When to Ditch the Day-Job and Follow Your Dreams

When to Ditch the Day-Job and Follow Your Dreams

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We have been planning for this moment for over a year and a half.

On June 17th of this year, I said goodbye to my colleagues and
well-paying job to follow our dreams to do wedding and portrait
photography full-time. We finally replaced our entire household
income with income from our photography business.

Most people who start photography businesses do so part-time and only dream of this day.

Eventually your business grows to the point where it consumes all your
free time and you’re faced with a hard but exciting question:
Do you go for it and leave the day-job behind, or do you scale
back and start reclaiming a bit of your life?

Here are 5 things to ask yourself before you ditch the day-job and
follow your dreams:

How much money do you need to make?

The first thing you’ll need to know is how much money you need to make
in order to replace any necessary income. If you don’t know exactly
how much you’re making from your business after taxes, expenses, cost
of goods, and all the other costs of running a business, you’re
setting yourself up for failure.

As one of those rare people who loves mathematics, I created a free pricing guide for photographers that helped us determine what we needed to charge for both weddings and portraits in order to make the amount of profit that we needed to follow our dream of doing this full-time.

I knew exactly how many weddings and portrait sessions I’d need to
book and how much I’d need to charge in order to leave my job. I had
hoped to leave last summer, but I was under the projections I knew I
needed, so we made the decision to wait one more year to make the
leap.

If I hadn’t known the numbers, the consequences may have been
devastating to our business and family and I’d probably be back in an
office job by now.

How much money do you have in savings?

Having money in a savings account is a great way to ensure that you’ll be able to pay your bills and not have to pick up a job again in the off-season.

Waiting an extra year to leave the day-job allowed us to finish buying
the gear we wanted and to put more in savings than we would have been
able to otherwise. We hope not to have to touch that money, but it is
there if we need it.

What is your plan?

If you find that you are not currently making enough to leave your job immediately, the next step is to make a plan to get you from where you are now to where you need to be.

If you haven’t sat down and created a good business strategy, you’ll want to do that first. Having a strategic business plan will help you get to your goal more quickly and will help keep you from making
costly mistakes
.

Identify the places that work well for marketing your business. We
found that Facebook
marketing
was one of the best ways for us to find new clients
because of its word-of-mouth nature, so that’s where we’ve been
focusing. You’ll want to market in the places where your ideal clients
spend time and money.

How hard are you willing to work to get there?

We spent about a year in “transition” where I was taking on as many of our ideal clients as I could handle while still working my day-job, and it was exhausting. I was gone about 50 hours a week for my full-time job and put in another 20-30 hours building our photography business, all while trying not to neglect my kids and husband.

We had to turn away some business simply because there weren’t enough
hours in the day.

It was hard, I’m not going to lie.

Getting a business to where it needs to be to leave your job is a lot
of work, but it was worth it for us. We let some things go (our house
is a mess!) but it was worth it in order to make this transition.

What other hesitations do you have?

If you’ve got your finances figured out and are hitting your projections, you need to address any hesitations you may have.

It can be really scary to let go of the “security” of a regular
paycheck and move into the realm of “uncertainty”.

That being said, I think that being a small business owner is actually
more secure than working for someone else.

You can’t be fired or laid-off at the drop of a hat, and if you aren’t
meeting your projections you can do something about it and have some
time to prepare.

If you do wedding photography, you may even be able to determine this
several months in advance, giving you plenty of time to make a plan as
to how you’re going to supplement your current income.

Leaving my job has been one of the most scary and exhilarating
experiences in my life, and I’m incredibly excited to see where we’ll
go in the next few years.

So, are you ready to follow your dreams and do what you love
full-time? Is there something holding you back? Leave a comment below
and let’s encourage each other in pursuing what we love.

Jamie M Swanson is a Madison Wedding Photographer who loves helping people make money with photography. With her super-dorky math skills, she created a free guide on how to price photography. The best way to connect with her is on Facebook, so come on over and say hello.

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Some Older Comments

  • Coy Fuentes February 22, 2012 12:28 am

    Very great articles. I myself was in a similar situation, and actually already resigned from my job to focus on gaining experience and do it full time, until I realized that I already got a workflow going and actually had some free time that I don't intend to waste - and fortunately - my previous company wanted me back and now I am back with one plan..... To save a bunch and preparer my self with better gears while still doing Photography.

    I will go full blast soon. It is in my heart, and it is who I am.

  • Helios Monocular January 23, 2012 06:48 pm

    congratulation.... I will most definitely keep this at hand to return to many times over the next few years as I also set up my photography company.and i am going to say Congratulations on reaching your goal. I gave up my well paid job to become a self-employed consultant a year ago. You’re right about so many aspects of this transition. Financial planning is vital, working out exactly how much your household expenses are and hence what you need to earn to cover them puts you firmly in control.

  • Thomas September 28, 2011 06:58 am

    I do not feel that I am anywhere near getting out of the everyday job yet. I have only been into photography somewhat seriously for the past 8 months (when I got my first DSLR). I want to do photography full time, but the networking thing is really hard, especially for a shy person such as myself. Further, I would consider myself landscape photographer/art photographer, and do not do much in the way of weddings and portraits, which makes it extremely hard to make money. I have sold a few prints so far, and for a substantial sum I might add, but far from having to purchase my own printing company to keep up with demand. Eventually, I would like to model business style to that of Peter Lik. Any tips on getting a lot of equipment fast and cheap would be a great help in getting me on my way to PHOTO PHREEDOM!

  • Paul September 18, 2011 08:33 am

    Good advice, make sure you factor in ALL the time you spend and you'll realise the hourly rate! lol

  • dominic September 11, 2011 04:57 am

    congrats!! i admire your courage and determination to work in the direction of your dreams......all the best to you. although it's a scary thought, i hope to get there some day:)

  • Michelle henry September 3, 2011 12:55 pm

    MY Word! this is so inspirational. I'm at a point where i want to leave my job but working on my biz I admit is a bit procrastinating. I go to school as well so leaving the job without a plan definitely isn't smart. Luckily i have supportive people, but money is important. I love cameras and I'm saving up to build a studio i.e "camera" and equipment. Thanks very much this is a WOW moment!! Going to work on a biz plan.

  • Jon September 3, 2011 09:42 am

    This article is just what I was looking for. I'm pursuing a photography career finally. Working to pay of debt and save for tuition at this moment. Looking at a number of schools in Canada where I live but am willing to go anywhere for the right enriching and benificial learning experience any suggestions? Thanks!

  • Jamie September 3, 2011 01:41 am

    I am in high hopes of doing this as well.....very scary......ok im not going to lie im scared to death lol!!!! But i have faith that it will work.

  • Regina B September 2, 2011 01:49 pm

    I wasn't making to much money at my job, so I decided to be a stay at home mom, and I want to really pursue my photography career. I love it and I want more experience. I want to try everything! I want to try weddings as a second photographer. Getting my name out there is hard but I am trying and the past month I've had a few sessions. I live in a small town currently, and my goal is to build my portfolio and practice, but to really take it to the next level in a larger city one day. The business end of things is my weak point. Any suggestions on webpages & learning the business side of this industry?

  • William Thomas September 2, 2011 10:07 am

    Great article!

    One more thing that everyone should always consider is benefits. Consider joining a freelance union, etc. to receive health insurance and make sure you have a plan for your 401k and other wealth benefits that most full time jobs offer.

    Good luck to you (and everyone) with this. My business plan keeps me working retail full-time for another two years, but I can't wait to make the switch!

  • Jessica Marie September 2, 2011 05:31 am

    This is an amazing article and so very helpful! Thank you! I am currently working of paying off debts and starting a savings so I have a "cushion" when I go for it. In the mean time, with the help of family and friends, I am doing free portraits to CD with their written concent to use the images of them to build a portfolio and have a collection to post in an online gallery when I am ready. I will definaitly bookmark this page to go back regularly for the information to be able to get started on the best track I can. Once my finances are in order I will set the date!!!!! Thanks again!

  • Joel September 2, 2011 01:54 am

    thanks for the information....very good explanation...and helpful guides...

    ...j.

  • Alicia September 2, 2011 01:27 am

    I am just getting started but it has taken off! I appreciate this article and others like this because it is scary, I am not impulsive and this article really motivates me and reassures me that I can do it. Thanks for the article and resources!

  • Anita Broda August 29, 2011 08:39 pm

    Totally agree that it is impossible to combine full time job and photography business without demage on health and family relations. I've done it for half a year and almost got burn-out. What is working for me at the moment is part-time job + part-time photography business :)

  • Jamie M Swanson August 29, 2011 08:46 am

    Thanks for the kind words from everyone!

    It is a scary thing to go full-time, but with some planning you can definitely pull it off (or know that you won't have enough business to make it - that's the beauty of planning ahead.)

    Kimberly - good for you for having a plan and working through it. You'll be glad you did.

    Erik, you've got good traffic, but how much of that is local and people who are actually looking for a photographer at the time they visit? I'd rather have 10 local people on my site per day who are looking for a photographer than 5000 random internet folks who aren't looking for a photographer in my local area and who just stumbled upon it by chance. But that's me. The links are helpful, though. And as a tip, I'd totally get off wordpress.com and get a self-hosted blog so that you get credit for all those awesome links and not wordpress.com. Just a thought. And people took me a lot more seriously when I got off of there and had my own domain. But best wishes as you go for it!

    Good for you Jenny - That's awesome! :)

  • Patrick August 28, 2011 11:48 am

    I just left my job about a month ago to pursue independent employment as a photographer/videographer. It has been very exciting to see things unfold, and as part of the transition I went on a five week cross country journey to explore myself and the country. I am looking forward now to getting my nose to the grindstone and making this dream happen.

  • TrentReznor August 28, 2011 12:36 am

    People tend to think "Hey, I got so many views on my Flickr/500px/Whatever-photostream, I gotta go pro"

    Remember, clicking on a photo on the internet is FREE. Now ask yourself, are people going to pay you for your work? Are you sure? Really sure? Absolutely sure? Ok, then go for it.

  • Jenny August 27, 2011 05:04 pm

    Congratulations on reaching your goal. I gave up my well paid job to become a self-employed consultant a year ago. You're right about so many aspects of this transition. Financial planning is vital, working out exactly how much your household expenses are and hence what you need to earn to cover them puts you firmly in control. So scary at the time but the best thing I've ever done. Suddenly the world has opened up with even more new exciting opportunities. Good luck with this amazing new lifestyle!

  • LC August 27, 2011 04:49 am

    I'm retired now and stable financially.....still working on improving my photography skills but hope to start taking on some portrait work...... will be "praticing" on my grandchildren and family at the moment...

  • Erik Kerstenbeck August 27, 2011 03:23 am

    Hi

    Our plan is to continue with our Day Jobs until such a point that we can drop them and go full force. This means networking now, getting our names out there, exhibiting, blogging, doing some free work and writing articles for other Photo Bloggers. All of this takes time to build momentum and it is a lot harder than we imagined.

    So far, the daily blogging has brought close to 200,000 unique visits to http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com since we started in earnest about 1 year ago and the occasional day of 15K+ visits. But this is not enough - local contact and referrals are more important to book business.

    Patience and hardwork!

  • Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier, Kimberly Gauthier Photography August 27, 2011 01:33 am

    What a fantastic post! I've developed my business plan and set a day, THE DAY, for when I will go for it. Right now, I'm setting the building blocks - paying off debt, building the foudation for my business, and defining what I want to do and where I want to go!

    Congratulations on making the switch and following your dream!

    Kimberly

  • Jennifer Marshbank August 27, 2011 01:31 am

    What a great article. I am working towards my dream because being a full-time photographer is what I want to do. I work full-time and getting my degree and working on my dream business. Thank you so much for the tips

  • Rhonda August 27, 2011 01:17 am

    Congratulations! I admire your dedication and determination to follow your dream and to do it the smart way. Way to go and best wishes for success!

  • Janita August 27, 2011 12:42 am

    Brilliant article! So useful, I will most definitely keep this at hand to return to many times over the next few years as I also set up my photography company.

  • rio h. August 27, 2011 12:38 am

    Im in the same boat you were on. Full time job and putting in extra hours for photography while not neglecting my 2 kids and spouse. Its really hard and scary to think i'd be ready to quit my job so I am holding on and continuing to polish my work until I am mentally ready to do more.

  • Donna Ford August 27, 2011 12:22 am

    I am working on pursuing a photography career, just now pursuing my dream. I've gotten encouragement from friends, but family doesn't think it will work out for me. I am only an amateur, but hope someday I will be considered to be a professional.

    I enjoy all the tips that I have gotten from you and everyone else! Keep up the good work! Photography Rocks!

  • Carolyn Chentnik August 27, 2011 12:17 am

    One day!

    photog in training