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If you've followed Clever Girl Finance for a while, you know that I'm a huge fan of increasing your income through a small business (if you are new to this platform - welcome!), and one of the ways I've ramped up saving money is through my side hustles. Starting a side business is a great way to save money, pay off debt, and increase your income streams.
Amongst the side hustles I've had include selling Avon cosmetics to my mom's friends, starting an online retail store for bridal accessories, and becoming a part-time photographer.
My wedding photography business, called Onada Photography, was my longest-running side hustle which I did for 7 years. It also earned me the most amount of money of all my side hustles. Up to the tune of almost $70,000 in one particular year.
In this post, I'm breaking down just what I did to create a successful side hustle while still working at my full-time job, and I'm also sharing some tips that you can hopefully apply to your own side business (or even your full-time business) regardless of what industry you are in.
My steps on starting a side business
Whether you want to start a side business for extra money or eventually turn it into a career, there are key steps that will help you create a successful business. Here are the steps I took to start my side business.
1. I chose my side business
Starting a wedding photography business was mostly by accident. Photography has always been a big part of my life, going back to my childhood, which is why I love it so much.
My dad was always taking photos and I have tons and tons of photographs that document my childhood. Despite this, I never imagined myself as a wedding photographer, however, that's what happened.
I was visiting Jamaica for a friend's wedding and I had just purchased a new camera. It was a low-cost entry-level DSLR from Nikon and I took it along with me.
For whatever reason, my friend's wedding photographer was running late on the day of her wedding. She had seen my camera earlier on so she asked me to take a few photos before her photographer arrived.
I loved the photos and more importantly, so did she. This got me thinking that perhaps there was an opportunity to make some money with my photography!
Business tip for deciding on a side hustle
People ask me what type of side business they should start. Sometimes the answer is not always obvious, so look around you and see if there is something you do really well that people always compliment you on and that you know you could charge for.
2. I focused on growing my photography business
An important part of starting a side business is learning how to grow it. I advertised the first few weddings I did (on Craigslist back then) and shot them for free. Why free? Well, I did it because, honestly, I felt that if people were not paying me, they would understand that they got what they got (lol), I had so much to learn, and I really needed to build a portfolio of images to showcase on my photography website. I have since taken my photography website down, but you can see my photography business profile on Weddingwire.
It worked, people love free, especially people on a wedding budget, and because I didn't set any expectations and I put in my best effort, my clients loved their photographs.
I tried to reach out to more established photographers in my area to ask if I could be an assistant or second photographer for them to gain experience and to help build my portfolio, but I either got no responses or flat out no's and so I took it upon myself to find my own way. I bought books, watched videos, practiced on my family and friends, paid for workshops, and essentially became a self-taught photographer.
Once I built a solid portfolio, I was able to confidently charge for my work. I also set expectations on the type of images I would be delivering.
Business tip for growing your business
When starting a side business, getting help and advice from more experienced people than you is the best way to learn; however, if you don't have that, you can still build a successful business. While I never got the opportunity to second shoot for anyone in the early stage of my business, I still managed to figure things out on my own, even with a ton of trial and error. Once I made a few friends in the industry, I was able to network and gain more experience from second-shooting.
Don't take a "No" as a defeat or as a reason to shut down your business (or perhaps not even start it); instead, try to figure things out on your own before you decide to quit.
It might be a slower learning process to do things on your own, but you can totally learn about your industry and grow your business on your own. You just have to make the time and put in the effort to do the research and more (networking is key) because it helps send referrals your way).
And in today's world, there are a ton of courses you can take in any industry to help you grow. YouTube is another incredible resource where you can learn how to do practically anything.
3. I invested back into my business
Once I started making money with my side business, I knew I needed to invest in better equipment to create a better portfolio to attract brides willing to pay more so I could ultimately charge more.
My goal was to build a business with zero debt, and so I started budgeting for my business. I also started a business savings account, and once I paid my business taxes, whatever was leftover was what I used to invest back into the business.
Over time I purchased new professional camera bodies, a variety of lenses, editing software, and also lighting and transportation equipment.
If you are a photographer and are interested, my core arsenal consisted of Two Nikon Professional DSLR camera bodies, the 70-200mm, the 50mm 1.4, the 24-70mm, and the 60mm macro Nikon Lens. I also frequently rented the Nikon 85mm and 105mm lenses. My favorite photography book is called Understanding Exposure - I highly recommend it; it's an excellent book.
Business tip for investing back into your business
As I mentioned above, I'm a huge fan of starting a side business with no debt. Take things slowly and spend money as you make it with your side business. This way, you are not operating on a negative balance.
Also, start budgeting for your business, and be sure to keep your business finances completely separate from your personal finances. This is vital to a successful side hustle.
4. I put in the work
There's no substitute for hard work, and I worked hard at this business. After working at my day job (on average 60 hours a week), in the evenings (and sometimes early in the morning before I went to work), I was on my computer sorting and editing photos. On the weekends, I was busy photographing weddings and other events. I remember incredibly crazy summers doing back-to-back weddings - Friday night, Saturday, and then on Sunday.
I was exhausted but I was happy to be making all that extra money on the side. Most of which I put towards my long-term savings.
I charged between $3,000 to $5,000 a wedding and $300 to $450 for my lifestyle photography sessions (e.g., baby sessions, engagement sessions, family sessions, etc.). The year I made almost $70,000 (~$68k), I photographed 19 weddings and several lifestyle sessions.
Business tip when it comes to working hard
If you want to build a successful side hustle or business, you will have to put in the work, and it will be hard. I won't try to downplay the effort. You are going to be tired, and you will get discouraged, frustrated, and stressed out.
But the rewards? They will trump all of that! It takes a lot of patience, an open mind, and a strong willingness to learn to build a successful business. If you stick with it, though, you'll be successful.
Increase your income by starting a side business
That, in a nutshell, is how I built and grew my photography business. I, however, said goodbye to it a few years ago. I was exhausted as a new mom and had pregnancy-related back issues. Both things combined are not conducive to standing for hours on end with heavy equipment.
I sold most of my equipment for a nice sum that I reinvested elsewhere. I still keep a camera and a couple of lenses to take photographs of my family from time to time.
However, I highly recommend starting a side business. It's a great way to increase your income, and it's something you may even turn into a career. Keep in mind that it does take time to build your business, and you should also create a business plan before you get started. Learn how to launch a successful side business with our completely FREE business owners course bundle!