People often ask me how I made the jump from working as an employee to starting my own full-time business. Welp, lemme give you the quickie version and share my story!
From the second I got my first job at Steak'N'Shake at the age of 16, (yeah I totally rocked that red bow tie and uniform!) I KNEW I wanted to run my own business some day. I simply hated with a fiery passion some one else creating my work schedule and telling me what to do and how to do it. So from very early on, the desire to own my own business was planted. It was just a matter of figuring out WHAT.
Fast forward several years. I moved to California right after college to pursue a career in film as I worked as a barista at Starbucks and a waitress at The Elephant Bar for nearly 5 years. Eventually, I realized that I despised living in California and didn't want to make a career there, so I began exploring other options. I'd always loved weddings and event planning, so I thought maybe I'd start my own wedding planning business!!! So I did.
And I hated it.
Ugh. Back to the drawing board! Finally in September 2009 it hit me like a ton of bricks (no wait- that sounds too painful! Er, it just hit me): I loved weddings ... I loved photography and was obsessed with taking pictures and documenting life ... I would start my own wedding photography business! FINALLY, for the first time in my life, I was completely sure that it's what I wanted to do. It just FELT RIGHT.
Over the next 6 months I continued to work my two jobs as I hustled like mad to start my business and to prepare for the move back to the midwest. I bought my first DSLR, learned how to use it by photographing anything and everything, came up with a business name, started a blog and website and created my Facebook page. My goal was to start my business as soon as I moved to Kansas City without getting another job and thankfully, I was able to do just that! I booked my first clients via Facebook. I had ZERO wedding photos to show but some how they saw the beauty in my personal photos and took a chance on me. So because I was able to book things before I even made the move it allowed me to get right to work when I moved to town!
And I've been working full-time ever since. There you have it. My story. I tried to make that the most "quickie" version possible!
So if you're wondering how to go from part-time to full-time in your business, here's a few tips to get you started!
1. Zero in on a niche.
When I first started my photography business, I shot anything and everything; weddings, babies, families, seniors, maternity ... you name it and I shot it! However, I very quickly figured out that my passion was weddings and working with adults, so I scrapped everything else and decided to focus on JUST weddings. Then as time went on, I narrowed it down even farther. I didn't want to cater to just ANY bride, I wanted to work with a specific TYPE of bride. My brides are creative, appreciate art, fun, colorful, a little offbeat and are laid back. I built my website to appeal specifically to this type of bride. The sooner you can figure out your niche, the better. It took me a couple years of being in business to figure out mine, so props if you can figure out yours before you even start your business! This way you can cater your website, blog, marketing etc to your specific niche. (Pssst, once you've figured out who YOUR people are, check out this post on how to attract them!)
2. Cut back your expenses and save money.
Depending on what type of business you're starting or trying to run you may need a little or a lot of money to get started. But as you're working on going full-time, you want to have as much money saved as possible! Don't go into debt to start if you can. When I started my photography business, I saved my money and bought equipment I could afford. Then I gradually added more equipment over the coming months/years as my business grew and made more money. Make your starting/running expenses as LOW as possible, but DON'T skimp on certain things like your website. Get your website and/or blog looking AWESOME and get it done right! A crappy, cheap looking website will be baaaaad.
Oh! If you'd like to save time and take your blog + business to the next level you should definitely enroll in my free mini course! (pictured below) to help you do just that! Just click right here to check it out!
I introduced myself to a TON of other photographers and asked a TON of questions in the beginning. Find people who are doing what you'd like to do (or something similar), and make friends with these people! Find a mentor. Get your work out there. As an introvert, I have to work extra hard on the networking thing. Focus on building relationships though and not just asking for favors from strangers, because that's a little awkward. Networking can lead to referrals, collaborations, future opportunities and new friends!
4. Create multiple streams of income.
Even now it can be a little tricky to predict exactly how much money I will make month to month, and the unknown about money can be stressful! Try to think of multiple ways that you can make income throughout the year that way you aren't relying on just one thing. For example, as a wedding photographer my off-season is December - March, (apparently it's too cold to get married!) and so these are also my lowest income months. I save my money accordingly throughout the year and also find other ways to make some moolah. (Info products, digital guides, courses other types of photography sessions, etc!)
5. Put yourself out there.
As I mentioned above, I booked all of my first clients half way across the country via Facebook. I had no wedding photos to show, so I shared my personal work instead. No one is going to know what you're up to if you don't share your stuff! Be careful not to OVER share though. For example, if you use Instagram to promote your business, don't just blast your followers with a ton of sales-pitchy stuff. Try to remember the 9/10 rule; for every 1 promotional post you put out there, post 9 things that are beneficial to your followers. (Check out this post on 10 tips to promote yourself without being annoying if you wanna!)
6. Raise your prices.
If YOU don't value your time and services/art, who will? I gradually raised my prices over the first year of business with every single wedding that I shot. You HAVE to pay yourself well for your time, or you won't be in business for very long. Pricing can be a total pain in the arse, but try to think about how much TIME you will put into what you're doing, figure out what you'd like to make per hour and charge accordingly. Also don't forget that nearly 1/3 of what you make will be going to taxes! (Yeah I know, a tad depressing.) If you'd like to read more about how to price your freelance services, be sure to check out this post, yo!
7. Come up with a business plan.
Yes,this is super important! I do this at the beginning of every year. Figure out how much money you HAVE to make every month in order to survive and figure out what income you'd like to make then break that down into HOW and WHAT you need to do each month in order to make that happen. Be realistic if you are just starting out, because you don't want to waaaaay overestimate during that first year and then end up super bummed when you don't reach your goal. At the same time, don't be afraid to dream big! :) (Psssst, you should check out this post on HOW to write a creative business plan, and it includes a free editable template for you to use to make it super easy!)
8. Baby steps.
Did you ever see Bill Murray in 'What About Bob?'
Yes, that clip is packed with some great information! (I love that movie, haha.) But seriously, you can sit around with a million ideas buzzing through your brain wondering if you'll ever be able to make your business full-time and get NOTHING done, OR you can commit to tackling small, realistic, concrete steps towards building your business every day. Take what feels overwhelming and break it down. You can do it!!!
I'm so passionate about entrepreneurship and for people being able to make a living doing what they love, so I hope you find my story and some of these tips helpful if you're trying to start your own full-time business! I'm excited to write more posts soon, including one on the first steps to take to actually START a business.
So stay tuned.
Until then ...