A Father-Daughter Duo Answers Your Questions

Welcome to a new bi-monthly advice column, in which you all ask questions about money and life and get a deeply subjective but very heartfelt answer from both me and my dad, who prefers to be known only as “Meghan’s dad” because he is afraid of being sued (?).

Among other roles (he’s excellent for live-emailing The Good Wife), my dad functions as my de facto “financial advisor,” which means lots of one-sided conversations where I understand only the prepositions.

So. We’re sharing our wisdom twice a month in this space. Write us here: meghanandherdad@gmail.com, and we will genuinely give it our best shot(s).

Oh, and help us choose a column title. My dad’s suggestions include:
“What would someone young and hip do, and what would an old fart do?”
“Meg and her Dad—an occasional column of advice for those with nowhere to turn and no real interest in the advice anyway.”
“What about ‘Like, Ask Meg and, like, Her Dad’”
“Our Pulitzer Prize Winning Column – Advice to the Light of Wallet”

Onwards to our first question.

Question:
I’m a photographer who has been holding down the same fairly well-paying administrative day job for over five years. However, I’d like to get to a point where I work only for myself and can make the majority of my income from photography jobs and perhaps a part-time table-waiting/retail gig in the beginning. Currently it’s difficult to find the time and energy to take the kind of/volume of jobs I would need to get myself even close to making what I make now at my admin job. Last year I grossed under $5,000 for photography work. What kind of markers should I set for myself or look for to know when it is time to make this transition? Emotionally, I think I’m there, but logistically it just isn’t the right time. I have quite a lot of student debt that will always be nagging at me and don’t want to take out any more loans to make this small-business thing happen. But I know it’s something I have to do at some point. Advice?

- Do I Stay or Do I Go?

 

Meghan’s dad says:

Dear Do I Stay:

I’m the old guy. My job is to rain on parades. That is what old gray-haired guys do. So here goes…

Photography—a beautiful art form—is currently challenged. Everyone thinks they are a photographer. A six-year-old can hold a camera (or phone or tablet) and take a string of 100 photos of the same thing in the space of 15 seconds. Chances of one of those being “okay” are reasonably good. My point is—if you are going to take this dive, I don’t think you can do it on the basis that you are going to fill your plate with weddings and bat mitzvahs and the like, and do art on the side. You need an edge and a business plan. How are you going to differentiate yourself from the crowd? What can you offer that Bob’s cousin Mildred with the Pentax K-500 who shot those great pics of the kids’ Easter egg hunt last year can’t offer?

And you need to take a deep breath. Those loans are holding you back. They need to be dusted before you can take this sort of plunge. I’m assuming that you are single, with no dependents, and lead a currently self-sufficient lifestyle. Good for you—you have already made great strides, but those loans are an albatross. Blow that sucker up. Keep doing as much real photography as you can find, work on your “edge” and a business plan, and get rid of the loans. Unfortunately, that means you are stuck with your day job for a while. But once you have them in the rear view mirror, you will be able to take on risks that now scare you—and they should scare you. Get rid of them.

 

Meghan says:

Okay, so I know nothing about running a business. I really don’t. Startup costs? Marketing seems like a thing one would have to think about. Equipment. Are business cards still a thing?

Let’s assume you know more than me. And if not, let’s assume you know someone who knows more than me. Either way, you’ll have to find that knowledge well, and you’ll have to drink it dry. I’d contact a few photographers you respect and see if they’d be willing to let you buy them coffee and talk you through the actual costs associated with running a business. With budgets and taxes and hiring and building a client base. And with the emotional drain that all of that brings about. Because truthfully, lovely photog, that’s what I’d be worried about.

I do not subscribe to the philosophy that artists must suffer for their art, and by the sound of your letter, I don’t think you do, either. I think suffering—mounting loans, dwindling savings, ramen for dinner, seven roommates in a railroad apartment—breeds suffering, by which I mean the work suffers. I know this isn’t true for everyone, but if you’ve been putting up with a lackluster admin job for five-plus years, you probably long for a measure of stability and that stability probably allows you the mental and emotional space to make your art. Will you be able to take beautiful photos when you aren’t sleeping at night?

All of that said, it’s clear this is something you want. It is something that is calling to you. Which is beautiful and meaningful and rare, so I think you need to at least take substantive, important steps in that direction. Would your job be open to allowing you a more flexible schedule? Maybe a four-day work week so that you have one day off to take on projects? Or is there another, perhaps equally lackluster job that would give you more freedom while still providing a solid financial foundation? This seems to me like a mind over matter situation. You need to believe that you are moving towards your goal of being a full-time photographer. Every tedious work day becomes an opportunity to meet someone who has a friend who has a cousin who is getting married and dying to hire you. Every desperate afternoon coffee run is a chance to find an empty wall that is calling out for your prints. These small yet significant gestures are your building blocks. Keep climbing.

 

Meghan Nesmith writes and sleeps in Brooklyn. Meghan’s dad does not.

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14 Comments / Post A Comment

Snuffles (#6,545)

You can’t hire a good wedding photographer in Houston for less than $2,500. Mid range is between $4-7,000, so, move here and photograph on the weekends!

birdofparadise (#6,109)

I love this a lot! Meghan’s dad is such a dad <3

bgprincipessa (#699)

@birdofparadise so true. I love this idea a lot too! I’m also thinking how it’s good that it’s not my dad, who is actually a financial adviser. One time my bf asked him his opinion on 401k vs. Roth IRA and 90 minutes later, when he still hadn’t come up for air, my bf was regretting everything that had led him to ever ask such a thing. Meghan’s dad is so succinct.

OllyOlly (#669)

Dang I wish my dad would live email the Good Wife with me. I wish anyone I knew watched that show actually.

Lily Bart (#5,766)

@OllyOlly The Good Wife is one of the best shows on television, seriously. The Billfold needs more Good Wife.

aetataureate (#1,310)

This is so good! I guess in re Meghan’s advice . . . It seems like a lot of plenty of people have a calling to the fine arts and to be one’s own boss?

madrassoup (#929)

The advice here is good, and I think the idea of an intergenerational advice column is very, very clever. However, I wish there was more to the introduction of the column so that it went beyond “dad=finance whiz because duh, that’s what dads are great at.” Even the first line in the dad’s (very thoughtful!) response taps into that, when he says “My job is to rain on parades. That’s what old gray-haired guys do.”

In other words, what I find appealing about the premise is that it’s intergenerational (and for that reason could also include Meghan’s mom, or someone else’s), and not that a gray-haired dad, specifically, is the one dispensing the advice. The way you’ve presented it, it seems like you’re tucking new kicks into retro slippers, you know?

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@madrassoup Right there with you. There was a small part of me that was cringing at the set-up of Dad & Little Girl. I get it, and the advice is spot-on, but there is a trend (see: Logan Dad chats) of Man Gives Woman Some Learnin’ that is… problematic?

Like, let’s see a Boss-Ass Bitch(TM) doling out advice to some whippersnapper, which, to be sure, the Billfold does well at times (see: Meaghan’s stock options posts). Anyways, I’m rambling, TheBillfold is awesome, kthxbai.

MeghanNesmith (#5,767)

@DebtOrAlive @madrassoup Totally agree that the gendered angle is problematic – it’s problematic for me, too! I think one of the reasons my dad agreed to this is his (hopefully not misguided) hope that one day, I’ll be financially empowered enough not to feel the need to call him every time I have to make a decision. And to pop him out of his masculine box a little, his (patient) advice usually arrives while he’s also making dinner for my mom. Which if it sounds like I’m defending my dad, I totally am. I’m the hiccup in this gender narrative! I put myself in my own box!

j a y (#3,935)

@MeghanNesmith eh, it that’s the situation (father/daughter) then that’s the situation. It would be problematic for me only if some editor was like “let’s find a father-daughter pair because that’s the dynamic we want for our family oriented, father knows best article!”

mbl (#5,203)

Meghan, how about calling the column…”Daddy knows best?” Love the premise.
I, being the financial person in our organization, love this column idea. It reminds me of the discussions I’m always trying to have with my 28 year old Brooklynite permalancing daughter. No conversation between us happens without the phrases “did you put anything into your Roth IRA this month”, “that’s a great day rate sweety…good job” and “give me the phone number of that goniff landlord of yours…I have something I want to say to him”.

sony_b (#225)

I’m getting married and we hired a semi-pro photographer who works for about half of what everybody else costs and has a full time 9-5 gig in finance. She’s not trying to quit her day job to do this full time, but it seems like it would be a great way to build her portfolio and word of mouth if she did. As it is she said she shoots about 14 weddings a year which (based on her rates) gives her an extra 20-30k a year in gross income. I have no idea what her costs are though.

tuntastic (#2,769)

Oh Meghan’s dad, it is so cute that you think you can’t be sued just because we don’t know your name!

Yikes, didn’t mean that to sound super threatening. It’s not, promise.

facepalm (#4,409)

I liked this! Dad, you’re raining on the parade all right, but you can’t always just massage over the potentially grim details! Meghan though: seriously loved your advice, I think it’s so responsible to keep looking at each day and how it’s helping you toward your goal. Not sexy to do grunge work day after day, but you know what IS sexy? Being able to feed yourself and pay your rent (still managing to find time to go after your passion too.)

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