Charles made a career change from marketing to photography. This is his story.
What career did you start out in, how long were you in that area and what prompted you to make a career change?
After a few stumbles straight out of university, I began my career in marketing, mainly because circumstance nudged me in that direction! It was almost 15 years before I realised I really couldn’t continue doing something that I didn’t feel was contributing anything to anyone…
What were some of the practicalities you managed when transitioning through your career change?
The main difficulty has been financial – switching from something that paid very well to something that, while I hope it’ll pay properly once I’m established, is highly competitive and takes a long time to make a name for oneself. I already lived where I wanted to work, and have no dependents (other than my dog), so the only real impacts affected me.
Which tools did you find helpful and why?
Roz! As my career coach, she helped me to work through why I was finding my marketing career so stressful, and gave me the courage to switch to something that I was much more passionate about, but had never really considered a viable career.
I also have a few relatives and friends who work in photography who were able to give me pointers, help me buy gear, and give me critical feedback about my work.
Talk through some of the challenges you faced along the way.
I’m still facing them! But the main ones are getting my name in front of people, finding and following up on new leads, and getting a feel for what I can realistically expect as my career develops. It’s very easy to get carried away with optimism, assuming that a great product will generate its own interest – in reality, photographers are ten a penny, and the difference between success and failure comes down to finding a niche and then marketing. I want to specialise in social events for which people wouldn’t traditionally hire a photographer, so while the service itself is very recognisable, I’m having to persuade people to consider something they wouldn’t otherwise think about.
Photography is also an expensive career to embark upon – the better your gear, the better the photographs, the more you can charge and the more work you’ll get – but deciding how much to invest before there’s any actual work coming in can be a challenge – that’s where I turned for advice to those who’ve already walked the path!
How do you feel about your current career, compared to how you felt in the one you left behind?
I’m cautiously optimistic. I do at least love what I do now, and am getting very good feedback from clients, so that’s nice! I’ve had to temper my expectations slightly, accepting that I’ll need to continue doing freelance marketing for the next year or two while I establish myself. But it’s exciting finally working towards something I’m passionate about, rather than developing a successful career doing something that I saw no real future in!
What, if anything, do you miss about your previous career?
Photography is much more solitary, so I really miss the creative buzz of being in a studio with a whole team working together. It’s also a strange experience going from something I felt I was an ‘expert’ at to something that I’m acutely aware of how little I know – but that’s also exciting, because I do love to get better at whatever I’m doing!
And the money, obviously… that was nice.
What were some of the highlights you experienced when making your career change?
Looking over the first few jobs I did as a ‘professional photographer’ rather than just an ‘enthusiastic amateur’, and realising I really am quite good, was amazing! Hearing the surprise and gratitude in a client’s voice when they first see what I’ve done is also great.
It’s also been a fantastic experience introducing myself as ‘a photographer’ and not feeling like a fraud!
What have you learned about yourself through this process?
I’ve learned to see myself through the eyes of my clients – of course I can always see the faults in what I’ve done, and the ways in which I’d improve next time, but more often than not the client isn’t seeing these things. It’s crazy to think I’ll be as good as I’ll ever be as soon as I start, so I’ve learned not to beat myself up over the gap between where I am and where I want to be, and to relish the challenge and opportunity for improvement.
What advice would you give to someone who’s considering making a career change?
There’s no reason to be miserable doing what you’re doing – don’t be rash, but don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking ‘this is it’. Things might not improve overnight, but if you work out where you want to go, just the act of moving in the right direction can make all the difference.
But make sure you’re being realistic – nothing turns a dream into a nightmare faster than jumping without looking!
And finally, what are you excited about over the next few months?
Continuing to find more clients! The more my portfolio builds, the more comfortable I feel calling myself a photographer – I’m excited about the day when it no longer feels novel to do so!
I’m also developing an idea for a photography / art collaboration that I’m keen to get moving, and think has real potential… watch this space!
Follow Charles on Instagram @wordsmithery and check out his portfolio at http://www.formalinformal.com