I’ve been in your shoes. You work a job you hate and yearn for when you can do what you love day in and day out. This sounds like a cheesy elevator pitch, but hear me out when I say I know you’re thinking exactly this. You are really only a few steps away from becoming a full time photographer, but some things hold you back.
I moved to Delaware 4 years ago, and from there it was a huge struggle to find my footing in this new place. I actually worked for Amazon when I first moved here. It was NOT the job for me. From there I bounced to a few oddball jobs before I finally landed in the lap of waitressing again. I was miserable.
My business had hardly taken off and I felt like I was going to be stuck waiting tables forever. I was constantly upset with myself while my husband was the “bread winner”. I made a meager salary that barely paid my bills. Without a degree, it’s hard to find a job that pays above minimum wage. I was so resentful of other photographers who got to be full time, and that did not help my happiness either.
It just wasn’t pretty, okay? I was consumed with depression and felt like I was constantly pouring from an empty cup. I’d wake up, work on my business, then race the clock to finish everything I needed before having to leave for my other job. Throw in house work, staying fit, and a social life, and it’s even harder on you. This is not how someone should live, and I did this for almost 3 years. You can see why I felt the way I did!
I finally had enough once the strain moved into my personal life, and I knew it was time to make changes. I dove head first into my business and hustled to make it thrive. It’s 2019 and my business is on track to have the most successful year yet. I’ll be making a livable wage and will be able to contribute to our household in ways I never could before. So, I put together some of my best tips for becoming a full time photographer! Everyone’s situation looks different, however these are applicable across the board and a good jumping off point to get you motivated.
I know you aren’t the Lannister family, but you should aim to always pay your debts. Having debt is a norm in this country, and I fit the bill for many years. Whether it’s a car loan, a student loan, credit cards, it all adds up to a big pile of debt. I have a “Pay It Upfront” mindset now which is helpful in avoiding accruing more debt.
The goal here is to minimize anxiety and stress. Even with your job now, I’m sure you dread those monthly payments. Taking the leap into a full time creative career means taking on variable income. You likely won’t make the same amount every month, and you don’t want to stress making payments.
This is easier said than done, but is possible with dedication! This is one of the core reasons I was able to break free from my job and become a full time photographer. I sacrificed every extra cent for years and funneled it all into my debts to pay them off faster. Now I don’t have those monthly payments hanging over my head, so I can rest easy when a slower month comes along. If you aren’t sure where to start on your debt free journey, I highly recommend checking out Dave Ramsey and following his guidelines.
I hardly paid myself the first year of my photography business. Instead, I squirreled it all away into my business account and didn’t touch it. If I did, it was only for equipment or to pay my monthly business expenses. Occasionally I’d pay myself something so I could make an extra payment into my debt. Other than that, I did not touch that money, and I was only able to do this because I did have another job.
I filed my taxes on the money made that year and the rest stayed in the account as my reserve money. This is the money I am now paying myself bi-weekly with. My mindset with business money is that I will always need something to pull from, and that’s exactly what this is!
It’s wise to have 3-6 months worth of expenses put aside. When leaving your job, this will give you peace of mind in case you have a few slow months in a row. It happens, and is totally normal, but it’s best to have this to combat it!
Every dollar is accounted for. If you typically spend willy-nilly, then I’m sure you’re wondering what happened to all your money at the end of the month. I’ll admit, my husband and I were not the best at this until we decided we valued saving more than spending. My biggest advice here is to sit down and write out how much you bring in a month (with your partner, too!). List out all your monthly expenses, like car payment, insurance, etc. and deduct it from your income. See what’s left over and designate that for savings or other categories.
This is something Dave Ramsey recommends doing too! I swear I’m not paid nor endorsed by him, just a big fan of the education he’s created for this reason. However, this allows you to grasp how much you need to bring in each month to cover bills and necessities, and to save for the future.
This is a big one. You are not going to have a successful business – or one that pays you a proper salary – if you’re charging $50-$200 per session. This goes for only ever doing mini sessions, too, unless you’re selling additional images and products. I did exactly this before, and I still kick myself for it to this day.
I’ll let you all in on a little secret: Photographers don’t simply pocket their entire session fee. Gasp! What?! Yes, it’s true. We pay ourselves from it, but not until we deduct about 35% for taxes, and pay the business first. So imagine your session fee is $150, you deduct your $52.50 for taxes, then you are left with $97.50. Now, everyone’s business expenses are different, but it’s usually another 30% paid into the business. Now you’re left with $68.25 from that ONE session.
Think about how many sessions you’d have to do per week at those rates to pay yourself minimum wage, or what you’d make working a traditional 40 hour work week. A photo session is never just the session itself. Count how many hours you spend on it from consultation to delivering the final gallery, and divide your final number by the hours. If that number doesn’t scare you, we need to talk. If you’re struggling with the numbers game, you should definitely utilize this amaaazing Cost of Doing Business Calculator by Cassie Clayshulte. You can calculate based on the salary you want to make. Numbers don’t have to be scary, but you definitely need to understand them to be a business owner.
I have to thank my phenomenal accountant, Michael Klipper at Engage CPAS, here too. He’s been a godsend with helping me understand the nitty gritty side of numbers. It also helps having him basically be a cheerleader for my business. He’s told me several times that I run it very efficiently and has always believed I’ll reach full time status. I can’t stress how important a knowledgable accountant is in pricing and future business success as well. You have to have great people on your team!
We can chat all about this if this sounds like you, just reach out and I’m happy to walk you through it. But be warned, I’m brutally honest when it comes to pricing appropriately because you deserve a livable salary. Plus, it puts value back into the photography industry, and that’s good for everyone!
If you think you don’t need a great website for your photography business, think again! This is quintessential in becoming a full time photographer because it’s one of the best ways to get your name into the Google Search Engine. Your website is your little corner of the web. It is all about you, your work, and one of the best ways to showcase your talent. The majority of my inquiries come organically from Google, and they reach out to me through my contact form on my site.
However, it’s not enough to have a website full of pretty pictures! You want to connect with potential clients and leave a lasting impression on them. They want to know about you and who could potentially be taking their pictures. A high converting website is priceless when you own your own business.
Community over competition is a huuuuge deal to me. I’ll admit, I kept to myself as I was starting my business because I feared other local photographers didn’t like me. That’s one of the biggest mistakes I made starting up in Delaware. I’m still not the greatest and have only met a handful of fellow photographers here (and if we still haven’t met yet, holla at me and we will grab coffee!).
But, I joined a ton of local Facebook groups and that put me in touch with lovely like-minded creatives in my area. It introduced me to Tuesdays Together, a get together of various creators all trying to build their businesses. It introduced me to my photographer BFF, Paige, who I shoot weddings with consistently. We also send each other referrals for weddings if one of us is already booked. The value of networking is far reaching and gives you wonderful friendships in the lonely world of entrepreneurship.
Try searching for local groups of photographers in your area. There’s no end to the vast amount of network opportunities, you just have to get yourself involved!
My husband will tell you, I’m annoying when I’m going to do something. I said I was going to quit at least a hundred times, and he called my bluff every time. I was terrified to leave a consistent income, even if it wasn’t a lot. I just felt safety in having that, even with no more debt and a husband with a stable career and benefits in the military.
I’m even hesitant when my accountant tells me it’s unnecessary. My anxiety did not let me realize what potential I had. As I shifted my mindset, I realized I just needed to do it. This is a huge factor in me becoming a full time photographer, too. If I didn’t do it now, I was never going to. It’s a very scary jump to take, but investing more time into what brings you joy will reap rewards. I’ve now been able to focus more on client experiences + expectations, advertising + marketing, and just overall more business things I was too tired to tackle before.
There’s a million other tips for becoming a full time photographer that could be added here, but these are just a few of the ones that really helped shape where I am now. Your business will only work as hard as you do. Being full time gives you a greater power over it and allows you to focus on expanding. If you’re looking to head in this direction, let’s chat! I’m always happy to share insight and dive deeper into what makes a business tick. We all start somewhere!
As a wedding and elopement photographer based in New Jersey, I specialize in capturing enchanting moments that tell the unique love stories of my clients. I am dedicated to providing LGBTQIA+ friendly services and take pride in embracing and celebrating the diversity of all couples.