Photography isn’t an all-or-nothing venture; you can be a part-time photographer and do quite well for yourself while maintaining a full-time job. Here’s how to do it.
If you’re wondering whether to become a full-time or part-time photographer, you already have your answer. Being a full-time photographer takes an immense amount of dedication and frankly, a love for the craft that transcends any need for a career that offers more financial predictability and stability.
If you don’t feel that overwhelming need, part-time is probably the place for you, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Being a part-time photographer can be a great way to make money from something you love while still maintaining the security of another job, particularly if you’re well established there. Furthermore, it allows you the flexibility to take on as much or as little work as you’d like without feeling like you have to take every job that comes your way.
Keep It Legal
Part-time or full-time, it doesn’t matter in the eyes of the government. If you’re taking money from people for your services, you need to be sure you’re following all the proper tax codes. Liability insurance is something you should strongly consider as well, especially if you’re working with people in any capacity. Though you might be able to keep your own books and the like, it might serve you well to sit down for a consultation session with a CPA and/or a lawyer to help you get the ball rolling initially.
Be Smart About Your Expenses
For a full-time photographer, a $5,000 body and high-level lights might be a justifiable purchase because they’re used every day, and they genuinely make the photographer’s job easier enough that the time savings help to offset the cost. But it’s different when you’re part-time. That $5,000 body might eat everything you’ve made the last six months. It’s particularly important to be frugal when you’re running a part-time photography business if you want to stay in the black.
This doesn’t mean cutting corners that can jeopardize your ability to deliver work to clients. If you’re a part-time wedding photographer, you still need two bodies. But do you need the f/1.2 lens? I’m willing to bet you can do quite well with the f/1.8 version that costs $1,000 less. If you’re a headshot photographer doing a session a weekend, do you really need a dedicated studio space or can you outfit a room in your home? Be really careful to separate gear you need from gear you merely want. The truth is: if you’re at the point where you’ve been doing photography long enough that you’re starting to consider making it a part-time business, you probably already have 90-100 percent of the equipment you’ll need to get started.
Manage Your Time Carefully
If you already have a full-time job, taking on a part-time gig can really start to push the limits. You’re going to be taking on a lot of responsibility even with just a part-time business. First and foremost, make sure you’re not jeopardizing your physical or mental well-being by overdoing it. Second, be sure your performance at your full-time job never suffers or is interfered with because of your part-time photography work. And third, remember that photography is supposed to be fun. If it’s stressing you out because you’re overburdened, it’s time to cut back.
Because it’s part-time and you can’t devote 8-12 hours a day with it, be extremely efficient and committed to time management. Set aside specific blocks outside your other commitments to work on your photography and respect them.
Keep It Simple
Simplicity is the name of the game. Keep everything easy and manageable. Keep your price structure and finances straightforward and easy to manage efficiently. This also makes your client interactions simpler and less time-intensive.
Still Act Like a Full-Time Professional
Though you may be part-time, your persona needs to be that of a full-time photographer. I’m not saying you should lie, but the way you carry yourself and present your work and your business should be every bit as professional. Potential clients may already be slightly wary of hiring a part-time photographer (even though your abilities may be just as good as those of the full-time one down the street), so don’t give them reason to doubt you. Show that you’re just as serious and committed and that this isn’t a hobby you’re making money with, it’s a legitimate business. This means professional contracts, presentation, the way you interact, etc.
One of the best ways to do this is by having a turn-key website that takes care of all the nitty-gritty details for you and offers a professional, high-end look with ease and simplicity so you can focus on other aspects of your business without worrying about things like the minutiae of web design. Format is an excellent option for this, as they offer easy-to-use, professional templates for creating turn-key websites with the option to customize to your needs if you so desire. As an Fstoppers reader, you can try it for free for 14 days and receive a 10 percent discount off your first purchase.
Take Advantage of Your Existing Networks
Professional photographers spend a lot of time tracking down potential clients. Make better use of the limited time you have by leveraging the existing networks you’re already a part of. If you’re an event, portrait, or family photographer with a school-age kid, take time to let all the parents know that you can do birthday parties, senior pictures, holiday shoots, and more. They’ll likely appreciate having someone they know and already trust offer their services. If you’re a landscape photographer trying to sell prints, talk to the owners of businesses you frequent and ask if you can hang a few on their walls. If you’ve been spending money with them for years, they’re likely to be happy to have your work. Take time when you begin to think about how you can leverage the relationships you already have outside photography to save you the time, effort, and cost of wading into the vast ocean of cold calls and the like. Identify a need in your current network of friends and colleagues and fill it. I got my start by shooting headshots for my peers when I was in music school, for example.
Make Your Life Easier
Being part-time means simplifying as much of your workflow as possible so you can be efficient and not stay up until 3 a.m. Remember, this is supposed to be a part-time job, not a second full-time career. By keeping things simple, streamlining your workflow, and taking advantage of every opportunity to increase your efficiency, you can create a manageable and rewarding photography business.