When Saskia Nelson left her job to set up a photography business, she was soon credited with creating a whole new genre – dating photography.
Some five years later, Nelson’s Hey Saturday agency now offers its services to clients in cities across the UK and even New York City, with plans to continue expanding.
Business Advice sat down with Nelson to hear more about what inspired the concept, managing freelancers across the Atlantic and the secrets behind a winning PR strategy.
Who are you and what is your business?
I’m Saskia Nelson and I’m the founder and head honcho of Hey Saturday, the world’s first dating photography agency. We help hundreds of single people across the UK and New York City find love online by creating a stand-out set of dating photos to use on their online dating profiles.
How did you come up with the concept of a dating photography agency?
Back in 2013 when I decided to quit my job and set up a photography business, I was reading a business book called Screw Work Lets Play, which encourages you to look at your life experiences along with your passions to find your business idea sweet spot.
At the same time, I had a lot of people asking if I was going to try my hand at wedding photography. I knew wedding photography wouldn’t be my thing, but that question, along with the book, made me look back at my life experiences and realise that I was actually an online dating expert, I just hadn’t realised it. It came to me that all those experiences could actually come in useful.
I’d spent eight years doing online dating and had a lot of fun with it until meeting my partner online. During that time, I must have viewed hundreds of terrible online dating profile photos and found it very uninspiring. More and more, people crave a richer visual experience online and yet this didn’t seem to extend to online dating, something that is possibly the most important thing you’ll do – finding your long-term partner.
I did some research and realised that no one in the world was specialising in creating photos for people’s online profiles, so I decided to give it a go. I’ve now been credited by Time magazine and Martin Parr for creating a new genre of photography – dating photography.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching your agency?
I think the biggest challenge was finding photographers to work with who fit the Hey Saturday brand. I worked really hard creating a brand that attracted hundreds of clients and needed to know that when clients were out on our shoots, they were getting a great service and having a fun experience no matter who their photographer was
I had to find trustworthy photographers who were super talented, great with people and who I genuinely liked hanging out with. I figured out fairly quickly exactly how to do this, so don’t tend to get it wrong.
Did Hey Saturday require any funding to launch?
No, I kept overheads to a minimum at the beginning doing everything myself and working from home. At the end of 2016, though, I secured funding to hire developers to create a bespoke online booking platform that allows our clients to book and pay for their shoot online and then log in after the shoot to view and download their images.
The photographers also access the platform to create their profiles, add their availability and upload the images. This investment was so worthwhile as it not only frees up a lot of my time but it also enables me to expand the brand to other cities and different time zones, while still providing a first-rate service to all our clients.
What is it like managing a team of freelancers in separate countries?
I actually find it pretty easy overseeing photographers in lots of different cities. I think the reason for this is that I only hire people that I genuinely like and trust. In all my interactions with them, I’m usually thinking to myself, “how can I make them happy in this situation?”. Happy photographers make me happy and create happy clients.
Luckily, offering them work doing something they’re passionate about – cool photo shoots – really helps. I know our photographers love working for Hey Saturday and that means a lot to me. Plus, the beauty of technology ensures that it’s no different for me to work with them whether they’re in the US or UK.
What makes a strong PR strategy for startup businesses?
For me, putting the client experience at the heart of everything we do is key. My aim is to build a brand which helps people start enjoying a better online dating experience and everything we do is about that. We’re not simply selling photo shoots, we’re creating an experience that will improve people’s love lives.
In terms of PR, journalists love a story with an emotional connection, whether that’s about your clients’ experiences with your product or service or the personal story behind the brand, so I always think to myself, “where’s the emotion here?”, when I approach a journalist.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Ooh that’s tricky. I’ve had lots of great things happen since launching the business like appearing in Time magazine’s blog, shooting Martin Parr for his auto portrait series, getting coverage on the home page of the BBC, being invited as a regular speaker at the Women of the World festival, winning awards, launching in New York City.
But, my biggest achievements are related to our clients. We’ve helped along a few marriages, some engagements and I know of three babies now that we’ve played a part in. Now that’s pretty special.
What are your future ambitions for Hey Saturday?
I want to build a fun, global brand that is known for helping people find fun, love and good times online.
Who would be your dream business partner?
There are so many people who inspire me in business, but I really love Sharmadean Reid of WAH Nails so I’d choose her. She looks like she’s having a lot of fun with life and the achievements just keep mounting up. A true inspiration.
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