Last June (2016) I celebrated one year of being self-employed as a wedding photographer – it’s been a long time coming. Here’s my story from 9-5 to self-employed, and advice if you want to quit your day job too.
For over a decade I had a safe and stable job as a graphic designer for a big company in Cambridge. While it was creative and interesting, photography had always been a much bigger passion in my life. Whenever anyone asked me what I’d like to do, I’d say a wedding photographer. So why didn’t I? The security and stability of a ‘normal’ job, and a salary, is hard to give up.
How to take the leap to self-employed
I’d been working as a part-time wedding photographer for four years, fitting it in around a 9-5. It was tiring but I loved my weekends photographing weddings much more than my day job. My business was growing slowly but not enough to quit my job.
Then, I was offered voluntary redundancy from my job. It came as a bit of a shock, but I was lucky, to be honest. It was the best chance I was going to get of becoming a full time wedding photographer.
It was a hard decision to make though; I wasn’t quite there yet so I knew I needed to book in a lot more weddings to make things work out. With the support of my partner Kelly and a lot of planning, I took the leap. It was the right decision that came at the right time. The redundancy gave me a kick up the bum!
Promoting my wedding photography business
Those first few months were hard, suddenly you find yourself on your own after years of working within a team. It was stressful and scary, as you’d expect, but motivating too. It was up to me, and only me, to make things work so I started promoting my business as much as possible.
I’d done a few weddings fairs in the past and they’d worked well. I knew I needed to do more, and so during my first year of self-employment I had stands at the Knebworth wedding fair and the Cambridge Magazine wedding fair. These events were a good way to establish my brand locally, and to hear feedback from couples on my business. It gave me a massive confidence boost, and bookings too.
I also worked really hard on my social media marketing, as it is so important in the wedding industry to build up a following on Facebook and Instagram. They are such fantastic platforms for showcasing your business, and also provide a good way for happy couples to recommend you.
I also revamped my website; it’s the first impression couples have of my work, as well as me, and so it has to be spot on. I think it showcases my work really well, and helps couples trust me as their wedding photographer.
Last but not least, I started a networking group for wedding suppliers in Cambridge. We meet once a month over lunch and exchange ideas and give each other support. Working together is great, as we can recommend each other as well as discussing the trials and tribulations of self-employment. Networking is also a great way socialise when you don’t have colleagues, working long hours on your own editing photos can be isolating.
A year on
It’s hard taking the leap to self-employment, I won’t pretend you can just quit your day job and it will be fine. But hard work pays off; keep working to grow your business and you’ll know when the time is right. Each and every self-employed person I’ve talked to has a different story, there’s no exact formula for success. But make sure you concentrate on the quality of your work, what you offer your customers and how you promote your business.
Looking back, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. The hard work has paid off – I get to do something I love as a job, I meet amazing couples (and their families) all the time and I create cherished memories too.
What makes this job the one for me is my clients, the couples who have trusted me to capture their wedding day. It’s an honour to capture the best day of their lives. They also give back too, by recommending me to their friends and relatives. Every recommendation by word of mouth or via Facebook makes a huge difference to my business and I.
My photography skills have also come along leaps and bounds since I went full time on my business. The weddings I photograph are so varied, from destination weddings to countryside dos, bright summer weddings to cosy winter weddings. This tests and develops your skills. I have learnt a lot about photography, and more importantly people, in the last 12 months. I can’t wait to learn more.
I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my fiancé Kelly. She’s been there through my journey from day job to self-employment, on the good days and the bad days! If you’re self-employed, having a partner, relative or good friend as a sounding board is vital.
Now, I’m excited for 2018. I’ve got some wonderful weddings booked, both at home and away and my business is going from strength to strength. It’s all been worth it.