviously, we haven’t done that for about a year now. In essence, what we do is we photograph events that are happening all over the country and then we make those photos available on the day in print format so people can walk away with an everlasting memory of that event.

Libby: Just looking through your Instagram some of the photos are pretty spectacular.

Charles: Thank you.

Libby: I’m too old for that rubbish now. But, if I was in an event – the way you get people jumping, they just have brilliant facial expressions and stuff. Yeah, it must have been really tough. What has changed really? And how are you paying the mortgage?

Charles: Yeah, well it was tough because we were doing it full on for probably. Well, how long have we been doing it now? We were doing it five years and just before Covid hit and all the lockdown, we were full on from the September before, then right up until the weekend where he made his announcement saying we’re going into lockdown because while he was making that announcement, I was actually sat ready to load my van for an event we were doing. I was like I don’t want to load it in case he says we can’t do it. Then he says we could do it. I thought to myself, I’ve got to load the van now. But, yeah, then I did that event, which was by far the best event that I’ve ever done, because everyone knew that it was going to be the last one for a while.

Libby: Well, we got married on the twenty ninth of February last year and had this big party. It was a similar sort of feeling I suppose now you look back. We are all of a certain age, we don’t go out so often and everybody just went absolutely nuts. I think it’s because Covid was bubbling and there was talk of the world changing. It turned out to be the last time that any of us went out.

Charles: Yeah. It’s crazy.

Libby: I understand that kind of feeling – you were slightly later on in March but it was almost goodbye too.

Charles: Yeah, it was. A lot of the teams didn’t turn up because they either had people isolating or they were just panicking over it, which is completely understandable. But it gave us breaks in between routines where we don’t normally get that. But that gave us the time to actually sit down with people that we normally just wave at an event. We sat down and we spoke to them and got to know them even better. They appreciated it because they knew it was going to be the last one for a while – it was a really nice event. But then, after that, it was the weekend and then on the Wednesday I had a networking event. Between the weekend and the Wednesday morning, my diary just went completely – it was empty. I was just like, oh my God. I’ve been going into these networking events going, I’m an event photographer, we do this, we do that. Then I went into that networking event and went I’m an event photographer without any event. So then then it was sort of like, what do I do from here? Do I just go ride out the storm? Do I go find a job?

Libby: We didn’t know how long it was going to last to start with.

Charles: This is it.

Libby: Was it five months or something that a lot of places were closed? Then you think you’re out of it, and then in lockdown again now for another few months. It’s just the inability to have been able to plan, which I think has been a challenge for an awful lot of businesses.

Charles: Yeah, that’s still an ongoing challenge, because when we’re not doing events, we’re photographing schools.

Libby: Right.

Charles: That got completely wiped as well. So, it was like oh my God. What we thought was going to be a couple of months in lockdown because everyone was like, oh yeah, we’ll be back out in summer, completely changed. We had to sit back and sort of look at it and go like, what can we do? So instead of, selling, essentially, I was trying to help and through the power of social media and Instagram, I was sharing photos that we had already captured to sort of boost morale around the community that we had built up.

Libby: Particularly as well, a lot of the people that you photograph and you work with are younger people aren’t they?  Those of us that are older, we’re just like, oh, that’s great. I can just go to bed early, wear my pyjamas and phew to a certain extent. But for younger people, it’s different. Life works differently for younger people and not being able to have those social aspects and things like the competitions that have been a huge part of their life must have been really tough for some younger people.

Charles: Oh, without a doubt.

Libby: What sort of support were you offering out then?

Charles: I had a couple of coaches that have got teams over the country. They basically said, they were limited to what they were offering, via Zoom because they didn’t want to pay out for it, because they didn’t know how long it was going to last. They were restricted in timing. I just went, well, I pay for Zoom. Here’s my log in. I’ve paid for it separately, here’s my log-in book on the times and all that. Handle it yourself and then you’re not restricted to timing. Then I had parents contacting me via social media saying, can you just do the simplest thing of posting a photo of their daughter and build up some hype around it? I was like, of course, I can. If it’s going to help with the mental sort of aspects of it all, then I’m more than happy to do that. I was doing that kind of thing. In essence, like when you look at it from the business side and the selling kind of thing, I couldn’t do that anyway. Because if I’m not taking the photos, I haven’t got the photos that there to sell.

Libby: No, of course not. So what did you do in terms of kind of income stream and stuff? We are nearly a year on now – unfortunately, we can’t live on fresh air can we, any of us.

Charles: If only we could – it would be lovely.

Libby: Yeah, I would be so happy if I just sat around.

Charles: I’ve been trying to invent the money tree, but it’s not happening at the moment – definitely need to move abroad for that. My business was predominantly B to C so I’ve sort of had to flip it and go back to B to B. And now I’ve been working with companies to help them with their personal branding through photo, film and audio kind of stuff. It’s new headshots, sorting out a YouTube channel and a strategy behind that and posting regular videos and content that portrays themselves and shows their personality.

Libby: It’s absolutely something that all businesses need to do, isn’t it?  Have you found through your existing social media channels that it’s been relatively easy for you to pivot to that? Or is this a whole new market? The main market is the B to C and you’re going to B to B, but there is often a crossover because consumers have businesses too, right?

Charles: Well, yeah, this is it. It has been very difficult and it’s almost as if I’ve started a new business from day dot – it’s building up the network and all that. I started networking just before the pandemic and you know it yourself – it does take time. But you go out there and you say, right, I do one thing and then all of a sudden you’re flipping it and saying you’re doing something completely different. People still got it in the back of their head that he’s the event photographer.

Libby: Although you’re still photographing.

Charles: Yeah, it’s still there. It’s trying to get across the whole concept flip. That has been very challenging, but it’s starting to come together now.

Libby: I think things like personal branding is essential. That’s something I preach about as well, definitely. But something specific like the YouTube stuff that you mentioned, because so many more businesses are turning to social media in its broadest sense to market themselves, then actually, why should they know I teach about social media? I’m no expert on YouTube. Don’t claim to be, but why should anybody know it’s just the tool that’s used for marketing. I think having that strand is something you’ve used in your own business for a lot of years and then you can help others with it. Yeah, it’s great. Great kind of business pivot.

Charles: Yeah. It is. I think very strong on personal brand because it’s like the old saying that people buy from people. Trying to help people get visual because it is a visual market nowadays and you can’t do it in person. You have to do it over social media. If you’re just taking a photo of your dinner but not showing you, you’re doing a video, but showing something and not yourself, then how can people build the trust? It’s trying to get that across and help people gain trust through the visual marketing?

Libby: Yeah, you are absolutely right.  I was talking to someone on LinkedIn earlier who has a client who was looking for someone to manage their Facebook for them. I said exactly that in response. I used to offer it years ago, but it’s not something that I would do or indeed recommend – get help and get support like you and I both offer to people. But actually, you need to be the face of your business because, you know, people buy people. It’s so true without that that face, that recognition that somebody talking, you know, what comes out of your mouth is what people want to hear. Sometimes it’s, you know, we do our best.

Charles: Yeah. But then even if it’s rubbish, that shows that you’re a person and it does show your personality.

Libby: Yeah. It’s the human element and it’s the empathy and the rapport that you can build by having this personal brand, by being face to face on the camera that will win the clients in the end. Yes, you’re absolutely right. How are you finding this new avenue then? Is it something you’re going to continue to build in the future or are you waiting to go back to what you used to do in twenty twenty-four when we’re allowed?

Charles: I hope not. I didn’t start doing this until probably mid-December because I wanted to come up with something that I could when things do return back to normal, I don’t just go, oh well, you help me through the lockdown. See you later kind of thing. In short, yes, I do want to continue this and build on it, mainly because building the residual income. That’s obviously been a main factor in trying to get multiple revenue streams into the business because obviously I only had the one and look what happened there. To be fair, I’m enjoying it. I’m loving what I’m doing at the minute.

Libby: That’s what it all boils down to. I guess you get to meet different groups of people, not groups, but different people. You may enjoy more, may enjoy less, but it’s a different vibe, isn’t it? Same things happen to a friend of mine who’s a wedding photographer, a very successful wedding photographer. I think actually my wedding last year was perhaps the last one that he did, but the same thing has happened. He’s always done business stuff as well, but has had to make that the thing that gets promoted and coming up with ways to do socially distant shoots – that kind of stuff. Yeah, I mean, it’s been really interesting to watch the journey actually of people who could have just thought, oh, this is just so awful. I don’t know what’s going on. To actually having a few weeks of come on now I’ve run a business before, I know how it works. Let’s get on with it. It’s inspiring really.

Charles: It’s just been all about diversity and trying to get that going. I mean, you mentioned weddings. It just made me think I was due to get married tomorrow.

Libby: But aren’t weddings allowed?

Charles: Only if you’re critically ill. Yeah, so we got the email. We were supposed to get married in August.

Libby: Oh man.

Charles: But obviously that got cancelled so we moved it to tomorrow – then I had the email two weeks ago saying that they cancelled it.

Libby: We’ve discussed at length what we would have done and actually at the first opportunity we would have just got the two of us to the registrar office wherever we could go.

Charles: Yeah, that’s what we said. That’s exactly what we were going to do and then have a reception later on down the line.

Libby: Because ours, it was a super party and all that, but quite frankly we could save ourselves many, many thousands of pounds.

Charles: There is that as well.

Libby: Hindsight and all that. But no, we had a super day. But if we were looking to get married now, if we hadn’t done it yet. It was next year we were planning it for, absolutely wouldn’t do the same kind of wedding.

Charles: I don’t know, it’s amazing how it how it’s changed how you look at it all. Oh, yes, that is crazy.

Libby: Well, the thought of all those people, anybody more than just my husband and my cat. Yeah, I think it’s perhaps made us think what our priorities are a little bit more in business. It does make you think what you what your priorities are. I think it’s made a lot of businesses more streamlined and more efficient because we do things like this now. There’s no need to be the one-to-one people used to meet up for. We could have had the same conversation privately – just as the two of us, why not do it live and then other people can learn from it? I think things like that have been really beneficial to the business people. You’re quite a big user of social media and you’ve mentioned it a few times already, but how important is social media to your business?

Charles: Massively. I started it on Facebook. I started it, it would have been twenty fifteen. I started on Facebook and didn’t have a website and that’s how I started off by doing family photo shoots. It worked well then so I’ve kept it. Now I’ve got a website that I update. I hadn’t actually updated my website in about three years until the lockdown because I didn’t have the time to do it. To me it’s massively important because one it’s how I started and two my audience they’re on social media. I want to ultimately connect with my audience and I think that’s the best way forward, I think, to any business, I think you have to find the perfect one.

Libby: Yeah, you do. There’s lots of options out there in terms of social media, but if you pick the one where most of your customers are likely to be and for you, I think that’s probably Instagram. You know, for me, it’s Instagram, really. Other people, it will be LinkedIn or Facebook or YouTube or whatever, TikTok or whatever people are using – it’s about picking one, focussing on it, knowing who you’re talking to and really just being consistent and putting the graft in isn’t it? There’s no magic bullet to any of this really.

Charles: I feel like staying present and consistency is key because you notice it – I’ve done it in the past where it’s been like I could not for a week. You can see the massive difference from it.

Libby: Well, the thing is, if you’re posting all the time, you’re like this is a gradual growth. If you don’t post, then the algorithm and the people forget about you and then you’ve got to start again. It’s just really hard work and there’s no need to drop that because there’s so many scheduling tools out there that you can batch plan stuff so it feeds out when necessary. It’s easy to do it if you do things like this once a week or once a fortnight or something every so often, then that shows like you say the personal brand, the face, the voice, all of that. That adds another element to it. You don’t need any kit. I think that’s what makes it also easy as well. I mean, you going out and photographing your events, you know, you’ve got these superb cameras and lenses stuff, I think technical stuff is the word in the photography world. To do stuff like this, to do stuff for most businesses all we need is a phone. Pretty much.

Charles: Yeah and loads of people have access to it. There is a lot of access to it now. I mean years ago when you had like your Nokia 3310 did you have one, you know you did, didn’t you? Obviously, it wasn’t accessible was it? But now because the phones, they are fairly cheap or contract and that – everything is there. You’ve got the apps to help you along with that.

Libby: Yeah. There’s people like me who, who provide training and stuff, but there’s also just a lot of stuff within the apps themselves, help tools and that kind of thing to get you going on stuff. I do sometimes think about it and think it’s just incredible what resources we have access to for nothing. When you say for this last year because it’s been tough. Have you found it stressful? Fun? Both? Have you grown as a person?

Charles: Without a doubt. Yeah, it’s been very it’s been very stressful, but it’s also allowed me to appreciate everything that I have got. Step back and look at things and go, right, I was going full pace, now I can step back and look at it and go, well, actually. Yeah, it’s allowed me to assess everything, although it has been stressful.

Libby: Yeah. I mean, I think the stress has been different for everybody, really, hasn’t it? I’ve been quite happy with the year and it’s allowed me to change my business to the model that I want. But I think there’s just this odd feeling that kind of goes with it all really and not being able to see family and stuff as well. You know, I haven’t seen my parents since Christmas Day, which is just unheard of for me and them. I think what you’ve done is admirable actually, in terms of changing the way that you’re approaching your business and getting this new client base in it. It’s good stuff. It is something that you should be proud of, really.

Charles: I am.

Libby: You should be. What’s the one thing that you’ve learnt in your interesting last 12 months about business or about the way that you use social media and business that you think could really help another business owner out?

Charles: Although it’s key to business, but money doesn’t buy happiness. I’ve learnt that massively, because I’ve had none. With the social, it’s just staying in contact – it’s helped. Keep going and keep connected to something that you’ve worked on essentially for five years.

Libby: I agree. Actually it only takes one person to say that’s pretty good. That’s really interesting. That’s really helpful. You know that you’re on the right track, really. It’s the small things that make a big difference, both for us as business owners and for the people that way we’re trying to work with.

Charles: Yeah. I learnt this over the years – it’s not going to happen overnight, but it just takes one thing to make it go off. But you have to be consistent with it.

Libby: You do. Consistency is absolutely. I think that’s the key message that you can give out to people. Being consistent with whatever it is that you’re doing, and particularly with social media. Don’t focus on YouTube one week. Instagram the next and then Facebook. It’s a nightmare stress level in your own head. But you’re diluting all your followers all over the place so it’s not going to work.

Charles: There’s too many people out there at the minute that look at it and go, I want it to happen now or want it to happen yesterday. Yeah. Whereas it’s nothing like that. It does take commitment.

Libby: Yeah, it takes commitment. It takes hard work, it takes effort, but then it starts to work and. Oh my word. You know, that’s the best feeling in the world isn’t it. 

Charles: Oh without doubt. With the personal branding stuff that I’m doing, you put the work and commitment in at the start and you’re contacting people. You’re getting out there, you’re putting yourself out there. Eventually people will contact you and you won’t be hunting for it. They’ll come out and find you.

Libby: Yeah – that’s good.

Charles: It’s exactly what you want.

Libby: It is brilliant. On that note, stay consistent. That’s been really interesting. I do mean it when I say that you should be proud of yourself actually, because you know, it won’t have been a fun year in a lot of ways. But to still be here, still be smiling, still be doing some stuff is brilliant. A pleasure to talk to you today. Appreciate it very much.

Charles: Nice to see you.

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