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3 Tips for Transitioning From Day Job to Full-Time Photographer | Michelle Nicole Interview Part II

By Pye Jirsa on June 19th 2015

Taking That Leap Of Faith

Transitioning from your day job to become a full-time photographer can be a stressful change, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared. Four years ago, Michelle Nicole made that transition, and in this interview, we’re going to discuss how she prepared and strategized for that change.

Transitioning From Day Job to Full-Time Photographer

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Tip 1: Creating a Runway

A Runway is the time and money you allocate for your business to either take off or crash. Michelle had a 1-year runway, and when my partners and I started Lin and Jirsa, we had a 2-year runway. When you’re creating a Runway, you have to consider your lifestyle and make changes accordingly because your income won’t be the same, and you can’t survive off of hopes and dreams. For shopaholics, you will have to cut back on any frivolous spending. If you like to eat out a lot, you’re going to have to learn to cook at home. When I first started, I budgeted my meals to only $2, and that’s how I ate for over a year!


Tip 2: Have a Game Plan

Having experience and having clients are essential before starting your own photography business. To get experience, you want to shadow, or 2nd shoot with other professional photographers, attend workshops, and just shoot as much as you can. For clients, whether you’re shooting paid, for free or even for friends, you want to make sure you have clients. This is a good way to hone your people skills and to get positive reviews up for yourself.

Fay + Brendan

Tip 3: Buy Your Gear Before You Transition

While you still have a steady income, it’s ideal that you purchase the gear you need to be a full-time photographer. Photography equipment can get expensive quickly, so do your research and invest wisely. When Michelle Nicole first started, in her first year, she spent $15,000 on photography equipment, which is a normal amount to spend for a full-time photographer. When starting out you, have to consider how much you’re going to spend on your camera bodies, backup body, lenses, filters, flashes, stands, tripod, bags, accessories, etc.

Nolan William Swander

Bonus Tip: Have an Exit Strategy

An Exit Strategy is the plan you have when your business either succeeds or fails. If it fails, then how are you going to get back to what you were doing before? If it succeeds, then ten years down the line, what are you going to do next?

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jordan Foster

    good read

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  2. John Cavan

    I have to admit that I kept thinking about the idea, but I never reached a place where the math made any sense without involving either a major lottery win or my spouse getting a much bigger pay raise than she was likely to get… I do envy those that have made the move, but I suspect that I had managed to make it to be more glamorous than it is at the time.

    Still, it’s something I really wish I had been hooked on to more when I was younger. I think one of the better time periods to make this leap is when you’re still young enough to not feel the risk as much.

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  3. Brian McCue

    Good high level tips

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  4. Maria Manjelo

    Good article. I did follow pretty much the same rules when i started

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  5. Duc Hong

    Getting first clients who feels your own value in your work is always the hardest part on this journey

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  6. Justin Eid


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  7. Jesper Ek

    1. Always shoot pictures
    2. Get real good
    3. Sell

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  8. Justin Haugen

    Yeah that’s much better than how I did it.

    1. Get laid off.

    2. Drink lots of whiskey.

    3. Play video games for a few months.

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    • Justin Lin

      Hilarious! Looks like it worked out fine for you. I think that’d be a great follow up article

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    • Justin Haugen

      I skipped the part where I slowly acquired gear and experience for 8 years and then

      4. rebuilt my website

      5. worked on SEO for months until my website organically reached page 1 for key local market search terms

      6. spent half my 401K to float my mortgage payments and living expenses until business became consistent.

      I don’t know what I’d be doing if this doesn’t work out. The thought of trying to re-enter the 9-5 world is scary and a huge motivator.

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  9. Brandon Dewey

    great tips

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