Many photographers start out as hobbyists and part-time photographers while relying on a day job to pay the bills. Maybe you shoot on the weekends and edit after hours. But at what point should you quit your day job and commit to becoming a full-time professional photographer? Here's how to take that first big step in your photography career.
It can be a terrifying thought to quit your day job and dive into photography full-time. But if your desire is to become a professional photographer, at one point you're going to have to take the leap. There are a few points to consider before you hand in your letter of resignation.
1. You've Calculated The Risks
If you're young, childless, debt-free, maybe even still living with your parents with very few bills to pay, this is the best time in your life to start your own photography business because you have nothing to lose. This is how I started. Shortly after high school and before moving out of my parent's house, I rented a small storefront and opened a photo studio in my hometown. Costs were low, and I had no debt or major responsibilities. There was zero risk.
On the flip side, when you have little to lose you're also less driven to succeed. Many of the younger photographers I know have difficulty maintaining motivation. Having a mortgage and a family to feed makes starting a new business venture riskier, but it will also fuel you like nothing else. The catch is that you have to be willing and able to accept the risks.
2. You've Built-up Your Resources
If starting a business is risky for you, do your best to build up more resources before quitting your day job. This isn't just about having six or more months of mortgage payments saved up in advance. Consider who can help you succeed, whether that means partnering with other professionals, or recruiting friends and family members to help you grow your business. Some spouses end up working together and make a great team (other spouses would divorce if they tried the same thing!).
Be realistic about your different options and who you can truly trust and rely on to move your business forward.
3. You Have a Business Plan
Years ago, a friend of mine quit his very stable job and cashed out his retirement to start his own business. It seemed like a great idea in theory because he was very talented and hardworking. He had the best of intentions, but eventually closed up shop. The problem was he never really had a business or marketing plan, and built everything under the assumption that clients would just show up, as if a good business name, a sign on the road, and word-of-mouth was enough.
Successful businesses require a long-term strategy to get you going, and keep you growing. Do your research, talk to other successful photographers, and create a formal business plan that you can follow. If you don't know how to do this, you need to learn before you launch.
4. You've Diversified Your Skills
I've been self-employed for 15 years now, and one thing I know for sure is that you should diversify your talents and services to stay ahead. I got my start in graphic design and web development, then expanded into photography and eventually social media marketing. Having a range of talents and skills will enable you to do more for your own business, and offer more services to your own clients, which can help you stay afloat.
For example, a wedding photographer could also build engagement websites, or a family portrait photographer could provide their own matting and framing services. As a commercial photographer, I usually offer marketing packages to my photography clients. More skills equals more business.
5. You've Proven Yourself
You probably shouldn't buy a camera today and go into business tomorrow (although I applaud your ambition if you do). The best way to start your photography career is to test the waters: buy the gear, master your skills, perform plenty of photo shoots and get paid for it. Get a feel for whether or not this is a career you really want. Build a list of happy clients and grow your confidence.
You'll know when you're ready to quit your day job and become a professional photographer when you get to a point where you can no longer fit your "hobby" into your life. If you've started booking more shoots than you can manage, and you're not too worried about failing, consider going 100 percent into photography.
Have you quit your day job to start your own photography business? Are you thinking about it? We'd love to hear your story in the comments below.