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Photography Marketing: When to go all-in and be a photographer full-time

Over the past few months, I’ve met with a few up and coming photographers in my area. Some of them I’ve known dating back to my college days, others have reached out to me and asked for some advice out of the blue.

You might think I’m crazy, essentially educating what could at some point become my competition. But here’s the thing. Despite many photographers gripping to their business strategies to no end, not wanting to share their “secrets,” there’s no reason why we can’t share our knowledge with others. Teaching others is not showing your hand or giving away your special sauce. Clients come and go, and some that go will ultimately find their way back to you.

With that out of the way, one of the questions I’m always asked from new photographers is how I knew when it was time to go “all-in” — that is, when it was time for me to quit my day job and go full-time into photography.

The magic number

This was a question I asked myself a few years ago. In 2015, I was itching to go full-time. I had clients and was photographing regularly after-hours and on weekends. I was longing for more.

I sat down with my photography mentor, Brian Kelly, and he educated me on the process. He said one very important thing, which told me when it was appropriate for me to make the jump. He recommended I go full-time when I could make half of my income from my current job, through photography.

Why 50 percent? Simple. When you leave your day job, you’ll suddenly have eight extra hours in the workday. You can take these hours and apply them to your business, growing your client base and setting up networking meetings.

Waiting until you can hit that 50 percent mark will also guarantee you’ll have less of a struggle to make ends meet and that you’ll already have gigs lined up.

If you decide not to wait until you hit that 50% mark, it’ll most likely be a lot tougher, and you might find yourself twiddling your thumbs for a while, wondering how you can get more work.

Is it just about the numbers?

Simply put, no. If you’re close to that 50 percent mark, you might feel comfortable making the leap earlier than expected. You have to take a few other things into account beyond just the numbers.

For one, you have to be happy. If you find yourself at a miserable job, weigh the pros and cons of waiting until that 50 percent mark or jumping early. For me, I wasn’t quite at 50 percent when I jumped, but I knew if I worked hard, I could make it work. Sure enough, my first year exceeded my expectations.

Two, you have to look into your future. I’m not telling you to run down to your town’s local fortuneteller. Think instead of where you want to be in a year from now. Five years from now. Ten. Is photography a part of that future? Do you have the passion to drive you to success?

So when is the right time?

For me, it was a mix of the 50 percent mark and the gut feeling I had. I knew I wanted to go all-in to photography. Yes, it would take time and I’d have some months where I would struggle. But I knew that going in. For me, it was about happiness and doing what I truly wanted to do — capture those special moments.

For more on Photography Marketing, see my weekly column.

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