When to say “adios” to your day job



One of the most common questions we get asked from photographers is, “When is it a smart decision to quit my day job?” If you’re in that position, we want to help guide you through that tough decision to make!

It was 8 years ago that we decided to pursue photography as a career. At that point in our lives, Zach worked for a company that photographed and produced images for grade-school yearbooks, and Jody worked in international sales and marketing for a record label. We learned a lot over the years about how to keep our business functioning day in and day out and one of the hardest decisions we had to make early on in our business was quitting our day jobs.

The struggle came when we were gaining huge momentum and found ourselves in the middle of shooting 30+ weddings our 2nd year into business and we both were working crazy hard. Zach had quit his job 10 months prior but Jody was working 80-90 hour weeks between her day job and photography.  We had a come-to-Jesus-meeting about how much time we were spending business building vs. marriage building (business building was WAY significantly more) and sat down and decided that WE were going to take control of our future.

We sought the advice of a few different counselors including the brilliant financial mind of Dave Ramsey. We wrote out our plan, did what was right based on our marriage relationship, and what we needed instead of what we feared (losing our “security” of the day jobs) and moved forward. We ended the year with a bang and our business continued to thrive and grow each year after.

So how did we practically make the leap?  What were the steps we took?


1. Income
When your side business (e.g. your photography) is netting (what you make after expenses) 50% of what your making in your day job, then that is one sign that you are moving into the right position to quit your day job. Because your are only half-committed to the side business due to the limited amount of time you have to put into it, once you quit the day job and have an extra 40 hours free per-week (plus the mental freedom you gain not having your attention divided) then you can easily make up the difference in your income. Do NOT quit your day job, then just keep working the same amount of hours per-week in your photography business and think you will somehow succeed. You have to give it more attention and not less, and nothing will get you more motivated to win then having everything riding on you and your ability to go out and make it happen!


2. Debt
We are strong believers in building your business debt free and living debt free because it gives us the ability to do what we want when we want, and not be worse off then when we started if the business doesn’t work out. If you have serious mounting personal debt, you may be asking for trouble if your financial affairs aren’t in order before you quit your day job. If something bad can happen, it will (Murphy’s law) and what we want to do in life is try and alleviate as much risk as we can. Paying down our debt and getting that monkey off our back is crucial to feeling financially stable when taking a risk like starting your own full time business. Now, we are not saying that you can’t start a biz if you have debt, but we are suggesting that you become debt free (or at least work on that as hard as you can) to help alleviate risk. (For more info on learning how to become debt free like we did, visit http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu – this changed our lives!!).


3. Emergency Fund
When you start working for yourself full-time, you will quickly realize that you can have months of plenty, and months of want. You need to learn how to work with an irregular income and budget for times when you have nothing (taking Dave Ramsey’s  Financial Peace University will help with this as well as our Business Finances Videos we did on our blog).


The first step in doing that when quitting your day job is building a serious emergency fund.  Figure out (to the dollar) exactly how much cash you need to live per-month at the bare minimum (paying your light bill, gas, food, rent/mortgage and so forth). When making the leap to go full time, we suggest having a 6 month minimum emergency fund. That way, you can go 6 months straight without making one dollar and still pay for your life.  The question to ask yourself is, “Do you really think you won’t book ONE gig for 6 months?”  The answer is no, but it’s a great thing to have in case of good ‘ol Murphy. You never know what’s around the corner. The more money in your fund the better, and be sure to NEVER touch that money unless you absolutely have to. (We keep our emergency in a money market that has check writing privileges).


4. Client Management System
The last thing you want to have happen when you go full time is you get tons of clients (with all this new time and energy you have to invest) and start getting super busy, and then let the management of your business go to the wayside and then your clients start falling in the cracks.  This results in them having a negative experience with you and things can go downhill from there.  When you get busy, you need to have a killer system to help you stay organized, and keep your new clients happy. When they get unhappy, there goes your referrals, then soon there goes your business!


Start by writing down a systems manual for all the processes you have in your day to day business with your clients. From when to send them certain emails before and after booking, when to schedule shoots with them, when to send the questionnaire to get all wedding details, what order to back up images, when to edit the shots and so on and so forth. There is a ton of things to do, and you need to have them all written down in a step-by-step process and check them all of as you go. That will let you know that everything is getting done, and will keep your clients smiling and happy week in and week out!  (We did this in Excel and Word documents for awhile and you can also use great systems like Shootflow!).


5. Make a Plan & DO IT
If it’s not on the calendar, it will never happen. This seems obvious, but most of us don’t take the leap because it is just that. A leap! Fear cripples most wantrepreneur’s (those that want to be entrepreneur’s) and stops them from ever achieving their dream. Be assured that once you have the above, you ARE in a position to do this and you CAN do it! Believe in yourself that you can win and you can succeed and you CAN have an amazing business and do what you love and get paid to do it! You have to put in the hard work, then take that leap of faith and go for it. If you are really scared, and don’t believe that you can do it and that something terrible will happen if you try, ask yourself this; “What is the worst possible scenario that could happen to me?” Tim Ferris says “Do you really think that you will be standing on the street corner, with a tin cup asking for money?” Of course not! You can always get another day job, so go for it and live that dream that you have been wanting to live.


It is always exciting to hear the stories of photographers who have made the leap.  We have all been there and you are not alone!  Take the leap!!!