Bree Dunbar

Hanging out with Bree is like meeting a firecracker that's going to explode with enthusiasm. It's impossible not to pick up on her contagious enthusiasm for what she does.

Bree has her own business exclusively photographing female-led projects. I was keen to know what led her to quit her day job to take the jump into photography full time. With a newborn.

One of the many jumpsuits Bree owns.

You fell pregnant and decided to quit your day job to become a photographer. Sounds like the opposite of a financially sound idea. Can you walk me through what led you to take the jump?

"When I fell pregnant and it was a [lovely] surprise. Still, a surprise I hadn't 100% planned for!

"I started to think ... if I don't try this photography thing now - when will I? The older my son gets surely the less time I'll have right? I also thought, I could use this time to try and create my own schedule around my new baby. What if it did work out?

Two years in - and I'm booked months in advance. It's crazy. It's awesome!

Let's talk about money. It's a big consideration for anyone looking to leave their full time gig and start something new. How would you recommend others tackle it?

If you're able, taking away the pressure of having to make a living wage from your business at the beginning by having a stable part-time job, lots of savings, and / or a partner who is able to support you while you set up your business goes a long way. I have a really supportive partner in a stable job! This really, really helped.

The other plus to this is that if you have money tucked away, or a supportive partner or a part time gig - saying no becomes a lot easier. A lot. With that buffer, you won’t feel like you have to accept every client / job / project that comes your way and can be much more selective, allowing you to only accept clients who are right for you and your business.

You exclusively shoot lady-led projects and you've developed your own niche around that. How'd that develop? Was that the intention from the get-go?

When I decided to actively specialise, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find enough work, but the exact opposite has happened. My awesome clients recommend me to their friends and acquaintances, and these potential clients are so much more likely to want to work with me knowing that I specialise in women-led businesses.

That sounds good in theory, but when you first start out, sometimes you have to be open to any clients and jobs that come your way. What’s your take on that?

It's kind of non negotiable for me. Working with clients you don’t connect with and doing work that you don’t believe in is a good way to burn out.

When I started my business, I made the decision to turn down jobs that weren’t right for me, and sought out clients and projects that excited me. As a result, because my awesome past clients have recommended me to similar people and businesses, most of the enquiries I get now are from clients that I want to work with.

"If you're going to be something - be the niche in your industry. If you try to please everyone, you will end up pleasing no-one.

"Find the specific area of your industry that you really love, and go for that. Don’t just be a graphic designer. Be a graphic designer who works exclusively with charities. Don’t just be an accountant. Be an accountant who specialises in small business. Don’t just be a career counsellor. Be a career counsellor who works with recently retrenched people. People will seek you out to work with you because you’ll be an expert in your niche."

Confidence is a massive issue, particularly for some women who have had children and experienced isolation from the workforce in those formative months with a new baby. You're a mum, you launched your business with a baby under six months - what would you say to those other mothers who are thinking 'how can I do this'?

“Yeah I totally get that. I guess what I'd say is you don't need a business degree to start your own thing - believe me.

"A lot of what people worry about is 'I won't be good enough'. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. It is SO EASY today to compare your work to others. Everyone starts somewhere. The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you used to be. Repeat that to yourself every-time you get stuck on someone else’s amazing work!

“For me, the desire to do my own thing outweighed any fears I had. Yeah, for sure I had fears but I felt like I had this awesome gift of a baby and I had six months to figure out whether it was sustainable. I had to do it.

“I started my business with a two month old baby. If I can do it, you can do it!”

You are a freaking efficiency machine. Talk to me about the tried and tested tools you'd endorse for others looking to get cracking or put their feelers out for getting started.    

“Start as you mean to proceed would be the #1 tip I’d give anyone.

“Be a professional from the get-go. Hire a graphic designer to create some great branding. Find a good accountant who specialises in small business. Find a lawyer who can look over your client agreements / contracts. Hire a photographer so you have some awesome images of yourself on your website (please put an image of yourself on your website! Like it or not, if you are a creative small business, your clients are interested to know your story and what you look like!) 

“All this is an outlay of time and money, but you must believe that your business is worth it. If you don’t believe it’s worth it - people will be able to tell from the word go.

“I can’t rave enough about 17 Hats [online invoicing tool]. It lets you send online invoices, contracts that clients can sign online, and online questionnaires. It connects with your bank account and enables you to create a profit and loss statement for your accountant at the push of a button. It lets you collate all of your client information and create workflows for different projects. And so much more. IT. IS. A. LIFESAVER."

Working for yourself means you spend a lot of time ... by yourself. You have amazing networks now - but was it always like that? How did you build a community around you? 

"When I started my business I didn’t know any other photographers and had to swallow my pride and nerves to reach out to a few local photographers who I liked. The response was always positive, and one of those photographers has become a great friend and an invaluable sounding-board and advice-giver. Plus, we can get together and talk nonstop about photography stuff that bores the pants off our other friends [laughs]. 

"There is room for everyone, there is work for everyone, your peers are not your competition is what I'd say to others."

What do you say to the concern trolling question which I'm sure you face regularly...'but what if you run out of awesome lady led projects?'

"[Laughs] Yeah, I'd say what Lucy Feagins [Design Files] tells people when they ask whether she's going to run out of amazing designers to showcase. Never, ever going to happen. Not if I have something to do with it."

Check out Bree's work here and follow her on Instagram.