June 15, 2011

Pancake Session: Going Full Time

First of all, I just want to thank you guys SO much for tuning in yesterday to our Live Chat on My Photo Biz Coach!! Because of you guys, taking time out of your day to listen….spending time with us when I’m sure you still had work to be done, because of that we were able to hit a record number of people tuning in at once. And you guys did that! So thank you, thank you, thank you….from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for all that you do!! And for continuing to share so much of your lives with us.

I wanted to take a few minutes and add to the conversation from yesterday. Some things that I forgot to talk about, but I think are really important. And if you missed the live broadcast, you can still listen to the re-broadcast here.

It’s funny, the very first pancake session I ever did was actually on the topic of going full time (if you have the time, it’s definitely worth a read as it pretty much tells our whole story of how we got started). In that post, I wrote these words:

So how do you know when you’re ready to start a business? When you can’t imagine living your life for even one more day any other way.

When everything in your mind, body, heart and soul tells you that it’s time. When you’re willing to go out and try, fail, fall flat on your face, get up the next day and try again. Because you would rather try and fail, than never try at all. Sure, there are plenty of other things that go into building a business, like business plans and financing….but if you don’t have that hunger first, those other things will never get the chance to matter. Because it’s going to be that hunger that carries you through the tough times.

And believe me, there will be tough times.

If you’re finding yourself in that place where you have the hunger and everything in your mind, body, heart and soul is telling you this is what you want to do with the rest of your life but you’re not sure how to make that leap, I wanted to give you in short order my top 5 tips for going full time.

1. Create a no excuses, no regrets deadline for yourself that involves at least a 6 month emergency fund. 1 year is even better.
The formula is pretty simple, sticking to it will be the hard part. First, add up what it actually costs you to live in a month. Be real about it and build in a little extra cushion for a nice round number. Then multiply that number by at least 6 months. So if my monthly costs round up to $5,000 and I’m comfortable with going full time when I have a 6 month emergency fund in place, then my target number becomes $30,000. Now, take that number and divide it by the amount of money you think you can set aside each month toward the goal. Get scrappy. Switch to Via. Stay off JCrew.com. Get rid of cable. Take two extra portrait sessions a month. Do whatever you can to get that number up as high as you can. Let’s say after all that, you believe you can put $750 away each month. Divide that into your target amount and that tells you that exactly 3 years & 4 months from today, if you’ll stick with it you will have the cushion in place to go full time. More to the point, that number, the $750, becomes what it’s worth to you on a monthly basis to be able to chase your dreams. Breaking it down into the smallest parts like that. putting a dollar amount on it, makes it really clear what you need to do next to get to where you want to be.

2. Know your costs.
Use this time to research what it’s actually going to cost you to work for yourself. Run the numbers on things like health insurance, business insurance, hosting & lab fees, hiring an accountant, hiring a bookkeeper, outsourcing your editing & album design, album costs, incorporating, etc. You will be amazed at how much your monthly costs go up once you’re taking care of a business too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s do-able. You’re just going to want to go into that eyes wide open.

3. Make your business legit sooner rather than later.
I cannot stress this one enough. I hear so many people say that they’ll incorporate or put things on the books once they have more business. But the very real danger with this is that if you go 4 or 5 years writing stuff off for your “business” of photography without actually taking the steps to make it a legitimate business, then the IRS could very easily come in and deem the photography a “hobby” and everything you wrote off for those 4 or 5 years will then be due with back-taxes, late fees and penalties. And in true double-whammy form you’ll still have to pay taxes on all the income you made. To be considered a business, the IRS wants to see a few things: a) Keep thorough books. Real businesses run the numbers. And while I’m at it, hire a bookkeeper because learning Quickbooks is not the best use of your time as business owner. b) Keep business and personal funds separate. To set up a business banking account you’ll need either a “DBA” (doing business as) or proof of incorporation from the state. As I mentioned on the broadcast, I can’t recommend enough that you go ahead and incorporate to protect your personal assets, and c) the IRS wants to see you turn a profit in 3 of your first 5 years otherwise they may deem you a hobby. If you write everything off to show a loss for the first three years while you’re getting started, you’ll probably be putting yourself in trouble before you even get started. Hire an accountant, understand what you’re up against.

4. Write out your workflow and put your systems in place before you’re full time.
In other words, don’t ask for rain and not pack an umbrella. Use this time to figure out every step in your workflow, write it out. Photographers, this is not Lightroom or Photoshop….this is every step in the process from client inquiry to album delivered. Now start figuring out a) what can be eliminated altogether b) what you can hire someone else to do and c) what you either really want or have to do yourself. I promise you this, you cannot do it all yourself. And if you make the leap to full time without putting these systems in place first you’re going to be backed up before you even get started. Before you go full time, I recommend having no less in place than who will do your editing, who will design your albums, which album companies you will use, how you’re going to track everything, and who your lab will be. Do it!

5. Build word of mouth MOMENTUM.
While you’re still part time, take as many weddings as you possibly can. Now go out and rock the client, vendor & location experience with each of them. Be remarkable. Give them the stories to go out and tell people about you. And raise up an army of evangelists out there saying your name. So when you make the full time leap, you can hit the ground running.

I hope these helped!! Feel free to leave any questions you have in the comment box below!

  1. Michelle Stone

    if only I could of read this before taking the leap!!! I had the fire and the hunger, but the tips you talk about are so paramount and I really had no clue. really great info here!!

  2. Gail

    Oh Mary, when people ask me why I haven’t gone full time yet, I’m just going to direct them to this blog post. And your No. 1. ‘Cause that is EXACTLY what I’m doing right now. It feels good to know this in my heart and this post is great affirmation. I just wish other people would be understanding when you tell them, "I’m building the nest egg, people!"

  3. Kelly

    I really enjoyed listening to your live chat yesterday! It’s so reassuring to know that other photographers have the same thoughts, problems and questions as I do! Thank you for being real and honest and sharing your going full time journey with all of us!

  4. Sarah

    Oh.Mary.this is fantastic and priceless info. I’m still on step one, putting a deadline into action and saving up. It’s a scary & daunting task but I know it can be done, it will be done. I look at photographers who have taken the leap and although I am so happy for them I find myself depressed that I’m not there yet & don’t know when I will be. This gives me the reassurance that everyone has a different course and no matter whether it happens in 1 week or 3 years and 4 months, i’m working to make it happen.

  5. Katelyn James

    gotta love Dave Ramsey!!!:):)

  6. Stephanie Stewart

    Amen! Mary, thank you for this post! It is hard to give up control over certain aspects of my business, but I’ve learned that is the only way to keep my sanity and to let me do the parts that I truly love doing! Thanks again!

  7. MM

    @Katelyn: we totally do! :)

  8. Nancy Mitchell

    Loved listening in yesterday! Thanks for sharing more inside tips! I guess I better do a huge projection because a nurses salary is a decent one especially only having to work 4 12 hour days:) I recently went contingent and hoping for my business to grow! I am struggling getting clients and it is difficult when you add kids into the mix! Thanks again for everything! I just LOVE you two!

  9. Nancy Mitchell

    oops…"3" 12 hour days

  10. Lydia

    Amen and amen!

  11. Jeff

    I’d love for you guys to have a pancake session on how your style has evolved over the last 3 years. ‘Style’ is one of the hardest things for a photographer to define. How have you two evolved in your shooting? What have been your influences? Are there shots that you ‘don’t do’ anymore that you used to? Why? Just an idea. Great work as always!

  12. Evie Perez

    Oh thanks for this post!! This confirms that I need to keep on doing what I am doing + some more. Dave Ramsey is awesome. Hes changed my family tree :)

  13. Jessica

    Amazing podcast! Thank you so much for sharing your valuable information that you had to learn the hard way!

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