YOU LIKE YOUR JOB, BUT…
By Jani Bryson
Have you ever dreamed of being your own boss? Following your passion? Actually loving your job? I know I did. I’ve worked many different jobs over the last 20 years, including over 10 years as a real estate agent and broker. I even owned and managed my own real estate brokerage for awhile. Although I was my own boss during most of this time, I just wasn’t loving my job. I’d work 60, 80, 100 hours per week with barely enough time to eat and sleep, let alone spend time with my family.
Fortunately, one day I realized that life is too short and it’s important to enjoy the journey –- to follow your passion and revel in the experience of it. I restructured my busy schedule and made it a priority to spend time with my family, and to pursue my lifelong dream: being an artist, a photographer.
For me, the full transition from real estate agent to photographer did not happen over night. I started into photography part time –- and maybe just like you I took photographs in the evenings and on weekends. I read and studied everything I possibly could to improve my skills and become a better photographer. I went to seminars and events where I could work alongside seasoned photographers… I grew every day as a photographer, and finally one day, I decided it was time to have faith, spread my wings, and jump. Either I would fly, or I wouldn’t.
Fortunately for me, the time I had spent preparing and honing my skills allowed me to really take flight. In hindsight, I’m glad I started part-time. And I recommend that you do the same.
It’s wise to start as a part time photographer because your current job will provide you with a steady stream of income while you are revving up your photography business. In many cases it will also provide you with needed benefits like health insurance and a retirement plan -– things that are costly when you are self-employed. And there’s one more very important thing it will provide if you decide to become a stock photographer.
I’ll officially call that benefit the “In,” and I’ll tell you about it in just a bit. But my advice: Allow yourself time to learn -– to make mistakes and to grow as a photographer. And then eventually make the jump and spread your wings and fly like I did.
When you are ready, here is my most fundamental advice for getting started as a photographer and for making the transition…
** TIP #1: Choose Your “Operating Hours”
Juggling a full time job, your new business, your family life, and your personal obligations can be challenging. The easiest way to make everything fit into your schedule without stress overload is to select “operating hours” for your business and stick to them. For example, you may decide to work at your photography business on Tuesdays from 6pm to 9pm and on Saturdays from 8am to 3pm. Choose what works for you and set it in stone. Mark those times on your calendar. If something else comes up during those times, you are already booked. Treat your operating hours as you would treat scheduled appointments with your doctor or your book club. Remember that operating hours can change, so if your first choice of times isn’t working, modify them. But, be sure to mark the new times in your calendar.
** TIP #2: Choose a Structure for Your Business
If you are serious about being a professional photographer you will definitely want to operate your photography business as a “business.” There are many different types of business structures, from sole proprietor to LLC to various types of corporations. They all offer different benefits so do some research to decide which one is best for you.
If you choose an LLC or decide to incorporate, there are some government forms to fill out and specific activities you’ll need to do on a regular basis. I recommend working with a professional to help you set up that type of structure. Contact an accountant or an attorney to advise and assist you. And, don’t be daunted by the effort – the rewards make the time investment all worthwhile!
** TIP #3: Find an Accountant
If you don’t have an accountant already, you’ll want to find one you like that specializes in small businesses. There are many tax advantages to running even a part-time business, and you will want to capitalize on all of them! Also, remember that your photography business will be bringing in extra income – income that will somehow need to find its way to your tax return. A professional accountant can help you report your income properly and make sure you don’t miss any available deductions.
** TIP #4: Join a Professional Organization or Two
There are several professional photography organizations that work very diligently to support their membership with various benefits including education for marketing, finances, legalities, and even honing your photography skills. Extra benefits may include introduction to current trends and networking. Staying current and connected are vital to your professional success. Many professional organizations have local chapters which allow you to become involved on a regular basis. Do it! Your professional growth will accelerate because of it.
** TIP #5: Brand Yourself
From the day you “open your doors,” so to speak, every image you create, every communication you send, will be a messenger for your identity. Make sure your identity is one that you choose. How do you want your business to be perceived?
Start by selecting a name for your business, even if that name is your own personal name. Create a logo, a symbol for your company, even if your logo is simply your name typed in a certain typeface. Choose colors for your identity and stick to them. Your name, your logo, and your colors will become part of your “brand,” so make sure that each element reflects the desired perception. It is a known fact in advertising that the same message must be seen an average of seven times for it to register with a viewer. Make sure that every time someone sees your brand it is consistent. Soon, it will become recognizable, and that is your goal.
Once you have the basics out of the way, you are ready to start with the fun stuff — taking photographs and making money! There are many ways to make money in photography — from selling your images as fine art, to portraiture and marketing your photography as stock. You may want to try your hand at each area to see what works best for you.
Your day job can be a great source of subject matter for any of these areas. Do you travel for your job? Cityscapes and local photography can be great subjects for fine art as well as stock photography. Do you have coworkers with families? They may be great prospects for portraiture. (Be sure to use your own judgment as to whether or not your current employer will be okay with this.)
And, remember earlier when I mentioned the “In”? Whatever industry you are currently in, there’s likely a need for sellable stock photography images dealing with that industry. Police, medical, office, even landscaping and homebuilding images are all stock worthy. Just be aware of proprietary concerns, and don’t do anything that would jeopardize your current employment.
Getting started as a professional photographer is no small undertaking. But it can be refreshing for the attitude, and rewarding for the pocketbook. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a little longer to see the financial rewards than you had hoped. Stick to it and the money will come. Learn the ins and outs while you still have the security of your current job.
Eventually, when the money is predictably coming in, you will be able to make professional photography your full time “day job.” And THAT is when you will soar.
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel. Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]