We all fantasise about being our own boss—smelling the roses in the morning, settling down to an 11am brunch for one, then casually flicking open the Macbook around 1pm. You do a solid hour of work, wolf down an UberEats, then smash out a late arvo siesta. Before you know it you’re sipping whisky, casually discerning who you’d like to grace with your services, as waves of enamoured clients pour into your inbox.
Unfortunately, that’s not how entrepreneurship works. Put simply: there’s just not room for everyone in the gig economy. So we spoke to Richard Johnston, an ex plumber who just set up his own photography business—and recently won the Canon Light Awards—to get a telescopic (lens) view into what it’s really like to trade your day job for a hobby.
These are the symptoms you need to exhibit before saying adios to your 9-5.
You’ve Proven Your Dedication
Everyone knows the importance of picking a project you are passionate about as the basis for your start-up. But what people forget, is that as you monetize your hobby (whether that be wood chopping or forensic social-media stalking), it often becomes more about—brace yourself—making money and less about the ~purer~ aspects that made you fall in love with it. Although Richard has retained his excitement, he admits his approach to photography has changed since taking the full-time plunge.
“Starting out photography began as something I enjoyed doing in my spare time but as time passed I began to take it more and more seriously.”
You’ve Hit Milestones
“I guess there comes a point in any photographer’s journey when you start to wonder if there is value to your work and how it might stack up against others,” Richard said. “After doing some research on the different types of competitions out there, I felt that Canon’s Light Awards (the next one is in Brisbane from the 1st-2nd of September) was a great platform for me to get the type of feedback I was looking for.”
“It can be quite daunting putting your work out there for others to judge but in order to grow as a photographer it’s all part of the process.”
Having never entered a photography competition before, Richard said he, “Never could have anticipated actually winning.”
“I remember not being able to wipe the smile off my face.”
“Before entering I always wondered if I had what it took to pursue photography as a career, but winning the Canon Light Awards helped give me the confidence I needed to pursue photography full time—and I haven’t looked back since,” he said. It also gave him, he emphasised, “The opportunity to meet some incredibly talented people.. and has proved to be a stepping stone in my career.”
You Have Belief In Yourself
When it comes from a self-help guru it sounds lame. When it comes from a self-made entrepreneur, you’ve got to at least give the delusional American catchphrase some thought.
“I believe I still would have made the transition it just may have taken a little longer. The whole experience has definitely provided me with some opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.”
When we asked what would’ve happened if he hadn’t won the competition, Richard replied: “Winning the competition meant I was able to gain some useful insight into the lives of other professional photographers and gain an understanding for what it takes to get there. On the trip I was given the opportunity to get my hands on high-end equipment, which at that stage in my career I had never used before.”
And it wasn’t just equipment—on the trip Richard was also given, “Tips from Canon ‘masters’ regarding camera settings and customisations for different scenarios, which vastly improved (his) photography and taught (him) how to best tell a story through still imagery.”
You’ve Identified Your Weaknesses
If you are about to launch a business, knowing your limits is essential. For Richard, one challenge was, “Getting my head around the business side of photography.”
“You can go and take photos until the cows come home, but if you’re not marketing yourself correctly and running the business side of things efficiently then unfortunately people won’t know who you or your services are.”
It takes time and hard work, but the flip-side, he revealed, “Can be very rewarding when you start to succeed. I also love going to work now and that’s not a feeling I was normally used to when I was plumbing.”
You Like To Improvise
“I feel that there are so many different avenues that you can head down when it comes to a particular line of work,” Richard said. “It might not be exactly what you had in mind, but could be closely related and provide just as much fulfilment—if not more.”
“I think everyone should follow their dreams at some point!”
Part of the reason why Richard dedicated himself to photography, he told us, “Was because I didn’t want to look back in 10 or so years and think to myself: Why didn’t I give it a go? Even if it doesn’t work out in the long run, at least this way I’ll never have any regrets for not trying.”
You’re A Fighter
“How do you know if you have what it takes? I feel that question comes down to the amount of determination you have to succeed. If you want it badly enough then one way or another you will find a way to make it happen.”
Having said that, Richard suggested aspiring entrepreneurs, “Keep the security of (their) main job and work (their) dream job on the side in (their) own hours until it starts to get some traction. “Only you will know when the time is right to let the main job go,” he added.
You’re Willing To Learn New Skills
“At the start of my journey I didn’t realize just how important it was to have a good network of people around me—and quickly realized that those people who you have good connections with can play a huge role in the success of your business,” Richard explained.
Another area he had to improve quickly in, he told us, was time management. “I often find myself needing to do two or three different tasks at the exact same time, which is why you need to be able to work as efficiently as possible in order to get the most out of each and every day.”