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Highland man discusses his picture-perfect career

Ian MacLeod
Ian MacLeod

Each week, we ask small businesses key questions.

Here we speak to Ian MacLeod, who runs Wild West wildlife tours and photography firm Nevispix from Caol, near Fort William

How and why did you start in business?

As with many self-employed businessmen and women, my early career was spent working for others – four years for a bank, two years in the family newsagents and twelve years teaching at and managing outdoor centres. Outdoor pursuit work brought me to Lochaber in 1989 and I have never left.

While working for others was fine, I always craved the independence that comes from running one’s own business. My first stab at self-employment was in 1993, when I started a laser shooting business, Northern Lights, and I followed this with a pet food franchise in 1995.

By 2002 it was time for a change and I established Nevispix, a digital photography business still going today.

I started by taking photos for a friend who ran white-water rafting trips, selling cds of photos to the clients and achieving a 66% take up rate.

I moved on to selling landscape images, including a small postcard range, which I still do, but realised the market was very overcrowded so added photography workshops and courses in 2007.

That market also quickly became saturated as the established professionals struggled to make a living with image sales; everyone is now a “professional” photographer.

It was time to diversify once more and Wild West was born in 2009. Today, I offer full and half-day wildlife-watching safaris in Lochaber and further afield on request to clients from all over the world.

How did you get to where you are today?

Through determination and perseverance, adapting well to changing circumstances and seizing opportunities before they slip by.

I have also focused on the businesses that interest me most, rather than on the ones that give the best financial returns. Variety is the spice of life.

Who helped you?

My dad was a great help and inspiration. Highlands and Islands Enterprise gave me a grant and “soft” loan to start the laser clay pigeon shooting business in 1993.

More recently, the Outdoor Capital of the UK helped with marketing, while the Federation of Small Businesses provides a wide range of member benefits and services – the two most useful to me being big discounts on card payments and free business banking through a Co-op business current account. These benefits alone certainly cover my membership fees.

What has been your biggest mistake?

Putting the cart before the horse and borrowing a lot of money for a new, untried business before taking the time to properly research the market. One lives and learns but it was a hard lesson at the time.

What was your greatest achievement?

I have appeared on the BBC’s Countryfile series and, in June, on The One Show., however, I am most proud of my certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor.

If you were in power in government, what would you change?

I would slash red tape and employment laws – there is no way that I would take on staff with things as they stand.

Simply put, businesses will take on people if it makes business sense for them to do so, and mountains of government-imposed red tape and unnecessary employment laws act as a real disincentive.

What do you still hope to achieve?

I want my wildlife guiding business to continue to grow and to provide me with a comfortable and sustainable income.

What do you do to relax?

Take photographs and watch wildlife. Seriously, my businesses is also my hobby. I also ski, cycle and bag the occasional Munro, and I recently took up sea-kayaking.

What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on the TV?

I’m reading Nigel Tranter’s Lord of the Isles, which I love as I have visited all of the locations the author refers to. I watch Corrie (Coronation Street) but have no time for other soaps. I also watch all the science and nature programmes – Brian Cox, David Attenborough etc.

What do you waste your money on?

Ski, cycle and kayak gear – and the occasional bottle of malt, though nurturing one’s spiritual needs is never waste.

How would your friends describe you?

Friendly, sociable, organised and opinionated.

What would your enemies say about you?

I don’t know if I have any enemies. I focus on my friends.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

I currently have a Mercedes Vito van for transporting clients and a Renault Megane for domestic use. I used to have a Toyota MR2 Mk II T-bar and would love something similar again, but my environmental conscience won’t allow it.