Going Full Time Month 19

In November of 2018, I left my full time job to pursue photography full time. Every month since then I’ve blogged what I learned from the previous month. This is month 19.

I sat in my blue office chair, Leo happily dancing around my keyboard, his feet hitting the delete and esc keys at the most inconvenient moments, as he always does. I opened the spreadsheet for the tenth time that week showing all my incoming and outgoing numbers for the month and compared them to the following month and the month before that. Graphs and charts, expenses and sales, conversion rates and traffic statistics. Before March, I had never done this.

Before March, this spreadsheet didn’t even exist. Before March, my entire business plan was, “Book whatever you can, shoot as much as possible,” and at the end of the month, if I paid all my bills and didn’t run myself into debt, I was good.

Then Coronavirus hit and “shooting as much as possible” became impossible. It was time for that dormant Etsy shop we had set up the previous Summer to shine. I started promoting the shop all over Facebook groups, Instagram stories, email newsletters. Orders trickled in but it was no where near what I would need. Of course it wasn’t. It was a global pandemic. The country was shut. Who was thinking about buying enamel pins and artwork when industries were crumbling and we were staring down the barrel of an actual depression? At the beginning of April, my Etsy sales count sat at a solid twenty. Twenty sales. Not for the week, not for the month, but total.

Just as my fingernails were bitten down as far as they’d go and my sleep was becoming non existent, an email from Etsy popped into my inbox. Etsy sent an email out to all their sellers asking people to start producing masks as the demand for them was overwhelmingly high. I turned to Raffi and said, “Do you know how to sew?”

Six weeks later brings us to May where, buried under windows, tabs and my ever present spreadsheet, my Instagram lay neglected and untouched. It had been days since I had posted….maybe even a week. Maybe even longer. The sales coming in from Etsy had spiked and Raffi and I found ourselves spending a full five days working from 6 am to 11 pm, stopping only to eat. Somewhere along those five days, the encouraging numbers that were pushing my sales upwards of 500 told me what I had never stopped to consider: That actual success, actual sales, actual income, didn’t have to center around Instagram.

In this world of Girl Boss and Boss Babes, we hear about posting on Instagram a lot… like, a lot. That building a following should be your #1 priority and that your face and your image should be what drives people to work with you. Having been down that road frequently, I find the result is that I end up valuing popularity and attention over other more stable values. For some people, the popularity route actually works really well and if you’re in that group, girl, get it! But it’s not the only route and sometimes it seems like it is. So I want to give you another option. If you don’t want to be a front and center influencer, you don’t have to be. You can focus on your product, focus on your client and let that be the voice that speaks loudest in your business. You can show up how and when you want to and give the spotlight in your business to something or someone else as often as you like.

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris

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Special thanks to Viviana Rishe via Unsplash for the cactus and palm tree photos