"Alan, I can go full-time," I whispered wide-eyed to my husband. He grinned. Even after crunching the numbers multiple times, the answer was the same... I COULD FINALLY BE A FULL-TIME PHOTOGRAPHER. Now the question was: Was I ready to?
Everything in my mind went quiet and everything in my heart warmed. I now finally had the choice to make the logical step towards a career I LOVED, a career that would serve God’s Kingdom, and a career that would serve the Christian bride with spiritual and practical encouragement on their journey to the aisle. All I felt was complete gratitude. From the spring of 2016 to the spring of 2017, I worked like it depended on me yet prayed like it depended on God… and it FINALLY PAID OFF.
The income I needed bi-weekly - was there. The revenue to pay off the monthly business expenses I had - was there. The cash flow stream to ensure I always had money in my account - was there.
It felt like I was dreaming. Because seriously, most days during that super insane season of life, it felt like my head was spinning. I was working 40 hours a week as a Project Manager, and then 40 hours a week as a Wedding Photographer. My personal life was almost nonexistent and I was beyond burning the candle at both ends. But with EVERY email, EVERY phone call, and EVERY late night hour, I was one step close to going full-time with my side hustle.
After going through that year of experimentation, failure, and final success, there were a few big lessons I learned that made me able to full-time and make my side hustle my career! So for all you hustlers and dreamers out there, these 5 Exit Strategy Essentials are for you. I pray they help you STOP, STRATEGIZE, and STAND in confidence when you make the leap faster, knowing that you will be caught by your own safety nets.
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A Booked Calendar
When I first opened my business’ doors in January 2016, I didn’t know where to start in marketing, sales, or booking clients. I decided to jump headfirst into a local bridal show hoping that some good leads would come from it. While I hoped hard, NOTHING CAME FROM IT.
As it turns out, months later I realized that was BECAUSE NONE OF MY CLIENTS WERE THERE. Here’s the thing: you and I both know that the health of a business is dependent on having business, so before you even start thinking about making the leap, you have to get to the point where your side hustle’s annual calendar is full. But did you know that you really need to let your side hustle be only on the side until the calendar is full enough to make you feel like you’re working two full-time jobs? Yes you heart me right, TWO JOBS.
Christy Wright of The Business Boutique, a Christian women entrepreneurial academy for brick and mortar businesses, says it best. You need to get to a point where you calendar is SO FULL that you feel as if you’re working two jobs. At that point, YOU DO NOT NEED TO MAKE A LEAP BECAUSE GOING FULL-TIME IN YOUR SIDE HUSTLE IS THE NEXT LOGICAL STEP.
My secret to getting to a place where going full-time was the next logical step, was fully knowing my audience and knowing how to tell to them. It didn't come naturally, and I decided to take Jasmine Star's Insta180 Course to specifically be able to convert my followers into paying clients with intentionally words and free marketing.
One thing I learned from Jasmine was that in order to get a booked calendar, I needed to know exactly who I was asking to get on my calendar. So for you to get the guts of the jumpstart I had, here are the critical questions you absolutely need to know about your clients in order to get them in your calendar.
Who is your ideal client? Where do they live? What magazines do they read? Is there anyway you can get in front of them via the internet or in person at a place they’re already going to? (I.E. My clients LOVE Christian wedding blogs, so many of my brides come from having an online storefront with a Christian wedding blog)
Do you have enough business to keep your calendar booked for the next 5-7 months? (I.E. In your business, how much business is enough?)
How many client do you actually need to fill your calendar? (I.E. Depending on the photographer this number will differ, but I needed 10. So instead of trying to market to everyone, I started showing up and speaking directly to my ideal client in the language she needed to hear)
FREE Action Steps Worksheet
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When working at a 9-5, I depended on receiving a check every other week, and I'm sure you're the same. Now think with me for a minute, if that job was gone and you didn’t continue to receive a bi-weekly check like that, what would happen?
Would your family still be fine? Would you have to cut some spending to make ends meet? Would you be able to afford where you’re living right now or how you’re eating right now?
One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs tend to make is believing that when they jump into entrepreneurship, they will be caught by a team of clients ready to support them financially in their endeavors. But that is not guaranteed. Even if you have tons of clients, that may not equate to enough finances to both pay your income and pay the monthly business expenses.
It matters enough to repeat: I HIGHLY recommend that you do not make the leap until it’s a logical step financially.
Alan and I seriously crunched the numbers for WEEKS before I even considered making the jump. We set up a system that was able to capture my expenses and income to ensure I had enough to cover both my personal salary and business needs. It took a lot, and honestly, it's the part I hated most because it felt like the one thing standing in the way of what I absolutely WANTED to do - was what I had to do: make enough money to pay the bills.
So here are a few questions for you to start getting some quick wins in the numbers arena. My goal is for the financial figuring load to be lighter, because while numbers are annoying, they are critical to your long term success and stability.
How much do you need to make to pay your bills, save, and invest into a personal 401K? (I.E. How much are you making at your 9-5? Sit down to talk with a trusted friend or spouse on whether or not you’ll need to make the same amount when going full-time to ensure the above things are all taken care of)
How many clients do you need to meet both the income you will need and monthly business expenses you will have? (I.E. Overhead expenses that are necessary for your business to run and the income you need before taxes is the monthly amount you need to make sure comes in to be able to pay for both)
Do you need to continue receiving a bi-weekly paycheck? If so, how will you set up your business finances to make sure that money moves from your business to your personal account? (I.E. I recommend that you set up a separate checking account for your business and then set up an automatic transfer from your business account to your personal account bi-weekly to pay yourself a consistent salary and still know where all your numbers are)
No matter where they come from, having a consistent number of inquiries per month is necessary, because at the end of the day BUSINESS IS A NUMBERS GAME. It is. It really is. The percentage of actual clients you get from inquiries will determine how long you’ll be staying in business, so make sure your inquiry number stays high.
As a Christian woman, this is the one thing that tends to catch me from time to time. It seems like when your business is a part-time, side hustle that you’re passionate about, you start to believe the lie that numbers don’t matter, are bad, or aren’t Christian.
But here’s the thing. They do matter. They are not bad. They are a tool that can be held by both Christians or non-Christians, they can be used to build God’s Kingdom or tear it down. So friends, let’s use numbers to build the Kingdom up.
Please know that no one ever said that doing what you love meant you couldn’t get paid for it. Honestly, if it’s your passion and the one thing that you feel the Lord calling you to impact the world with, then the solution you’re business is providing is the ONE THING you SHOULD be getting paid for!
If you’re anything like me, your 9-5 is not the kind of job that lights your heart on fire. You may be witnessing to those around you and the Lord definitely has you there for a reason, but you know that you were made to work on bigger, greater things than what you’re doing there… and so you’re seeking a way out to do more with the gifts God gave you. AND THAT IS SO GOOD! PRAISE GOD FOR HIS SPIRIT NUDGING YOU!
The one thing my Mama taught me earlier this year is that THE SPIRIT USES NUMBERS. When your numbers are in a great place, after working like it depends on you and praying like it depends on Him, and you’re getting lots of inquiries - that is the Spirit knocking on your door and saying YES. GO. So ladies, let’s see what our numbers are saying today.
How many inquiries are you getting a month? (I.E. You might be at the place where you don’t even know how to get inquiries. If that is the case, work through who your ideal client is and where they are! Then show up where they are at and pique their interest in your business by explaining how it solves their problem!)
How many of those become clients? (I.E. For those who have inquiries, how many of those actually convert to clients? This is the number that matters, and is a test to figure out if your marketing efforts have been effective. If they haven’t been, it’s time to start experimenting with other methods to really speak to your ideal client right where they are)
How much time or money are you putting towards getting inquiries? (I.E. Is the money that you’re putting into your marketing getting you more money in clientele? If not, is there a free way to market to your audience more directly that you just need to put more time into?)
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WOAH! This is A LOT. I totally get it. The curveball to really going full-time is A LOT, so I decided to give you a one page cheat sheet download to help condense your action steps and get you on the road to full-time with a few quick wins. Ready to take this from my blog and into your real life? Let's Go!
"So what exactly does a full-time photographer do all day? Just edit the photos you took over the weekend?" he asked. "I don't think so," I said. Honestly, I wasn't totally sure what the day to day would look like but I was pretty sure it was more than just one task... and I was right. It's soo much more than just one task.
Before you make the jump yourself, it’s critical to understand that what you’re about to embark on is dependent on YOU. One of the biggest obstacles new entrepreneurs find themselves in is the moment you realize you don’t have a boss. You are the boss.
You can sit by the pool all day if you want to. You can sleep in until 2pm if that’s your jam. No one will tell you no. But like my supervisor at my 9-5 said, there’s enough rope to hang yourself.
I know, I know - that’s super dark! But it’s seriously true. We all have a tendency toward procrastination and a difficult time coming up with tasks that need to get done. It’s human to want to not do anything at all, and it’s natural to leave the rock unturned. The less you know the better, right? Wrong.
Here’s the straight truth. You are responsible for creating and nurturing the gifts God gave you in your business. You are held accountable by Him (and your clients) to deliver on promises and exceed expectations. And guess what - You are the one that people will not hesitate to speak to when things go badly.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
So let's get down to it and make a plan to keep you accountable because it’s YOU who has to get the work done. It’s YOU who also has grow the business. You are the CEO, the collector, the developer, the marketer, the employee, and the employer.
What will you prioritize? (I.E. When you first start out, you will realize how much there is to do and how easily you can feel overwhelmed. Knowing this in advance, what are the most important things to prioritize? For me, personally, it was sales and delivering on promises already made. As a wedding photographer that meant continuing to get inquiries, give quotes, and doing a great job on the wedding day and gallery turnaround time)
Is there anything you can set a process to or automate? (I.E. As the CEO, you can make the decision to delegate parts of your business to be handled by a platform or outsourced to a contractor. For example, would you be able to pay an accountant to ensure your finances are managed or pay a virtual assistant to handle your social media marketing?)
What will your day to day routine look like? (I.E. Having an idea of what your day will look like gives you a better view of how you’ll get things done even on days you don’t want to. When will you wake up, start working, go to the gym, and stop for the night? Will you tackle your biggest projects at the beginning of the week? If your client calendar is cyclical, are there months that you can block out to take care of particular areas of your business?)
I bet you never thought about this before. I bet you have been so focused on getting your numbers in that the reality of what working as a solopreneur hasn’t even hit yet. As a very small start-up, the tendency to be a solopreneur working alone in your apartment or at the coffee shop down the street is extremely likely, and you may think that sounds awesome or you might think that sounds absolutely horrible. It’s either or. It’s not usually both.
But here’s the thing - Your daily community of co-workers does not have to disappear when you go full-time in your side hustle.
I really thought that I'd be lonely when I initially went full-time, but I was personally surprised because to combat the lonlieness and learn from others, there are communities of entrepreneurs everywhere. From the smallest town in Michigan to the largest city in New York. There are people out there, moving and shaking, hustling and dreaming just like you. You’re don’t have to work alone. And that was the best news I could've received about how my daily work routine would go.
I jumped into working from a co-working space, and then decided to start working once a week with a gal pal of mine at a local Starbucks - and between my Monday meet-up to vendor phone calls and client meetings, my extroverted self is super happy still.
I recommend having a community like this of industry peers in the city you live in. Whether these are people at a co-working space (that you have the monthly finances to join), or a weekly coffee date with a fellow boss babe, get out there and remember that while we're not working at the same business, we are people just like you.
Just like you, we're figuring out how to make their business continue to be profitable and sustainable.
Just like you, we're working through obstacles, messy schedules, and always feeling like they don’t have it right.
Just like you, we're always learning the next, new social media craze or industry trend.
Surrounding yourself with community not only gives you affirmation to know you’re not alone, it also give you the opportunity to network, collaborate, and be recommended by other peers in the city. So while you might have the tendency to go it solo, let's get down to it and see who will be there to ensure you have a community waiting on the other side.
Are there any industry meet-ups happening in your city? (I.E. Check Facebook to find online city-wide or nation-wide industry groups and go to them! Reach out to individuals you meet and get along with. Just like co-workers, you may get along with some and not as well with others. That’s ok. Just get out there are start connecting)
Is there anyone you know trying to do the same thing you are, to go full-time? (I.E. If there’s a friend you know that would benefit from what you’re learning, start journeying with them. It doesn’t matter if their business is in a totally different sector. Walking with someone through this type of transition is extremely valuable, so walk together!)
Do you know a particular entrepreneur friend that you’d want to work with weekly, bi-weekly, or daily? (I.E. Reach out and see if they’d be interested in meeting weekly, bi-weekly, or even setting up shop together whether that looks like working at one of your places or everyday at a Starbucks or office space.)
Whew! If you’re still with me, it’s time to celebrate! Not only are you seriously considering going full-time with the gifts the Lord has given you, but you’re also stewarding them well so that you make the logical step to full-time, instead of making the leap into an abyss.
For all those side hustlers out there, it's possible.
For all those ready to dive into the specific steps I used to apply these 5 Essential Exit Strategies, sign up for The 5 Essentials Email List to get access to weekly step by step downloads that help you apply the essentials.
For all those wondering How I Knew This Year Was My Year To Go Full-Time, my answers are already up on the blog, you curious cats :)