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how i went full time in photography

I think one of the most popular ‘business’ questions I get asked is…. ‘how do I go full time..’

It’s scary… to want to pursue a dream.. especially when that dream means changing your life around in order to achieve it.

Trust me… I know.

Not only is leaving a job hard… but leaving a secure job with good pay and benefits to run a business… now that’s scary.

Will you succeed.. will you make money… will you fail.. will you go broke… will you have support from those around you… will that stop you!?!?!?

Somehow — I am now in year EIGHT of being a full time business owner — and in year ELEVEN of starting this little ‘hobby’ of mine…. and eight years ago – I slid my resignation letter over to my boss at the time and left my great paying job with great benefits.. and whew, that felt good! Scary – but good!

But I never want anyone to take ‘becoming a photographer full time’ lightly… because that would be naive – and I’d be foolish to ever suggest it without sharing responsible insight in to making it happen.

I never want someone to set themselves up for failure… ever.

So… Here’s a little background info on how I went full time and hopefully it can be helpful for you if you’re looking to go full time with your photography business too!!!!

When I graduated college in 2008 – I walked away with a B.A. degree in Psychology (geared towards Counseling) and LAW… but I also walked away with 100,000 dollars of student loan debt… OUCH! I’ve been paying my own bills since before I was able to drive a car.. and when I finished college and had to move back to Virginia…. with my mom… I paid rent, helped with groceries and utility bills… on top of my car/insurance/phone/student loans etc etc etc…. SO.. what’s my point?!?! I knew I had to have a GOOD paying job — my student loan payments alone were a small house payment.. literally.. I know friends who pay less for their mortgage than I was paying just in student loans..

So shortly after I finished college, I finally found an amazing job as an Armed Nuclear Officer…

My starting pay was close to 40,000… without overtime.. and we worked about 2 days of overtime each week…(I hated that part) we got paid triple time on holidays and time in a half on overtime days… we got raises each year, I got promoted.. and we always got bonuses… to say I… a just out of college grad was making good money would be an understatement.. especially considering — I had a B.A. in Psych!

I was easily bringing home 5000+ each month… and that’s just me.. being a ‘single’ lady with no family.

I was able to pay my bills each month — pay extra on my loans — and purchase new gear for my business…. any of the money I made in photography — stayed in my business… things were financially easy and getting my business off the ground was 100% possible because of my full time job.

So if this is you – and you’re just dipping your toes into photography, USE your full time job to help build it up… it’s a GOOD thing!

For three years I was wanting to quit my job and pursue photography full time.. but deep down I knew I wasn’t ready… I didn’t know how to ‘fully’ handle any situation that was thrown at me as far as photography was concerned… I wasn’t 100% comfortable shooting in all different kinds of situations/lighting scenarios.. and honestly — I didn’t have the bookings lined up… It wasn’t until October of 2011 that it really hit me how much money I was actually losing by continuing to work my full time job…

 

I turned away 20,000 that month of October… 20,000 dollars…. because of my work schedule that month, I was finally at a place in my business where I was being held back by my full time job.

twenty thousand dollars

It was at that point that Chase and I started discussing me quitting…. my mom had been diagnosed with Stage III cancer earlier in the year. And I was trying to do fundraisers to help her out.. we had just found out that Chase was going to have open heart surgery.. I had just been promoted at work… and here I am wanting to quit my job…

Perfect timing Sharon

But… we decided that IF it was going to happen a few things had to happen first.

1. PAY OFF ANY DEBT – A couple of our debts had to be paid off — I had two credit cards with no interest that I was using to build my credit, that need to be gone.. and Chase had something small (I can’t remember exactly what it was) that we wanted to get rid of as well.

2. SAVE UP AN EMERGENCY FUND – A comfortable six month ’emergency fund’ had to be saved.. enough to cover BOTH of us and both of our bills.. annnd it had to cover our love for eating out at restaurants. This meant saving up over 15,000 dollars…. and not touching it… AND still paying our bills each month…

3. SECURE BOOKINGS – I had to have enough bookings lined up for 6 months.

I worked my butt off to make it happen

February of 2012 when Chase went in for his open heart surgeries… I was still working at Dominion.. but had successfully completed all of my goals in order to go full time. I had taken a leave without pay from Dominion in order to be with Chase and my Mom the month of January and February… my plan was to return back to work in March when Chase was able to be at home by himself.

The week of March 5th 2012 — is when I decided I was going to quit…. Up until Chase’s surgeries.. I was still terrified to quit even despite having completed all of my goals.. I had Chase’s support and my family’s support.. but I was still terrified of failing…

But truthfully, after going through everything with Chase in the hospital and almost losing him.. I literally said screw it…

Life… is too damn short.

sharonelizabethphotography,howtogofulltimeinphotography,howtostartaphotographybusiness

On March 9th 2012… I walked into Dominion.. smiling like an idiot.. I get nervous and get those uncomfortable giggles.. I’m so awkward.

But I sat down with my boss and slid my resignation letter across the table… afterwards, he asked me if I was joking… and he said the following…..

“You were getting a really good raise when you came back off of your leave… are you sure…?”

Seriously… one more ‘thing’ that made me feel like I was making a huge mistake…

But that feeling didn’t last long.. in fact, only long enough for me to nervously laugh and say…

“I’m 100% sure… I’m ready to move on and follow my heart.”

I remember when he was walking me out, he looked back at me and smiled… “I’m glad you didn’t get stuck here, you’ll always be welcome back… but you’re going to do great.”

For YEARS… I feared quitting.. all I wanted was for someone to tell me ‘you’re going to do great, you will succeed.. you’ll do just fine’ and to give me the exact steps I had to take…. But it wasn’t until AFTER I actually put forth the work and made the leap that I was finally told – I’d do great.

My first year full time… I made right at six figures…..

Now all of these years later — I’m making six figures and finally able to spend holidays with my family.. schedule my vacations without asking for permission…

And I do NOT say this to humble brag.. I say this as a girl who grew up in a trailer park — had a bed in the same ‘room’ as the washer/dryer… I say this as a girl who had one stop light in her hometown. I say this to give you hope.

It may take years.. and it may take saving up for months… but if you’re responsible and set yourself up to succeed — you will.


So if you’re still asking yourself if you’re ready to go full time.. ask yourself these questions…

1. Do you know your gear inside and out? (Do you have the gear you need and/or are you able to rent what you don’t already have?)
2. Can you handle any situation you get thrown in?
3. Would you TRUST YOURSELF as your own photographer?
4. Do you have bookings lined up for the next year?
5. Do you have a business/marketing plan?
6. Do you have a backup ‘work’ plan?
7. Do you have money saved up to pay your bills in case you hit a rough patch or aren’t prepared for ‘slow season’?
8. Do you have a support system?
9. Can you realistically quit your job at this point? (Have you figured out your yearly/monthly bills?)
10. Are you prepared to fail a little in order to succeed overall.. and KEEP MOVING FORWARD?

If you can answer yes to all of those questions — I’d say you are definitely on the right track!!! Just be honest with yourself and your situation… don’t let anyone tell you no — but don’t be so blinded that you don’t actually look at your situation wholeheartedly!!!!

You don’t want to be so overly-eager that you set yourself up to fail… this is your DREAM.. your passion — so take the right steps so that you can succeed at it!!!

If you need some help figuring up your costs of doing business — check this amazing CODB calculator out to help you get on the right track!!!

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