May 22, 2019
A question that I get asked quite frequently (from both clients & others in the industry) is whether or not I am a full time photographer. To answer that question: No, I am not. I have a full time job from Monday – Friday, and I operate my photography business as a part time business in the evenings and on the weekend. While I sometimes feel as though professionals in the industry can look down at us part-timers, I have never had a client say a bad word about it! In fact, many of them have their own side-hustles on top of their regular 9-5 and have asked me for advice. How did I get started? How do I juggle both jobs? Do you actually enjoy it?
I always love the last question, because I get to answer them super enthusiastically: YES! I absolutely love that my photography business is part time. Photography has always been a creative outlet for me, something that allows me to flex my creative muscles and to create something just for the sake of creating. It used to be just a hobby, and sometime between my sophomore and senior year of college I was able to turn my hobby & passion into a part time business!
While I was still studying at Virginia Tech I would take graduation portraits during the end of the spring semester, and that is how my business really got rolling. The last two graduation seasons were INSANE for me; I was shooting around 5-6 senior sessions a week for 4 weeks straight. Taking into consideration the time I spent communicating with the seniors, shooting the sessions & then editing and sending out the galleries… on top of finishing up my spring semester… let’s just say I would be more than a bit burned out by the time that last gallery was sent out. I would not even want to pick up my camera for a month afterward because I felt like I needed a break from what used to be my outlet!
Now, I am in a place where I am able to take on clients when I want to & when I have the time. I have a strict number of sessions I will take on during any given week and/or month, and I try my best to not go over that amount. I always allow myself an off-season during the winter months and at least one full month during the hot summer months (typically July) and let me tell you, not only am I able to recharge but it allows me to get excited about the upcoming shooting season!
For all of the reasons mentioned above (and more) I love that I was able to turn what used to be a hobby of mine into a part time business. It has allowed me to excel at something that I love, but without having the joy sucked out of it! It can be so easy to get bogged down as a creative business owner; trying to keep up with the latest equipment, constantly posting to social media, attending expensive conferences, the list goes on and on. It became a badge of honor to be hustling 24/7. If you weren’t shooting the most gorgeously styled sessions of your dream clients and traveling to fancy locations every weekend, then you weren’t ‘really’ a professional. And that could not be further from the truth.
I feel like I went on a bit of a rant there, but the moral of the story is that I love what I do & I love that it is part time! And I wanted to share the 5 steps that took my photography from being just a hobby to a part time business (that actually brings in money!) While I am a photographer & will use a lot of photography examples, these steps can apply to a lot of different creative industries.
1. Start Small with Equipment & Build Along The Way
One really smart thing that I did (which was totally unintentional) was to start small with my equipment and build up my arsenal along the way. Specifically, I did not take out any loans or buy any piece of equipment without having the funds in the bank! Looking back, I think this was probably one of the smartest moves I made. First and foremost, I had NO IDEA what I needed when I first started out! I would follow other photographers and take note of what they used, but let’s be real, I was not even certain what kind of portraiture I wanted to focus on! I recently found a list of all of the lenses & flashes & video equipment I thought I needed my first year (lol at why I thought I needed video equipment) and looking back at that list, it was close to $10,000 worth of equipment. The best part? I only have a handful of the items on that list, and my absolute favorite (and most expensive) lens that I own was NOT ON THERE!! It took me time to figure out what equipment I would actually use and what was worth my hard earned money. And let me tell you, you will not love a lens more than after you have been eyeing it for months, or even years, and you finally have the cash to purchase it! You will treasure it like no other, and take the time to learn how to use it to the best of its ability. I also feel as though I learned to use what I had & make the absolute best of it. I shot with a Canon Rebel T1i and the kit lens that came with it for my first full year of photography. I taught myself how to shoot in manual, I learned about the importance of shooting in RAW and why you need to invest in professional SD cards. The more time I spent with my equipment, the better I was able to use it, and my pictures improved tremendously – even though I was still using the exact same equipment! By the time I was able to upgrade to a nicer lens and camera body, I knew that it wasn’t just the equipment that was making my photographs better, but the knowledge I had of the equipment I was using.
2. Separate Your Bank Accounts
This one took me a bit longer to figure out, and I definitely wish I had figured it out sooner. I did not separate my regular checking / savings bank account from my photography bank account for probably the first year and a half I was in business, and it definitely came back to bite me in the butt. I was not keeping track of how much I was doing in sales, how much I was spending, etc… so when it came time to file taxes my first year, it was an absolute nightmare. Until I sat down and poured over the statements with a highlighter figuring out which deposits were from clients, what expenses were for photography, I did not realize how much I was spending on my side business! I ended spending more in my second year than I brought in, simply because I was not keeping track and I had other part time jobs that brought in money to the same account (literally smacking myself on the head right now.) After I separated my bank accounts I could clearly see how much money I was bringing in, how much I was spending, and how much I could pay myself every month or quarter. I also started keeping track of everything in real time via an excel spreadsheet, which I now update every single day! Keep in mind I’m a bit of a finance junkie so I have a crazy color coded workbook with annual sheets where I keep track of sales, expenses, goals for the year, etc. Separating my accounts & keeping track of everything via excel has made a HUGE difference in terms of the business side of my business, and allows me to feel more confident about purchases I decide to make. Keeping track of my sales & profit also allows me to set goals that are attainable, and I can see whether or not I was able to meet them at the end of the year!
3. Education: Free vs. Paid
While I am a huge believer that there is no better way to learn than to just jump in and do it, there are also instances where paying for education can have a huge payoff. However, it can also be easy to get burned, especially in the creative industry! My approach to education: I find the best free content I can, I soak it in & try it out, and then I will splurge on 1-2 key courses or workshops each year from educators that I love.
A few of my favorite pieces of free content:
The Goal Digger Podcast – If you do not know who Jenna Kutcher is or have never browsed her blog, stop everything you are doing right now and check her out! She has SO much free content that is absolutely incredible. And she is just an awesome person in general.
Katelyn James Freebies – Katelyn James has a little arsenal of freebies that are super helpful & will definitely get you some instant wins!
Audrey Rose Blog – Audrey is a wedding photographer based in VA, and I love following her blog. She has a ‘for photographers’ tab that has dozens of educational blog posts that are super helpful!
A few of my favorite courses I have invested in:
Ben Sasso Editing & Consistency– Ben is just an awesome human in general, but also a great educator. This course breaks down a ton of the functions in Lightroom and he does NOT hold back on how he edits his images. He gives tons of tips & tricks and this course was a huge game changer with how I edited my photos.
Lara Jade Fashion Series – Lara is an incredible fashion photographer, and I have been following her work for years now. So when she launched this course, I immediately jumped on it and I’m so glad I did; she goes into great detail about posing, shooting with different light, and how to incorporate a higher fashion look into your shoots.
Audrey Rose Workshop – I loved Audrey’s work and blog so much that I invested in her in person workshop, and I am so glad I did! I got some amazing pictures from the styled shoot, learned some new tips & tricks, and met a bunch of wonderful photographers.
4. Say Yes To Less, BUT….
One piece of advice I heard constantly when I was first starting out was to only take on your ideal clients. The problem with that? Well for starters, you might not know who your ideal client is just yet! I had this idea of what kind of photographer I wanted to be and what kind of sessions I wanted to shoot, but I later realized I was just projecting what I saw other photographers doing. Once I started branching out and trying different kinds of shoots, I realized that I had been unintentionally putting myself in a box! Now I’m not saying I loved every new shoot I tried, but I made new connections and realized I wanted my brand to go in a totally different direction than I had originally envisioned. And once I realized I did not like a certain type of session – that is when I would say no to those opportunities going forward. Saying yes to less and avoiding situations I knew I would regret later was super freeing!
5. Combine Your Personal & Business Instagram
While we want to separate our bank accounts, one thing that was key for me was combining my business & personal Instagram. As a photographer who loved to take self portraits and eventually snagged myself an Instagram husband (sorry baby, love you lots!) this was a pretty easy transition for me. I was able to share pictures of myself, my friends & family, my pets, etc that my personal friends wanted to see while still attracting potential clients by showing off my photography skills AND allowing them to see parts of my personal life. I have two pet bunnies that I used to post about constantly, and I would have clients that brought gifts for the bunnies to sessions and shoot me bunny meme’s over Instagram!! I will say that this step is not 100% mandatory; some business owners want to keep their personal life and business separate, and I totally understand that. However, for me personally, it was a game changer! It also allowed me to only worry about managing one account. When I was managing two separate accounts I would get totally overwhelmed and end up not posting to either of them for weeks.
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