June 5, 2013

Pancake Session: The Top 5 Things to Go Full Time

Hey Justin & Mary!

First, I know you are so busy, and so I just want to thank you for even taking the time to read this. I write only because we admire you guys so much. Kenny and I really would like to step into our business full time. Currently, Kenny still works as a pastor full time, while I manage the business and we shoot weddings together. We feel like God may be leading us to do this full time, but also feel kind of stuck right now. We are shooting a good amount of weddings, at the price point that we want to be, but unsure where to go from here. Did you guys step out in faith? What would you say were the five most important things you did to prepare for a full time jump?

Practically, we have built savings, and feel prepared in that way. We are just looking for any and every bit of advice you may have. Again, I know you are SO busy. You guys are amazing people. Thank you so much for taking the time to even read this. It means so much to us — we want to do things well and know you feel the same way. We are definitely inspired by you — please know that.

Hope you are having a great week friends. Thank you again for everything,

Kimberly’s question is such a great one & one that we get in one form or another from photographers all the time: How to go about going full time. But I especially loved how Kimberly put it by saying, “What are the five most important things you did to prepare?” And I loved it so much that, with her permission, we decided to make a Pancake Session out of it. Because so much in life is really about that preparation. There is a great quote that says, “Most people have the will to win, but very few have the will to prepare to win.”

The first thing that you have to know about Justin & I, was that in all honesty we did very little to prepare to go full time. We were two young crazy kids just starting out in the world who went to our very first photography conference…and just decided to go for it. Like Kimberly says, it was very much a leap of faith for us in that we just decided to leap & the net would appear.” Obviously, somewhere along the line the net did appear & nearly 7 years later we’re both still full time. But, like we used to talk about in my law school days…..there were mitigating circumstances about that leap that you need to understand to put it in perspective.

The first is that I did go to law school with an emphasis in business law, and Justin spent four years & graduated from the top photography program at RIT. So we weren’t jumping and THEN having to learn everything about both business and photography as we went. Don’t get me wrong, there was still a TON of stuff we still had to learn, fumble through & make mistakes about along the way. A TON! But between the two of us, we had a good foundation to start from. The second, is that because we were just two young crazy kids at the time we didn’t have a ton of responsibilities to factor in. No mortgage, no retirement fund, and obviously since we still don’t have them…no kids! Also, we had both just come off of being students, so we were used to being poor! :) And not having a ton of cash around while we started the business didn’t pinch as much as it might if we were starting over now. Finally, like I said, we got started seven years ago….and the simple fact is, that was a very different (and much easier) time in the industry, the market, and the economy. Don’t get me wrong, we still had to work our tails off and I’m really proud of everything we’ve built with just our four hands. But if we were starting over today, my answer would be a little different than “just leap & the net will appear.” So given that, if I were trying to go full time right now, these are the top 5 things I would be thinking about before I made that leap.

1. A six month (or more) emergency fund Starting any new business, it’s going to be a while before you can pay yourself. Starting a business in an industry that is as seasonal & cyclical as wedding photography….there are going to be times when you’re first getting started when the money is just plain not coming in. And you’re going to need that cushion to fall back on. Having at least a six month emergency fund cushion (an amount that will cover ALL of your bills for six months) before you leap, means you won’t have to be stressed about how you’re going to eat….and you can put every last ounce of energy into getting the business off the ground. Because believe me, it’s going to take it.

2. An LLC, business bank account, business insurance, accountant & bookkeeper If you run your business as a sole proprietorship, then you are your business & your business is you. Which means if (God forbid!) you ever are in a position of being sued or liable for damage you cause, then your personal assets like your house and your car could be up for grabs to satisfy that judgement. You can get incorporated as an LLC online for $300 & it will create that divide and protect all of your personal assets. It’s some of the smartest money you could spend. Well that and getting business insurance to make sure you’re doubly covered. Take the time to be a real business owner & get your ducks in a row before you need them. Set up the accounts, hire an accountant, keep good books, sign up for business & health insurance. Trust me, your life will be a lot easier if you just do it right & take care of it from the beginning.

3. Create monthly booking & financial goals and track them Know what it is that your business needs to gross in a month to support you (hint: whatever you need to bring home, double that amount) and track it. Know how many jobs you need to book a month to hit those goals….and track that. Then for at least six months leading up to you going full time, track it and make sure you actually can hit those goals before you pull the mat out from under yourself. While you’re hitting those goals like crazy and have that extra cash, fund your safety net.

4. Get your systems in place. Know who is going to do your editing, album design, product fulfillment. Write out your workflow from client inquiry to album delivered from start to finish. Figure out which album companies you’re going to use, where you’re going to buy your ribbon, which lab you’re going to order prints form. Is it going to be a bookkeeper or Quick Books? Will you burn dvd’s, do flash drives, or share online? Will you do proofing parties after the wedding or try to sell products up front? Will your pricing be packages or a la carte? This all comes back to that idea of preparation. Because the thing is, business could pick up faster than you ever imagined. And like one of my favorite sayings go, “Don’t ask for rain & not pack an umbrella.”

5. Have an entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurs by their very job requirements have to be creators of resources. Most of us are used to just being allocators of resources. We go to a job, we get a check, we have a budget, we pay bills. Small business owners have to be magicians of sorts, in that they have to create resources & wealth out of thin air where before there was none. And it takes drive, tenacity, and the willingness to go out and make something happen for that to work. I’ve talked to people before who had said that they really wanted to invest something in their business that was $99, but they just couldn’t swing it. And while I totally felt for them and I know times can be tight, what I also wanted to say just to protect them was, “If you don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit to figure out a way for your business to bring in $99 extra dollars this month…..then how is it ever going to make you a living? And support your family?” Ooooh, and I know that’s tough y’all! But I’m tough because I love you guys (hence the word, tough love!) You need that spirit to survive. And if you’re going to do this, I just don’t want you to fail. I truly from the bottom of my heart want to see each and every one of you succeed. Because here’s the thing… I know that you can if you’re willing to work for it.

So that’s it. Those are the top 5 things that I would be saying to myself if I was starting over today & trying to go full time. And hopefully they helped even one of you out there. I will end just by saying that while preparation is so, so important, there will always come a time when planning has to give way to action.

And even the most prepared & best laid plans…still require a little leap.

Rock it out y’all,

  1. Lea Ciceraro

    This is really fantastic. Thank you for sharing. We moved states a few months ago and I’m in the process of rebuilding and relaunching my business, so this is great info and advice. It breaks my heart that I can’t come see y’all today just 20 minutes away! We’ve come across tougher times than I can possibly comprehend, so alas, it’ll have to happen another day for me. Hope you have a fantastic workshop. Thanks for all you do and enjoy NC! :) xoxo

  2. Mark

    Thanks for the great post. Would you expand a bit on point #2 about forming an LLC. I have talked with a couple advisers about forming an LLC and they said that if I were to form an LLC, not get insurance I could still be in trouble if something happened. There was talk about piercing the corporate veil. Any thoughts? As always thank you! Your blog, business and lives are an inspiration.

  3. Megan

    Thank you! Although this is scary, I need the push and the tough love. Thank you, thank you!

  4. Jenna Miller

    Great list. Recently I’ve been struggling with your #3. What, you mean I can’t just wait until clients book and take whatever money they give me and deposit it? I need actual GOALS?? But goals are scary, because once you’ve set them, you can fail at them.
    I’ll just have to work on that…
    Thanks for the words of inspiration, as always.

  5. Jenna Miller

    Great list. Recently I’ve been struggling with your #3. What, you mean I can’t just wait until clients book and take whatever money they give me and deposit it? I need actual GOALS?? But goals are scary, because once you’ve set them, you can fail at them.
    I’ll just have to work on that…
    Thanks for the words of inspiration, as always.

  6. Kimberly

    Love you guys! Thank you so much for your wisdom and practical steps: Really, for everything that you do, not only for us, but many out there! Lots of love friends!!!

  7. Deborah Zoe

    Number 5. Dang that’s good. And it’s hard but so true!!

  8. Ashley {Tallahassee Wedding Photographer}

    Great advice! Now I just need to figure out marketing so I can bring in more clients in order to bring in more money to be able to quit my job (I’m an attorney too!)

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