Sunday, February 21, 2010

Getting Out of the Part-Time Trap

When you're a bargain, work finds you very easily. Everyone loves a great deal, and once word gets out that you're offering your services for a steal, you'll find yourself with more work than you can handle! It's not a bad place to be if you like working all the time, but eventually you realize that you're working many more hours with no benefits, for less overall pay, and less personal time to spend with friends and family! What was once a fun hobby on the weekends, suddenly turned into a wildfire of business! GREAT, RIGHT?! Than why haven't you given up your other job(s)?

Some people say it's because they could never give up the great benefits they receive from their company. Some say it's because the amount they charge working part time would never be able to support them full time. Some say it's because running a small business is too risky. Well, whatever the reason for remaining part time, you're right. Here is a common list of things part-time photographers want, and what holds them back from getting them...

Greater Confidence - don't have extra money to spend on workshops
Networking/Learning - don't have time due to other job schedule
Better Equipment - not charging enough to afford it
Want to Charge More - fear that raising prices will reduce amount of work
Take on more work - don't have time due to other job
More Personal Freedom - not charging enough to hire additional help

If this were the only thing you were doing, you would have more time to attend seminars, more time to network and learn from other photographers, and more time to grow your business, give better service, develop more relationships, and take on more clients. When you have more time to spend on your business, you are naturally going to make more money because you'll be taking yourself seriously and so will those around you. You'll start saying, "I'm a photographer" instead of "I also do photography on the side". You'll have more clients who will send you more referrals and share your work with more people.

When you are self-employed, you will value yourself and your time a lot more because you will know exactly what it is worth and what you NEED to in order to support yourself (and/or family), your benefits, and your retirement plan. You will also find that you have the money to buy better equipment, to attend better workshops, and to hire or outsource additional help, giving you more personal freedom. People worry that when they raise their prices, the work will stop coming in- only if you turn it down or do absolutely nothing to attract it! Even if you stayed part time and simply doubled your prices and ended up with only half the amount of work - you're better off because you now have more time and are making more profit for less work! If you still have another job, now is the BEST time to raise your prices and start taking yourself seriously so that it only becomes a matter of weeks or months before you realize how much time you've wasted working for someone other than yourself.

Did you know that working for yourself is actually less risky than working for someone else?

When you work for yourself....
  • no one can fire you
  • no one can suddenly decide to lay off your department
  • no one can downsize your benefits
  • no one can determine what age you'll be able to retire
  • you control what benefits, doctors, and services you receive
  • you control how your retirement money is invested and spent
  • no one can fire you for taking time off to deal with family matters
  • you can always have the corner office with the view
  • you can deduct so much more when it comes to taking care of your business, vs. taking care of someone else's business
  • you control how much money you make each month
  • the profits you help bring in go to buying you a better house and car, rather than the executive you work for
  • you control your vacation and sick time
  • you decide how much your time is worth
  • you control who you get to work with
  • you decide how much you want to work
When you look at it closely, working for yourself is a lot less risky than working for someone else. I don't want to make it sound too easy, because it's certainly not something you should pursue if you prefer to just float by in life and let others control your future. However, if you find yourself really enjoying the business side of your hobby turned part-time job, than you need to seriously consider why you remain in other job(s) that are holding you back from having more control over your life?
I'm not a celebrity photographer. I don't charge an obscene amount for my services. I haven't invented any fancy gadget or product to make me millions. I haven't hosted a super expensive workshop. I don't have DVD tutorials for sale. But since I started working full time for myself... I have put more money into my retirement than I ever did when I was working for someone else. I have been able to afford the best equipment, backups, and repairs the exact moment I needed them. I have been able to invest in my education, my confidence, and my network. I have been able to buy sample products even to decide I just didn't like them. I have been able to spoil my favorite clients. I have been able to pay down my debt and loans at a pace that was never possible when I was working for someone else. I have been able to take better care of myself and my health. I've been able to take time to travel with my husband, to spend more quality time with family, and to decide when enough work is enough. I have been able to hire other people to help me when I've fallen behind, or when what I have is too overwhelming. I have been able to continue doing what I love with passion, and to share it all with you.

Once you're ready to go full time, find a mentor. They don't have to be local, though the easier they are to access, the better. While it's nice if they've been in the business for a while, it could be equally helpful to find someone who's in the same position you are so that you can grow and share ideas in a mutual relationship based on helping each other grow- rather than a teaching-centered relationship which tends to be a one-way street. Message boards are a great way to meet people with similar interests. When you're ready to announce to the world that you're open for business, get a great website and read my previous post: "Advertising is like.. *WHOOSH*" to explore easy ways to promote your business and get your name out in the community without spending a ton of money. If you haven't already established your business legally, contact a local business college and ask if they can give you any free resources for small or starting businesses (like free legal guidance). Many states and local governments are also eager to help new businesses get started by offering free or reduced fee small business programs and seminars. Search college business departments as well as local government websites for information. For all of your tax needs, the IRS has created a great free online resource with many different products to help you! Check it out at ==> "Small Business and Self-Employed One-Stop Resource".
(Note: this article was originally written in 2007 but is being republished for relevance.)

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and low-cost solutions to business problems. Check out her next workshop at Smarter Business Workshop. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.


  1. You are so resourceful. Thanks for always posting great articles like this!

  2. Thank you so much for this AWESOME blog. I've been watching you for a while and have found your realness to be so refreshing.

  3. Anne --

    you are sooo right. I am at THAT place and this article is coming at exactly the right time for me.



  4. I just discovered your blog a few months ago and want to echo the same thoughts as the previous posters. Your blog is so refreshing because you are very real and have a different take on the business.

    Thanks for spending the time to share!

  5. Anne, you rock my (little) world. You may not have invented something or be "celebrity" photographer, but you are a celebrity to us and you have truly invented a new way for photographers to help other photographers.

    Thank you :)

  6. Thanks for putting it all in perspective for me Anne! I am sooo motivated for next year and ready to take this all head-on!

  7. Anne I LOVE YOU. This give me more validation for the times when it's rough to HOLE MY HEAD HIGH because better times are around the corner...i hated working for others and I love working for me and my brides! YOU ARE A SUPER NOVA!

  8. Hi Anne,

    thank you for all the informations, your blog is great.
    I feel like you wrote this post for me:-)

  9. This is all great information Anne and makes me really want to jump in with both feet.

  10. Anne, your post is as if you are speaking directly to me.

    Thank you so much for this great post!


  11. You are truly a great person. xoxox

  12. Oh my goodness this is so good! This is exactly where my husband and I are. We love our "full time" job & don't want to leave them but we are not able to fully develop our company do to time restrictions. Thanks for the encouragement!

  13. It is so true the way you describe what part timers want and whats holding them back. I am a product photographer 40 hours a week at a furniture manufacturer and have not grown financially in 6 years. As a matter of fact they are not even matching my 401k anymore. I need to figure out the tax stuff and start working for me ASAP! I'm trying to figure out my first steps. Thank you so much for inspiring photographers like myself. I need a "Photography Business for Dummies" book or something.

  14. I agree 100% with everything in your article, my only problem is that I have a really cool "real" job. I am a producer for the Dallas Cowboys, where I make graphics for their TV shows and for their ingame Jumbotron. But I feel as though I enjoy photography a lot more and I am naturally better at it so I am stuck between 2 great jobs... its tough...

  15. if i may, i wanted to add one more thing that i didn't see. one additional reason that it is less risky than working for a company is that with a company, you only have on source of income. when you work for yourself as a photographer, you have many sources of income. you might have 30 wedding clients and 100's of portrait clients. so, if one client decides not to hire you, no big deal, you have all the others there, and more to go find. so, it's more secure than if all your income comes from a single source. Anne, you may add this into your article if you want, or just leave it here as a comment. great article.

  16. Thank you so much for this. I'm in this exact place in my life/career, and trying to wrangle the guts to move ahead with this is so frightening. Thank you!

  17. Realy good post, part time is always a part of you.

  18. Great post. I'm in the same boat at Jonathan -- I have a "day" job that I actually really love and want to grow with. Photography is an amazing creative outlet for me and I'm drawn to it primarily as an artistic endeavor. In many ways, I'm not interested in growing a business, but instead pursuing photography for it's own sake only. I worry that in turning it into a business, it will steal some of the shine from the joy of the creative process. Maybe I'm the only one that feels that way?

  19. Catherine, I felt that way for a long time - but in the end, turning it into a business didn't steal any of the shine away at all. You never know until you try, but pay attention to see how it impacts your creative process.

  20. I was there at one time. I was a cheap photographer with great work. My first year of advertising I booked 17 weddings. Every 6 months I would up my rates closer to other photographers. I was afraid to do this thinking I wouldn't book anymore weddings. I continued to book them and today I have 12 weddings for the current (and still booking) year and 2 for 2011. I'm making more money this year and working less. This allows me to spend more time with my family and work on some new products as well as train myself in areas I feel need work.
    Everything she has said it true. When you apply yourself full time, you will have more opportunities do to better as a photographer.
    Good luck everyone.

  21. I first read this blog back in 2007. For the past three years I kept my day job and tried to become a successful wedding photographer part time. Well I recently quit my day job to take Anne's advice. I will check back in 6 month's to let you know my progress. Thank you for such a wonderful and informative site.

  22. Wow... I know this is an old thread, but this is exactly where I am. My goal is by Spring 2016 to either go full-time with my business, or at least be able to swap my full-time corporate job for a part-time job, while I build my mobile DJ business. I have been devouring your business/finance blog articles. Even though I'm not a photographer, I think a lot of the principles you mention are applicable.

    Thanks for a well-written blog. :)


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