Sean Audet stumbled upon photography as a career by accident and almost for free.
It was 2016, and the trained fine-dining chef was running a pop-up restaurant two nights a week and working in culinary research at Red River College in Winnipeg, Canada. While developing new recipes for clients of the university, small and medium-sized restaurants, he had an idea: he and his students could stage and photograph the food to help those clients advertise their businesses.
Audet quickly realized she had a knack for the job and two years later began taking on her own clients for a food photography gig. She used the cameras, lights, and school funds to cut costs.
By 2020, he’s gotten enough business to invest about $20,000 CAD, or about $15,200 USD, in new equipment. He quit his job and became a full-time photographer.
Last year, Audet brought in about $133,900, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It, more than she earned in higher education or as a sous chef, she says. Most of that business came from clients on the freelance platform Fiverr, she adds.
Leaving a steady 9 to 5 job to become self-employed was risky, but Audet says she had to try.
“Every once in a while, I stumble upon something that I’m really excited about,” Audet, 30, tells CNBC Make It. “Without prompting, I start working an extra 12 to 14 hours a day on something that interests me. When that happens, I feel like you have to pay attention.”
Here’s how Audet scaled her side job into a full-time job, and how she plans to use her interest in AI to make more money.
Prioritizing passion over fear, and doubling your income
Audet studied biochemistry at the University of Winnipeg. Her graduate plan was medical school, until she got a job at a nearby restaurant during college and fell in love with cooking.
So after graduating in 2013, Audet went to culinary school. She became a sous chef and opened the temporary restaurant, which featured a seven-course tasting menu, with a friend in Winnipeg.
His friend-turned-business partner also had a connection at Red River College, and suggested that Audet take up teaching “Pastry” in 2016. Juggling teaching work and pop-up, he was earning roughly $56,500 per year. she says she.
She loved teaching and became involved in the school’s research department, where she first learned how to “marry cooking and photography”.
“Spending nearly a decade in fine dining, serving beautiful food, helped me break into this niche,” he says. “It really helped me and I started booking bigger clients almost immediately.”
Those bigger clients didn’t result in a bigger paycheck, or at least not at first. Audet estimates that he only made $19,000 his first year, not nearly enough to quit his full-time job.
In 2019, he raised his prices and his reputation got him more work, thanks in no small part to returning clients who offered him regular projects. As a result, his income doubled.
Pursuing photography while still co-directing the pop-up and working at university was exhausting and cost Audet virtually all of her free time, she says. He regularly worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, juggling three roles and striving to pick up new photography skills along the way.
In 2020, he left his start-up business and his research position at the university. At the time, she was earning approximately $76,000 US dollars through photography.
As your business has grown, so have your costs. Now, Audet estimates that he spends up to $23,000. to hire lighting specialists, models, makeup artists and other contract workers for photo shoots. But even with those expenses, Audet is still generating a six-figure income, nearly double what she earned working two jobs.
Audet has no plans to change careers again, though she’s already learning new skills to keep her interested. She uses artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT to email clients and create individual business plans.
“I think automation is the key to reducing your workload,” says Audet. “When a client contacts me for the first time, I need to be able to quickly deliver a lot of information about services and costs, but I need to be able to do it in a nice, succinct and personalized way. I think that’s how I get and keep really great clients “.
You still can’t rely on these tools to do high-level work, Audet says. He’s tried image editing in other AI software, like Midjourney, but the technology isn’t to the point where he’s comfortable using it on professional projects.
“If technology can do like 90% of the work, that’s not enough when you’re working with high-paying clients,” he says. “So the impact on my business is still relatively low.”
Conversions from CAD to USD were made using OANDA’s conversion rate of 1 CAD to 0.75422 USD as of July 14, 2023. All amounts have been rounded to the nearest dollar.
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