I began my photography career while working in corporate America. Eventually, I transitioned to teaching high school history (a job I loved) and worked concurrently as an educator and photographer for six years. Despite my best attempts, working two jobs was not sustainable. Here’s a few lessons I learned along my journey:
Believe it or not, your “day” job is an asset: use it.
Now, don’t get me wrong…working two jobs was one of the most stressful and difficult times of my life, but one thing I always understood clearly was that my “day job” was a powerful asset that allowed me to build my photography business exactly how I wanted. In other words, because the bulk of my income came from my teaching career, I was able to establish my wedding pricing at the level I wanted rather than setting the bar lower in fear of not booking enough.
Having other income doesn’t mean you should shoot weddings for free just to build your portfolio. On the contrary – your time is even more valuable because you have NO free time. The safety net of your other income allows you to charge a higher rate and invest more money back into your business. This approach absolutely requires more patience, but you’ll see a gradual increase in business that stands the test of time and grows with your abilities.
Getting Ready to Make the Switch
Be realistic about what you can accomplish. So you can book 30 weddings at a rate you’re proud of? Fantastic! Can you shoot them, deliver them, keep those clients happy, keep your day job happy and maintain your personal relationships? Doubtful. If your business continues to grow, you’ll need to make the jump at some point. As a teacher, I had the freedom to shoot weddings in the summer, however to build enough income to make the switch I had to take more and more jobs. Eventually after a few years of shooting 20 weddings while maintaining my full-time teaching and coaching jobs (and having a son), the levee eventually broke. It was time for me to leave my comfortable teaching gig.
Do your math. Figure out what you need to survive and pay your bills. How many weddings at what rate? Eventually your momentum builds to the point where you can have the confidence that you’re going to book X amount of weddings. This confidence for me came because I did build my business over time, rather than overnight. When it’s time for you to make the jump, book everything you can and give your day job plenty of notice. The first lesson you’ll learn running your own business is to NEVER burn a bridge. Giving your day job plenty of notice allows both of you to make a smooth transition.
Start to build your network. When I was teaching, I didn’t really have time to get out and meet other photographers, planners, or venue managers. I didn’t really realize how important they’d be to my business (AND my happiness…I’ll touch on that next). Developing a strong network of colleagues is one of the best investments you can make in your business. Like it or not, this is a people business. The more people you know, the more jobs you’ll get – regardless of how good your work is! The more sincere you are in your desire to connect and collaborate, the more fruitful these relationships will be.
You’re the boss…now what?
Know that feeling of going to work and catching up with your colleagues about the last episode of Bachelor Pad? That’s gone. Prepare to have that conversation on Facebook or Twitter. No one tells you that the life of the photographer is a solitary one. Maybe this is fantastic for you. Me? Did you ever see The Shining? Then you’ll know where I’m coming from. In my first year away from my teaching job, I missed my colleagues horribly – the ones who made me laugh, challenged me intellectually AND especially called me on my BS.
As a result, I’ve made it a point to develop and foster friendships with new colleagues. Yes it’s cheaper to eat at home, but the mental health you’ll gain from developing a few new friendships (thus preserving your sanity) far exceeds the cost to your wallet. Not to mention, these new friends become your advocates – passing leads along when they’re booked. The isolation also played a major role in my decision to hire an employee rather than to outsource some of my post production.
Remember why you left the day job. Of course you love photography and couldn’t dream of doing anything else. But let’s be real, you especially left because you were sick of ALWAYS working. Working during the day on “day” job stuff, and working at night and the weekends on your photography career. DON’T continue this course. Unless you have a dedicated studio away from your home, It’s way too easy to keep these habits because you never leave your work. Set boundaries for yourself. If photography is your only job, treat it like that. Do you want to work 5 days a week like normal people? Take Sundays and Mondays off, or Fridays off. Whatever works for you. Resist the temptation to always be drawn back to your computer. Create a schedule for yourself and stick to it.