We made it!! I officially went full-time with Becca Rizzo Photography March 1, 2020. And WOW does it feel good! But I didn’t jump in blindly, and I don’t want you to either. I’m going to share with you the steps to become a full-time photographer or creative entrepreneur.
I’d get advice all the time from other creatives that sounded like this: “Just take the leap of faith! Go full time! It will work out!” Now I know their intentions were good, but I’m not sure it’s as simple as that. It’s true that everything probably would have worked out eventually if I had just quit my day job when I wanted to, but I also believe it’s true that my choice to hold-off saved me from a lot of financial stress and headaches.
Disclaimer: No matter when you leap, it will take faith.
Me planning out when to go full-time would still require me to take the leap of faith once the time came. Me waiting and being obedient to God’s plans for me still required me to take the leap of faith and trust in His faithfulness. This isn’t like when you were in the eighth grade mustering up the courage to call your crush, we’re talking about your livelihood here!! So yes, I believe you can do both- be smart and take that leap of faith everyone keeps talking about.
Still not getting it? Allow me to give you some planning advice so when the time comes to “leap,” there’s a sense of peace surrounding your decision- not blind panic yelling for help after an impulsive decision.
Education. First up, education. Have you invested in enough education to do the thing you need to do? For me, I started with learning the technical side of using a camera, manual mode, and lighting. It came somewhat naturally for me to learn how to produce a beautiful image. But what I really needed help with was knowing how to run a business: money and expense management, advertising, marketing, branding, social media, website design, client experience, client management, and not to mention, all the legal stuff. THIS is where a lot of small business owners fall short. Don’t get me wrong, you can certainly learn as you go. But if you are in a position like me where you strongly support your family income, I didn’t want to chance it. I wanted to be confident that I knew what I was doing (for the most part anyways, ha!)
Experience. Like with education, you can learn as you go. And this certainly depends on your family/financial situation. But again, for me, I wanted to grow my business to a certain point before going full time. And this took experience! I started off working for free, second shooting, and photographing a lot of weddings to gain my experience. I finally got to a point where my work was consistent from session to session and wedding to wedding. I developed my style, I had systems in place to create a great client experience, and I felt confident in my expertise.
Pricing Your Services. I am not a fan of numbers. I was the girl sitting at the kitchen in table in middle school crying as her dad tried to help her with math homework. But to be a business owner, you have to be able to run your numbers and KNOW your numbers. Fun fact, photographers usually only take home 35-55% of earnings once you factor in taxes and expenses. Yes…you read that correctly! (Now you know why we charge what we charge!)
- Know how much your monthly and yearly business expenses are. A lot of people forget that owning a business costs you money! Generally speaking, the day job you’re in now doesn’t require you to pay out-of-pocket for expenses. So it wouldn’t be correct to say “I make $50k in my day job, so I need to make $50k in my business to match my income.” Wrong. You need to make more to account for expenses. Make sure you know how much you need!
- You’ll also need to speak to an accountant and get professional advice on how much to set aside for Federal and State Income Tax, and Sales Tax. Again, a lot of people forget about Sales Tax!
- Once you know how much you want to bring in each month for yourself/family, and how much your expenses are, you’ll need to total that number up. That is the number you’re aiming for.
- Once you have that number, you’ll need to divide that number by the number of how many weddings/sessions you want to do each year. That is what you need to be charging per wedding or session.
Now that number may scare you at first, but don’t let it. Use it as a price point to work up to. Start implementing things now that can get you to that point. Is it more experience? Taking a new course? Upgrading your gear? Networking with other professionals in your industry? Improving your client experience? Use that price point as your goal and start working towards it!
Personal Financial Goals. My husband and I knew there were certain goals we had to reach before going full time. I wanted to pay off at least one of my student loans. We wanted to buy a new-to-us used car in cash (edited to add, this was written pre-COVID so car shopping is on hold right now). We wanted to have x amount left over in our savings/emergency fund. Again, this takes some strategic planning but it helps put some security in place before you take that big “leap of faith.” Talk with your spouse and consider what that savings account number looks like for you, and what other goals you want to reach prior to going full-time in your craft. **I also HIGHLY recommend getting an accountant to help you with your finances and filing taxes. Don’t let your ego get in the way. If this stuff confuses you like it did for me, don’t be afraid to hire an accountant!
Relationships & Support Systems. Don’t overlook this one. When you’re an entrepreneur, especially a solo-entrepreneur working by yourself most days, you don’t want to forget to make room in your life for community! There will come a day (or days) when you’ll need to talk with someone who just gets it, who more or less is in the same boat as you, and you’ll need either their advice or to just vent. I’m thankful I’ve met some pretty awesome people through this industry who continue to support one another and refer potential clients my way. We help each other out and it’s the best feeling knowing you’re not completely in it alone.
Becoming Legal. This is the most important step! In fact, I hope you’ve already done this part but just in case you haven’t – you NEED to do it now! Become an LLC and register your business by visiting your state’s website. When I first started, I actually used LegalZoom to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Now every year I renew on my own, but using a third party when first starting could be beneficial, especially if it all overwhelms you! Here are some helpful resources for when you’re beginning this process: NC.gov and LegalZoom. Also in this category, make sure you have a solid contract in place! I highly recommend The Legal Paige. She offers contract templates and great advice for small businesses!
Lastly, remember this: I’m not happy because I have my own business. I’m happy because through it, God gifted me a sense of confidence, peace, and fulfillment I didn’t have before. I’m happy because my faith grew and I trust him more than I ever have. So, I beg you, don’t rush this season. God is doing great work in you, even if you can’t feel it or see it right now. Just keep doing the next best thing and let your faith continue to grow more than you could have imagined. You’ll find that even though something beautiful is waiting for you on the other side, something beautiful was also with you all along.