After four and a half years of curating Biz Ladies content from extremely inspiring and talented contributors, I thought it might be time for me to step behind the keyboard and share some of the biz knowledge I’ve gained through my personal experiences navigating the career realm (and years learning from the pros!). I’m by no means a business expert when it comes to the best, most effective, and “right” things to do, but I can proudly say that I’ve been through the biz-owning gauntlet and have successfully emerged able to tell the tale of my trials, tribulations and accomplishments. Today I will specifically be focusing on the topic of making the ever-so-terrifying career transition from one industry to another. I’m currently in the midst of the process myself and I thought it might be helpful to share some of my own experiences and advice on how I’m making it all happen. And as always, we’d love to hear about your own biz experiences, for as they say, you’re never going it alone.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this series that I have loved being a part of for so many years. —Stephanie
Read the full post after the jump…
While I’m just in the beginning stages of my own personal career transition, I’d have to say it all began in college when deciding what major to pursue. (The ol’ “select the career path you’d like to go down at the wise age of 18” stage of life.) As daunting as the process was, I should have known right then and there that I was a soul destined to only follow my true passions and not a pre-conceived “career path.” Needless to say, my major changed several times throughout those first years of college and eventually led me to a master’s degree in journalism…and no job at the end of it all. Fantastic!
I eventually found my footing in the writing world (online content and social media to be exact), but there was always something within me that never felt fully utilized or expressed. It was as if I had built a house using all of the proper tools and materials I had gathered over the years, but somehow forgot to put on a roof. It just never felt complete.
I was finding success in the work I was doing (I went from working for several companies to eventually owning my own digital studio), and I was working with incredibly interesting and inspiring clients (all of which came via referral, freeing me from the ever-so-tricky marketing work). I was so very lucky. But still…incomplete.
That’s when I finally gave myself a moment to reflect, reassess and reestablish my true passions and goals for my work and life – none of which were headed down the same path I was currently on. I was a writer who wanted to be a photographer. I wanted to trade in my words for my images, my desk for my camera, and my promotion of others into promotion for myself. This all seemed too contradictory to ever be a success, but I just couldn’t deny that passion – you know that passion that won’t let you sleep at night because the excitement for the next project is coursing through your veins…yeah that one.
It’s not easy coming to terms with the fact that what you were doing all along may not be leading you to where you want to be. What a waste, right? But as I’m finding out through my own personal career transition, that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, you may even find that all of the experiences you’ve had thus far were actually leading you to your next path.
And while it’s never going happen at the snap of a finger (Fairy Biz Mother, where are you?!!?), here’s my personal approach/plan of attack to making a career change…
1. Think about it
How many times in a day do you allow yourself to think? I’m not talking about “what should I have for lunch?” or “I wonder what will happen on the new season of Orange Is the New Black?” (so excited!). I’ve found that allowing myself 20-30 minutes a day to just let my mind wander to an ideal life scenario has been crucial to following my career passions. It’s about letting go of what you have to do and finding what it is you want to do for a brief moment in time.
2. Research it
I feel like this is an obvious step to pursuing any career, but if you are truly leaping out of your comfort zone with this transition, then do your due diligence. Learn what you can from those who are currently in the field and gather insight from their successes and failures. And while you’re at it, go ahead and cold email those you admire most to let them know you are grateful for the work they are doing/information they are sharing. It may not lead to much and they may not even respond, but reaching out to share thanks has never hurt anyone. Only good things can come of it, even if it’s just a little decent karma.
3. Define it
Take the time to write out, draw, or graphically display how you see your new career looking. Would you like to maintain some of the work you are currently doing and pursue this new career as a part-time/side gig? Are you going to phase out your current work and jump completely into this new line of work full-time? Are you going to bring on a team or keep it a solo venture? Creating a vision board sometimes makes the reality of this idea a lot more tangible and, thus, believable.
In addition to defining what this new career is, it’s been helpful for me to create a list of what this new business is not. Being able to identify what you don’t want to be doing is a powerful tool in defining your career from the get go. That’s not to say things won’t change over time, but it definitely helps when making a transition so that you aren’t trying to do and be everything all at once.
4. Practice it
While I had been practicing photography for many years (even before writing came into my life), there was definitely room for improvement. So I took matters into my own hands and started to shoot whatever and wherever I could. I’d ask friends to let me photograph them in various scenarios; I’d create styled shoots; I’d take my camera everywhere with me. It was all about learning in the field and practicing the craft to improve my skills and make me a more valuable commodity.
In my personal opinion, this is a step in the process that never ends. Whether you’ve gotten your first client or your 1,000th client, you should always be working on improving your skills and maximizing your potential. As my grandmother always tells me (and what I’ve now adopted as my personal motto in life), “Be good. Eat. And study.” That’s all you really need…right?
5. Believe it
If you build it, they will come. I find that self-doubt has been one of the biggest hindrances in making my career transition. When you’re already in a line of work that you have seen success in and have been consistently working in, the transition can often bring up the worst of self-doubts. Whatever market you are entering, there will always be competition. It’s how you handle that competition and focus on your own talent that will set you apart.
In my personal experience, I’ve made the excuse that my lack of wedding photography is holding me back from booking weddings. But everyone has to start somewhere, right? So instead of making excuses or disparaging remarks about my lack of ability or access, I’ve chosen to work on building out my other assets, those that I have complete control over like my marketing techniques, my overall photographic style, and my attention to detail. By focusing on these points, I am most confident (see…gotta believe!) that there will be a bride or groom out there who will admire my style of work and hire me based on skill and composition and not my previous wedding work.
6. Promote it
So you’ve given yourself a motivational pep-talk and you are now your biggest fan (as you should be!), but it’s all about getting the word out and sharing your talent with the masses. I’m no pro at the best and most effective marketing tactics out there (we actually have some AMAZING Biz Ladies articles on the topic of marketing, so you should definitely take a peek!), but I’ve found that a three-pronged process has worked well for me: 1) share on your social outlets (blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), 2) share with outside publications (pitch original stories or submit to outside calls for entries), 3) promote from within (reach out to colleagues, friends, family – they are often your best spokespeople).
And while I have no problem speaking up about my work (it’s the loud and gregarious Sicilian in me), I know that it doesn’t come naturally to some. In that case, you should definitely find an outside partner to help you get the word out about your amazing talent. It can be a friend, a family member, or a professional marketing and PR agency. No matter the resource, it’s a crucial part of making people aware that there is a new player in the game, a.k.a YOU!
7. Live it
This, by far, is the hardest part for me. Because we’re talking about a transition here and not a first-time, out of the gate kind of move, I’ve got to consider all of the working parts in my life…like maintaining my finances and taking care of current clients. But I also believe that in order to make the career transition viable, you truly have to live it and be it whole-heartedly. The balance can be difficult and exhausting.
As I continue to navigate this portion of the transition, I’ve learned a couple of things that have proven helpful (hopefully to you, too):
- Dedicate certain days of the week to solely work on this new path. Whether it’s making the time to pitch, build and grow your following/marketing/clientele, or just research and practice, it’s important to make the time and not just talk about making the time.
- Establish tangible goals for each month/week. Transitioning into a new field requires a lot of new things – identity, website, collateral, licenses, clientele, etc. – so I make sure to try and check off at least 1-2 of these items each week or month.
- Join local organizations/online groups. I’m not yet fully enveloped in the photography world, so I’ve taken advantage of joining the online and local community to see how other photographers are making it all happen. I’ve learned so much from them and have also responded to several requests for assistants and additional photographer inquires, all in an effort of embedding myself further into the community.
- Allow for a brain dump. I don’t know if this happens to you, but because I am so over-the-moon about photography, I find that I have endless creative ideas. I want to capture everything in my world. So instead of getting overwhelmed by it all, I’ve created a “brain dump” list that I archive all of my future photography ideas for which I will cross off my list when the full-time transition occurs. I don’t want to lose these moments of creativity, so I’ll archive for now and return when the time is right.
- Create a niche. Because I’m not quite at the stage where I can commit to this new career endeavor full-time (but am oh-so eager to do it as much as I can), I’ve decided to create my own niche that works around my schedule. I’ve recently launched a pop-up dog photography studio that travels (on weekends) to different areas around the US to photograph dog and owner portraits. It’s a simple event that I can do on my own time that allows me to share my joy of photography and dogs, while also building a portfolio…and frankly, it’s just another excuse to have a party. But creating this niche has given me an outlet to help promote and share with others the work that I am doing.
Moral of this lengthy story: if you know your passion, go after it. Don’t get distracted by the outside noises of competition, insecurity and the unknown. It’s a loud world, so you have to learn how to mute it all at times. And while I may not have listened to my gut at the onset of my career, I’m so grateful that I’ve been given the time to learn and grow, and truly come to realize where my passions lie.
Keep on keepin’ on you movers and shakers.