One Year Later: A Look Back at How I Became a Full-Time Photographer

Follow-Your-Dreams-Stephanie-Beach-Photography-inspiration-quote One year ago today I was working my very last day as an Environmental Engineer. It was at a job I had worked so hard for after finishing university and one that I was pretty darn good at, if I do say so myself (which I have to right now since I am the one writing this). But after years of disappointment and unhappiness, I realized it was time to move on and follow my dreams (and my heart).

(quick little side note/warning: this post is long and full of inspirational quotes because I couldn’t make it shorter nor could I think of more appropriate images)

Maybe it is because I myself am now self-employed, or perhaps it is because I have surrounded myself with like-minded people, but it seems so common these days for people to be their own boss, and start a small business. Whether they work on the side of a regular day job, or do it full-time, it really does feel like nearly every second or third person around my age I meet has their own business. For me, starting my photography business was a long time dream and one that I never truly thought was going to come to fruition. And for an even longer time, this dream was something I never spoke about out loud.

Growing up my photography was a fun hobby that wasn’t at all discouraged. But it was clear that the maths and sciences was where my future profession was supposed to be. So I found something interesting and followed that path through university and even got myself a job in my field. But looking back, I can clearly see that it wasn’t where my heart truly lay. Every reward I gave myself tended to be photography related. After a long night studying for an exam, I would give myself an afternoon of photography around campus with my little point and shoot and/or (film) SLR. Upon graduating, I bought my first DSLR and upon getting my first job in my field, I enrolled in photography night courses. And when the opportunity presented itself, I bought a full-frame DSLR and started my photography business.

Initially, it was really only intended to be a side-gig. The goal I told other people was that I hoped one day it would pay for itself (meaning the money I earned from sessions would pay for new gear, upkeep, etc.). But the dream I dared not speak out loud, was to be a full-time, sole-profession photographer.

For me full-time and sole-profession were two separate things as I believe you can work full-time hours, but still have a regular day job. The full-time part came first as within a couple years of starting the business, Dave and I were officially wedding photographers and I was pulling just as many hours on my business as I was at the engineering office. Many a night was spent sitting in front of the computer finishing up edits and sending out emails to clients. It was exhausting, but I absolutely loved every minute of it! But the sole-profession thing was something that took a little longer.

A few years ago, work at the engineering firm became truly unbearable as the lack of recognition, reward and respect followed by broken promises of correcting these matters became a cyclical issue that I just couldn’t see how to break. But I am a person who doesn’t like risk very much and the idea of leaving a steady paycheque complete with benefits and RRSP contributions, was absolutely terrifying. Not to mention the fact that I was very capable in my engineering job and if I squinted hard enough, I could see a future in that field. Eventually though, the needs of the business required me to cut back my hours as an engineer and I went down to 4 days a week. It was such a surreal feeling to have an actual business day completely allotted for my business. And the sense of freedom and joy I had on Fridays really fueled my passion and dream. Finally after many a morning absolutely dreading going into the office, I created a multi-year plan to save, save, save and build-up my business as I did so.

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The plan consisted of saving multiple years salaries (as a safety net) and nurturing industry relationships. I started attending wedding shows and increased my annual advertising budget. I worked on our online presence by updating our website and making more regular social media posts (this last part is still a work in progress, but it is definitely better than it used to be). But most importantly I created the very best client experience I possibly could because, in the wedding industry (as with many other industries), word of mouth is the most powerful resource there is.

I lasted nearly two years until I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had exceeded my business goals for yet another year (and was on track to do so again that year), had a solid future year booked, and the savings account was at a very healthy level to act as our safety net. And after one rather eye-opening meeting with my bosses, Dave and I put together my exit plan and I gave my notice shortly thereafter. It was both a terrifying and incredibly liberating experience and an truly surreal moment.

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August 18, 2016 was the last day of my engineering career and this of course lead to August 19, 2016 – the first day of my dream job. It was the first day I was truly happy with what I do for a living. I woke up that day and was excited for the work I had scheduled. I haven’t for even one second regretted my decision to leave my previous job nor have I missed the paycheque I used to receive. This last year has been incredibly rewarding professionally and I have felt job satisfaction that I have never experienced before. There are still stressful days (any small business owner knows being your own boss ain’t easy) and there are definitely still aspects of my job that I prefer over others, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

My job allows me to experience some of the happiest moments in my clients lives and capture it all for them to look back on again and again over the years. I get to do what I love and I truly love what I do – and that is something I would wish for everyone.

This weekend happens to be one of our rare wedding-free weekends this summer, and we are spending it with some of our favourite family and friends. And although I may not be on the clock, photos will definitely still be taken!

Now, if you are in a job you hate and know what would make you happy, my words of advice are this: Choose Happinessbut do it smartly. Build yourself a secure business and create a safety net (so you can live through a less than ideal year). Don’t burn bridges on your way out because you never know when you will meet those people again. Have a realistic vision of your life as a small business owner, it is a lot of work so make sure you are prepared for the good and the bad. I am definitely not an expert in this field (yet…), but if you ever have any questions at all I will do my very best to answer them (or help you find someone who can).

 

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I wanted to quickly thank a few people for their support and encouragement over the last year. To our family and friends who have been 100% behind my new career, thank you for your support, understanding the struggle and for listening to my rants for so long. To our amazing clients, I think it is pretty obvious that I couldn’t have done this without all of you, you guys are the very best and I am so happy to have worked with all of you! And of course, to my incredible husband (and second shooter) Dave, you are without a doubt the main reason I was able to follow my dream. Your unwavering love and support is what makes it possible for me to do what I do and be who I am. There are no words to properly express how thankful I am to have you in my life and in my corner.

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