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Alice Mabin re-launched her career from animal health to rural lifestyle photographer, author and entrepreneur with the launch of her self-published book, The Drover capturing an epic cattle drive. She explains how taking a risk helped her build a business doing what she loves.
Award-winning photographer, entrepreneur and author Alice Mabin doesn’t mince her words.
“I don’t consider myself to have any competition in the photographic world because I’m not photographing weddings or babies. I photograph cows and trucks.”
The story of how Mabin came to occupy that particular niche is an extraordinary one. Having already achieved career success in the animal health sector, she was looking for a new challenge. Rather than just pursuing one new skill, Mabin took on photography, marketing and journalism studies, figuring that the combination had the potential to open up new and exciting horizons.
As soon as she got her qualifications, Mabin quit her highly paid job. The very next day, the Brinkworth Drove went through the Queensland town where she was living. This involved 18,000 head of cattle being driven 2000 kilometres from Winton in central Queensland to Hay in central New South Wales, a vast undertaking and quite probably the last lost-distance drove this country will ever see.
Mabin sums it up: “I went out for a day to take some photos of some cattle and ended up staying for five months.”
Of the thousands of photographs she took the best 250 became The Drover, a coffee table book that has now sold more than 16,000 copies.
In case that sounds easy, it wasn’t. The Drove itself was gruelling according to Mabin. “I can’t explain how horrible the days were where it was 40-plus degrees, and you’ve gone to bed and you have to have your swag over your head because all you can hear is mosquitos buzzing around you,” she says.
But the real challenges began when Mabin looked into publishing her book. She was warned it could take a publisher up to nine months just to decide whether to publish — as far as she was concerned, that was too long, and the story would lose its relevance.
At the same time, she was learning about the realities of distribution and royalties.
“When your book is in the bookshop, you’re competing with every other book in the bookshop,” she says. “So unless someone gets behind it, it’s just going to sit there … and the return for me was absolutely nothing, less than 10 per cent of the retail. I had not just worked myself to death to get 10 per cent out of this. So I decided to self-publish.”
Although Mabin describes her experiences succinctly, almost casually, the passion, drive and willingness to take risks have made her the 2015 Asia Pacific Female Entrepreneur of the Year at the Business Excellence & Forum Awards shine through.
“I’m following my dream, but I hate it when people tell me I’m so lucky with what I do’, when there’s no luck involved,” she says. “I choose to do it. I get bored if I’m not pushing myself. I like to throw myself in at the deep end … when you’re so invested in your own business financially and emotionally, you do whatever it takes to succeed. I think risk-taking is necessary.”
For Mabin, taking risks includes overturning accepted ways of doing things. Take how she’s built her successful photography business. As well as selling images from The Drover as prints or canvases, Mabin has amassed a large stock library of rural images.
Instead of calling people to ask if they’d like to book a shoot (because she knows the answer is usually ‘no, it’s not in our budget’), Mabin takes the photographs and sends them to the person or business.
And their response? “They’ll say ‘oh my god, that’s amazing, how do we buy it?’”
Mabin can also turn adversity into opportunity. She got hit by a truck, and her response was ‘what a great idea for a book’. That book, The Driver, is what she’s currently working on and will feature more than 100 trucking businesses in Australia and New Zealand.
So what next? Mabin figures she’s got another three years of work ahead of her in publishing then marketing The Driver, and she’s keen to see both books launched in the US market. Over the past couple of years, she’s also qualified for her commercial pilot’s licence to fly a drone and is keen to use this to get more into aerial photography and videography.
Finally, what’s her advice for those inspired by her success?
“Have a go,” says Mabin. “If you were on your deathbed tomorrow, would you be satisfied with what you’ve done? If the answer’s no, well change it now. Because you never know when your time is going to be up. If you’ve got a dream, follow it.”
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