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Inspiration

Quitting Your Day Job: Learning To Be The Boss

By Chris Nachtwey on September 3rd 2014

This is a un-sugarcoated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full-time photographer. I also hope to interview other full-time photographers to share their experiences with you as well. To see the rest of the articles in the series, click here.

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Learning To Be The Boss

A funny thing happens when you quit your day job: for the first time in your professional life, you are the boss. Now, yes, I’m sure there are a few of you out there who were bosses in your past career, but for most of us who leave day jobs and enter the world of being self-employed, this is the first time you get to call all the shots. It sounds so sexy when you’re sitting at the cubical at your day job. I know I thought it sounded so good when I had so many bosses at my day job.

When I was working in the corporate world, I didn’t have anything against my bosses. I knew they had a job to do, just like I had a job to do. But let’s be honest for a second, it’s hard for anyone who wants to be their own boss to take orders anymore. What we fail to realize until we actually drive away from the day job for the last time is that being the boss is not easy. Actually, it’s extremely hard.

Everything is on your shoulders, I mean everything; legal issues, finances, marketing, oh the list just keeps going on and on. As the boss, you can feel more stress then you have ever felt before in your life. I’m not kidding here guys. I knew what I was getting into, but when I tell you the work will never end, I’m not lying. Since I left my day job, I have worked harder then I ever have in my life. So how do you manage, now that you have to manage yourself?

Tips For Being Better As Your Own Boss

You Need A Work Schedule That Works

My first goal when it came to being my own boss was to create a work schedule that actually worked for me. When I worked in TV, my schedule was nuts! I never had a normal day during my six years in Television. When I became the boss, I decided I needed to create a “real” schedule (7a-5p Mon-Fri) for myself that I would enjoy working and knew I could stick to.

REWIND: QUITTING YOUR DAY JOB PART 2: FIVE TIPS FOR A PRODUCTIVE WORK DAY

I do more then just own and run a wedding photography business; I also write full-time for SLR Lounge, and manage a team of writers over at 35to220.com. Needless to say, I always have something that needs to be done. I knew I needed to create a schedule that would allow me to do all this on a regular basis.

My “Normal” Day

  • 7a-11a: Chris Nachtwey Photography General Tasks
  • 11a-1p: Write and Research SLR Lounge Articles
  • 1p-1:30p: Lunch Break (take a break, it’s important to finish off the day strong).
  • 1:30p-3:30p: 35to220.com Tasks
  • 3:30p-5p: Chris Nachtwey Photography Tasks
  • Note: Wedding client meetings are typically scheduled in the evening, corporate clients are during the day. This is my base schedule that does get moved around to accommodate working with clients.

I’m a believer that if you have a schedule, you will be more productive. The days I break my schedule (other then meeting with clients), I find that I get less work done. I know many photographers just wing it, and that’s no way to run a business. You need a schedule. Remember, this is your job now, not something that you’re doing on the side anymore.

Bring In Some Help

Being a business owner is full of tasks that you need to do, but you might dislike, or just not have the time to do. I believe that what I cannot do on my own well, needs to be outsourced. I love owning my business, but I’m no wizard at taxes, so I have an accountant that I work with on a regular basis to make sure my taxes are in line. This is also why I have a team over at 35to220.com, we all have strong points that we focus on and in the end, that’s why our site is successful. I knew I could never handle running a successful blog the size of 35to220.com on my own.

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I know photographers that outsource their editing, who hire office assistants or interns to handle emails, social media and general tasks, and those like me that hire an accountant to handle taxes. Don’t fall into the trap of doing it all on your own. Being the boss also means knowing when work needs to be outsourced because it’s keeping you from doing other important tasks, or you’re just not that strong in that area of your business. Yes, when you hire someone, it’s an added expense, but it’s a write off, and it will help you focus on other parts of your business that you’re great at, or needs extra attention.

Don’t Forget About Your Loved Ones

One great thing about being the boss is that you can do what you want. Remember those days at your day job when you could not take Friday off to take a long weekend with your significant other, or go to your kid’s recital?

Those days are gone! Yes, you have work that needs to be done, of course, but being the boss, you can do as you please. You can work your tail off all week to take that three day weekend with your significant other, you can get up early and be done with the day’s tasks early so you can attend your kid’s recital.

Do not be the boss who forgets about your loved ones. It’s easy to get sucked into working all the time, especially when work is now at your home. It’s important to remember there is work, and there is personal time for yourself and the people that mean the world to you. Don’t forget about them now that you’re in charge of everything.

Performance Reviews Are Dead

We all hate them, the dreaded performance reviews we had to endure at our day job. I don’t know about you, but for me, performance reviews were always depressing; I always felt like they didn’t reflect how hard I was working. They always seemed generic. I was just grouped into one of a few levels that the company created to help evaluate employees vs. being evaluated on my true worth to the company.

On the flip side, being your own boss is the ultimate test of your performance. When you were at your day job, you could glide along for a few months if you wanted and still get paid. Those days are gone! You need to perform at a high level every day if you want to survive as a full-time photographer, and I’m not talking about just making great images. I’m talking about marketing, keeping your finances in check, working to meet client expectations, etc. While the days of performance reviews are gone, every day is a test of your performance. If you’re going to be the boss, you better do it at a high level, otherwise you will be out of work quickly!

Conclusion

Becoming your own boss is awesome, but it comes with so many responsibilities and ultimately is a learning process. There was no way for me to fully understand what I was getting into when I left to run my business full-time. I had an idea, but I’m learning every day what it means to be the “boss.” My only advice is to really know you want to be your own boss, and when you do become your own boss, keep an open mind: know you will make mistakes, and you need to learn and grow from those mistakes.

Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!

Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Basit Zargar

    Dreaming :)

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  2. Jesse Rinka

    Having two little ones of my own, it is very important to make sure you always find time to spend with your family. I am working a regular 9-5 during the week and often shooting on weekends but I always make it a point to not double-book on a weekend so that my wife and two boys can have a family day. It just leads to a healthier and happier lifestyle for everyone. Another great article….keep them coming!

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  3. Michael Alfaro

    I agree great article Chris. I really want to be my own boss someday too.

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  4. Rafael Steffen

    Thanks for sharing so many wonderful tips and stories of how it is like to become a full time photographer. You need to have a strong marketing campaign working for you for you to able to pay the bills.

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  5. Ralph Hightower

    I have to disagree about gliding along for a few months when working for others. Today, the mantra seems to be “doing more with less”.

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  6. Brandon Dewey

    Once again, another great article and great times on how to mange your time to stay productive during the day. I like the tips near the end about making time for your family. I believe family time is very important but can quickly become overlooked or put on the back burner when work gets very busy.

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