Five questions for creatives

Sammi Sparke

Sammi Sparke is a portrait photographer specialising in creative portraits, lifestyle and environmental baby and children photography. Photography started as a hobby when Sammi was a teenager. After a number of jobs in media, she spent a few years travelling with her friends and her camera. At the end of this period, she was certain that she wanted photography to play a larger role in her life. To make this happen she went to university in 2009 to study photography. Now with nearly 7 years’ experience as a photographer, Sammi has been running her own business for over three years.

How did you get into the creative industry, and was there a defining point in your career that led you on that path?

I’ve been creative since I was very young. Always drawing, painting, making things, later taking photos as a teenager, and most importantly always encouraged. As I moved up through school I was still drawing and painting but starting to become disillusioned with the work I was producing. In truth as I progressed through GCSE art to A-level art, a gap was opening up between my own grand expectations of how good I should be and the reality of how good I actually was. During this period photography became the artistic outlet I needed, it was a medium which was exciting and one in which I felt I was achieving great results. At 18 when I first started university it was Media studies and reading and decoding film, TV and journalism that kept my creative juices flowing so when I got too poorly to complete my degree, rather than feeling disillusioned, I found the Open University, changed my degree to a history of art based degree and studied while I was at home. Cut to a few years later and I had gained my health back, travelled the world with my camera and had been working as an autocue operator long enough to start thinking seriously about going into this full-time. It was at this point precisely, the moment I considered my life in this industry, I realised that I couldn’t do a job for the rest of my life that wasn’t creative. At this time I was also sorely missing my camera being part of my daily life as it had been on my travels and these two elements came together in my head with perfect timing. Before long I’d enrolled on a second-degree course in photography to ensure I knew my trade inside out and began to embark on the first-ever job I’ve had that I knew I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Is there anything you would change in your current career and if so why?

Working on my own does get lonely, yes I meet clients and talk with clients regularly but like any other sole small business I spend large quantities of time alone and I’d love a business partner at some point. Another reason a business partner would be a gift centres of the trials of being a left-brain-focused creative and the problems that throw up on a daily basis when it comes to the vastly important sphere of marketing a small business. I’m certainly not as hopeless as I was in the beginning and I am learning all the time but in a perfect world, I’d employ someone to work with me and really look after the business/marketing side of things.

Where do you see yourself, and your career in five years’ time?

I do actually see myself with a business partner in five years time. I’d also like to think that I’ll have a strong corporate and business network to fall back on in the South in addition to having made a name for myself in the Cambridge area as far as wedding photography goes. Most importantly, I see myself having more choices and time to sit back and smell the roses, play with my nieces and do some more travel.

Are there any rules or habits that help you do your job more efficiently?

I’m an idealist, and I care too much about what people think. Although these characteristics make my life difficult sometimes, as far as my clients go it guarantees they get the absolute best of me without fail. I’m not capable of giving clients work that I’m not 100% happy with and in the rare cases that I am concerned I’ve not delivered, I work with my client to remedy the situation. Understanding what your values are as a person and a business go a very long way in helping you achieve integrity. A strong value base in a business also helps with serious decision making and you’ll soon realise the things you feel unsure of or which concern you very often are things which conflict with or challenge your key values in some way and that makes decision-making a whole lot easier. I’m certain two of my key values, being kind and completely honest, have been instrumental in winning me some fabulous jobs and fabulous repeat clients along the way.

What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in the creative industry?

You never stop learning, and you should never stop educating yourself in the areas you are experts in. Also, my most important bit of advice for sole traders and business people working on their own is that, yes, you can work on your own and you will work on your own a great deal but you’ll do so much better with a network of people around you to support you and sing your praises. They are out there you just need to know where to look. I struggled for months on my own not realising the support that was out there. I want to leave you with the following quote, which for me is the realisation I came to after two years of struggling in my business which was followed by changing a few things around and reaching true happiness in my work: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius