Photography by Deb Mitzel

How to Run a Photography Business and Balance a Day Job

In Marketing/Business, Portrait by Deb Mitzel

Photography by Deb Mitzel

So you have a photography business AND a day job…how's that working out for you?  Have you figured out how to have some semblance of a life while building your photography business and working full time?  Or do you often feel frustrated and overwhelmed with all the things you're trying to accomplish?

I like to do things to the best of my ability or not at all, and often get frustrated from wanting to do more in my business, but not having the time.   I am definitely a work in progress, but have found that a good place to start when trying to balance it all is to step back and take a long, hard look at why you're pursuing photography as a business versus a personal passion project.  Do you want to quit your job and replace your current income?  Make a little money on the side to support your gear habit?  Or, build the business now so you have a viable business to continue once you retire from your day job?  I'm sure there are as many reasons for building a side business as there are people, so we won't try to cover them all in this article, but I would like to offer up a few tips that might help you keep your sanity as you struggle to manage your business AND a career, whether that’s forever or just until your business takes off and can replace your current income.  Being clear about why you’re in business will help you make decisions that will make managing your photography business and a career easier.

Be Realistic 

Getting crystal clear about why you are doing photography as a business will really help you drive decisions in your business.  When you’re building a side business, you might feel a constant sense of urgency to be marketing and building it.  However, with a full time career and a personal life, the reality is that you only have a limited amount of time available.  Are you planning to keep your day job and keep photography as a side business?  If so, it may not make sense to spend your time and dollars on marketing to bring in a bunch of new business if you don’t have time available to take on many more clients.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do any marketing, but you should probably be more focused about the marketing you do, and free up time and resources to spend on other areas that will have a greater impact on your business.

On the other hand, are you trying to build up your business so you can replace your current income and quit your day job?  If so, marketing may be your prime focus.  Be realistic about your intentions so you can spend your time doing the things that will have the most impact on your business.  We often look around at what other people are doing with their businesses, and think we need to be doing those same things.  The bottom line is that you need to do the things that are right for YOUR business at THIS time, and only YOU can decide what those are.  You may not be doing too many things, you may just be doing the wrong things. Stepping back and correcting course can help you find balance in the middle of the chaos.

Photography by Deb Mitzel

Focus

Are you trying to be everything to everyone with your photography business?  Do you photograph families, high school seniors, children, headshots, and weddings on the weekends?  Does your head spin when trying to figure out a marketing strategy, decide what products to offer, or the next piece of gear to purchase?  Would it be easier if you focused on one type of photography?  Could you focus your marketing, product offerings, and gear decisions a little more clearly?

I have always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, so when I discovered that I really enjoyed portrait photography a few years ago, I decided to do a few portraits here and there to support my gear costs, and have some fun in the process.  I tried a little bit of everything – weddings, families, headshots, kids, and seniors.  My social feed was a hodgepodge of portraits and landscapes, and I didn’t have a clear vision and focus for my business.  After my first season in business, I discovered that I really loved working with high school seniors and their parents, and decided to focus my business there.  Focusing on this one area of portraits has allowed me to specialize and direct all of my marketing efforts towards seniors instead of any and all kinds of photography.  This certainly doesn’t mean I don’t photograph anyone but seniors, but they are who I market to and have designed my business around.

Specializing will also help you develop the right product offerings for your clients.  If you specialize in seniors, but also do weddings on the weekends, you will likely offer a completely different collection of products at the ordering session.  By focusing in one area, you can narrow down the number of products you offer, and become more proficient at the sales and ordering process.  Specializing in one genre of photography will also help you make decisions with regard to gear and studio supplies like backdrops, props, and lighting equipment.  While the basic gear set is similar for both seniors and weddings, the decision on what gear to purchase next may not always be crystal clear.  However,  if you focus on seniors, it may be more important for you to invest in a new lens instead of power packs for your strobes.

Specializing in one area of photography will help you direct your efforts, whether marketing, training, products, or other areas.  Being focused will help you make the most of the limited time you have available.  You will also do a better job than if you try to be everything to everyone, and don't do anything really well.

Get Organized 

One of the most important things you can do to effectively manage your business while having a full time career is to utilize some sort of business management software. I use 17hats to keep track of my clients, schedules, projects, and workflow.  It is the key piece to helping me stay on top of my business, even though I am only working in it on a part time basis.  With the ability to set up workflows for steps in each project, like session inquiry, consultation, photo session, and ordering session, I can look in one place to know what I need to do for the day based on the parameters I have set up.  This is absolutely invaluable to me.  I send questionnaires, contracts, and invoices right from the software, and can integrate my calendar and email so I always have that information at hand.  There are a number of business management solutions out there, like Tave, Dubsado, Honeybook, Sprout Studio and others, but 17hats was the best fit for me at the time.  Getting started with a management system will take a little time to set up, but can save you hours of time once you get your workflows, email templates, questionnaires, and contracts set up.  If you’re interested in one of these systems, take the time to figure out where the biggest impact can be made with your business, and then find the software that can do that the best.  These business management solutions all do similar things, but some do them better than others.  Find the one that meets YOUR needs the best.

If you’re thinking that you can’t afford one of these systems, or don’t understand the benefits of what they can do for you, I challenge you to look a little deeper and really understand what they can do for you.  Even if you only have a handful of clients, the benefits you can get from using one of these systems is more than worth the cost.  If you have questions or comments about systems you have used, please leave your comments below.

Set Boundaries and keep perspective

Do you ever find yourself agreeing to do a session on an evening set aside for family time, or trying to fit in a client meeting during your lunch hour at your day job, and then being irritated that you have to do it?  I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there!  But, I recently heard a good quote from Christy Wright, author of Business Boutique.  She said, “You can't complain about that which you permit”.  Wow, how true is that?  How often do you let other peoples’ expectations penetrate your boundaries?  If you want to stay sane while operating a small business and working a day job, you need to remember that you are in control of your own destiny.  It is your responsibility to make sure you are spending your resources wisely.  When you have a day job, a side hustle, and a life, it is important to set boundaries, and do your best to stick to them.  I once heard someone say that an honest NO is always better than a dishonest YES.   Be honest with your clients about your time constraints and don’t apologize for it.  It is important to set boundaries and stick to them or you will find yourself resenting your clients and your business.  NO is a complete sentence and doesn't require an explanation.

You might even have to set boundaries with yourself, and be ok with slow and steady growth in your business versus quick and chaotic.  The staying power of slow and steady always wins out, mostly because you take the time to make better decisions along the way.

Photography by Deb Mitzel

Do the things that matter the most

What do you value?  Step back for a moment, and think about what you value and what is most important to you.  Consider what you value in your life, your day job, and in your business. This is something we all should be aware of, but if you’re working a day job, building a business, and trying to have a personal life, knowing what you value the most is critical to your ability to hold it all together.  One of the most interesting things I've heard on the subject of work and personal life balance is the idea that despite what you might say your values are, your checkbook and your calendar show what you truly value in your life.  Think about that for a minute.  If you say you value time with your family, but you don’t commit time to them on your calendar, or you say working out is important to you, but you haven’t made it to the gym in weeks, how important are they to you…really?  I know that probably hits a nerve, but if you’re going to find some balance in your life, you need to spend time doing the things that matter the most, and an honest assessment of where you're at today will help you get there.

Now, let’s put a little spin on this idea as it relates to managing your photography business and a career.  What are the things you value in your business, or the things that provide the most value toward meeting your business goals?  Is it spending more face time with clients during sales sessions, booking more sessions, posting regularly to social media, updating your website, marketing? Does your calendar and checkbook reflect that those are the things you value most?  If not, it’s time to start working on a plan to change that! Spend time and money on the things that matter the most, and you will be able to more effectively manage your business, day job, and your life.  If you don’t, you will end up spinning your wheels, spending money foolishly, and running out of time to do the things that matter the most.

A wise person once said, “Balance is not doing everything for an equal amount of time, it's about doing the right things at the right time.”

Outsource

As the owner of a photography business, you are most likely a business of one, the only person working in your business.  Are you doing everything – paying the bills, developing a marketing plan, updating your website, posting to social media, editing all the images, meeting with clients for consultation and ordering sessions?  And then still trying to be creative and do this photography thing that you love – the reason you’re in the photography business in the first place?  Listing out all of those things you do regularly in your business makes me tired, and we haven’t even talked about the fact that you have full time job, too…and hopefully some kind of personal life.  I think it’s safe to say that you can’t do it all, or at least you can’t do it all well.  Realizing and admitting this is a crucial step toward putting a plan in place to help you balance your business and your career.  The one great equalizer in life is time – no one gets any more or less of it than anyone else.  This makes it an extremely precious resource, so it is important that you use it wisely.

I know the idea of outsourcing can be scary and intimidating, but think about all the things you are doing in your business.  Are you an expert or even proficient in all of those areas?  Accounting, editing, marketing, websites, social media…how much time do you spend doing these things, and could someone who is more efficient and skilled in that area do a better job in a shorter amount of time?  What could you be doing for your business in the amount of time that would be freed up by having someone else do that task?  Would that help you make more money or further along your business goals?  Those are the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself when you consider outsourcing.  It is easy to get stuck on the point of paying someone else to do those tasks, but you really need to focus on the fact that you might be able to bring in more income than you are paying out by freeing up your time for other income-producing tasks. Interesting, huh?  Change your perspective, change your world!

So now that the idea of outsourcing is worthy of consideration, what types of things could you outsource? Perhaps there are tasks in your business – accounting, editing, marketing, social media, web design, in person sales, admin assistant – that you can find someone to help with.  What sucks up your time and takes you away from the things you are best at and love most, the things that are the reason you started your business in the first place?  Start there.  Or, if you’re freaked out about the idea of handing over anything in your business to someone else, start with outsourcing some areas of your personal life – perhaps you have someone take care of your lawn, clean your house, prepare your meals or watch your kids a couple of days a week.  Get creative!  Find ways to get some margin in your life so you can spend your time on the things that really matter.

Photography by Deb Mitzel

Have Fun

Have you been doing your full time job and your side hustle for a while?  If so, you’ve likely had a few days where you’ve felt like the proverbial rat in a wheel.  You’re not alone!  That’s why it’s so important to schedule time for a little fun and creativity. Whether that’s a play day with your family, some me time at the spa, or a creative shoot with a group of vendors, having fun will help you get refocused and energized to go another round in the battle of business building.

I know how hard it is to slow down and take a break when you’re building a business.  You just want to have everything perfect RIGHT NOW!  I get it – trust me.  But, unless you win the lottery or someone hands you everything you need to get there today, you will need to keep that day job for a while, and you will need to apply these principles to help you manage the day to day. Take a breath, refocus and give some serious thought to how this information can help you effectively manage your photography business AND your full time career.  There are no quick fixes here, just ideas to get you thinking about ways you can more effectively manage your photography business and your day job.  I would love to hear what you think about these tips, as well as ways you've found to successfully balance your business and a day job.  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


About the Author

Deb Mitzel

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Deb is a portrait photographer, specializing in senior portraiture in the beautiful Brainerd Lakes Area of Minnesota. With a full time career in the automotive industry and a part time photography business, "I'll sleep when I'm dead" is her motto. When not busy working on some project at home, she and her husband enjoy traveling and exploring the great outdoors. Find out more about Deb and her photography on her blog at dmitzphoto.com, her website at debmitzelphotography.com, or follow her on Facebook and Instagram.