Over the course of this blog (from Channeling Contessa to Clara Persis), I’ve featured numerous freelancers, business owners, and fellow entrepeneurs. I love doing these features because, somewhat selfishly, they give a really valuable behind the scenes look at what it’s truly like to work for yourself. The advice, real talk, and sentiments are crucial if you’re either thinking about or trying to make it on your own. One of my blog goals for 2014 was not only to keep those features consistent, but make sure they got at the good stuff. The questions that are always swimming around in my head like how exactly did you make the jump? How did you afford it? Did you leverage your corporate job in any way?
These are not only my questions, but the questions I receive most frequently from you all. And while I have my own personal answers that I’ve shared, I thought what better way to spread the knowledge and support than garnering up multiple people’s answers? So, with that in mind, each month moving forward I’ll be featuring one to two freelancers or entrepeneurs across a wide variety of fields. Each feature will provide an in depth look at their career and clarify the steps to how they got to where they are. To kick things off, I’m beyond thrilled to take you behind the scenes with Sas of Sasithon Photography, the wildly talented girl who does all our NYC Eats shoots. Click through to learn how within a matter of a few years, the girl has built a bustling wedding, travel, and lifestyle photography business….
When did you launch your business? What were you up to before that?
I got a job in advertising after I graduated NYU and worked in the industry for almost a decade. As I started moving up in my career and making commercials with photographers and directors I admired, I became more interested in being behind the camera myself. I’d studied communications and photography in college and I was really longing to make photos again. Everything I knew about photography at that point was film-based and I was curious to learn about digital. So, I took a digital photography class which was subsidized by the ad agency I was working for at the time (one of the major perks of working in corporate America!). Once my friends started getting engaged, I began doing their portraits. People started taking notice and poof, I had a side business! This was all back in 2010 and looking back now to where I was then, I never thought it would be the start of my full-time career. Sasithon Photography became a LLC in 2013 on Valentine’s Day. I often joke that it was a good omen so lots of couples in love would hire me for their weddings!
Was there any way that you leveraged your time or job before you launched your business, to come closer to venturing out on your own?
Speaking from personal experience, having a full-time job and pursuing your dream is hard. It takes time and energy and dedication and most importantly, passion. That love for something is the thing that really pushes you. I would work long hours in advertising - sometimes 70-80 hour weeks - and then would assist and shoot weddings on the weekends. It never felt like extra work though and I soaked up everything like a sponge. I felt that having the opportunity to capture these beautiful and special moments in people’s lives was both an enormous creative outlet and gift. I still feel that way now.
There’s often no perfect or ideal time to make the jump to self-employment. When was your “aha” moment when you officially decided to take the plunge and make the career switch?
It’s been more of a journey sprinkled with a few “aha” moments. I think the most crucial one though was back in 2011. It was the height of my advertising career and I was working towards that next big promotion and for some reason, the idea of all that didn’t really sit well with me. It made perfect sense on paper, but in my gut, I knew what I really wanted was to make images again. Travel had always been a source of inspiration and it had been a longtime dream of mine to see the world and photograph my adventures…and right then was the perfect time. I’m by no means an impulsive person, but after a few weeks of serious pondering, I quit my job, got a friend to take my apartment, and bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok. After five months of trekking through Asia, I came back with a travel portfolio and mustered up the courage to work my way to becoming a full-time photographer. And now, here I am!
Venturing out on your own doesn’t come without financial anxiety and risk! What tips would you give to those looking to work for themselves to build in some runway and manage things financially as they build up their business?
This is a tough one because everyone’s situation is different so by no means was my way the right way. After I came back from traveling (with a depleted bank account!), I knew that I needed to get back on my feet again. I started freelancing as an advertising producer and continued to shoot more and more as I built my portfolio. I was fortunate to have that advertising job because it provided me with financial stability while still giving me the flexibility I needed to build my business. I saved enough to have a cushion I was comfortable with and that’s about the time I became a full-time photographer. I think the best advice I could give is this: view your day job as an opportunity to start building your dream. Yes, there were times where I didn’t enjoy what I was doing in advertising, but I learned so many things because of it…like how to market a product, produce a shoot, talk to clients, manage financials, etc. These skills helped me venture out successfully on my own.
How did you market yourself and your business in order to lock in those first clients?
The majority of my work back then - and even now - has been through word of mouth. There is nothing more powerful than the words of a happy client. Also, the NYC wedding community has been tremendous. I’ve met other photographers, florists, event planners, make-up artists, etc. that have provided support and recommended me for shoots which has helped grow my business. Creating the best images I can make and going that extra mile has always been important to me. I feel so lucky that I have the opportunity to do what I love for a living so I always want to put my best out there, no matter what. My website portfolio is my business storefront so it’s important that it represents the full scope of my visual aesthetic. Once people see that and if they gravitate to the images I make, they meet me and sense that I’m fully invested. Being myself and staying true to what I do and create is how I get hired.
Understanding there may be no ‘typical’ day, tell us about what your day-to-day looks like now…
It’s really a mixed bag consisting of a few main things. The majority of it includes editing images and answering emails. And then with some shoots here and there, meeting with either a potential client or a fellow entrepreneur, and lots of coffee in between.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in doing business for yourself?
“Be comfortable with the uncomfort” (yes, I made up that word). There are a lot of unknowns in having your own business and the questions go on and on and on… I’ve been trying to just let go of the things I can’t control and trust more. Also, hiring a good accountant to help manage my finances has been priceless from a business perspective.
What’s the one thing you’d tell anyone wanting to work for themselves?
Start NOW. It’s never too late to start doing what you love.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
I’m looking forward to creating even better work, pushing myself aesthetically and technically at every shoot. I’m also shooting more international work this year which I’m beyond excited for!
Best way to unwind after a stressful day: A nice glass of red wine
Currently on your bookshelf: A book of images from my favorite photojournalist, Willy Ronis; Pamela Hanson’s Boys - I’ve been a long time fan of her work and it was dream come true when I got to meet her on an advertising shoot; National Geographic Traveler - to support my never-ending wanderlust…
Huge thanks, Sas! Thank you so much for sharing such valuable insights. Folks, if you’re in need of a photographer of any kind, either in NYC or beyond, I can’t recommend Sas enough. Be sure to reach out to her sooner rather than later, as this girl is most definitely in demand :).
All photographs by Sasithon Photography