This week we are talking about taking risks and it couldn’t be coming at a better time since we just signed a lease for a studio a few weeks ago.  I’ll just let you all know up front that this is also a very therapeutic post for me because a decision as big as signing a lease and committing thousands of dollars to something that we have never had as an expense is something that was incredibly difficult for me.  I just hope you know that while I hope this helps you as much as possible I also hope it helps me just as much.

First, I do want to say that I’m extremely excited about having a dedicated place of employment now.  I mean this completely seriously!  The place we moved into is incredible! 

One of the biggest challenges for me with our decision to go full time with our photography business was learning to be comfortable with the risks we had to take in in order to make this dream of ours a reality.  The earlier posts on Personal Fear and Financial Fear dealt with my fear in going full time but didn’t break our decision down into the step by step positives and negatives of what it would look like when we were making that decision.  

I think it’s very, very important to take your heart out of these matters and to make educated, well thought out decisions.  I completely understand that it isn’t possible to completely separate yourself emotionally from making life altering decisions but it has really helped me to look at how my big decisions would look from someone else’s, non-attached point of view.Bellingham Wedding Photography by Joe and Patience

This is what our process of weighing big decisions looks like.

These are the positives of sticking with my job at Pepsi and allowing photography to remain as a side job.

Having a steady income.  How many of us make our decisions based on a steady income?  There really isn’t anything wrong with this.  A steady income is what provides a roof over our heads and food on the table.  It’s something that I was really tied to and for good reason.  As the sole provider in my household the steady income I was making was what provided all of the basic necessities of life for my young family.

It felt comfortable.  Knowing that I was being taken care of and that the company I worked for cared about me and the work I was doing was really important for me.  Over time with just about any job it’s easy to become comfortable with where you are with your employment.

I had a good reputation and was being offered opportunities to advance.  After working for Pepsi for 8 years I had built a reputation of being a hard worker who was dedicated to doing my job as best as I could.  I had also been offered several advancement opportunities during the last few years of working there.  Knowing that my bosses trusted me and wanted to see move into higher responsibility roles within the company was a huge positive for me.  It meant that I had the ability to give my family a more comfortable life.

Next are the negatives of continuing to do what I was doing by working for Pepsi full time while our business remained as a side job.

It felt comfortable.  I realize you just read that being comfortable was a positive but there’s no reason that things can’t be a positive on one hand and a negative on the other.  This is the perfect example.  Sometimes when you get out of your comfort zone you are able to realize you are capable of doing things you didn’t think were possible.  

I knew our photography business had a lot of potential but there was no way I was going to see how far it could go without putting myself in the uncomfortable position of needing to provide based solely on our business.  On the outside and through social media I’m sure that things look perfect but to be honest, we have spent hours and hours praying that we would have the courage to continue and the wisdom to learn from our mistakes.  We have lost a lot of sleep and had some pretty rough times as a couple.  It definitely hasn’t been comfortable but it’s been in this discomfort that we have been able to work through our problems and build our business.

The lack of time with my family while I worked three jobs.  I guess this one doesn’t really need a lot of explaining.  There were days where I would work from 4 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon, go home to change clothes and immediately leave for a session and then leave for my military duty when we finished taking photos.  I barely saw my family.  Out of all of the negatives in doing what I was doing, this one was at the top of the list.

There was little room for our business to grow.  Just like maxing out my working time and losing time with the family, the same thing was happening with our business.  It was in a position where we didn’t have any more time available to allow the business to continue to grow.  We had maxed out it’s potential and our business was still trying to grow despite our huge time limitations.

I was exhausted.  Even when we found time to spend as a family if we had an afternoon free I was so worn out that I didn’t want to do much.  As a dad to a 4 and 6 year old this just wasn’t an option.  My work schedule had put me in a position that I wasn’t only sacrificing time with my kids by being away but also when I was home with them.

Based on all of these positives and negatives and the huge push from our family we decided the risk was worth it.  If we continued down the path we were on something was eventually going to break and while there’s always a chance for things to become really difficult in running our business and relying on it full time it seemed like the risk was worth it.  Not only that but the timing was really great.Bellingham Wedding Photography by Joe and Patience

The next big risk we have taken is the decision to move into an office space that’s separated from our home.  A year ago I didn’t even think this was going to be something we would consider but after seeing what running a full time, support our family from home business and the struggles with it that we faced it was time to take the idea of a studio seriously.

So, on to the positives and negatives with the positives being first.

Distraction free workplace.  This is the biggest positive to having a place away from our house to work.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t get distracted from their work when they are at home.  There are always dishes to do, laundry to do, kids wanting to play, sweeping, vacuuming…  the list could go on and on.  Our home is one huge distraction for us and it got worse when we decided to give the bedroom we were using as an office to our son Noah since our daughter is getting to the age where she needs her own room.  Distraction free is a huge deal to us and an office space was the best option to give us undistracted working time.

More drive to complete projects due to us paying for the space.  Here’s another big one.  Financial pressure can give you a lot of motivation to complete big projects and we have a lot of big projects to complete.  The fact that we have to now book an extra session every month to pay for our space while also taking home the same amount of money is a huge motivator.

Separates us from the market norm.  In our first 6 years of business we have spent a lot of time in coffee shops!  A LOT OF TIME!  The problem with that is that we all spend a lot of time in coffee shops with potential clients and occasionally we run into each other as one of us leaves and one of us arrives to meet with the same potential client.

Time will tell on how this theory works out but we have the feeling that inviting people into a place that is branded for our business and has a unique look that is very specific to us will pay off in a big way.  Like I said though, time will tell.

Availability of an indoor shooting space in the PNW.  We didn’t get a big office but it definitely has the potential to be used as a shooting space in emergency, rainy day situations.  If we don’t have any other options we will be able to do smaller sessions with couples or small families which is going to be amazing!

We can separate our home life from our business life.  Our struggles with separating our home and business life have been incredibly hard to deal with.  It seems like I would sit down at the computer to check our email, check our Facebook, edit a few images, whatever…  When all of our business related stuff was at the house it was always calling at me.  There is never an end to the work that can be done and having a way to step away and live in a way where we can work undistracted and enjoy our home life undistracted is a really, really good thing!

And the negatives…

It’s a big added expense.  This is a huge one for me!  The added expense of paying for an office, paying for the internet at the office and paying for the lights to be on at the office is terrifying.  If having this space doesn’t motivate us to take advantage of the positives it’s just making us more poor.

We now have to drive to work.  See ya later working in my sweats.  Now we get to look the part and dress like responsible business people.  I always hear from people how much they love working from home because it’s so comfortable.

We work next to restaurants and coffee shops which makes it easier to spend money.  Our new office is one door away from one of the best pizza places in town.  We walk by every day with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in our hand and have to to smell that amazing pizza.  The temptation is a killer but saving money is a much bigger deal to us than eating that amazing pizza.  I am definitely concerned that the ease of going somewhere to eat and the quality of restaurants available within walking distance could damage our ability to save.

With this business decision there are a lot of positives but they are only applicable if we take advantage of them.  It will be easy to continue doing what we’re doing but the fact that things were so hard working at home should give us the motivation to work even harder now that we can limit distractions and give ourselves the financial motivation to follow through.
I hope our process in making these big business decisions will be helpful.  Like I said before, it helps me a lot to take my heart out of the matter and make fact based decisions as much as possible.

Thank you so much for reading!  We hope you have a great day!

If you want to check out the other posts in this series you can get to them with these links…

Personal Fear

Financial Fear

Marketing Part I

When Were We Ready?

Marketing Part II

Learning from Setbacks

Photographer Mentoring and Business Growth by Joe and Patience

Talking about finances is one of my least favorite things to do.  Monthly budget meetings and the long winded discussions we have about pricing adjustments are like nails on a chalkboard.  To be completely honest, when I hear Patience mention that we need to talk about our budget I either look for the nearest escape or I freak out like a two year old having a temper tantrum.  I’m guessing that unless you’re an accountant you probably feel the same way as I do.  Unfortunately, this is one of the most important things you’ll need to consider and work through in great detail when running a small, creative and sometimes very seasonal business.

The following steps in gaining the financial confidence to go full time are things that made a big difference for me…

Educate yourself on how to make budgets and get out of debt.  We attended Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace classes a few years ago and it made an incredible difference in not only the way we budget but the way we try to live.  Dave Ramsey lays out simple step by step instructions on how to build your emergency fund and pay off debt before you start to try and build wealth.  By going through the steps he teaches we have felt a lot more freedom to take the chance on going full time with our business.  I can’t even put into words how much I recommend this class if you’re trying to position yourself to take the giant leap to full time or if you want to cut back at a 9-5 to devote more time to your own business.  Actually, I recommend Financial Peace to everyone.  It doesn’t matter if you own business or hope to start a business, it has the potential to help everyone who attends if they apply the simple principles Dave Ramsey teaches.

Photographer Mentoring and Business Growth by Joe and Patience

Find ways to minimize excess in your life.  A while back I was doing what I do way too much of, getting swallowed by the huge black hole we know as the internet, and I stumbled on one of the most awesome blogs I’ve ever found, becoming minimalist.  I’m one of those people that wants a clean and simple life and it’s something Patience and I had been discussing for quite a while so finding this blog was a huge deal for me.  I love how Joshua Becker breaks the idea that we need possessions to feel complete and reminds people that it’s more about the things you do and the people you help that will be fulfilling.

Think about that for just a second…   Life feels more complete when you make a difference in people’s lives.  Isn’t that exactly why most of us got started in photography or with our small business in the first place?  I know I got started in photography because I wanted to do something that would make a difference for people.  Of course we need to make a living and therefore charge for the service we provide but deep down it’s still about serving others.  I realize this part doesn’t have anything to do with finances but it is a byproduct of a lifestyle decision that can start out with financial motivation and quickly turn into something even more fulfilling.

Back to the financial side of becoming minimalist.  By cutting back the excess in your life you are eliminating expenses and positioning yourself to take advantage of opportunities you may have missed out on otherwise.  Sounds like a win, win to me!

Here are a few ways we have been able to cut back while still living a life that is comfortable with the things we absolutely need.

We got rid of our iPhones.  We were paying about $1700 a year to have smart phones.  Now we have those super awesome slider phones that were really popular back in the mid 2000’s and we’re saving about half of what we were paying previously.  We are also on our phones less and are much more invested in what is going on with our kids when we are out and about than we used to be.  This change has also allowed us to have more steady business hours since we don’t have constant access to our email.  

We sold one of our vehicles.  Since we work together now it just doesn’t really make sense to have 2 vehicles.  We were able to sell one of our cars to pay off a decent amount of debt and save money on our insurance.  Of course we’ve had moments where it would have been really convenient to have had both of our cars but we’re finding ways to plan ahead and be much more efficient with our time.

Sell or donate the stuff you aren’t using.  If it’s sitting around taking up space in your house it’s taking up space in your life.  Get rid of it!  We had a lot of stuff in our garage and around our house that we realized was taking up our space and our time.  We donated stuff, we sold stuff and we’re still finding more.  As you can see, this is going to be a lifelong process for me with cameras and something I’ll probably always struggle with.

Photographer Mentoring and Business Growth by Joe and Patience

One thing to remember is that all of these decisions are things that aren’t permanent.  If our situation changes we can get another vehicle or switch back to our iPhones or buy back the things we got rid of.  By making this decision to go full time we made decisions that will have small, temporary effects on our lifestyle but they definitely aren’t for the worse.  In most ways our life is much better because we were willing to get rid of things that don’t matter as much as the time that we have gained with our family.  

Alright, on to the numbers stuff.

Know what you need to make to survive.  This means every single thing!  Figure out all of your expenses so you have don’t just have an approximate budget.  It needs to be exact!  We have to regularly go into our spreadsheets as our expenses change so we can keep track of everything.  This is where those monthly budget/nails on a chalkboard meetings come into play.  I may fight it every single time but I know it’s necessary.  Once you get into the habit of doing this it will get a lot easier.

Mapping out our income.  The biggest fear I have encountered in this whole process is the fear of failing to provide for my family.  Income is a big deal to everyone and for me it was only amplified by having a young family.  The only way I was able to minimize this fear was to figure out exactly what our income was going to be over the remaining 9 months of our year as I was preparing to leave my last job.

I know this may seem like a no brainer but there are parts that could definitely get looked over so I want to talk about a few parts in detail.  It doesn’t matter if you’re planning on going full time with your business or just cutting back to part time with your 9-5, you need to have a solid understanding of what you’ll be bringing in financially.

Here’s what we did.  We took all of the contracted work, which was mostly weddings, and figured out the total.  This number is going to be the minimum you will make so you’ll also need to figure out what your average number of other sessions is per year along with what you expect to make at each session.  Most family sessions aren’t booked very far in advance so you’re going to need to look back at the past few years to get an idea of how many sessions you do on average and when you do them.  I personally think using 3 years is a pretty solid amount.  Year to year can see some pretty wild fluctuations but an average of sessions booked each year for 3 years should flatten out some of the peaks and valleys and give you a more accurate number.

Also, be conservative with your estimates!  I can’t stress that enough!  The last thing you want to do is plan to do more shoots than you’ll actually end up doing.  I would much rather make more money than I was expecting to make than less.

Photographer Mentoring and Business Growth by Joe and Patience

If you realize you might come up short of your target income you’ll need to really push your marketing muscle.  It’s been our experience that any marketing you do will have an effect about 3 months after you do it.  If you need to book mini sessions in September, start marketing for them on Facebook, Instagram and your blog in June.  That’s something we also need to be a lot better at doing too.

Speaking of marketing, it is really important to come up with a marketing strategy for your entire year.  Do you want to book a few family mini session dates between September and October?  Is there a certain part of the year you have noticed you seem to slow down quite a bit based on the numbers you figured out when looking at your session averages?  Right now is the time to make those marketing plans!  Pick the session dates, put them on the calendar and then plan your marketing strategy around those dates.  Remember that it’s good to market for the sessions you’re hoping to book around three months in advance like I mentioned previously.  Figure out the best times to post on Instagram and Facebook and post regularly about the dates you have chosen.  Post links to the blog posts from similar sessions you have done in previous years.  You have to get that work in front of people if you want to get more work.  By marketing for the work you need to do you will stabilize your income which will make a huge difference if you want to cut back at your full time job or if you want to go full time with your small business.

These are all steps that we have taken to help with the fears we have about the financial side of running a business full time.  Understanding our budget, cutting back on things we don’t need and marketing to help gain business during slow times of the year have all worked together to help us feel more confident that we will be able to provide for our family.

We can’t thank you enough for taking the time to read about our financial fears and what we continually try to do to ease them.  Next week we’re going to talk more about our marketing approaching since it has such a huge effect on our finances.

You can take a look back at our previous post about our personal fear here.

Also, if you missed the links to Financial Peace and Becoming Minimalist, here they are again.  I highly recommend checking both of them out!

Financial Peace University

Becoming Minimalist