You’ve probably heard some version of a similar story – struggling in a soul-sucking corporate job, starting a family, and secretly wanting to do something not quite like the typical career path of your peers. Sarah Owen stuck it out for 12 years in her corporate accounting job before giving her passion for photography and creating her own business a chance. Now she has a part-time business she loves that allows her to raise their young children while also contributing financially to the family.
Read on to find out how she made the leap to being an entrepreneur, the early days of her business, and how she is growing her photography venture. We learn from her about the tools and people that have helped her along the way, and how she deals with many of the challenges that budding and growing business owners are faced with.
Table of Contents
- Owen’s Background
- Owen’s Leap Into Entrepreneurship
- Early Business Days
- How Owen Grew Her Business
- Owen’s Advice to Entrepreneurs and Handling Burnout
- How Owen Overcame Her Biggest Challenge
- Owen’s Recommendations
- Wrap Up
- More About Sarah Owen
What does your business do and who are your customers?
I am a lifestyle family, senior portrait, branding and headshot photographer serving Metrowest, Central Massachusetts, and the Greater Boston area.
What first got you started working on your business, and what motivates you each day to do what you do?
My degree is actually in Business Management and I was a corporate accountant for 12 years – people are always surprised to hear that since I am a photographer and a creative person. I fell in love with the arts in high school but was determined to pursue a degree in business and a career in business because that’s what I thought I “should” do.
After about eight years of working in full-time corporate America, I needed a creative outlet and started learning about photography. I immediately fell in love with it and decided I would start a small business as a side hustle. After having my first child, I had to take a break from my photography business because juggling work and a newborn was a lot. Eventually, we relocated closer to family and I picked up photography again. Unfortunately, it was still too much for me to manage and I eventually left my full-time job after 12 years. I found a part-time job as an office manager where I could also focus more of my energy on my photography business and growing that into something more sustainable.
A few months later, I found out I was pregnant with my second child and my husband, and I determined I would either need to go back to full-time accounting or take a step back from my corporate career and focus on our children/family and my photography business. At first, I felt like this was impossible – I was a working person – I had had jobs since I was 14 years old and only working for myself felt scary.
It’s now been 4 full years since I’ve stepped out of corporate America, and I’m so glad I made the jump. Having a creative outlet is so important for me, and I love that building my own business allows me to be creative, both with my photography, and also with what I want to do in my business. My family is definitely my motivation for doing what I do. I hope that when both of my kids are in full-time school, I can continue to run my business with the flexibility to be there for them as a parent when they need me.
How long have you been in business?
I started taking photography clients in early 2017 – so I’ve been in business for about 6 years (on and off). Before 2017 my “clients” were friends that I practiced on.
Owen’s Leap Into Entrepreneurship
How did you decide to start your business and take the leap into entrepreneurship?
About 11 years into my corporate career, I decided I just couldn’t take it anymore. I hated the hamster wheel I felt like I was on – working each day, loyal to a company that I had literally grown up at, but also feeling stuck. Anyone who has worked in corporate America has probably felt this at some point. But what really made me feel stuck was my passion for entrepreneurship and running my photography business, but being so limited because of my 40-60 hour work weeks and 2+ hour round trip commute into Boston every day.
Eventually, without telling a soul, I started looking for a part-time job that could allow me to financially contribute to my family while allowing me to focus more time on my photography business and my family. I accepted a position in a small financial office as an office manager (after discussing it with my husband, of course). Working part-time, I was able to take on more clients, as I was working about 50% of the hours I had previously worked and my commute was at least 50% shorter than it had been. It was like the best of both worlds for me, I kept my foot in the corporate door and also got to pursue my passion.
When I found out I was pregnant with our second child, my husband and I talked about how we would manage childcare. Child care is so expensive, that with my new job, we couldn’t justify or afford to pay for full-time child care so my options were to go back to the soul-sucking corporate world and work full time again or stop working and be a stay-at-home mom/photographer.
Honestly, my first thought was that I couldn’t do it – I didn’t want to be “just a mom” – I had an identity and it was that of someone who worked in corporate America and dressed business casual daily. I’ve since realized that my identity as a corporate worker was really just a mask I wore because I felt like that’s what was expected of me and that’s what I was supposed to do.
People: Mostly just me, but honestly, my husband is my biggest supporter and I couldn’t do this without him. I like to call him my Business Manager because he’s there for me to bounce ideas off of and helps steer me away from bad decisions haha. I also have a group of entrepreneur friends who I call “co-workers” who help me in similar ways.
Tools: When I first started I was actually using Facebook as a website, I was delivering my clients their files using Dropbox, using Google Sheets to track expenses and revenue, using Google Docs to send my clients questionnaires and contracts and I was scheduling everything on a paper calendar.
How did you manage your time during the transition to entrepreneurship?
Honestly – in the beginning, I was just trying to stay afloat – working a full-time job and running my business was exhausting and I spent ALL of my time working. I was not very good at time management and definitely wasn’t paying myself enough in my business to be working the way I was.
Early Business Days
What were some of the challenges you faced in the first year or early on in your business and how did you overcome them?
Because of my ADHD, my biggest struggle has always been following through on my plans – I have LOTS of ideas, but not always the correct tools to complete them and I’m really terrible at being accountable to myself. I also struggled a lot early on with marketing and knowing how to attract the right types of clients.
Over the years I’ve worked with a marketing person, who was SO helpful at helping me identify who my target audience is and how to better attract people in that audience. She also helped me become more realistic about how much marketing needs to be done to attract clients (spoiler alert – it’s A LOT haha). I’ve worked with a business coach who has helped me break my goals down and figure out plans to implement them. I’ve also joined accountability groups that help keep me accountable to others instead of just myself because that works better for me.
In addition to all of that – I’ve implemented several systems (gallery delivery systems, booking/client management systems and a website) to allow for more automation in my business for both me and my clients.
People: I’ve run my business as a solopreneur since I started. I have a small community of people that I lean on for support as a solo business owner (other small business owners and my husband), but my actual work is done alone.
Tools: During my first year in business I started using an actual website, instead of just a Facebook page. I also started using Pixieset, a photography gallery hosting site, so my clients had easier access to their digital images.
How did you manage your time early on?
I would say work-life balance has always been a struggle for me. I’ve always struggled at not allowing work to take over my life – I’ve been known as a bit of an overachiever, but I think that’s because I always assumed it was expected of me to overachieve. Because I worked a full-time job early on in my business, I spent a lot of time working late nights and weekends.
How Owen Grew Her Business
Between your early days and today, what have been some of the challenges you faced, and how have you overcome them?
The challenges faced as a small business owner have been plentiful! One of my biggest challenges has been getting over imposter syndrome and being confident enough in my own work (and myself) to share it with the public. I’m still working on overcoming this one – but do a lot of work on mindfulness to learn to accept myself. Time management is something that’s been challenging as a small business owner. For this, I’ve worked with coaches/mentors to come up with manageable goals and plans to achieve those goals.
People: To this day, I still work alone. My business isn’t big enough for hiring someone and I honestly like every part of the process of taking photography clients, that I’m not sure I’d want to give any of it up. I have worked with coaches and marketing specialists to help me with my business, but I don’t have any employees.
Tools: I use many different tools in my business now – I have a website for people to obtain information about me and my portfolio, I use Pixieset (a gallery hosting website for my client’s images), I use 17Hats – a CRM that allows me to send contracts/questionnaires/invoices and do scheduling (so helpful). I also have my CRM integrated with my Google Calendar so I can cross-reference appointments for my family. I use the Meta Business Suite app to help with scheduling social media – which is really a game-changer for my time management.
How do you manage your time today or since ‘early business’?
I wish I could say after 6+ years I’m a time management guru, but sadly, I’m not. This is probably one area that I’ll always struggle with, especially because I’m also the primary parent for my kiddos, so I often have to prioritize their schedules over mine. One thing I try to do to help with time management is planning my week in advance and being specific about my planning (for example: on Monday I will schedule my social media posts for the next two weeks and on Tuesday I will update my expenses for the month). I’ve found being specific about what actually needs to get done helps make sure that stuff actually happens. We use Google Calendar as a family to schedule all of our family events and appointments – and I also have a paper planner and a large calendar in my kitchen. This helps me know when things are happening and allows me to plan work around my family stuff.
Owen’s Advice to Entrepreneurs and Handling Burnout
What are the top 3 tips you’d give someone who’s interested in starting a business?
- Make a solid plan before leaving your current job to pursue your business – a business plan and a time management plan. A coach is a great resource for doing this.
- Understand the simple fact that you will not be an overnight success. Growing a business takes time and a lot of effort. Set realistic goals for your business and allow for flexibility in those goals.
- Make sure you hire people (or are someone) with a strong business background – like accountants, lawyers, and good business managers. These are all things that are important to making sure your business is successful and sustainable.
What is your relationship with burnout?
I am no stranger to burnout – this was the biggest reason I left corporate America. I was constantly feeling burnt out, even without my photography business. Corporate culture is designed to burn people out – it’s all about who puts in the most hours and works the hardest – when it should be about who produces the best work product, regardless of how much time they put in on the job. I’ve overcome burnout by leaving my corporate job and focusing on my small business and my family. Even still, I have periods of burnout. A few years ago, I loaded my fall photo schedule so heavily that I was constantly swimming against the current trying to stay afloat. In order to avoid that, I’ve set boundaries for myself on how many weekends I can take clients – this allows me to be sure that I have time at least once a month to unwind for a weekend and also ensures that I’m able to spend time with my family while my husband isn’t working.
What is your gross annual revenue in US dollars?
$15-20k as a part-time photographer
On average, how many hours per week do you work? [in and on your business]:
This definitely varies depending on how many clients I’m actively working with, but in general, I spend about 10-15 hours a week on my business if I have no active editing that needs to be done. That’s just managing my website, social media, behind-the-scenes stuff (like ordering supplies, managing my accounting, etc.), planning projects and mini sessions, and communicating with upcoming clients.
How Owen Overcame Her Biggest Challenge
What is one of the most difficult things you have overcome in your business?
It might sound silly, but putting myself out there. I have always been really self-conscious about myself and have been very critical of myself and my work. So just publishing a website was a HUGE thing for me – I was so afraid that I would publish it and everyone would hate it (like, people would be lining up to tell me how dumb I was for trying to start my own business). I also struggled a lot with putting my face on social media. I’ve done a lot of self-work over the past years (therapy, mindfulness work, etc.) to help me overcome this and learn to be my authentic self.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your business or journey?
Just starting my business in general. I have a HUGE fear of failure, and putting myself out there to potentially fail was a huge step for me. Learning to not care what others think and keep going for it on a daily basis as I’ve grown my business – that’s what I’m proud of.
What are some books, podcasts, and social media accounts that you would recommend?
Are there any other tools, software, apps, etc. you use today that you haven’t mentioned?
One thing I have found super helpful this year is Networking Groups. I am in several different groups – some are only virtual, some are in-person, some are mixed… Some are free and some are paid. The value of having a network of people for referrals, business support and just to have people to talk to about running a small business who “get it” is so important.
Owen gave a lot of practical advice for starting entrepreneurs but also highlighted how much of the work is about mindset, self-acceptance, dealing with imposter syndrome, and the tendency to overcommit to the point of burnout. The fear of failure and fear of putting yourself out there are very real hurdles that prevent many from taking the leap into starting a business.
She spoke of a lot of inner work to overcome these limiting beliefs and how she reached out and created a support system to help her along the journey– from her husband to her community of fellow business owners, her marketing and business coach, accountability groups, and networking groups.
Being the primary parent to two young boys, work-life balance and time management are still a work in progress. But with her focus on personal development and supportive network, we know she’s on the right track.
Taking the chance to build her photography business has allowed Owen to live that creative and family-oriented life that she wanted. We wish her well and look forward to what’s next for Sarah Owen Photography.
More About Sarah Owen
I’m a neurodivergent wife and momma of 2 boys. I’m a part-time photographer and part-time stay-at-home mom. My goal with photography is to make all of my clients feel comfortable expressing their true personality in their images and creating a fun and memorable experience.