Before You Quit That Day Job, Think About These 5 Crucial Steps


Before You Quit That Day Job, Think About These 5 Crucial Steps

I recently read an article by a noted photographer describing the lessons learned when he up and quit his day job to launch a photography business. A few years later, he was horribly in debt and feeling he was done as a photographer.

This is not a new story. We have heard it before and we’ll hear it again. There are many photographers, or those who want to be photographers, who think “when I build it, they will come.” While this maybe the case for a few who achieve instant recognition, it is not the case for most.

I have been in this business for 31 years. It does not get any easier! It often seems that it only only gets harder.

If you have a job now and are thinking you want to go full time as a photographer, there are some important considerations you should think about. Like ALL businesses, careful planning and preparation is required for a photography business as well. Before you quit your day job and head out to make it big, here are 5 reasons your photography business might fail:

  1. Wrong ReasonsYou want to get into the business of photography because it sounds fun to be loved by a vast stable of clients and shooting all the time. It is fun…at times…and like many longtime photographers might tell you, the BUSINESS is not much fun. Today, most photographers spend the majority of their time seeking new business. That can be a full time job in itself.While you are passionate about your photography, you have to convince the world that your work will make their job easier or their product better. You have to be dedicated to your business first and product second. That could mean more time marketing than shooting. Photography is a service business and your first concern is the customer. Without any of them there is not business.
  2. Wrong ProductSometimes photography businesses fail due to poor choice on products. Is there a demand or a market for your photography? If your goal is to license stock photos then you need a massive inventory of images to compete with the large agencies and veteran photographers.  This will take years to build and possibly at substantial costs.Do you have the quality of imagery and enough of it to compete in the markets? Evaluate and make sure your product is top notch. Photography continually evolves with new styles and new techniques and being on the cutting edge will attract clients who like your style. If you plan to teaching workshops you need a reputation to attracts followers. It is called ‘building an audience.’ Are you doing that?If assignments is part of your plan are you focusing on the markets that will use your work?
  3. Not Enough CapitolIt takes money to make money! As a photographer you need a lot of imagery to sell stock. You have to pound the pavement to get assignments. You have to have images to sell prints. You need a following to attract workshop attendees who want to learn about how you create incredible work.It takes time to make all the happen and until you sell images, land an assignment, or fill workshops, do you have the financial resources to build that inventory and the social reach to get the workshop attendees.
  4. Lack of planningYou have to know ahead of time what it takes to open your business. What steps are required? In many cities a business license is required. If you spend a fortune on camera gear it needs to be insured. And speaking of insurance, you should get solid business insurance. It will be required to teach in the national parks, on BLM lands, and in many state owned properties.How much camera gear do you need? Not how much camera gear do you WANT, but what do you need to get started? How much money is needed to travel and photograph? How much money to pay your bills, living expenses, as well as travel expenses? In photography, it is often easier to empty the bank account than fill it.
  5. Are you focused on your markets?
    You need to understand who your clients are and what you will market to them vs. what they buy. Will you quickly stand out from your competition? Be assured there is competition in every market so if your work is the same as their work, you have to prove you have a better product to the photo buyers out there.

Making the leap

So you love photography and are thinking of doing it full time. What could be better?  What you want to do is the dream of many photographers. While many achieve that success, even more do not and it is often due to lack of understanding fully what is required to succeed in a business that is very crowded.

More importantly, you should ask yourself just what photography means to you and what exactly you want from it. Are you photographing enough right now to be satisfied? How much is that: a few hours a week or days per month? Whatever your answer, are you satisfied?

If so, what would being a full time photographer allow you to do that you cant do now? This is an important question for you to answer.

We are all photographers because we love to shoot. When you throw in the demands of business, things change. A lot of things! If your survival now depends on selling photography related products, it’s a good bet you will spend more time doing that than shooting. If having a job allows you to shoot a lot and you are generally satisfied, keep in mind that quitting that job could mean less shooting.

In business, if you don’t know where you are going you won’t know how to get there. It’s a lot harder to stay in this business than start in this business. So before you quit that day job, decide for yourself just what really matters?

5 thoughts on “Before You Quit That Day Job, Think About These 5 Crucial Steps”

  1. Good advice Charlie. The only thing I’d like to add is… once you decide to jump in, *have an exit strategy* or at least a logical way to adjust your ‘burn rate’ (how much and how fast you pour your money and time into this business).

    It is tempting to think … ‘if only I get a better camera…’, or ‘if I take this Photoshop course’ or ‘if I spend a few more months Marketing my product… things will start to happen.’ That may or may not turn out to be the case but to make the call you need to have some specific targets and ‘metrics’ in place. E.g. write down a simple business plan like this: “I will invest $10k in equipment and travel, or 6 months in Marketing, or… (however you may want to state things) targeting the Outdoor magazine market, then I will evaluate the return on my investment before deciding how to proceed”

    When your investment is spent, take a good hard look at the results. If you are happy with the return on your investment, then keep doing what you’re doing. But if your $10k investment produces, say, $5k worth of business, then maybe you should ease up on the throttle a bit, or perhaps get out of that market altogether. There is a difference between good investment strategy and gambling. Beyond a certain point, to try spending more time and $ hoping good things will start to happen ‘any time now’ is no different than buying a second lottery ticket when the first one does not win. True, you might get lucky the second time but the wiser thing to do would be to spend your money someplace where the odds are better.

    Market demand tends to be ‘cyclical’ and we all know that we’re in a down economy now. The average return on investment isn’t what it used to be and will likely get worse before it gets better. It makes no sense to be going full throttle, spinning your wheels when things are slow. And having good metrics is the only way to decide how fast to go, and in what direction.

  2. As always, solid advice. You certainly have a wealth of knowledge. I appreciate your willingness to share and enjoy each piece that you offer.


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