I started my wedding photography business when I graduated college in 2013. While I built up my business over the course of a few years, I also had a day job where I was working 9-5. After a couple years of growing and building, I started to feel like it might be time to leave my day job, and make my wedding photography side hustle my full time career. The thought of making the full time leap was both the most exciting thing I could imagine, as well as the scariest. I would no longer have the safety net of my day job pay check, but I would be living my dream of doing what I’m passionate about as a full time photographer.
Making the leap wasn’t easy. And it also wasn’t a quick decision. It’s something I had been dreaming of and working towards for almost four years. And even so, when the time came to start the conversation about leaving my 9-5, I really took my time to think everything through before making it official. There are so many different factors to weigh into this decision-making process, and it’s not something I wanted to rush or take lightly.
For a while, I was constantly wracking my brain trying to answer questions like: When should I leave my day job? Do I need to book a certain amount of weddings first? Am I good enough to be full time? How much money do I need to make? Should I have a certain amount of experience? How do I know if I’m ready? So many questions can make it super overwhelming really fast. But for me, it got a little simpler when I realized what it all boiled down to was finances. It had nothing to do with what my work looked like, or how many weddings I had under my belt, or how many followers I had on Instagram. At the end of the day, making sure I could support myself as a full time photographer is what mattered the most in making this decision. So with that in mind, here are three things I did to set myself up for success when taking the full time leap.
Photographers, you know, camera equipment is expensive. And there are lots of different lenses, lighting, batteries, accessories, etc. that I need to be prepared for a wedding day. (Two camera bodies, six lenses, three speed lights, and about a thousand rechargeable AA batteries to name a few things. ;)) To think about purchasing everything all at once, is crazy.
So I approached purchasing my gear one piece at a time over a few years. I used my day job income to live off of with my regular expenses (i.e. rent, food, gas, etc.) and anything I made from photography, I reinvested into the business. Which meant saving up for a new lens, computer, editing software, camera bag…with all the money I brought in from shooting weddings, engagement sessions, and second shooting. Keeping things separate that way allowed me to sustain my regular expenses and save money from my day job income, while also making investments to help my business grow with the money it was bringing in.
Of course there will always be more things to buy, equipment upgrades, repairs and more. But starting out owning a base of necessary equipment, meant that when I left my day job, those large expenses/investments were a non-factor. I didn’t have to pay to rent equipment, or save up for more huge purchases right away. Once I went full time I could use more of that photography business income to live off of because I had already reinvested so much up front.
When you leave your day job and no longer have the comfort of a consistent pay check, you have to find a way to make your own safety net. I didn’t want to leave my day job without having saved up an emergency fund just in case I encountered a slower booking season. I didn’t want to feel the panic of not booking enough clients or worrying about not having enough money for rent or bills.
To make myself feel comfortable, I made sure I had several months worth of living (& business) expenses saved up, just in case. Everyone’s emergency fund will look a little different depending on what makes you comfortable and what it costs for your living expenses and for your business maintenance expenses (Think of these as if it were your business’s living expenses! It’s what you pay just to keep your business afloat. For example, this would not factor in one time expenses/investments like equipment, but more so costs of paying your insurance, software subscriptions, paying employees or contractors, etc.). For me, I always like to err on the side of being extra cautious so I wanted to save up enough to keep myself housed and fed, and my business running, even if I didn’t book another wedding for a few months. As hard as it was to build a business, and be patient before leaving my day job, I think it would be ten times harder to have to get another job and go back to 9-5 life after getting a taste of the full time entrepreneur life.
I know that most people have some kind of debt these days…student loans, a mortgage, car leases, credit card debt, etc. For me, any kind of debt makes me very uncomfortable. I’ve always been of the mindset to be as debt-free as possible. If I have the option, I’d rather pay for it in full up front, even if someone’s offering a no interest financing plan, no thank you! I always pay off credit cards in full each month, and I was fortunate enough to get a full scholarship for college, so I graduated with no student loan debt.
But I did have a “loan” of sorts that I was paying off. I bought the car I have now from my sister after my old car unexpectedly and suddenly died (RIP Big Blue). Because it happened unexpectedly right after college, I didn’t yet have the money I would need to buy new car. I’m lucky to have the best dad ever who fronted the money for me to buy the car from my sister, and allowed me to pay him back in smaller monthly payments. Although that was the only debt I had, and in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t very much, I wanted to make sure I paid that off before leaving my day job. I didn’t want to add an extra expense to cover, or put an unnecessary extra burden on my business to pay for this debt. I wanted to start off with a clean slate and minimize extra pressure and stress as much as possible.
Getting yourself to a good financial place to make the fulltime leap is one of the best ways I think you can set yourself (and your business) up for success!
But the most important thing to remember is that everyone’s journey looks a little bit different. Maybe you have kids or other people depending on you and your income so you need to hang on to your day job, maybe you have a living situation where you don’t need a day job right now so you can focus solely on building your business, or maybe you aren’t looking to leave your day job at all because you like to have both a steady job and your own business. Whatever your situation looks like, none of these scenarios are right or wrong – your story is different from anyone else’s! It’s all about figuring out what works best and makes sense for you in your unique situation. And where ever you are on your journey, KEEP GOING!!! You got this!
Are you thinking about making the full time leap? Have you already made the leap? Are you working a 9-5 and a side hustle? Leave a comment below to share with me! I’d love to hear about your story and experience!