biz ladiesLife & Business

Biz Ladies: Making A Career Transition

by Stephanie

Biz Ladies: Making a Career Transition

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.

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  • I so needed this. I’m currently trying to make the transition from Corporate Accounting to independent Birth Doula and it’s proving to be quite difficult. I’m having a hard time balancing the sudden lack of paycheck that will occur until I start taking in clients regularly. Any tips for flexible jobs or income? I feel like I’m leaping off a big building.

    • Bri – The idea of making a switch from steady to the unknown is always a scary one. But if you plan accordingly and don’t rush it, you can definitely make it happen. If you feel like you need to be focusing on your Doula biz more, then potentially find another gig that will allow you to work part-time as you put more energy into growing that biz. Or, and I don’t know how the Doula world works, potentially you could sign on full-time with another Doula group while growing your own independent clientele. It’s about finding a balance of work and finances that make you comfortable enough to really focus on growing your business.

  • Excellent advice, I’m a graphic designer who really wants to break into writing, but my job is stable and corporate so it’s hard to make that leap but I know through baby steps I’ll get there!!

    • Nicole – There is never a rush to follow your passion, so do it at the right pace and time. You can definitely do it though.

    • I just emailed you Rose! I’d be so honored to be considered to capture your day! :)

  • The scariest part for me about leaving behind my current, comfortable, safe but utterly unrewarding career and leaping into something I’ve never done before is…how do I maintain my finances? How will I pay my rent? How will I buy food and pay my bills?

    Motivational sayings like “go after your passion” are great, but the prospect of being homeless and broke is very daunting.

    • Amanda

      Those are definitely things to be worried about, so I understand your fear. I don’t think Stephanie is advocating just quitting your job though- she’s talking about making a slow transition through research, practice and planning. We would never advise making any sort of leap without the sort of planning Steph is discussing in this post.

      Any job leap is scary and comes with risks (ones that everyone has to think long and hard about being willing to take)- but all of us working here are examples of people who’ve taken those risks after careful planning, saving and getting sound advice. Our Biz Ladies archives are full of practical advice for those steps, but we’re also here to answer any other questions you might have, too. Feel free to reach out or comment further- we understand how scary it can be.


    • Amanda – I totally get the fear and frightening aspects of following your passions, hence why I’ve taken it very slowly myself. I definitely recommend transitioning at a pace that you feel most secure and comfortable with. There may be a lot of balancing, but when the time is right, you will definitely feel ready.

  • Ah, such AWESOME advice, thank you. I wrote down this part about promoting yourself:

    “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).”

    This is how I’ve made all of my contacts and referrals. It’s great to think of those 3 things as a promotional strategy. I think if I can find the time to do one of those a day, I will really gain some ground. Thanks again!

  • This is great! Go for it! I career changed after 18 years of being an Office Administrator to Graphic Designer, it took 3 years of doing all of the things you mentioned above, I was at a point where I could either take the leap or carry on doing what I’d been doing for 18 years, so I just went for it, the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m so glad I did it! And what Amanda says above, I was in that headspace for about a year!

    • Nicola – Congrats on the big move! Always encouraging to hear from people who have experienced a major career change.

  • Something else that could fall under “Believe it” is changing your self definition. When you meet something at a party and they ask what you do, you say, “I’m a photographer, but I’m also working as a writer right now.” That’s made a world of difference for me, an aspiring full-time writer. I describe myself as a writer who has a separate day job. The more you define yourself how you see yourself, the more others see you that way, too.

    And goodness, what a thrill it is the first time someone introduces you as that dream job. :)

  • Amanda, I’m glad that you brought up this point! There are so many different ways to make the transition and live it. You are so right – sometimes it seems like everyone is saying “follow your passion” assuming that it’s easy or that it’s even possible. And that somehow if you aren’t doing paid work that is a passion or creative, then you’re not doing it “right”.

    There is a range of ways to do it – you can work a regular gig part-time and do your creative work/passion part-time. You can do your passion full-time. You can do your regular gig full-time and keep your passion as a hobby. Whatever works for you.

    In other words, all-or-nothing thinking CAN make it seem a lot scarier and more daunting than it needs to be. No matter what your vision is for “there”, it’s just one step at a time.

    BTW, Stephanie’s post has such good advice and what makes it really “sing” is that it’s like a case study of someone’s actual steps. And as someone who is building a food/lifestyle photography career, I can soooo relate!

  • Thanks Grace! You are absolutely right that it would be unwise to risk everything and go after your dreams without some careful planning first, and I know D*S would never advise otherwise! Definitely going to read your post about this.

  • When I started reading your post, I really had a negative impression about your desire to make photography your new path. Mostly because photography is SUCH a popular career/ hobby path right now, and as you probably know, a lot of people who consider themselves photographers really shouldn’t! I had all kinds of misgivings and objections in my mind as I read through your points, until I got to the last one! Then you mentioned creating a niche, and I was completely on board. Great idea to specialize! I was one of those lucky ones who always knew what I wanted to do for a career. I pursued it with singleminded passion my whole life, until I got to a crossroads, and realized that there were just too many of that particular vocation, and too much competition. The money wasn’t all that great, and the chance of excelling pretty slim (it is a creative field). THEN I discovered a niche, where I could be a ‘big fish in a little pond’, rather than a little fish in a big one, and it’s been an awesome career. I’m sure you’ll find much success in whatever niche or path you take. Good luck!

    • Stefanie – I so appreciate your candor here. I, too, was hesitant to jump into a field that has become somewhat of a “trend” if you will. The competition is stiff and I always talked myself out of trying…for many years. But when a passion tugs at your soul, no matter the competition that surrounds you, you can only ignore it for so long before it consumes you whole. So yes, creating a niche has somewhat given me that gusto to pursue it without looking back. I don’t know where it will lead, if anywhere, but I am so excited about this journey. Thanks again for sharing your perspective!

  • Thanks for this Stephanie! I look forward to the Biz Ladies series every week and devour them all, and while it’s encouraging to read about so many women who successfully made the leap, it’s really awesome to hear the perspective of someone who is in the midst of going through the transition as well. So thank you and best of luck!

    • Carly – Thanks for being a dedicated reader. I love this column so much and get so much joy sharing the perspectives and expertise of so many talented biz people with y’all.

  • The pop-up dog studio sounds super fun!! If you’re really interested in weddings, though, it might be worthwhile to shoot a few freebies just to build your portfolio (not as the official photographer, just as sort of a spare- friends’ weddings would be good for that!) Wedding photography is a whole ‘nother beast because of the pressures of the occasion and the craziness of the people involved- I think people definitely want to see that you’ve been there and dealt with that, haha.

  • Thank you so much for this post! I’m in the process of starting my own blog while workin full time as an interior designer, being a wife, a mum and pregnant with my second! I’m also a personal life coach and I always tell my clients: how do you eat an elephant?- bit by bit! It’s great to be reminded of that by others. Also you are all a great inspiration, you can follow your passion and make it your career eventually. For me the biggest challenge has been finding the time! So this year I’ve decided to use some of my holidays to work on setting up my blog. Husband at work, child at nursery and I can actually have some good quality time to loose myself in the blog.

  • I am currently trying to set up my interiors business and this post is inspiring and I thank you. Every time I doubt myself I am going to read it and read it again.

    Thank you for sharing :)

  • I’m in the beginning stages of a transition, and feel like I am on track based on your advice. I am so excited and can’t wait to be in business for myself helping others!

  • I thought this was an intriguing post with lots of helpful information – I didn’t see specifically anything about workshops and if you’re looking to be a wedding photographer that’s where you need to be spending a huge amount of time . All of the top , the cream of the crop photographers give amazing, accessible workshops – they’re incredible experiences ! Also while it’s probably a nice gesture I definitely don’t recommend offering wedding photography services at no charge for “practice” – a couple’s most important day shouldn’t be on the job training for anyone, I think. I would say that if you know your passion, learn it and then go after it . I love the enthusiasm of the post and look forward to hearing more about your new venture.

    • Kim – I do love a good workshop and am always looking to learn more from those that are currently working in the field and masters of the craft. As for free services, I’ve been very upfront with the clients that are hiring me that I am new to the field and they are more than excited to give me the opportunity to photograph their events. They know that I take the job very seriously and am not using them for job training. It’s about being upfront and honest with those that trust you to capture their special moments. And I think every occasion presents an opportunity to learn, right? :)

  • Thank you for the great information. I, too, am looking at moving into photography, specifically baby and newborn photography. There are many photographers specializing in that area but it never occurred to me to find a niche within the area. Given your experience, would you have any suggestions? Thank you so much for your time.

    • Patricia – I think if you can find a unique way to share/offer your services in your area, you will be able to set yourself apart a bit more than the others. It’s all about showcasing your personality through your work. People will definitely pick up on that!

  • On a related subject, would it be possible for you to do an article about branding? I would love some guidance on how to create a business name and copyright it or whatever it is that you do with a business name and logo. If you have already covered this please just point me in the right direction. Thank you!

  • Such an inspirational post! I am also transitioning – into landscape architecture. I have a degree in the field, but never worked as one because I stayed at home after having twins then one more. Now it is almost 13 years later and I am going through a divorce. Going back into the field without work experience is terrifying to me, but this post definitely helps!

  • This was such a timely post to read as I am currently in a career transition from a corporate environment to my own event business. Thank you for posting this and noting a few specific steps to move forward! It will be an encouraging re-read as I continue the journey!

  • Stephanie – This could not have come at a better time! Thank you so much for the inspiration. I felt like you were talking directly to me. :) This just made my morning.

  • This so encouraging and helpful! I’m working on going full-time freelance as a graphic designer, although I have my design day job it’s still quite a transition.

  • I am going through this right now, it is incredibly scary to think that I spent 6 years of my life (4 in college and 2 at my current job) pursuing something that I ultimately at the end of the day am not passionate about. Going to work each day feels like, well work, and I wish that it felt more natural and like I was going to do what I loved instead. My biggest issue right now is defining exactly what it is I want to do and then convincing myself that people will hire me to do that.

  • Stephanie, I want to say that though I am not in a creative field (I am a lifelong artist, just not for work) I read Biz Ladies religiously and find its content absolutely helpful, insightful, and applicable to my career in the social sector, so thank you for curating an awesome column! This piece was no exception. Well done and best of luck with your ongoing career transformation!

  • Thanks for the info. I am currently looking at a completely different path for myself too… I graduated from earning my second bachelors degree three years ago and promptly became insanely ill a month after graduating. After a long road, reinventing my plans are what will indeed invent my future now. It skyways helps to hear others perspectives, even though our paths to the sane place were completely different. :)

  • What a great post! And timely too, as I am in the midst of my own career transition. Thank you so much for your honesty, the helpful tips and suggestions — and I love your grandma’s advice, too.

  • Thank you for this great inspiration, being mother of two kids made me choose between family or career, it was a huge career transformation for me.

  • Awesome! And I agree, workshops, networking with other photographers {once you get passed the whole idea of competition – you’ll find there are other people in the field who you can commiserate with and help support each other – really! They/we are out there!} and the like can help open up your world and opportunities you never even thought possible. I just made the jump to full time photographer {I specialize in Documenting births & weddings} as well and quit my full time desk job as a project manager for a design build firm {specializing in sustainable design – did this for 8 years! Wasn’t what I went to school for either though! HA} anyway — I hope that our paths will cross some day – as I frequent Southern California {for family & weddings} and if you are ever up here in the Bay area – I’d love to collaborate on some sessions or perhaps even work together on a wedding!!

  • Oh wow! There is some terrific inspiration in both this article and the accompanying comments. I am also about to make the jump to full time creative work. It has been a long time coming and I feel like I’ll never be truly ready, there’s always a little more money to save and a little more research to do, but I can’t wait forever. You all have given me a push in the right direction. Thanks!

  • Best of luck making the transition! I hired my photographer for my wedding even though she’s not a wedding photographer. She’s a blogger I follow who has a visual style I adore. And it was fab. I love the pictures we got.

  • Thank you so much for this timely article. At age 40, I have decided to change careers from legal admin support to interior design. This was not an impulsive decision. I realize that I do not want to spend the next 20 years pining away in someone else’s office, when I could be following my own passions, and working for myself. I’ve always been afraid of entrepreneurship, but I don’t want to stay stuck anymore either in “just a job”.

  • Very well written article and definitely a good source of inspiration for others like me looking for change in career path.