A couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Matoli Keely Photography on Clubhouse all about juggling two careers – one in science and one in photography. Both of us have built our wedding photography businesses while scientists, so it was wonderful to be able to chat about how we did it and what we learned along the way.
where it all began
You may have heard me mention before that I started my photography business while I was in graduate school working on my PhD in Biomedical Sciences. But what you haven’t heard yet is what really started it all. I had been bringing my camera everywhere I went, and started shooting for my graduate program events for fun. For me it was easier than having to make small talk, I’d much rather be behind the camera. Well at one of the graduate school events, I met another fellow grad student there as a photographer to document the event. He was a 7th year PhD student in History who started developing an interest in photojournalism. He was nearing the end of his program and was trying to figure out what he was going to do next with his life, and was finding a passion in photography.
We became fast friends and started going on exploration shoots together throughout San Diego. We’d bring along friends and my boyfriend (now husband) to come along and sometimes model. It was just a carefree couple of months of exploring photography and learning together. But it all suddenly came to an end, when one night he tragically passed away in a car accident. I will never forget that I was one of the last people to see him, that I was one of the last to have a photograph of him. I will never forget that he never got to finish his PhD (he was awarded it posthumously) or pursue his true passion in photography. He left such a mark on me and my life, and this tragedy was the first wake up call for me that life is too short not to pursue what you’re truly passionate about. After the grief and shock slowly wore away, I always would think of him any time I booked a client. I can only imagine how proud he would be to see what I’ve been able to build since those early days of us shooting grad school events together.
Now, it’s not enough to say just do what you love, quit what you don’t and go for it. If you’re a multi-passionate person like me and one who doesn’t like to take a lot of risks, it is not quite so simple to change course. So I didn’t, I kept at photography always on the side slowly building and building. It wasn’t to make money at first, but once I had my first wedding opportunity I was completely hooked! It started off editing on my laptop on the couch while watching tv after a long day in the research lab. I would only take one maybe two weddings a month, and anything on a weekday was completely off the table. Those boundaries helped me not get too overwhelmed while juggling grad school and a side business.
The benefits and drawbacks of building a side-hustle
The benefits seem pretty clear when you’re trying to first start building a business. You have stability in your paycheck, all the business money that you’re making can go back into the business, and you can feel less pressure and stress to take on all the clients. In fact you can continue to raise your prices as demand grows since your time is so limited. But there are definite drawbacks worth considering. It can be a grind with demands on your time at every hour of every day. I often missed opportunities to join conferences or workshops that are held during the week, and found building vendor relationships to be more challenging because I couldn’t do weekday shoots at the best venues or meet up to grab coffee. And I certainly had my fair share of imposter syndrome and fear of judgment that I wasn’t qualified to teach and mentor photography. Because of these drawbacks, growth may be slower than you would typically see from someone who is all in full time.
How to balance your business with your day job
- Set boundaries for your time, your life, and your day job. Understand what you can take and when you can take it in terms of clients and commitments. Set rules to make sure that you don’t get overwhelmed or fall behind in other areas of your life or day job.
- Outsource to get your time back. Matoli mentioned that she automates her emails which helps free up a lot of her time. I have outsourced editing in the past, especially during a busy season. That’s probably the largest time-sink for photography businesses. But finding where you can make more time will help you maintain a better balance.
- Set routines for your side-hustle. Just like you might have a Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm day job, treat your side-hustle as a job and set times when you’ll be working on your business so that you work within the timeframe that you’ve given yourself. As a night owl, I’m notorious for working indefinitely into the night. But lack of sleep usually catches up to me pretty quickly!
The biggest lessons I’ve learned
- Understanding the “why” behind why I’m building this business of mine was the biggest realization for what is motivating me. Take time for yourself to understand that important piece of your business and it will help get you through tough times.
- Take time to figure out what you value most in your life. I keep saying that I want more freedom and time with my family, but if that were the sole reason for my photography pursuit, then I would need to pick one career over the other because working two jobs is clearly not the way to find more family time. If you can determine what these values are for you, you can better shape the way that you want to run your business, how busy you want to be, how quickly you want or need to grow (or not). This will help shape your business decision making.
- Find a niche to focus in on initially for faster growth. It’s much easier to market and grow to one audience than trying to pursue all the things in your business at once. You can start adding in other areas after you’ve become known for that one niche.
- While you will certainly be able to invest back into your business as a side-hustler, make sure you start paying yourself as soon as you are able to. And put that money aside right away. (And taxes, for the love of god set aside money for taxes!) Make sure you are reaping the benefits of what you’re working so hard on because otherwise, all you have is a fun and challenging hobby.
I hope you found some of this advice helpful for you or that you connected with a piece of my story. It is one that is close to my heart and my journey. As usual please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any feedback or questions, I would love to hear from you!