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11 Steps to Turn Your Side Hustle Into a Full-Time Job: How I Became a Full-Time Photographer

Victoria Rayburn is a wedding photography in Lafayette, IN. Use her 11 steps to turn your side hustle into a full-time job.

Let’s be real for a minute. It would be AMAZING if you could quit your 9-5 job tomorrow, go out on your own, and make money doing what you’re passionate about. But, for most of us, this isn’t a possibility.

If you want to start your own business, chances are you’ll need to build your business at night and on the weekends while working a salaried job. You’ll likely have a few years with very little sleep and time to relax before you can enjoy the benefits of being your own boss full time.

I spent a little over two years building my photography business while also working a 9-5 before I was ready to go out on my own. Today, I’m sharing the 11 steps I took that I think will help YOU turn your side hustle into a full-time job!

 

1. Master your craft.

A complete list of when to book your wedding vendors

Before you can turn your side hustle into a full-time job, you have to be good at what you do!

It’s absolutely fine to have never picked up a camera and have aspirations of being a photographer or to have no idea how to use Illustrator but want to be a graphic designer, but before you leave the comfort of your salary, you have to master your craft.

For photographers, this means knowing how to use a camera (duh!), understanding composition, establishing a consistent style (this is part of your brand), being able to make clients feel comfortable in front of the camera, understanding lighting, understanding editing softwares (I use Lightroom and Photoshop) and about a million other things.

This is all accomplished through practice and education. For practice, I highly recommend contacting other photographers about second shooting for them. Even if it’s unpaid, this is super valuable experience!

For education, I recommend anything taught by Jordan and Amy Demos and Katelyn James. These educators do an amazing job of breaking things down. Whether you’re a seasoned photographer or just getting started, their courses will teach you a ton!

 

2. Do the math.

Victoria Rayburn is a wedding photography in Lafayette, IN. Use her 11 steps to turn your side hustle into a full-time job.

Before you can leave the safety of your salary and turn your side hustle into a full-time job, you have to determine if your goal is financially feasible for your family. Determine:

  1. How much do you currently make?
  2. How much does your family actually need?
  3. How much will it take to replace you benefits (health insurance, retirement contributions, etc.)?
  4. What would you need to make to pay for your family’s current expenses and to save for the future?
  5. Do you want to keep your lifestyle as is, or could you cut back (e.g. downsize your house, swap a vehicle for an older vehicle, give up a vacation or two, etc.)?
  6. How much do you want to pay yourself per hour? Per year?  

Once you have answers to these questions, determine how many sales you would need to make to meet this goal. For me, I knew I needed to book 14 weddings and 100 other sessions (families, births, seniors, etc.).

Look at your business’s current financial state to determine if your goal is realistic. I decided mine was for a few reasons:

  1. In 2017, my business’s income was matching 76% of my full-time job’s salary, and we weren’t depending on photography money to pay bills.
  2. In 2017, I shot six weddings and 80+ other sessions while working my full-time job.
  3. I was having to turn sessions away because of lack of time, so I knew there was still demand for my services.
  4. I was doing very little to market myself because I physically couldn’t take on anymore work.
  5. Our insurance is through my husband’s job, so I didn’t need to worry about losing benefits.

So, first thing’s first; do the math! And, be honest with your answers.

Tip: I use QuickBooks Self-Employed to keep track of all of my business finances. Quickbooks can hook up to both your bank account and PayPal and records all income and spending. It also tracks your mileage automatically so you can write your mileage off on your taxes with ease!

When tax season comes around, I give my accountant access to the account, and she can pull all of the numbers she needs. This is one of my favorite business tool!

Get 50% off of QuickBooks Self-Employed here!

 

3. Have an expert double check your math.

After doing the math myself, I met with Jeff Gasaway of BlueSafe Financial, our financial advisor. I have no problem admitting that math isn’t my strong suit, and I wanted to make sure the numbers I had were realistic.

Jeff looked over my goals, the budget I had in mind for the business, and our personal budget. He made a few suggestions and told me that we would survive!

Unless you’re an accountant or financial advisor, I highly recommend meeting with a professional to run your your numbers. Meeting with Jeff eased my nerves, as well as Zach’s.   

 

4. Determine when you can realistically go full-time and patiently hustle in the meantime.

Victoria Rayburn is a wedding photography in Lafayette, IN. Use her 11 steps to turn your side hustle into a full-time job.

To be honest, when I started my business I didn’t plan for my side hustle to become my full-time job. But, for two and a half years, I worked all day to come home to sit behind my computer and edit photos until the AM hours. My weekends were spent shooting sessions and weddings, editing every second that I could, taking online classes, meeting with brides, and spending very little time with my family and friends.

Two years into running my business, I was exhausted and burnt out, and I knew something had to change. But, I loved photography too much to give it up. So, I decided (through a lot of prayer) that I’d rather pursue photography full-time than stay at my 9-5 (Even though Treefrog Marketing is amazing!).

After looking at the numbers and talking to our financial advisor, Zach and I decided that I needed to stay at my job for six more months. This was in September, and I left my job in March.

In the grand scheme of things, being ready to make a switch like this after being in business for two and a half years is pretty fast. When I talk to others about how they made their side hustles into their full-time jobs, most say that they spent three to five years building their businesses.

My best advice is not to be in a hurry. Don’t destroy your finances so you can turn your side hustle into a full-time job. Don’t neglect your friends and family because you’ve decided that your end goal is more important.

Make a realistic timeline (with your spouse’s input if you’re married) that includes deadlines for goals (upgrading equipment, adding a new service, raising prices, etc.). And, if you have to change your timeline, don’t sweat it. It’s so much better to stay at your full-time job a little bit longer than to go out on your own and realize a few months later that you have to go back to working for someone else.

 

5. Build an emergency fund.

Zach and I are big Dave Ramsey fans. When we got engaged, my parents gifted us with Dave’s Financial Peace University course, and it’s been a lifesaver. I highly recommend, especially if you’re engaged! It was very helpful to have rules for our finances before joining bank accounts.

Before I could become a full-time photographer, I knew I needed to make sure our finances were in order. So, we did two things:

  1. Built our emergency fund. Dave recommends putting three to six months worth of expenses into an emergency fund. When I left my full-time job, we had three months worth of expenses saved. We hope to build up to six months after we pay off a vehicle.
  2. Built a business emergency fund. I would hate to have to use our personal emergency fund, so I also built a tiny business emergency fund with enough to pay myself and my expenses for two months.

Hopefully, all will go well, and I won’t need to touch either of these, but it gives me peace knowing that we’re prepared!

 

6. Develop a strong online presence so your ideal clients can find you easily.

Victoria Rayburn is a wedding photography in Lafayette, IN. Use her 11 steps to turn your side hustle into a full-time job.

Did you know that 82% of people conduct online research before making a purchase? This means that if your business can’t easily be found online, you’re missing out on sales!

But, where should people be able to find you online? This answer depends on where your target audience is hanging out on the internet. For me (and I would argue for most family and wedding photographers), the best way to reach my ideal clients is through Facebook, Instagram, and my website.

You’ll need to put a lot of time (or hire someone to do it for you) into making sure your website and social media accounts cater to your clients’ needs and help you build relationships with them. I can’t stress how important this is!

Five Reasons Your Website Isn’t Converting Visitors into Clients

 

7. Foster genuine relationships with others in your industry.

Victoria Rayburn is a wedding photography in Lafayette, IN. Use her 11 steps to turn your side hustle into a full-time job.

This is a big one and a fun one. The connections I’ve made with other photographers and wedding vendors have been invaluable to my business. I highly recommend attending workshops, joining groups (in reality, not just on Facebook), and even sending direct messages to pros you’d like to meet to invite them out for coffee.

Having connections with others photographers and vendors brings several benefits:

  1. You’ll have a community who understands your goals and frustrations. Chances are, you won’t have too many friends or family members who truly understand your struggles, so finding a community who understands and can offer advice based on experience is very helpful.
  2. You’ll naturally have a referral network. This means people will refer jobs to you and you can return the favor (I’ve received great reviews for taking the time to help inquiries I can’t serve—I might be unavailable or not the best fit—find photographers who can serve them well.).
  3. You won’t be alone. A lot of creatives work from home. It’s easy to get lonely, but if you have a great network of professionals, you can plan editing dates, grab coffee, or just be in community together.

If you’re a photographer in the Lafayette, Indiana area, don’t miss out on f/765! We’re a group of photographers who meet monthly to discuss industry news, learn together, and support one another. Join the Facebook group!

If you’re looking for a localish photography workshop that will put you in community, I highly recommend attending Arielle Peters’ workshop in Goshen, Indiana!

 

8. Purchase the equipment you need while you still have a steady income.

Victoria Rayburn is a wedding photography in Lafayette, IN. Use her 11 steps to turn your side hustle into a full-time job.

When I started my side business, one thing I definitely did not want to do was go into debt. So, I’ve paid for all of my equipment with cash.

I bought my first camera and lens with savings bonds my PawPaw (my grandpa) gave me for my birthdays growing up. I spent about $300 on the camera and lens. I used that camera and lens to get started and upgraded and added more equipment as I could afford it with cash (Okay, my debit card because you can’t buy things with cash when they’re online!).

This is probably the best business decision I’ve made. With the exception of my first camera and my laptop (I found out I was going to a conference in Boston for my full-time job three days beforehand and would definitely need to edit while I was there. So, we used some personal money to help fund the purchase.), all of my equipment has been purchased with money my business has made.

As I’m starting this new phase of life, I’m so thankful that my business isn’t facing debt, that I have everything I need (There are definitely lenses on my wishlist, but they can wait.), and that my business hasn’t been a burden on our personal finances.

 

9. Automate and outsource what you can.

This is something I wish I would’ve started doing much sooner! In the midst of the DIY movement, it feels like we’re supposed to be able to do and learn everything. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough hours in the day, especially when you’re working a 9-5 job and running a business. So, determine what you can automate and outsource.

One thing I decided to automate was client onboarding. I use Iris Works to keep track of clients and their sessions, contracts, and payments. All of I have to do is insert their names and email addresses, push a few buttons, and Iris takes care of the rest, including sending clients automated emails with reminders, thank yous, and more.

Get a free one-month trial of Iris Works AND save $25 when you commit!

Over the last two years, I’ve gradually started outsourcing more and more. For instance, Treefrog Marketing made my logo and does a lot of my design work; I have an accountant who takes care of taxes; I hired a lawyer to write my contracts; and I’ve even outsourced editing a few times.

I love how Jenna Kutcher puts it. “Time is not a renewable resource, but money is.” With every business decision, I ask myself:

  1. Is this something only I can do, or is there someone else who could do this for me?
  2. If I paid someone else to do this, what could I be doing in the meantime to earn enough to cover the expense or even more?
  3. Am I the best person for this job, or will it take a lot of time and research to figure this out when I could do being other things to build my business or increase my income?
  4. If I outsource this, will I have more time to spend with my family and friends?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions and I have the financial means, I outsource.

Automation and outsourcing can help your business grow and give you your life back!

 

10. Serve your current clients well.

If you ignore everything else on this list, don’t ignore this one. As powerful and helpful as social media and other online marketing tools are, word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool.

Communicate well with your clients; under promise but over deliver; answer emails within 12 hours; let your clients know exactly what they can expect when they work with you; and blow them away with the final results.

When your clients are happy with your work and their experience with you, they’ll come back again and again and tell their friends and family all about you!

 

11. Love what you do!

Victoria Rayburn is a wedding photography in Lafayette, IN. Use her 11 steps to turn your side hustle into a full-time job.

If you’re wanting to open your own business, chances are you’re a very goal oriented person. I am, so I can say from experience that goal-oriented people are always looking ahead to what’s next and forget to enjoy where they are now.

If that’s you, remember to take a deep breath every now and then. It’s great to have goals, but if you get too wrapped up in them, you’ll never take the time to enjoy where you are.

So, whether you’re years from turning your side hustle into your full-time job or are putting in your two-week notice today, remember to love what you do and to soak this time up because your life and business will never be in this phase again.  

It’ll take time to turn your side hustle into a full-time job, but if you’re committed and make wise financial decisions, the wait will 100% worth it! Today, I’m so thankful that I get to do what I love and that I can do most of this in leggings and a sweatshirt without wearing makeup (never in public of course).

Best of luck to you as you strive to go out on your own!

 

Victoria Rayburn
Victoria Rayburn
Hello! My name is Victoria Rayburn, and I'm a photographer from Lafayette, Indiana. While I love taking photos, my other loves include my handsome husband, my Goldendoodle, coffee, marketing, writing, and my Lord and Savior. Thank you for visiting my site, and I hope you enjoy my blog!

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