What does a successful part time photographer look like? – Startup Series, Part 4

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on July 15, 2009

in This is Business,This is Life

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The Part Time Photographer Startup Series:

Part 1: How to make money as a part time portrait photographer

Part 2: What you need to start a part time photography business

Part 3: The legalities of starting a part time photography business

Part 4: What does a successful part time photographer look like?

Different people wear success in different ways.

My definition of success is probably a lot different from Work At Home Mom, Creative Outlet Corporate Executive, or Hobbyist Turned Pro. Depending on your goals (a subject we’ll look at in depth in a future article), the lifestyle and business you aim to create through part time photography, your version of success, will be wholly unique.

You may be a stay at home mom, married to military, with a couple of young kids that deserve as much attention as you can give. Success to you may be to work only a few hours every week photographing babies and toddlers in your home studio. Maybe you want to have the flexibility of setting your own schedule, making photos of your favorite subject – babies – while earning enough money to pay for a great summer vacation for your family. Disney Cruise, anyone?

You may have a good, decent day job, but you have the entrepreneurial itch and you enjoy photography. You would like to stretch your legs during your recreational time each week to see what kind of business you can build on your own. It’s not so much about the money as building a business with your own art and your own two hands.

You may certainly be an enthusiast photographer who loves the art and experience of your hobby and you want to make your hobby pay for itself. You want a bunch of cool photo gear to make awesome photos. You’ve got the inspiration – you just need the funds to buy the tools needed to make your visions reality.

You may be a regular joe like me. You have a normal day job that pays the bills, you’ve gone about as high as you can go with your current company, and because of wife-and-kid responsibilities, you can’t just quit and eat beans for a few months while you chase your dreams. You want to take on a second job to make money and save up until you’re in a financial position to pursue the career you really want. You need a flexible way to earn enough money to make these dreams happen.

Where I stray from the norm is in being a serial entrepreneur. Whereas many people work to afford play, work is my play. I am a Godinfan the way most people are Potterfans. I spend more on marketing and business books every year than I spend on food. Given the choice of a day at Seaworld or a day blogging about part time photography, well…you won’t find me smelling like whale at the end of the day.

Build your own lifestyle

The beauty of being a part time professional photographer is you can create any business or lifestyle you want – and best of all, you only get better as you go along. Your business knowledge grows alongside your artistic skill; your income grows with your customer base, which increases commensurate with your business and artistic abilities.

  • Want to shoot one client a week and work only four hours? Can do.
  • Want to only work Tuesday evenings? Can do.
  • Want to make five times as much money? Shoot five times as many clients. Can do.

Like I said, I’m an unusual example – I work 30-40 hours a week on my second job. A) I love what I do, B) I’m wired to be a workaholic, and C) my wife and kids are greatly involved in almost all of the shoots I do, so very little family time is lost because of my second career as a part time professional photographer.

The system I’ll share with you through PartTimePhoto.com is very scalable and nigh risk-free. The minimum time investment I suggest sits around four hours per week, which includes marketing, shooting, processing, and selling at least one client. You can work more or less – aim at one client a month, or one every day, whatever aligns with your goals.

More clients means accelerated development as a part time photographer and accelerated income. You can set your own pace to both grow and earn.

My version of success

What’s success look like for me, personally?

I get up every day at 8 a.m., I get in a good workout at the gym, then I’m at work by 9 a.m. I let myself sleep in on Sundays. Gym’s closed anyway.

I’ll work on a mix of newspaper and photography work for the next 12-16 hours; day job + second job.

Wednesdays are family day – no worky worky of any kind, although you’ll catch me reading e-mails and blogs on my iPhone during downtime throughout the day.

I’ll photograph 2-5 clients in a week, and spend whatever time I need to ensure they’re given the best and most attentive experience possible. I’ll spend around one hour culling and post-processing each client’s shoot, and another hour doing a viewing / sales session with them within a few days of their shoot.

Any time I am not doing active income-generating work (shooting, processing, selling), I am marketing – and this is a big part of why my system works so well.

I like to stay booked about a month in advance, and I book as many clients as I am feeling the desire to shoot. Sometimes I’ll book light weeks, one or two clients, when I have other projects I want to concentrate on. I’ll book heavier weeks in busy seasons like Christmas and high school graduation when I have a lot of clients who need timely service – it can be a busy time, but the money made then allows me flexibility elsewhere in the year.

Marketing is just a combination of exposing potential clients to my business and my work, and showing existing clients lots of love to ensure they come back. From eating at the Old Spanish Trail restaurant and handing out business cards to potential clients to making connections with people on MySpace, from advertising on Craigslist to sending out a monthly e-mail newsletter, there are myriad ways to keep yourself busy with ensuring you have clients lined up to shoot with you.

What do I get out of being a part time photographer?

  • I get to meet amazing people every single day, many of whom become good friends.
  • I get to make cherished photos for those amazing people; a good sign of success is when clients are sincerely thanking you from their hearts…while handing you a check.
  • I get a ton of satisfaction from running a successful small business, providing clients with a great service and great experience while contributing to my community and staying profitable.
  • …and the money doesn’t hurt, either. I earn as much or more in my pocket from part time photography as I do from my day job as a community journalist. This enables me to enjoy financial security, job security, and freedom security – part time photography is a business you can take anywhere you go.

Your mileage will vary. It took me 10 years to achieve such a balance in my work and life. But I hope you will benefit from my knowledge and experience and enjoy exactly the success you want far faster than I did.

Does this sound like something you want to do? If so, let’s get it done!

Today is the day

This article concludes our four-part Startup Series for part time photographers. These blog posts are only the beginning of what will become a vast resource for living and working as a part time professional photographer. I hope you’ll stay tuned for the goodness to come.

The next series of articles here on PartTimePhoto.com will help you prepare for and photograph your first client. Then your second. Then your third, and so on. I’ll help you get set up with a simple system for marketing to, photographing, post-processing, and selling to as many clients as you want.

Next Steps

  • Brainstorm: Write down your ideal situation as a part time photographer. How many hours per week will you work? When can you set aside time for marketing, shooting, processing, and selling? Do you want to do it all in one or two days a week, or a little bit each day? What kinds of clients will you work with? What’s your vision of a dream-come-true, successful situation? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • Growing as a photographer and as a one-person photography business will take some time and some work, but by following along here at PartTimePhoto.com daily, at least you will know that the steps you’re taking are in the right direction. If you have learned a thing or two from this blog, you’re invited to click on the “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this blog.
  • Does the life and work of a part time photographer appeal to you? How would being a successful part time photographer benefit your life? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah October 1, 2009 at 10:24 am

LOVE the blog! I’m in the throws of starting up my business, feeling a bit in over my head at times, and am trying to glean as much business info/advice I can right now. So please keep posting!!

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Tammy August 16, 2011 at 11:01 am

Thank you for these blogs, I am just starting to build a profile and want to launch my part time business very soon. I had little idea of what to do and you are helping me tons!! I love photography and gets tons of comments and requests to do photos so I am going to do just that! Thanks again!!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor August 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Thank you for your kind words, Tammy! I can’t wait to see what wonderful work you’ll do in your community; they will be blessed to have such a passionate artist to work with. Please do keep me posted on your adventure into professional photography!

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Debbie Grenier October 21, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Wow! I love your blog! I’m commenting here, but I also read the First Customer Series. It’s all so good. I really like your approach. I was thinking of a similar pricing structure and approach myself last year, but I was effectively scared off from starting my own business by what you call the ‘grognards’, who say your work is art and you have to get paid this much or you’ll undermine the whole industry. I never started because I never felt comfortable charging people high prices while I get better.
After getting several more prompts from friends and family that I really need to start a photography business, I decided to try again. I came across your blog first thing and it has been such a blessing! It’s all very well written. It’s full of meat, not just fluff. Plus, I love the ‘Next Steps’ sections where you give practical things to do with all the good information and inspiration you just bestowed. 🙂
I’ve signed up for your mailing list and I can’t wait to read more! But first things, first…. I’m using your ‘Startup Series’ and I’m getting my business started! Thanks!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor October 22, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Thank you for your kind words Debbie! I’m so glad to hear these articles have given you another perspective on the start-up end of the market. For reasons completely unbeknownst to me (Jealousy? Greed? Selfishness? Resentment?), these grognards seem to want nothing more than to discourage and disparage anyone trying to break into the professional photography market. But it’s not an uncommon mindset, the old guard hating on the new school – I’ve seen it in my day job industry, journalism, as newspaper folk disparage bloggers and new media; as horse and buggy folk disparaged automobiles; as networks and cable providers disparage satellite TV; as FM radio stations disparage SiriusXM Radio…it goes on and on.

I have neither patience nor tolerance for the discouraging, disparaging, disenchanting, dishonest, disrespectful, despicable, destructive, desperate way the grognards treat newcomers to our profession.

Thank you again for your comment! Please do keep me posted on your adventures in professional photography! And if there’s anything more I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

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Graziella March 20, 2012 at 11:30 am

James,

Thank you SO MUCH for being an inspiration!!! After 17 yrs of working with an Ad agency, I’ve recently been “forced into a change”…. actually a God moment considering all that has happened over the past few years!!!

Until a few weeks ago, my passion for photography was never adequately fed. Now, I’ll hit the ground running at 110%… although I’ve spent way too much time w/ names… I know, I know… shame on me… need to shake this paralysis by analysis gene!!!

Anyway, I just wanted to thank you. Clearly, you’ve been given the gift of helping others. Your guidance has positively impacted me. I feel blessed and inspired, and will definitely be coming back for more, so keep it coming (no pressure)!

– Graziella from San Antonio
ps – I just don’t like “Graziella Photography” 😉 How about PhotoArt by Graz? Natural Impressions by Graz? Ok… Ok… I’ll stop the madness because yes, the list goes on!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 25, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Thank you for your comment Graziella! I am so happy to hear you are enjoying and getting benefit from the site! And we’re neighbors besides! I would be happy to get together and visit any time, I’m in San Antonio all the time.

Ah the Name Game – indeed, it’s one we all play early on. My best advice is to sit down, give yourself 15 minutes, and start writing. Brainstorm every name you can. When your 15 minutes is up, give yourself three minutes to go over the list, pick your favorite, Google it to make sure nobody else has it, and then make that your business name. Carve it in stone, accept it and let go of all the others – let it be.

Naming your business does deserve due consideration, you do have to live with it (at least until you change it, if you want! Nobody but the grognards say you can’t!), but it does not deserve halting your progress in every other arena of your business and photography.

I personally like Graziella photography – I’ve never seen that name before, I think it sounds lovely in speech, and I can just see in my mind how lovely it would look in a logo. But trust yourself, trust your gut – take on a name for your business that makes you feel happy and unique and inspired.

You sound like you have a great story to tell! Please don’t hesitate to tell it here, or e-mail me at James@banderaoutlaw.com, or let’s get together and visit and play with cameras! Keep me posted on your progress – I’d love to hear of your successes and adventures! Thank you again for your comments, and your readership!

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Bridget May 16, 2012 at 4:13 pm

THANK YOU!! You are such an inspiration. I will read every single thing on this website. I love it!

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 22, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words Bridget! I’m most thankful to have you as a reader. Please keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Morgan January 18, 2013 at 8:38 am

Hi James,

Have you done a post about how you involve your family in your photography business? I’m a homeschooling mom with a large family and am considering starting a business. My biggest concern with starting a business is not having enough time for my family. I’d be interested in hearing more about how you balance your time as well as getting the kids involved.

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 21, 2013 at 12:58 am

Thank you for your readership Morgan! I have not done a post about involving family in my photo business, but I’d be happy to do so at some point!

My wife stays at home with our three children, and she does all of our newborn and baby photography work. We have a simple system, where all of our work and family appointments are on one Google calendar, and I handle all the booking – this way we always know who is doing what when. It does take both of us for her to do a shoot, only because I then take our three kiddos while she shoots.

So it may take some coordination with another family member who can help tend your wee ones while you shoot, but beyond that, you’re the business owner and you’re in charge of all bookings. I have to turn away a lot of business to balance a full time day job and part time photography work, so I keep a list of several great photographers in the area that I know and have worked with to refer people to when they just can’t wait for an opening on my calendar.

The goal is always, always to serve the client’s needs – and sometimes, more often than you may think as you’re trying to grow your business, the best way to serve a client is to send them to another photographer. It’s okay to draw a line and say, “This is what I can do, and I can do no more.” This business is as much to be a blessing for you and your family as it is your clients – you are always in charge, and you can book more or less or longer or shorter shoots or whatever you need to do to make it work for your family and lifestyle.

It may take time to find a balance you love, but you’ll only get there if you get started.

How do I do it? I work on a lot of projects I’m passionate about outside of my day job, which I also love, and my favorite system is switch-hitting work and play days, back and forth.

If Monday is a “work” day, it begins the moment I wake up – I’m up early to get at least a half hour to an hour of work done before I leave the house for my day job. As soon as I get off from my day job, I go straight to work on my projects – the goal is progress, no matter what project I choose to work on. It’s a “work” day, so I have to get things done. Could be writing, could be marketing, could be processing photos, could be doing a photo shoot, could be responding to e-mails and phone calls, whatever it is it has to take me closer to my goals.

The next day, Tuesday, would then be a “play” day. I sleep in as late as I want, giving myself time to get ready for my day job and show up on time. As soon as I get off from my day job, it’s play time – while I still have daylight, I’m going to be outdoors, most likely with my kids, cycling or playing basketball or just adventuring. When evening falls, we move indoors and play games; board games, video games, dance parties, whatever is fun. When the kids are off to bed, I get to do whatever feels good – I can go to bed early, read books (my default), text or call friends, watch mindless TV, play mature video games (away from little eyes and ears), etc.

I just flip back and forth between work and play days like this. It keeps me fresh, it lets me put my brain in one of two modes / attitudes / perspectives for the entire day each day, and it gives me a great feeling of both sowing and reaping, working and rewarding. It’s only when I bury my head in my work for days or weeks at a time that I end up burned out, frustrated, and disenchanted – often leading to even longer periods of unhindered play and associated guilt for getting nothing important done. A balanced on-off schedule is such a better experience.

Around once a week we’ll have a play day out of town. We’ll drive into San Antonio, eat out, post up at the book stores, shop, again following our bliss wherever it takes us. This is very easy to get addicted to, though, and not inexpensive when you do it too much. We had a particularly “unconscious” period of probably three or four years where we did this almost every day, and it withered our finances – just pure indulgent, addicted escapism, no discipline or restraint or even conscious acknowledgement of what we were doing or why or the consequences. Breaking that bad habit did a world of good for our finances, and we spend a lot more time doing things we love together.

As for involving the kids, mine are 8, 5, and 2, so while I encourage their understanding of business, commerce, marketing, creating value, savings, investing, money management, and so forth, they don’t have much active participation. They understand that when we go out to the park or playground so Mommy can photograph a baby, that we are helping her do work that helps our family and blesses her clients. One of my 2013 projects is to help my two oldest start their own online business! I’ve pitched several ideas to them, and one has really got them excited. Just as I espouse the blessings of being a part time business owner to you awesome PTP readers, I want to teach my kids from early on about the same opportunities.

I hope this helps! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures in 2013!

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Lorraine Breeding February 17, 2013 at 11:05 am

Want to thank you profusely for sharing all of your knowledge for free. It has been so helpful of where do I start? Will continue to follow your blogs and your advice is priceless. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Lorraine

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 21, 2013 at 2:59 am

Thank you for your kind words and readership Lorraine!

Start here:

– A year from now, you’ll wish you’d started today. So do it! Take the plunge, head first, and just start taking action and making the best decisions you can with the information you have.

– Keep it moving forward. Practice kaizen, small daily improvements that lead to awesome change over time. A year from now, you won’t believe how far you’ve come doing just the little things every day to become a better artist and a better businesswoman.

– Fail forward. You’re gonna fail. You’re gonna get stuck. You’re gonna get distracted. Life’s going to pick you up on its tidal wave and carry you away if you let it. Don’t let it. Stop and check in with yourself every day, every week. Embrace failure as the opportunity, as the learning experience it is, and just keep going strong. Nothing can stop you. Truth. Period.

Rock on Lorraine! And please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Lisa June 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm

James, does your advice on this website translate to people that want to do this full-time? Or would you say that taking photography on full-time requires a totally different approach?

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Outlaw Photographer James Taylor July 20, 2013 at 10:52 pm

Lisa, thank you for your comment and readership!

My writing specifically is for amateur photographers making the transition to paid professionals, which for the most part applies to entering the industry as a part time photographer to start. I believe all of the concepts I talk about are applicable to full time photography, but the biggest difference is probably the level of aggression.

And it really depends on your situation going full time.

If you’re looking at going full time in photography and you have a certain income you must bring in to pay your bills, then you’re going to have to be much more aggressive and competitive than the advice I give – my advice is all about getting started, overcoming start-up fears and discouragement, and building a steady business over time. If you’re in a situation where you have to make $XX,XXX with your photography every year without fail, then my approach is far too relaxed and comfortable.

If you don’t have that must-earn-X requirement, and you just want to build up to a full time income over time, then my approach applies just the same – you just have more time to book shoots and work on your business and marketing than someone doing it part time, and thus you will grow as an artist and business faster, with a greater income potential.

I advise ambitious part time photographers not to make the leap to full time suddenly – there’s no reason not to make a smooth transition. If you work 40 hours a week at your day job and 10 hours a week at your photography, then aim first to shift to 30 day job hours and 20 part time. Then 20-30, then 10-40 (or really, at this point, you should be earning plenty of money from your photography to lose the day job if you want to).

This may not be realistic for everyone, but I’d rather give that advice than see people make a life-changing move that they may not yet have the business to support.

That said, business gurus far wiser than I say that “taking the leap” and quitting their day job was the best decision they ever made, and just the motivation they needed to do what was needed to create success.

I submit that there is a balance there between that reduces risk, reduces stress, but allows for as much growth and success as a photographer as any person is willing to work for.

I hope this helps! Thank you again for your readership, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Elizabeth Nubez December 11, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I have had request from friends to do photos and your blog has helped me understand what I need to do to start a par time photography business. Thank you so much !

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor May 26, 2014 at 11:18 pm

Elizabeth, thank you for your kind words and readership! I’m so glad you’re getting benefit from PTP. Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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