This is the transcript for Episode 014 | The Pros of Going Pro with Michelle Michelle Mejia-Jones. In it, we discuss how and when to quit your job and pursue your creative career. Visit this post for show notes.
Jennifer: Hello! You’re listening to Episode 14 of the Get to Art podcast. I am Jennifer Roach, Atlanta’s premier wedding photographer. And as always I am joined by my husband, the funniest Indie author in town, Jack Roach.
Jack: In the world, please.
Jennifer: In the world, sorry. I didn’t mean to disparage you. And today we are joined by my good friend, Michelle Mejia-Jones, who is going to be chatting with us about making the leap to full-time. Michelle, how are you?
Michelle: I’m good. How are you, Jennifer?
Jennifer: I’m good. Nice to have you on the show finally.
Michelle: Yeah, I am excited to be here.
Jennifer: We’ve been trying to get Michelle on the show for a while now but it’s hard to get her to come out here and hang out with us.
Jack: Well, let’s deal with the elephant in the room first. You got a lot of name.
Michelle: I do.
Jack: Michelle Mejia-Jones.
Michelle: I also have three middle names which never get used. So can you imagine all those names on my birth certificate?
Jack: Spit them out.
Jennifer: I know one of them is Naomi.
Michelle: Yes, so it is Michelle Naomi Alfreda Patricia Mejia-Jones.
Jack: How many hyphens we are talking?
Michelle: It is just one hyphen. My mom really liked the name Naomi, which she pronounces it as Naomi, and her best friend’s name was Patricia, so she put those two names in there. My brother actually named me Michelle since my mom didn’t want to name me Naomi, and then Alfreda is my grandmother’s name. And of course, Mejia-Jones is my married name.
Jack: So you do have a lot of names.
Michelle: I do.
Jennifer: Yeah, but a lot of name girl.
Jack: So which part of that was your maiden name?
Jack: Michelle Naomi Patricia Mejia.
Michelle: Because Jones is Bethany’s last name.
Jennifer: Correct. Okay, so then you took her last name.
Michelle: Yeah, we took each other’s last name.
Jack: Is her name Beth Jones-Mejia?
Michelle: Bethany Mejia-Jones, yeah.
Jack: Oh. You guys didn’t swap the order?
Michelle: It has to match on all the government IDs.
Jennifer: Yeah. So Michelle, tell our listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Jack: Both of them are dying to know.
Michelle: I am a wedding and engagement photographer here in Atlanta as well as worldwide.
Jack: What’s the farthest you ever travelled?
Michelle: Just in general or for photography?
Jack: For your creative career.
Michelle: I’ve actually done a shoot in Italy while I was there but I made that work.
Jennifer: Oh you suck.
Jack: I guess I’ll call Pitbull and tell him he’s got to share.
Jennifer: Puerto Rico.
Michelle: But, yeah, so I do mainly weddings and engagements, but my true passion I guess would be like travel photography. I really enjoy it and wedding photography.
Jennifer: I didn’t know that.
Jennifer: So the reason that we wanted a chat with you about this is this is actually a topic that neither Jack nor I can talk about and something that our listeners might want to know more about because… As you know, this is a podcast for people who are just beginning a creative career, side hustle or business. So most of our listeners would be in like those beginning stages so some of them maybe starting to think about pursuing this full-time. But that is not something that we can talk about because I haven’t had a 9 to 5 in years. I was a stay at home mom who picked up the camera and started shooting and it snowballed from there. So I didn’t have a 9 to 5 to leave. And then, Jack, still has his 9 to 5 job and doesn’t have any intention of leaving it and being a full-time author. So we are not the people that should talk about this. But you actually did have a full-time job that you left to pursue Mejia-Jones Photography.
Michelle: Yes I did.
Jennifer: Alright, so tell us what was your 9 to 5 job before?
Michelle: So I was a deputy sheriff here in the metro area where I did that for about nine years before I decided to quit. But I only started photography in 2009 as a hobby because I went to Germany with my mom. And so I finally bought myself like a DSLR camera. I figured if I was going to go all the way over there I might as well buy a really nice camera. So I started it then and my friend started to ask me to do their children’s birthday parties and their senior pictures and things like that. So that’s when I thought, well, maybe I can make a little bit of money off of this. And then I began to do my research and invest in courses to take, and finally I made Mejia-Jones Photography a business in 2012, and I was still employed with the sheriff’s office. It took me just a little bit of time to finally get it full blown and have the courage to leave my full-time job (for a creative career).
Jennifer: When did you leave the sheriff’s department?
Michelle: I left in 2016.
Jack: Now, was the only reason that you left to pursue photography?
Michelle: No, I was not entirely happy anymore there. And I wanted to pursue something that was going to make me happy every day. Something that I really enjoyed doing so I decided. Actually, Bethany is who really gave me the courage to leave.
Jennifer: Yeah, that’s right. We were talking about that about how she kind of gave you the push to say it is okay.
Michelle: Yeah, she did. She was just basically telling me that I can leave and I didn’t have to be afraid to build my business. That she would do whatever it took to help me and support me.
Jack: Did she follow through on that?
Michelle: She did actually. She is amazing.
Jennifer: But how long do you think that you were doing both, that you were going to a 9 to 5 job and building your creative career?
Michelle: Three to four years.
Jennifer: So what was it like during that time of the three to four years juggling both?
Michelle: It was stressful because law enforcement in itself is a high stress job that’s very demanding. And I constantly work to different hours in the last position that I was there because I was an investigator and we had to do checkups on people that were in this program that I was a part of. So either I had to get up really early and work days where the next day I could be working overnight so there was never really any consistency which made scheduling sessions very difficult. You didn’t get a chance to build the consistency that I think clients need, so I didn’t had a big following when I first started.
Jennifer: Yeah, that can be hard when you don’t have a calendar per se that you can reliably say I am definitely going to be available on this day or not.
Michelle: Exactly. Especially when your clients usually have like you said earlier a 9 to 5 job where they have weekends off and that’s generally where most sessions get done, and I didn’t have that.
Jennifer: Yeah, that’s rough. So when you made the decision to leave and you wife, Bethany, gave you the go ahead to leave and you started putting that into place. What obstacles did you face making…
Jack: Wait, wait. More importantly — what it’s like to have a supportive spouse?
Michelle: It is amazing. I mean, you get the opportunity to completely be creative where you don’t have to think about can I get this done while I’m at work. I mean that’s the truth. You know, all the times you are trying to create a schedule or create like many session ideas wired on the clock somewhere else.
Jennifer: I’m going to cut you.
Jack: It sounds wonderful.
Jennifer: Doesn’t it though?
Michelle: I’m sure Jennifer is a supportive spouse.
Jennifer: I proofread your book for free. Okay?
Michelle: How many pages was that?
Michelle: Oh my gosh.
Jack: It was a short book. It was barely 80,000 words. Jennifer, can I quit my job to be a full-time author?
Michelle: See, she is supportive.
Jack: I don’t believe the words coming out of your mouth right now.
Jennifer: Do you want to quit your job to be a full-time author?
Jack: Hell no. I need that steady paycheck. Jack doesn’t do well with ambiguity. So, Michelle, how long did it take you to feel comfortable after having quit your regular paycheck?
Michelle: Wow, that’s a good question.
Jack: Thank you! I thought of it myself.
Michelle: It took me probably a good full year when I started getting consistently booked whether it would be second shooting or weddings of my own or other sessions because in the beginning you feel really insecure about your decision. You start to doubt yourself and that’s when your creativity diminishes I think.
Jack: Wait, the self doubt goes away?
Michelle: The self doubt goes away.
Jack: Oh, okay. I need to look into that.
Michelle: Just wait a little bit longer.
Jack: I’m revising my new novel right now and I’ll be reading and go “Oh my god this is crap. Who wrote this? Wait, why is my name on this? What have I done?”
Michelle: It takes a while. And during the courses that I was taking, the online educational courses, to help me with not only the technical side of photography but also with the business side of photography. You almost start doing that compare game, that comparison game with other because you start seeing how other photographers have left their full-time job, they’re doing great, they’re booking like $10,000 weddings and people aren’t even wanting to pay $1,500 for an 8-hour with two photographers.
Jack: Jennifer, could you make a note to increase your rates to $10,000 please.
Jennifer: Yeah, I wish.
Michelle: We’re going to get there one day.
Jennifer: Yeah. Oh, Julie Paisley was at the conference by the way and she said “I don’t even get out of bed for less than $12,000.” And I was like, “Girl.”
Michelle: Like I have to get out of bed.
Jack: Meanwhile, I don’t get into bed for less than $12,000.
Jennifer: I think she wasn’t saying it like a snooty way. It was like a funny way because she was talking about people who try to low-ball you and everything. And she is like, “I tell them like I don’t even leave my house for less than $12,000.” I was like, “I wish! That would be so nice.”
Michelle: Yeah, I wish. Fingers crossed we’ll get there.
Jack: Just to continue my prostitution line of humor, I may be expensive but I’m not worth it.
Michelle: Wow! Definitely no bang for the …
Jennifer: So the question I was starting to ask earlier before Jack interrupted me.
Jack: With a better question.
Jennifer: Was what obstacles did you face?
Jack: Self doubt.
Jennifer: Not just self doubt but like real tangible.
Jack: How many times did you not pay your water bill?
Michelle: Never, because I have a wife who works full-time.
Jack: That sounds great.
Michelle: But that’s really hard for someone who is always been in charge of their own lifestyle. Do you know what I mean? Like I’ve never had anybody helped me to pay for my bills, to pay for my mortgage.
Jack: I’m sorry, were you married at this point?
Michelle: Bethany and I were not married at that time. We got married in 2017 and I quit in of July 2016.
Jack: How long have you been together?
Michelle: Since 2015, like the end of 2015.
Jack: So we are talking like less than two years. Girl’s like “Sure, I’ll support while you figure out your career.” Bethany is a sucker. Does she have sister?
Michelle: She does not.
Jack: A brother?
Michelle: Yeah, a brother.
Jack: A cute brother? Jennifer, we need to talk. I’m going to get me a sugar daddy.
Jennifer: Me too. I need one of those as well. My sugar momma is awesome though.
Michelle: But it really did stress me out a little bit because I felt like I owed it to her to succeed. And I felt like I needed to contribute to the household, to the income, and so it motivated me in one way and then it stresses me out in the other because…
Jack: You said earlier that it was a year before you felt comfortable with it.
Jack: Just from a, you know, let’s be honest with each other. From a psychological and emotional point, how rough was that year for you? Was it a little bit of a uhm things are doing great or were you crying yourself to sleep?
Michelle: No, I never cry myself to sleep. Fortunately, I felt like I’ve never been that type of person where…
Jack: Did you take up a drug habit?
Michelle: I did but I kicked that. No, I did not. It took me a while to like you said emotionally feel comfortable with that insecurity with that instability I should say of that.
Jack: You’re a kept woman all of a sudden.
Michelle: I was a kept woman all of a sudden.
Jennifer: Welcome to the club, girl.
Michelle: Although it sounds great but it is also stressful. That’s never been your life.
Jack: Yeah, especially waking up and just “Where do I go today?”
Michelle: That’s exactly right. But every day was spent and every dollar on educational courses which those where not cheap.
Jennifer: About investing in courses like investments.
Michelle: It is so important though because like they tell you, you need to invest in your business in order to eventually make money. So I think, honestly, this year is probably the first year that I’ve actually made a profit. But that’s not a big profit and it is just paying off the courses and any new gear. I mean, photography is an expensive “hobby” like people like to think it is.
Jennifer: Oh my god.
Jack: She is making air quotes which plays super well in an audio podcast.
Michelle: But everybody thinks it is a hobby.
Jack: You ask if it’s alright with Jennifer. Call it her hobby.
Jennifer: Yeah, that’s my… We don’t use the H word in this house.
Michelle: There is no H word.
Jennifer: This is my job.
Jennifer: Because I go to work, okay?
Jack: If I had a woman or a man over while she was doing a shoot and she came home and I said “While you were at your hobby, I cheated on you,” it would be a real toss-up as which part of saying this thing is going to be more disturbing.
Jennifer: My instinct would be, “Excuse me!”
Michelle: This is not a hobby.
Jennifer: Yeah. “It pays the mortgage of the house, the roof that’s over your head. Hey, wait a minute. What!”
Jack: Also, “Can she take a picture? Because I may need her to second shoot for me.”
Jennifer: I am taking applications.
Jack: Or he, I mean.
Michelle: Or whatever.
Jack: Don’t want to playa hate.
Jennifer: So that’s a lot of negativity. So what were some of the benefits of building your business without the full-time job there? The pros?
Michelle: I guess the pros would be that you have…
Jack: The pros of going pro.
Michelle: The pros of going pro, that sounds amazing. You have a lot more time to dedicate to building the business itself. I mean there is so much that goes into it. You have to build a website which if you are not savvy at things like that, which I am not. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched YouTube videos trying to figure out like that is an HTML, and what is code, and things like that, to the point where I wanted to throw my laptop against the wall and just pay someone to do it, but that cost money.
Jennifer: It is. It is very expensive.
Michelle: Yes, and in order to do that you need to get bookings.
Jack: You threw out a number before we were recording for that custom website.
Jennifer: Yeah, it is like $6,000.
Jack: $6,000 big ones.
Jennifer: Like custom website.
Michelle: Yeah, built for you.
Jennifer: Like, I’ll just buy the template. Thank you.
Michelle: It could be very overwhelming in the beginning because there are so many things when you really start to list out everything that is required of a successful business. It is going to be a website. It’s going to be marketing and you have to get business cards. You have to get new gear. And in order to do that you have to have clients. So it is almost like a never ending cycle but one of the big things that I think Katelyn James said on her educational courses was that just don’t expect it all at one time. Like you have this expectation that it’s all going to happen right now but it just can’t. It has to gradually happen and when it does it is glorious.
Jennifer: Yeah, exactly.
Michelle: But you have to hustle that’s for sure. You have to hustle.
Jack: That is something that Jennifer and I talk a lot about on the show and personally, is that Jennifer is a wedding photographer but if you ask her what her job was, she might get around the mention taking pictures at some point. Because a lot of her time’s spent planning advertising campaigns and client relationships.
Jennifer: A very little of it is actually spent actually taking pictures.
Michelle: Yeah, and I think that’s what a lot of the community doesn’t understand. If you are an entrepreneur you understand that there is a hustle and it goes so much deeper than what people see for the hour, hour and half, two hours. Unless it is a wedding day and it is like 8-10 hours. But it is so much more than just taking pictures. And I hate when people say just taking pictures.
Jack: All you have to do is click the button.
Jack: Uncle Tom got an iPad he can do it.
Michelle: Don’t be uncle Tom.
Jennifer: No, uh-uh. Do not bring iPads to weddings.
Michelle: Or a laptop. No.
Jack: I’m going to ask you a two-part question.
Jack: Number one, what would you say was the smartest thing that you did in going pro?
Michelle: Investing in education.
Jack: Investing in education. How much money would you estimate you spent during that first year let’s say.
Michelle: Probably about three and a half grand.
Jack: Okay, not insignificant chunk of change.
Michelle: No. It is quite expensive, but it is worth it.
Jennifer: Quite a price tag on those Katelyn James courses.
Michelle: Yeah, and Aimee, and Jordan, and even Hope Taylor who is local.
Jack: Can we get some advertising money out of these guys?
Jennifer: We need like an affiliate link…
Michelle: Affiliate links, yeah.
Jennifer: Or something and we get a dollar every time we mention KJ or someone else.
Michelle: But she truly has changed the game. I think it is the way that she delivers her message and it just sinks in with me and how she makes everything open to others.
Jack: Part #2, what is your biggest mistake that you made during that time?
Michelle: Thinking that I was going to get all of the clients right away.
Jennifer: That’s a good one. That’s a good answer. Yes.
Jack: It’s a good question too.
Michelle: It was a good question.
Jack: It was fine.
Michelle: It’s alright.
Jennifer: But I think that that’s really if anyone is thinking about quitting their full-time job and making this their profession that they need to understand that right away. That you are not going to get those $10,000 weddings or whatever it is that you are looking to do right away. It is not going to happen overnight or even within the first years. You said what you feel like three or four years it has been before…
Michelle: Yeah, it definitely taking that long to get a following.
Jennifer: Yeah. But it will take even longer probably if you were still at the sheriff’s department.
Jack: How good did it feel to write that first check? “Here is my profit from the first year, get off my back.”
Michelle: Well, you have to remember I didn’t make a profit until just about now, so there is never been that moment.
Jennifer: Last month or whenever?
Jack: Let me tell you, the dynamic of my marriage changed this year because Jennifer started making full-time income and so now she pays the mortgage.
Jack: And so it used to be that she was like “What you have done for me lately?” And I’d get to say “Look up.”
Jennifer: He lorded the roof over my head, over me all the time, like anything. And I’m like, blah-blah-blah. And he is like, look up.
Jack: But now that she is contributing it is excruciating.
Jennifer: It is my roof that I let him stay under.
Jack: Feels good doesn’t it?
Jennifer: It does. It feels so good.
Jack: This is a loving relationship.
Michelle: Completely loving.
Jennifer: Sometimes. You were at our vow renewal, you know.
Michelle: It was hilarious. It was awesome.
Jack: So you touched on a little bit that you’re not going to be wildly successful right out the gate.
Jack: Aside from that, what is your biggest advice for someone who is thinking, “I am thinking of quitting my job and going full-time with my creative passion”?
Michelle: I would have to say trust yourself because fear can hold you back from so much. So if you trust yourself, trust your skills, trust your desire I guess to want something so bad that you would do whatever it takes in a good way. Like don’t go rob a bank or anything like that, or prostitute yourself.
Jack: That’s the cop talking.
Jack: You guys can disregard that. She is biased.
Michelle: I better not see you on that corner. But yeah, just completely take that leap because it is going to be the best decision that you’ve ever made where you don’t have to answer to someone else.
Jack: But let’s be realistic. Can everyone do it?
Michelle: No. You have to be strong, like you have to be strong-willed. You have to want something so bad that you are willing to go out and work for it. And it is not going to come to you without work. The hustle game has to be strong for sure.
Jennifer: It is not easy.
Michelle: It is not.
Jennifer: But it is worth it.
Michelle: It is totally worth it. I think so.
Jack: So it’s education, planning for the future, and a subscription to Hustler.
Jennifer: And apparently get a Bethany because she sounds pretty cool.
Michelle: She is amazing. I’ll keep her.
Jennifer: Alright, I think that that about does it for this episode. Michelle, let everyone know where they can find you on the internet.
Jennifer: Awesome. Well, that wraps it up for this episode. And Michelle will actually join us again for the next episode on cultivating relationships. So we’ll see you for that one and don’t forget to take a minute and Get to Art.
Jack: Wait, wait, wait. Jennifer, you are screwing it up.
Jack: Jennifer, where can they find you on the internet?
Jennifer: You always get your Instagram handles confused.
Jack: It is because of Twitter.
Jennifer: You have too many social media things.
Jack: I try to have one but some reason I couldn’t get them on Twitter. And I’m on Facebook, in … and Grindr.
Jennifer: And Linkedin.
Jack: And you can find both of us at gettoart.org. Type ghettoart, take out the H, and you’re ready to go.
Jennifer: Alright. We’ll see you next time and don’t forget to take a minute out of your day and get to art. Thanks for listening.