Jumping into family and newborn photography full time was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but it’s also been the most rewarding, best decision of my life! Owning my own business was a dream for many years before I took the plunge, and after years of working in corporate America and working photography as a little side hustle, I FINALLY took the leap over 2 years ago, and haven’t looked back since. Today I’m sharing my journey to full time, and some helpful tips and questions to ask yourself to determine if you’re ready to do the same!
I can remember the day I left my job in corporate America so vividly. I had a four month old baby girl, and spent my evenings dreading the next work day when I had to show up for a job that literally felt like it was sucking the life out of me. To be honest, I hadn’t been giving that job my all since I came back from maternity leave, despite the fact that before I left I was easily one of the top performers in the role. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I just could not focus on my job when it suddenly felt so unimportant compared to my new life as a mom to a beautiful baby girl.
When I started my business in 2015, the goal had always been to eventually go full time. To be honest, though, it felt like an unrealistic dream, and I really wondered if the day would ever come. Could I really make enough money as a photographer to support our family in the way I needed to? We needed my income, and it needed to be comparable to what I was making in my full time corporate gig. Still, we talked about it frequently, and decided that once our first child had arrived, we would consider taking the leap.
The day I quit I hadn’t actually planned to quit. It sort of just…happened. We had a date in our head for me to resign that was about 6 weeks further out than we actually pulled the trigger, but in a conversation with my then boss about goal setting and increasing my productivity at work, the truth all came pouring out. I gave my two week notice during my “goal setting/future planning” call, and could finally feel the rush of that full time photographer life!
It is so scary to take the leap, but it has been one of the most rewarding decisions of my entire life. I wanted to share a few things I did, and a few things I wish I did, as I made this own transition in my life and business! Here are my top tips for taking the leap:
Is your growth in business being stunted by your full time job? Do you know in your core that if you had the time to dedicate to it, that a little extra marketing push and effort would take you to the next level? Are you having to turn down work due to your full time job demands?
Before my daughter arrived, I had started to build a steady flow of clients in my business. I wasn’t booked out by any means, but I was getting somewhat regular inquiries, and booking a few clients each month! With a full time job, I knew that I wasn’t putting as much effort as I could to marketing and growing my business, but I also didn’t truly know if I could REALLY do this whole full-time photographer thing.
I realized, though, that my capacity to truly grow my business was being stunted by the demands of my 8-5. Eventually, I was having to turn down photography sessions because I couldn’t slip away frequently enough to fulfill my photography commitments. I was burning the candle at both ends to try and shoot, edit and grow while still trying to be a top performer at my day job. I knew that if I REALLY wanted to do this thing, then I needed to commit full time to make it happen.
Don’t get me wrong, starting as a side hustle is an incredibly brave and often necessary venture. If you are hustling on the side AND working full time – high freaking five to you. Those were some of the toughest days, but the investment of time and energy was so well worth it. The tipping point will come when you know that to continue to grow you must make a change and assessing your capacity to determine whether you are there or need a little more time to build a base can help you know when the time is right!
Before you take the leap, you MUST know your numbers! How much will it cost to run your business, and how much will you need to work to cover your costs and make a profit? What does your take home pay (aka how many sessions do you need to take and at what price) need to be to make it work? It’s important to know what you need to do to get where you want to go!
Understanding your costs might be the single most important thing to do before taking the leap, and it’s honestly where I made my biggest mistake. When I set my pricing at the start of my business, I literally grabbed numbers out of thin air. It turns out, those numbers covered my basic expenses, but I was literally giving away my valuable time. I was also uninsured and not investing back into my business, which are two things I highly value now that I’m a few years into the game.
It wasn’t a sustainable business model, and about a year in, I wisened up and ran a true business assessment and priced myself for profit. It was one of the most eye opening things I’ve ever done for my business, and when I ran the numbers and calculated my time, I realized I was making LESS than minimum wage for all my hard work. I truly believe that as photographers, we provide SO much more than a minimum wage service. We pour years of hard work into honing our craft, invest in expensive equipment and education, and obsess over getting beautiful results for our clients every single time. But yet, we don’t value how much effort and dedication it takes to deliver a quality product and experience.
When I ran my assessment and realized I needed to make a change, I re-priced at a fair market value. And the truth? My prices went up DRAMATICALLY. It led to me losing some wonderful clients who just simply couldn’t afford me at my new fair market rates and that broke my heart. But it hurt more knowing I was spending precious evening and weekend hours away from my husband and young daughter for less than I could be making at my local McDonald’s. Fortunately, I’ve been able to continue to build my client base at my current pricing, and I know I’m compensating myself for my time and talent, which is an incredible feeling that drives me to work even harder for my clients.
Know your numbers, and value your worth! It will be so worth it in the long run to start out on the right foot, and will contribute to you making the leap into a profitable, sustainable business that will support your family.
For help with understanding your numbers, I’ve created a profitable pricing worksheet for you to use! It’s totally free and will help you truly assess your expenses, time and session rates. This is the exact spreadsheet I used to run my own numbers, and that I continue to use to assess my changing business needs! You can download the worksheet by entering your details here:
Don’t be shy about your venture. Let your network know you are making the leap! Use your support system to connect with new clients, and let people know you are in this business for the long haul! There’s this magical thing that happens when you continue to spread the word, but it truly snowballs if you’re offering solid work, and before you know it you’ll be getting consistent leads and bookings!
You’ll also want to make sure you have a great online presence so that you can continue to connect with those outside of your network. Having a solid website with up to date imagery that reflects the kind of work you want to be hired for, an easy to use contact form, and an active blog (this helps with Search Engine Optimization – we’ll talk about that more in future posts!) is a must. You’ll also want to get active on social media – things like Facebook and Instagram and even Pinterest. You don’t have to post every single day and you don’t have to post to every single platform (although the more you can commit to the better!) – just choose a posting consistency you can stick with and get the word out there!
I mentioned this in the last tip, but it’s so important that you show the type of work you want to be booked for. Want to be booked for in home lifestyle newborn sessions? Then I wouldn’t recommend showcasing your most recent puppy portrait session you did for your best friend.
It’s okay to take on work that isn’t totally in line with your ultimate goals, especially in the beginning as you are continuing to gain experience and grow your business and revenue. But remain focused on the prize and ultimate goal! Envision your dream business, and try and hone the work you showcase to match as best you can. If you want to be know in your area for a certain look or type of session, show that consistently.
This may mean you need to do a “model call” or two to build your portfolio so that you have work to showcase. I did this in the beginning to get my start in lifestyle newborn sessions. In fact, my first Fresh 48 session sort of happened on accident when we went to visit a friend who’d just had a new baby in the hospital and I happened to be in that “take your camera everywhere phase.” I snapped a few photos for them, and the rest, as they say, is history. Once I had a few model call sessions under my belt, it was a snowball effect of being hired more and more for these types of sessions.
Growth not only in business but in my own skill level as a photographer and business owner has been my driving force since I went full time. When I made the leap I was doing decent work. But in the time since I went full time over 2 years ago, I have grown tremendously by continuing to invest in myself, my education and my business and I feel that I am now offering consistently beautiful work for my clients, and setting myself apart as an expert in my area and specialty.
Set goals of taking a workshop every year, whether online or in person, to continue to hone your skills and perfect your craft! That’s the beauty of photography – there is literally always something to learn or new places to explore and different ways to see the world, and in this online world, it’s easier than ever to find opportunities to learn.
Never stop evolving and growing in your business. If something isn’t working – change it. If there’s a style or skill you want to learn – invest in the education. If you want to shift the direction of your business – do it. You can make anything you dream of a reality by committing to yourself, continuing to grow personally and professionally, and truly believing that you can make anything happen if you simply decide you will.
So tell me friend, where are you in your journey? What’s holding you back, and what do you need to take the next step? Let me encourage you along and answer these questions in the comments section below.
You’ve got this girl. You can MAKE it happen!