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Why I became a B Corp: Marnie Hawson

16 February 2022 at 4:28 pm
Nikki Stefanoff
One-person B Corps are few and far between, which is why we were so keen to sit down with photographer, and recently certified B Corp, Marnie Hawson. 

Nikki Stefanoff | 16 February 2022 at 4:28 pm


Why I became a B Corp: Marnie Hawson
16 February 2022 at 4:28 pm

One-person B Corps are few and far between, which is why we were so keen to sit down with photographer, and recently certified B Corp, Marnie Hawson. 

When you think of B Corps, it’s the big ones that tend to come to mind but when it comes to making an impact through your business, big doesn’t always mean better. Just ask Marnie Hawson. 

Hawson started her photography business back in 2014, after a decade spent working in environmental science. A self-taught creative with a passion for sustainable living, Hawson began thinking about how she could best combine her personal drive to create a positive impact with her professional life. 

After first becoming aware of the B Corp movement in 2019, Hawson knew it was something she wanted to pursue. And while she originally felt overwhelmed by the process, she hired a B Corp consultant to guide her through it and became certified late last year. 

We sat down and talked with her about what it means to be a one-woman B Corp, how she ensures she only works with SDG-focused clients and how she hopes her small business can make a big impact. 

Before we get to chatting all things B Corp, tell me a little bit about your transition from environmental science to photographer. 

Well, I always say that I don’t really know how it happened because, before I made it my career, I’d never done photography as a hobby or anything. I did environmental science for about 10 years and then when we left Melbourne and moved out to the Macedon Ranges I started to think about how I could begin to work for myself. I tried out a few things but then found photography, wrote a business plan and worked out how to carve it out as a career. I have to say that I think I approached it in quite a scientific way! 

Did you do any training or did you just pick up a camera and go for it?

I taught myself. I talked to a lot of photographer friends about their studies and their experience of it and came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to go back and do more study — I already have an honours degree in zoology. Instead, I found courses online, watched YouTube videos and learned by trial and error. I’ve always been very honest about this and still struggle to think of myself as creative. I tend to think of myself more as a scientist and I really, really love the business side of things. 

What year did you decide to go all-in with photography as a career and when did you start to think about becoming a B Corp? 

I went all-in with photography around 2014 when I started working with a lot of small businesses that were making their products in a mindful way. The aspect of what my client was making and where materials were coming has always been important to me but I didn’t start to become aware of the B Corp movement until around three years ago. 

Did you know at that point that you might go for certification? 

I talked about wanting to do it for probably a year before I started the process in early 2021. In fact, I looked at the Business Impact Assessment (BIA) a couple of years ago and was just totally confused by it. Then, last January, I found Alison Michalk who is a B Corp consultant and she was fantastic in helping me go through the BIA. I committed to taking the first week of every month for the whole of 2021 to work through the process, and Ally kept me on track and helped me answer all the questions. 

How did you find the experience as a solo business owner?

Because the business is just me and I work from home where I already live a pretty sustainable lifestyle — we recycle, we compost and have worm farms etc — I already had a lot of the systems needed as a B Corp in place. I ended up doing my carbon assessment, and other aspects of the BIA, in a way that combined my personal life with my work. I did pick up on some things that I wasn’t doing and ended up writing my own environmental management system document, which gave me extra tips, but because I work alone and I have no plans to expand, I knew that the BIA was really just being written for me. 

A lot of the bigger B Corps say they find going through the BIA to be an eyeopener, did you find the same? 

I didn’t really because I’m already so on top of how I run my life and business in a sustainable way. I suppose the biggest thing was really spending the time with the BIA to understand the purpose of my business. For example, I found it really hard to define who I considered to be a purpose-driven client. Last year I was still going through the process of narrowing down who I worked with because offering a service, and being such a small business, the biggest impact I can have is who I work for. Particularly because my work is about improving, and increasing, their sales. Going through that process taught me that it was a bit of a grey area and you can’t really make it black and white.

How did you end up coming to that conclusion? 

I wrote an impact report last year, which helped because when you don’t have anyone working for you you have to look at who your clients really are. From there, I then decided to make it clearer on my website the types of clients I wanted to work with but I found that I was still struggling with defining them. I then had the revelation that to make my purpose clearer I was going to make it really simple and work with clients who were actively working towards the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). I end up declining about eight out of 10 jobs that come through but I feel good about the decision. 

As a small business owner was it frightening to say no to jobs from a financial perspective?

No, because I’ve always found that saying no, and narrowing down what I do, doesn’t affect the bottom line. I think it’s got something to do with when you sit back from your business and assess how you want to run it, and who you want to work with, you can be more strategic about what to take on. So I just have confidence in that. Plus, I think if you leave space it will be filled with the jobs you want. Whereas if you’re always busy taking on jobs that don’t quite fit your ideal client, you don’t have room when those other jobs come up. 

Have you had to lower your prices to attract the clients you want? 

No, I haven’t, which is what’s going to allow me to take on more pro bono work — something I want to do more of this year. At the moment I’m still working predominantly in the sustainable architecture space and I want to work with more clients that are working towards the SDGs as well as not for profits and so I’m now focused on building my contacts in these areas. 

How do you approach the topic of SDGs with potential clients? Do you bring it up or do you hope the clarity of messaging on your website acts as a gatekeeper? 

Well, I’ve made it clear on the website what the SDGs are, and why I want to help people working towards them but I think if you’ve got to explain what the SDGs are to someone then they’re not the kind of client you want! 

And do you think certifying as a B Corp has helped influence the kinds of clients you’re attracting? 

I think so. The community is full of like-minded people who place importance on working with people with the same values. For me, part of certifying as a B Corp was so those people could find me and we could work together. 

Would you recommend the process to other sole traders? 

Yes, I think it’s important to know that even if you’re a small business you can make an impact. You know, if every small business looked at who they banked with, who their super was with and certified as carbon neutral, just imagine the difference that could make. I’m always trying to inspire other small businesses to realise they can make change and that it’s not always hard. Plus, I think that running your business in the way you want to run it, and in a way that’s aligned with your values, makes a big difference to both you and your clients. Being a B Corp shows that you walk what you talk. 

Find out more about Marnie Hawson here

Nikki Stefanoff  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Nikki Stefanoff is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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