Given the current financial difficulties in world markets, a lot of people will be considering starting up sideline businesses. Sometimes this sort of project takes off and takes over. That's certainly how it's been for Daniel Rymer, once known to many as one of the cast of the BBC's Casualty and currently the owner of Fresh Face Photography in Godalming, Surrey.
He went straight into dancing after school. He was lucky enough to get parts in the West End quickly and his looks ensured that he got noticed. "It would freak people out a bit when they'd be looking at my face on a poster for Chicago then realise I was standing next to them on the escalator," he recalls. It was while he was working on this show that he decided to go into acting.
He paid for tuition and auditioned successfully for Casualty. He made an immediate impact and the attention from the public and media was striking – and at times silly. The publicists once asked him to take part in an "at home with Daniel Rymer" piece but contrary to the popular impression, actors aren't always rich, even when they're working steadily, and he was embarrassed to show people his rented accommodation at the time.
"I borrowed a friend's flat," Rymer confesses. The journalist and photographers turned up with throws, vases, everything they wanted to include in the feature, and it went in labelled as the Daniel Rymer look, with lists of where to buy the things he "owned". He left Casualty after two years. His character had run its course and, for the first time in his career, he faced the life of an intermittently employed actor.
Around the same time, he and his young family had been to a photographer and he was struck by the similarities between the job and his own: reading people and having to put them at ease. The seed of his photography business was sown. "I had enough money to get the equipment but, more importantly, the training I needed." He saw a photography guru who taught him to refine what he already knew into a distinctive style.
He started in a studio in his back garden. He wanted to build a brand and bring other people into the company rather than simply become "Daniel Rymer, photographer", as he thought this would generate the best income. Even though he intended the venture to run alongside his acting, he wanted a name that would stand independently. "My long-term masterplan was and probably still is to grow this so that it doesn't rely on me," he says. He trains people who are interested in the style of studio photography that relies on getting others to perform.
"I set up with the thought that I might do one client a week, and it just snowballed," he says. "We got to the stage where I needed to employ a full-time member of staff; my wife left her job to work for us and I employed someone else too." The business outgrew the back garden, Rymer turned the venture into a limited company and gave up acting altogether. "It got to the point where my agent would ring up, I'd look in my diary and realise I couldn't justify taking two weeks out to go and shoot an episode of The Bill."
When the business grew to 40 clients a month, Rymer employed a business coach, again seeking outside help when he might otherwise have been out of his depth. "When I wanted to be an actor I knew I didn't have the skills to blag it; when I wanted to be a photographer I paid someone to teach me, and I took the same approach with my business."
The business coach has helped with business systems – making sure every piece of marketing paid for itself, for example. He's sharpened up the referral system so families get cash for bringing in new customers. He's helped with performance indicators so Rymer can analyse the business and its performance.
The company is now looking into setting up a second studio. The overall aim is to push the Fresh Face brand as hard as possible. As for a return to acting, Rymer is in no hurry. "I see Fresh Face and business as my career now; if I ever get back into acting it will probably be in at least 10 years' time. It is something that will always be in my life, because I enjoy it so much; but it might not be something I ever rely on financially again."