Guest Interview With Lauren McWilliams Photographer And Brand Strategist

Nov 8, 2023 | Marketing Guest, Photographer Guest

“Show Notes”

Lauren McWilliams is a photographer and brand strategist from Newcastle.

Lauren’s business story

Lauren started her business in 2010 not long before the pandemic began. When
she started she had no idea how to run a business. Photography had always been
a passion, so when she burnt out from her 9 to 5 job, she setup a photography
business. Lauren got lots of support from the local authority for her business.

Lauren started saying yes to any work that came along, like almost all of us do
when we start a business. She quickly realised that what she enjoyed most was
working with businesses. When the pandemic hit she had no work, as with most
photographers. So, she decided to launch a challenge to help keep businesses
telling their story.

After lockdown she was suddenly fully booked having run the challenge. As she
worked more Lauren realised that customers didn’t know what to do with their
photographs. Most of the photographs she gave to customers stayed hidden. So
she started to learn more about marketing and then started to help her customers
with this.

Lauren ended up with a contract as a consultant to support businesses in the
same way as she had received support at the beginning of her business journey.

Initially Lauren thought she was going to be the first brand photographer in the
UK. But before long she realised there were others. Gillian Divine is a brand.
photography mentor who helped Lauren McWilliams.

What is brand photography according to Lauren?

Lauren thinks a brand photograph needs to show you and your personality. It can
give a hint of what you do, but that is not essential. The story is. A great brand
image works well with a good brand story.

Where do Lauren’s customers begin as photography or branding clients?

Lauren is known mainly as a photographer and so her clients tend to come in for
photography, but then they move on to also become brand strategy clients once
they have their photographs. Lauren works with businesses over a long period of
ime and builds up a long term relationship with them, which she really values. She
tells us the story of a recruitment business that she has documented over time.
Initially it was just the CEO of the business on her own. Now she has a team of 20
or 30 with a new office. Lauren has documented those changes.

What could photographers could do to add more value to clients?

Lauren suggests building more of a relationship with the client. Ensuring realty
careful panning happens before the photo shoot. As an example for a corporate
photo shoot you could involve the people having their photo taken from the
planning stage. Ask them for ideas so that they can become involved in the
process and start to own it and enjoy it.


Lauren thinks it is really important as photographers to collaborate and learn from
each other. When she started off she found some local photographers saw her as
a threat and wouldn’t answer her questions. Later she found more supportive
photographers. She is now using her skills and knowledge to help other

Shoot to the top Facebook Group

We have launched a Facebook group for the podcast. You can find it here. Lauren,
Sam and Marcus are there and you can ask them questions.

Sam asked Lauren how we can make content to show the person we are without
making it to much “me,me,me”. She says the balance is that we show who we are
but we balance that with sharing out networks and our clients success. Lauren
suggests the simple things that photographers could do to improve their
marketing is to practice what they preach. Photographers are usually telling clients
to get out and be visible. But then many photographers then hide behind the
camera and aren’t seen. You can contact Lauren here.

“Show Transcription”

Sam: Hi, Marcus, how are you doing?

Marcus Ahmed:  I’m really good, thank you, Sam. Yeah, I’ve just been away over in Berlin doing a photo shoot, so that was quite good fun. One of my favorite cities, especially at night. Yeah. So I’m good. Thank you, Sam. And a quick hi to all our listeners as well. Hello there, listeners.

Sam: Excellent. Yes, that sounds good. Marcus. This week’s show so we have another guest this week, we have Lauren McWilliams, and I think I’ll just let Lauren introduce herself. Hi, Lauren, welcome to the show.

Lauren:  Hello, and thank you for having me. Yes, so, my name is Lauren McWilliams and I’m a brand photographer and strategist.

Sam: Excellent. That was nice and simple. Where are you based, Lauren?

Lauren:  So, I’m up in Newcastle upontine I’ve been doing my business now for just short of five years. It’s my fifth birthday in January, so I’m really excited for that.

Sam:  Cool. Yeah. So the accent should have given me a little hint, shouldn’t it, there?

Lauren:  I’m actually originally from the Northwest, so it depends. By the end of this podcast, I might sound completely different. It does tend to change.

Sam:  Excellent. I’m from the Northwest too, so we might merge in the middle somewhere. Excellent. So do you want to tell us just a little bit about kind of your business and how you help people? Because it sounds a bit different being a photographer and a brand strategist.

Lauren: Yeah. So I guess would it help to start at the beginning of basically how I started the business, where I was at and where I now?

Sam:  Yeah, sounds good.

Lauren: I started in 2019, just before the glorious, shall we say, glorious pandemic, that word that we don’t want to talk about. So, yeah, started before then and had no experience about business, didn’t know anything about it. I’d gone to uni to study criminology, so totally different. Did my master’s in criminology, but basically I burnt out from my work, my normal nine to five job, and photography was always, like, a real passion of mine, of just taking my camera everywhere. Loved taking photos of interesting shots of people, of places, but it was the business side of things. Just had no idea about it. So in the Northeast, well, particularly where I live in North Hindsight, so you might have heard of, like, Whitley Bay kind of place. So I’m over towards that way, and they’ve got a system in place where you got support to set up your business, so they would help you from everything, from learning how to do your first tax return to actually finding a name for the business or getting your first clients, all of that kind of thing. And as most of us do at the beginning, just said yes to everything. So I was doing a little bit of weddings and some events, some business photography. What else? Pretty much everything. I tried everything.

Sam: cool.

Lauren : And i think from that experience of just having a go, that I soon realized photography for businesses was where I was really passionate. I loved getting to know the business owner’s story, I loved getting to know why they started and basically how they ended up where they were and how photography could help them to market themselves better as we approached the pandemic. So, 2020, basically all my work stopped. So it disappeared as the majority of us it did, it just disappeared overnight. And so I decided that on the Sunday when I had this idea. So I tend to get really excited when I’ve got an idea in my head. And on the Monday I thought I’ll launch a free challenge and had no call to action or anything from that. It was just more to do something and keep myself occupied during that time, but also to help other businesses that might be struggling to stay visible when we were all stuck at home. So I did this five day challenge, and the idea was to help business owners to think about what resources or what have they got at home that’s going to help them to carry on telling their story. So then when we come out of the pandemic and the lockdowns, that you would still be there, you’d still be present, people would know who you are and still buy from you. And so I was doing it to help other people. And what happened was, as I came out of the lockdown myself, I ended up being fully booked. And it was just such a bizarre feeling going from not really sure what I was doing to all of a sudden I had like a waiting list of businesses there.

Sam:  Wow.

Lauren:  And I realized a lot of the things that were happening were when they’d have their photos, nobody knew how to use them. So they would put them maybe a headshot on LinkedIn, and maybe they would put one photo on social media and the rest would just disappear and you’d never see them again. And I started to question it because that’s the kind of way that I like to learn, I like to ask questions. And you’ve got loads of photos, why don’t you use them? We just don’t know how what to say. So it was kind of from that out of the intrigue that I had for asking questions, that I realized there was a massive gap, particularly with type. So I started to do my own learning and research, started to get marketing qualifications, learning how to understand my own websites, learning for my own self development and my business, and then helped other people to understand that as well. So everything from SEO to social media, what kinds of content work, what doesn’t, which platforms to use, which ones to avoid. Yeah. And it kind of just went from there and it spiraled. And the more I was doing it, the more confident I got. And I ended up getting a really big tender with the local council to then all the support I’d got at the beginning start to help other businesses do what. So I became a consultant and it kind of took off from there.

Sam: Oh, wow.

Marcus: That’s an amazing story, isn’t it, Sam? I mean, there’s a lot to go in there and I’m sure this episode is going to be about marketing, but I would just love, if I may, just to dig in a little bit more about the branding photography. So you were obviously, as you said, you were a generalist doing other types, weddings, etc, etc. I just wonder if you could just drill down a little bit more what drew you to branding photography. And also, if you can, Lauren, it’s not an easy question if you can, what do you think makes a good branding photograph.

Lauren:  For both of them? So it’s quite a funny story, thinking back to it, that because I had no idea and I didn’t have any experience at the time of what brand photography was, I’d never heard about it. And as I was doing the research and looking into it and realizing like, businesses are out there, they need to be seen, they need to be heard, and they need some good quality forwards that are going to help them to stand out from the crowd. And the only way they’re going to be able to do that is with a photographer who’s got knowledge of how to do that. So I started researching and it seemed to be huge in the US. And it was huge in Canada and Australia, but I didn’t really see it at the time in the UK. And I thought, I’m going to be the first. That’s genuine my head. Like, I found something here. But then I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one doing it. And I actually came across a lady called Gillian Devine. I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but she’s a photographer mentor.

Marcus:  Of course.

Lauren: I love Jillian. She’s helped me a lot. So at the time of me trying to learn and thinking that I’ve developed this new thing that nobody knew about, I realized that actually, she’s been through that process herself and she had more of the business brain than I didn’t have at the time. So looking at marketing, looking at pricing, even all of these kind of ways to build your business. So at the time, I was not charging enough. I didn’t really know what my competition looked like because I was just totally new to the area and it was a course that I’d joined and she supported me through that. And I looked at different ways to develop my services that they stood out. So it wasn’t like a one size fits all because I’m a big believer in that. I think it has to be unique, and you’ve got to put your own spin on things, whether that’s marketing or your client experience, finding different ways that you can connect with your audience. So, yeah, I think that answers your first part of your question. And the second part, I think a brand photo is one that speaks about you. It looks unique and it shows your personality. It shows a hint of what you do, but not necessarily really obvious. So it doesn’t have to be for us as photographers. We all have that photo with a camera just to prove to people what we do. And I’ve got that as well. But I think it’s more about showing off you as the person and what makes you different to your audience and your competition, because it’s those kind of images that speak volume. So one of the really interesting facts, where I think it’s interesting was that the human brain can read an image in 13.5 milliseconds. So if you’re trying to tell a story, often, especially with my clients, what they’ll do is they picture and they’ll put three lovely hashtags saying nice sunny day, or something like that, but they’re not telling a story with it. And it has to have the two equal parts. And so if the picture can tell just as much of the story as the words and they complement each other, I think that makes a really solid brand image that’s going to communicate a lot more before you even look at the words.

Marcus: That’s excellent. Thank you very much, Lauren. Now over to you, Sam, to start talking about Mark.

Sam: Excellent. I’m here busy scribbling all sorts of questions, so I’m interested as well. We’ve kind of got these two sort of sides, the brand strategies and the photo photography kind of where your clients come from. Do they often come in wanting photographs and you kind of tell them about the brand strategies and they move that way, or does it work the other way and they come in for the brand strategy, move them photographs? Or is it kind of a bit of a jumble and a mix?

Lauren:  I think, because at the moment anyway, so I’ve only recently rebranded as a brand strategist and photographer, so it’s mainly the photography course. So a lot of my clients already built up my audience is they are looking at me for photography but then as come in they realize that my USB is that actually I don’t just help them by taking a nice photo but thinking about all of the ways that they can use those photos to market to their ideal client and to speak to their ideal client but also to get noticed so that they can be seen as the go to expert in their field. So if you’re speaking with more confidence, if you’re speaking with more authority in what you’re trying to communicate and you’re showing up as yourself. So, as I said before, showing your personality, showing what makes you different compared to your competitors, then that is going to do a lot more for you. So I think they come in from the photography point of view of, I need some photos. Like, I’m desperate. I haven’t my LinkedIn headshot for 20 years, which I have had a few of those. And then it’s kind of like, oh, but you also do this, this and this. So then we go into and I’ve recently just launched a program, so that’s going to be a mix of photography, video and learning how to communicate and show yourself as the go to expert in your field.

Sam: Wow. Yeah, that sounds really interesting. And I had a really good question that’s gone in one ear and out the other. It’ll come to me back in a second. No, it’s come back to me now. So that’s from your business point of view, obviously you’re providing loads of value to your clients, but also from your business point of view, one client instead of being a one in, one out. There’s your set of photos, you’ve charged them for one photo shoot, they’re staying with you for a much longer length of time and you develop much more relationship which presumably is way, way better for your business too.

Lauren: 100%. So I really value the relationships that I have with my clients and the smaller businesses. When I first started, it tend to be that they would have a photo shoot because they needed some new photos, and then they used that for another ten years or however many years. And you still do get clients like that. But I think people are starting to realize that there’s a lot of value in documenting your story. So I have one client, for example. They’re a recruitment business and I’ve been working with them for the past three years. So we started off and it was only the CEO that was part of the company, it was just her on her own. She had an idea, she wanted to change how recruitment looked. And instead of it being about bums on seats and getting those numbers in, it became more about a mission of actually valuing the people that came into the business. And so by communicating what her passion was, she started to put that in the press. She started to put it into her recruitment process herself for the business. And now she’s got a team of 20 or 30, a new office, she started off in a home kitchen. And I’ve documented all of that over the past three years, and it’s probably one of my proudest moments with my business and clients. I’ve been able to see how much that client has grown in confidence, doing amazing things, getting into the press, winning awards. And it’s all not just the what’s the word? Not just the nice thing of that, not just the thing of having that self achievement, but actually the impact that she’s making with that business now to help other people and actually valuing the jobs that are being made because of it.

Sam: Yeah, that’s amazing. Yeah, you being sort of part of that is just so amazing. Isn’t your part of the journey much more than that? Yeah. Here’s your pictures. Off you go. Which I think a lot of photographers are, aren’t they? So I think lots of photographers could think about that, couldn’t they? What can you do once you’ve delivered those photos? What can you do next? And not just in terms of how can I get a bit more cash from this client? How can you help them? Or under two go hand in hand, you will help them for free. But it’s together, isn’t it? What next steps could you do? I mean, if you’re thinking of photography you’ve got loads of skills there, Lauren. If you’re thinking of sort of a photographer who is maybe an expert in the photography but not so much in the marketing, can you think of anything as kind of a first step they could maybe take in that know, with those kind of Next offerings?

Lauren:  I definitely think it’s about evaluating the client experience. So even from the if you were just thinking about the photography, it’s even about improving that so that it isn’t just a transactional piece of business. So you could create a business or a business model as such, where you get in touch with the client or they get in touch with you and you go through that process. But instead of just turning up on the day and having the photos, what could you do to make it more of an experience? So planning helping the client to be involved in that process. So one of the things with going to a bigger company where you’ve got the headshots is activity of getting your team involved in actually having the photos. What ideas do you have so you can bring it forward? Because I don’t know about you too, but most of the time when you go to a big company, most people don’t like having their photos taken for their shots. They hate it. And so it’s quite a chore for you to build that relationship up in a few minutes to get that headshot to move on to the next person. Whereas if they already are expecting you and they’ve been part in that process, it’s going to be hopefully a more enjoyable experience for the employees, but also the employer because they’re going to be happy with the end results.

Sam: Yeah, that’s really so common.

Marcus:  Yes. I’m obviously listening with open ears here because I’m a photographer very long in the tooth and things have changed so much in this last decade, even sooner, whereas, as I remember, when I was busy working, you could just rely on the work coming into you. There wasn’t a lot of competition and you could make a living out of just being a photographer. But what you’re saying here, Lauren, and that’s so interesting, is that these days it’s just not enough. You’ve got to do other things as well. You’ve got to add that word we keep hearing all the time. You’ve got to add extra value.

Lauren:  I kind of wish I was a photographer a long time ago. It might have been easier, but yeah, definitely. I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the, like, nearly five years. I speak to photographers who have been in the industry for a long time and I speak to ones that are just joining and even have a different experience to what I’ve got. So I think it’s these kind of things like having the podcast and communicating with each other and supporting each other, because there’s so much we can learn from each other as well to add value to what you’re doing. We all have different style. And this really fits into my big belief about it being collaboration over competition. Because I remember when I first started in the industry and I met a couple of photographers and it was really difficult because I thrive off experience. Like, I want to ask questions, I want to learn. And they felt like it was a threat. Why are you asking questions about what I do? Why do you want to know that? And I must say, I’ve now met a lot more photographers who haven’t been like that. It was only a couple, but think this is my aim. Something that I really value is that as I grow my business, whatever I learn, I want to give back. And I want to support other creatives and I  think it is about communicating and supporting each other and coming up with new know we are creative. So what could you teach me and what could I teach you? And I think it’s all about that network as well. And that community that we have.

Marcus: You mentioned earlier, Lauren, about education, and you’ve just been talking about passing things on. So maybe you could just unpack a little bit further about the kind of education service that you offer to photographers and other businesses.

Lauren:  Yeah. So I think in terms of other photographers, again, it’s about that communication, networking with each other, sharing knowledge. Because then we can better our experiences. We can better how we provide a better industry in general, whether that’s wedding photographers, whether it’s brand photographers, having that community of being able to just ask a genuine question when you’re stuck, I think that’s really important and that nobody should ever feel like they’re stuck and they can’t go to a competitor. I think we need to look at it more of a positive thing rather than a negative. And in terms of education with businesses, it’s all about helping them to understand how they can better market themselves, what’s included in that. So not just the photography, but the messaging, the types of content that you could put out there, what kind of ways that you could which platforms to use .sorry. In terms of social media, how to use your photos in the best quality for your website, and what impact that can make. Thinking about what stories to share with the photos that you can have the bigger results, and what type of photos that they should be taking themselves as well. And videos, because I think it professional photography and their own photography, because it’s the moments when they’re not going to have a photographer following them, showing what they do on a weekend, or showing the behind the scenes of what they’re doing so that it could help to show that you’re a real person behind the business. Because I think that’s a big change of how we used to market businesses to how we’re doing it now. It’s all about being real, being authentic, being somebody that you could feel like you trust them. It’s building that knowledge and trust.

Sam: Yeah, cool. That’s amazing. Actually just made me think as well. So we have launched a shoot to the top Facebook group, which you can join. We’ll put the link in the show notes and Lauren is on. You know, if you’ve got some questions, Lauren, pop them on there. I’m sure she will happily respond and answer questions because I’m sure lots of people are coming with loads. And it’s interesting what you’re saying there about putting yourself out there and putting that person out there, because it sort of goes again with something we were talking about in another show, which is about also not just making everything about yourself, because a lot of people don’t know, in the marketing they make it about yourself. So what’s your thought of that kind of balance? How do you kind of get that personal side and that show that you’re a real person without it making it too much? Me. Me, if that makes sense.

Lauren: Me show. Yes. Yeah, I think it’s how genuine you come across. And so my two favorite platforms are Instagram because I like it being creative and the amount of functions that that has. But then I also love LinkedIn because of the professional that is my network. Really. I meet so many people, have built genuine connections from that and I think the balance is that I show people who I am and I tell them about my story. But then I also really value that one of my content things that I share is about my community. So whether that’s networks that I go to and celebrating somebody else’s success. But it also could be my clients as well. So for example, like the client that I mentioned earlier from the recruitment business, I would often tell them about I’ll tell them about the things that they’re celebrating. So any wins or successes they have.

Sam:  Amazing. That’s fantastic. Cool. And I think Mark is waving a sand timer. Otherwise I think he spots that we’ll just be here for the next half hour.

Marcus: Well, it’s a great combo, I got to say. But yeah, we are coming up to the 25 minutes mark.

Sam:  Yeah. And I’m trying to think what we can do to summarize because we’ve covered so much.Mmaybe lauren, we’ve talked quite a lot about sort of marketing and stuff and how you help and sort of taking that photography to all sorts of new levels now you help all sorts of customers. If you’re talking about a photography business, can you think of maybe one or two things they could maybe do just to improve their marketing? They could literally do tomorrow. Right. Try this. This could just really help you.

Lauren: I think again, it’s practice what you preach. If you’re telling your clients to be visible, stand out, show the behind the scenes, then we hide behind our cameras and we don’t tell our story or tell people what we do. And I think it has so many benefits from sharing that sharing you packing your bags for a shoot to Berlin, for example, all the equipment that you have to take from that and what kind of shots you did there. Obviously, sometimes it is difficult when you’re like an NDA, but if that’s not the case, what little snippets could you get out the day in the life of what you do as a photographer to showcase the actual amount that goes into what we do? Because let’s be honest, sometimes it’s really difficult work. I’ve came home from weddings and my hands have been swollen. And it’s not all the lovely flippy stuff. I think showing that to your audience helps them to see the value that we put into our businesses.

Sam: Cool. Amazing. Thank you so much. That is such an amazing show. Loads and loads and loads for our listeners there. That is fantastic. And if you want even more, then we do have the newsletter and there will be some bonus content in the newsletter. If you want to sign up to the newsletter, then you can go to oh, we’ve got a new website, Marcus, I’ve just remembered. You can go to and you can sign up to the newsletter there. Yes, thank you, Lauren, so much. That has been amazing. Such an interesting show. Loads and loads to talk about. Thank you for being so kind and sharing all of that with us.

Lauren: Thank you. Thank you so much. No, that sounds really good. Genuinely. Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat to you. It’s been really good.

Sam: And Marcus, I will see you next week.

Marcus:  See you next week. Sam.