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Turning Your Photography Hobby into a Full-time Business

Are you looking for a way to turn your photography hobby into a full-time business? Or take your business to the next level? With Dawn Charles, we cover topics like mindset setbacks, the important thing you need to consider if you’re shifting from photography being a hobby or a side job to turning it into a full-time business. We’ll focus on what transition looks like and what things you need to focus on as you transition.

About Dawn Charles

Dawn Charles was a wedding and elopement photographer for about ten years. She transitioned into education and is doing everything online now, providing courses, resources, and presets for other photographers and creative entrepreneurs. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband and three girls. Her girls are the reason she stopped shooting weddings and decided to do everything at home.

Dawn went to school for photography and studied it throughout college. She was doing it for fun outside of school. Her photography centered mostly on school work or helping friends take pictures for Facebook and she didn’t have a clear plan. Her roommate was a fashion design major, and she designed outfits Dawn took pictures of so she could showcase her designs. 

They started there, and she began getting inquiries from her engaged friends. She was getting inquiries and not even claiming to be a photographer or someone offering services. People had an interest in what she was doing. So she decided to take it seriously, and towards the end of school, she finally landed an internship with a wedding photographer. She was confident about that side of photography but had no idea of the business side of it or the behind-the-scenes, how to work with people or what happens at a wedding. 

People started seeking her for their photography needs, which was a big moment for her to decide to make a career out of photography.

Suggestions for people transitioning

Explore photography, and see if it’s for you. Start by getting comfortable with people and with your camera. Go out there and shoot friends and family. Do free sessions to build that confidence without the pressure of a paying client or labeling yourself as a professional. 

From there, attend workshops or invest in education so that you can surround yourself with like-minded people. See the different styles of shooting, editing, and ways of teaching and methods of doing things. Workshops can be so helpful!

There’s just so much you can learn in one weekend. You can build your portfolio with tons of amazing styled shoots, network with other photographers, and learn all of the basics and then some from the teaching. You can have access to mentors that are there that will answer all your questions. So it’s worth your time and money if you go to a good one just to get everything off the ground and build a solid foundation.

Basic knowledge and foundation to start

You get into photography because you love the art of photography, not planning on the whole business side. Then, you ultimately have to become all of these other things and wear all these different hats that you probably weren’t expecting.

You never get into it fully before you begin. The customer service and accounting sides, website and graphic design, everything. The biggest challenge was business for Dawn; she didn’t know how to make a contract or do her taxes. 

The first thing is ensuring you learn about all a business entails from the beginning because it can get more intimidating if you get too far into your business and haven’t ever established all of those things yet. It can be legally and financially scary if you mess things up. It isn’t as intimidating or difficult as it sounds once you hire a CPA. Find someone specializing in small businesses to create separate business and personal bank accounts. Just have a separation between your personal life and your business. 

Also, have an LLC for that reason and have a contract; start reporting taxes from the first dollar you make because it can be a lot more work. You could also get yourself into a deep hole if you start your business without doing so. This might not be a legitimate failure, but from the very first dollar, you begin reporting your taxes.  So set yourself up right and figure all of that out from the beginning, but maybe through some courses online or a financial advisor or CPA. CPAs can offer much guidance because they’re there to help with those things. 

When to separate bank accounts

Begin right away from the first dollar, according to CPA advice. To be safe, have separate accounts and report it, although it might vary from state to state. If you don’t have to pay anything on it, then it’s great, but at least you’ll be ahead of the game. Then chances are the following year you’re going to be making a lot more money if you’re growing, so that way everything is set up. You’ve had a chance to set everything out when you were still not overwhelmed with a wedding every weekend.

So just having that foundation and then being able to grow your business without having to go back and think about all the nitty-gritty foundational things are nice because you can focus on the fun stuff. So definitely do it from the beginning. Having a CPA right away will be helpful because they will guide you through all that and tell you exactly what you need to do.

Combining business and creativity

If you can, outsource the things you don’t find fulfilling. Dawn is a huge fan of outsourcing things not in your wheelhouse that you don’t have the skill set for, like doing your taxes. She doesn’t have the skill set to do her taxes, or someone else might do it better.

So things you don’t know much about will save you a lot of time outsourcing because you can Google everything and figure it out. Still, you won’t do it as well, and it’s going to waste so many hours that you could use on areas of your business that you love and that could further your business and eventually make you that money back. 

But then also things that are just not enjoyable to you, like if you hate doing certain things, then find someone else to do them. Or if they’re just tedious tasks that are taking up your whole day and you’re not able to focus on your bigger goals in your business. Then outsource those to someone if you don’t want to be the one doing the thing.

How to handle pricing

It’s a tough thing. Fresh out of college and living with her parents, Dawn decided to go full-time. So, she worked at a coffee shop and wasn’t pressured to provide for a family or pay a mortgage. For those leaving a corporate job or who have a family and need to make ends meet, it could be scary leaving a consistent salary and just going into something that one month you might not make anything. Or you make a couple of thousands, and it’s not enough.

The first thing you would do is before you’re ready to go full-time, just make sure you have saved so that you know if there’s a slow month, you have something to fall back on. You’re not super stressed and forcing yourself to work every single weekend and take every single job that comes to you because you’re going to burn yourself out so quickly. 

So make sure you have some cushion there or if you have a dual income and a partner bringing in money. It’s nice to know you can rely on that when you have slow seasons. But make sure you evaluate your finances beforehand and figure out how much you need to make each month to make ends meet. And not be eating Top Ramen and being super stressed out. 

Set that goal for yourself and figure out how many sessions you need. So if you need to be shooting this many weddings at a price you’re currently charging, it’s not doable for you and your family. Can you manage being gone shooting five weddings a month? Maybe not. 

Raise your prices

So maybe you want to raise your prices a little bit so that you only have to shoot three weddings a month, or perhaps you want to focus more on portrait sessions because you don’t want to be gone every weekend when your family is home. So just like take time to map it out and budget and figure out what is worth it for you and what’s doable for you. 

And maybe at first, that’s hard to figure out because you haven’t ever shot five weddings a month, so you don’t know if it’s doable. I can tell you right now that’s a lot of weddings a month, but start with what you think might be doable and then reevaluate. Maybe raise your prices if you feel like you’re working too much and just making ends meet and then try to raise your prices and work a little less.

You can also just see what the market is doing. And if you have a lot of demand, then you know, increase your prices, work a little less, and maybe figure out a way to supplement that income. Whether you do mini sessions once a month or put out a $10 ebook, or find a different form of passive income.

Don’t overdo it!

That’s a whole other topic, but just make sure that you have some sort of plan in place so that you’re not scraping by and working yourself to the ground where you are burning yourself out, when you’re just getting started.

Take it easy. It’s great to get that many inquiries and bookings at the beginning. You should be stoked, which means you’re doing something right with your marketing and everything. But you should raise your prices so that you’re not having to work that much. And say no to things that don’t fit with you or give yourself some sort of limit, like you’re only going to shoot two to three times a week. Otherwise, you will burn yourself out.

Matching salary before you go full-time

It can be hard to say that you’re going to match your salary and then go full-time. That would mean that you’re working two full-time jobs at the same time.  And that’s hard, and you’re probably not going to have any personal life. So if you’re striving to get your photography salary to match your corporate salary, you only have nights and weekends to pour into your photography. Then, it’s going to take a long time, or you’re not going to get a break. 

Maybe look at the projection of your photography career and say if you’re only dedicating 12 hours a week to this right now, you should be able to make this much. How much will your business grow when you dedicate 40 hours weekly to this? And it looks like you are getting a lot of inquiries, and it seems like you’re at the point where you can no longer juggle without feeling burnt out or like you have no personal time. And it’s probably time to go full-time. 

Do you manage both?

Assuming that you have some sort of cushion savings, dual income, or something like that, you’re not scraping by. Still, suppose you’re at the point where you can’t manage to do both of these at the capacity that I am doing them. In that case, it might be time to give something up or if it’s an option, go part-time with your corporate job so that you can feel like, okay, if you dedicate more hours a week to this photography job, is that increasing my revenue? Or have you reached a cap?

Evaluate what things will look like if you have the time without a day job, then pour that into photography. You can only manage to do both for so long before one of them starts falling through the cracks. And either you will begin not to show up to work on time or not be able to complete all your tasks for your day job. Or you’ll give up photography because you’re so maxed out trying to do both. 

Final advice

Remember that success doesn’t happen overnight. And it is a marathon, not a sprint, which is cliche. Still, you’re probably comparing yourselves to your favorite photographers, and those famous photographers have probably been in the industry for five, ten, or fifteen years. 

To compare yourself to someone who is that many steps ahead will lead to you being hard on yourself and getting discouraged. So just know that we all started at that spot, and you will get there if you just put in the time and effort and don’t expect everything to happen overnight, be in it for the long haul. Do the work to invest in your business and invest in your education. Always infuse yourself and your personality into your business.

You can find Dawn at @dawn.charles on Instagram and on her website.

photography hobby into a full-time business

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