April 19, 2011
I get asked about this topic a lot, so I thought I’d write a bit about it!
Ok, so maybe I didn’t hate being an Elementary School Spanish teacher, but waking up extra early to answer e-mails before running to school and then coming home covered in chalk, just to walk right to my computer and start working the night shift, was not my ideal way of spending my first year of marriage. My poor husband would greet me at the door, super excited to see me (he was already a full-time wedding cinematographer), and I’d have to do my best to smile through the anxious thoughts over how long the hello would take because I knew the exponential rate that the editing pile was growing.
“Weekend warriors” is the cliché term for us crazies photographers who know nothing of a 40 hour workweek or what it’s like to attend a Memorial Day BBQ (at least not one where we’re not tired from the 12 hour wedding we worked the day before and then the sequential 6 hours we spent backing up the files on our outdated PC – yes, that’s a MAC plug). It really isn’t the best life to lead. It’s a stressful one that demands all the time that you possess leaving only sleep as the thing that gets your second longest attention span. I like to define success by the amount of free time that I have to spend with the people I love, doing things that really matter in the end. But, I don’t think I really have to convince any photographer in this part-time photographer lifestyle that going full-time is the best thing that you’ll ever do.
So, before you make the plunge, how do you know if you’re ready? Make no mistake, it is, in fact, a plunge, a giant leap of faith, and a huge step forward that you’ll take without actually seeing where your foot will fall. But, there are some questions that you can ask yourself to see if you’re ready to go from doing what you hate, to doing what you love.
Is photography what I love? A lot of you will quickly answer “Yes” to this question, but take a moment with yourself and make sure you really know where your passion lies. I’m sure you know the saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Think about the “work” side of photography: e-mails, dealing with clients, marketing, pricing, branding, social media, editing, albums, prints, frames, the people you’re photographing, continual education and product research. It’s ok if some of those things make you cringe, especially if those things are things that you can outsource like editing, printing and album designing. Look at the whole picture. Can you see yourself doing all of those things to the point you actually get excited about it? Or maybe it’s just the taking pictures part you really love (which is ok by-the-way). As someone who is thinking of becoming a full-time photographer, definitely take a moment to find what you’re passionate about in photography and then decide what photography path is right for you. I highly recommend reading Dane Sander’s book Fast Track Photographer. It’ll address a lot of these conflicts of whether or not to be the business owner or a free-lance photographer, as well as give you numerous nuggets of valuable information as a first-time, full-time photographer.
Will I be able to survive monetarily? Let’s face it, we love photography, but we are making a living and not running a charity. We want to be able to wear the clothes that our friends wear, buy the cars that our neighbors have and send our kids to the best schools around when the time comes. Income is definitely in question when you’re thinking of switching careers. There are a few ways to make sure that you survive the switch. 1. Save up or get a loan for a capital investment to carry you through the start up of your business. 2. Find a way to seriously cut your living expenses (hello mom and dad!) so you can start your business. 3. Build your photography business to the point where you can easily quit your day job. I did step number three by putting away all of my “day-job” income into a retirement account for a couple of months before I resigned so that I not only knew I’d be ok because I did the math, but I actually took it for a test drive.
Am I willing to do whatever it takes to succeed? Running a business, free-lance or otherwise, takes a serious amount of time, money and heart. Money for equipment and sample products; time for marketing, networking, editing and shooting; and heart to push through when it gets tough (and it will). You will, especially in the beginning, sacrifice some parts of your life to make your business grow. Are you ready to do what it takes and not give up?
Do you have a support system? I would not have been able to start my business and make the full time jump without the support of not only my family and husband, but my photographer friends as well, Kenny Kim, AhmetZe, and Andres Valenzuela. They were there for me when I had questions, problems and most especially triumphs. Having them there in my first few years, and even still now, is one of the most valuable assets that I have. Making sure that you have other photographers and business owners to connect with is crucial, and making sure you pay their kindness forward by sharing your wisdom with others is what makes our photography industry one of the greatest in the world.
Now, I want to be honest here. Going full-time DOES NOT mean that you get six vacations a year, and you get to take off every other day. You still have a career, and a demanding one, but it is rewarding and you can be the boss of your own time and prioritize the things that are truly important to you. Giving in my resignation, as a teacher, was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life and even in my worst moments as a photographer, I have never, ever looked back. Everything that I do on a daily basis, I want to do and I chose to do and I thank God I get to do it everyday.