By early 2011, Caroline White had been working as an actress in Los Angeles for 10 years.
“I was barely making ends meet,” she remembers. “My best year of acting was like $US40,000, and then most years I made between $US5,000 and $US15,000.”
Once she booked her first national commercial in 2005, White had enough money to quit taking on odd jobs like waiting tables and babysitting, and set up a steadier income source as a part-time photographer.
As an actor, she had realised that many of the headshot options available to her colleagues were sub-par, and started offering her own services. For six years, she supplemented her acting income with about $US5,000-$US15,000 a year from her side job.
Then she was robbed.
In February 2011, her Los Angeles apartment was cleared out, including the files on her computer, external hard drive, and photography equipment. “I lost all my life’s work,” White says. “I realised I cared more about the photos than any of the acting-related scripts or videos.”
White, shaken by the burglary, became depressed and unable to leave her apartment. However, she knew she wanted to put her energy back into work.
“I wanted to take the significance away of what I’d lost,” she says. “The way to do that was to create work that put the old work to shame. I became manically obsessed with taking photos to rebuild my archives.”
To get back on her feet, she joined Marie Forleo’s B School, an online community of women entrepreneurs.”The virtual community and school was the perfect answer,” she says. “It let me socialise as much as I could at that horrible time.”
As she connected with the group and started gaining some professional momentum, she was engaged to take the headshots of Forleo’s assistant. “She said, ‘You should really photograph women entrepreneurs,” White remembers, “and I was like ‘That’s not a thing. I’ve already done ten and that’s all there is.’ I actually blew her off, but I stayed in the community and kept photographing more and more people.”
Eventually, Forleo, who has a large following, asked White to photograph her. “If she’s worked with you, it’s a stamp of approval from large group that worships her,” White says. “That was a piece of the puzzle of building my business the way it is now.”
The jobs kept coming. White was bitten by the travel bug, and today, she travels the world taking professional portraits and headshots for businesspeople, primarily women entrepreneurs and coaches who run location-independent, virtual businesses. She estimates she’s photographed about 1,000 people over the course of her career.
She charges $US3,500 for a full-day shoot in the US ($US4,000 for one in Europe) with hair and makeup styling, and multiple locations with different backgrounds. She’s had clients in Australia, France, England, and in cities all over the US including New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Her business, Creative Caroline, hit the six-figure revenue mark in 2013, when she officially transitioned away from acting. In 2014, she earned about $US115,000.
“My work and my life and my art are all kind of blurred together,” says White, who usually spends roughly half her time in Los Angeles, broken up by regular trips to New York, Chicago, and Europe for shoots. “I’m working all the time and never. In a busy month, I’ll shoot 10-20 people, but in November and December I’ll have 2-3 clients. It’s very seasonal.”
She says the money she earns now hasn’t changed her life very much, except that she’s now in the position to invest in her future, and to buy a home. “As an actor I always had big fear of, ‘How the hell am I going to retire?’ My family worried about me a lot: ‘What’s going to become of her?'”
About her jet-setting life as a photographer, she says, “It’s not as glamorous as it looks, but I am very grateful. My advice is you have to hustle. You have to have the balls to charge a lot of money. I think if the work is good, if you have the passion, the skill, the work, the talent, you can charge whatever you want. You don’t have to pay your dues and go up the ladder — you can decide your own value and do what it takes to believe you’re worth whatever that is.”
Have you taken a nontraditional career path to start earning more on your own? Or have you given up a steady income to simplify your life and live on less? Reach out to yourmoney[at]businessinsider[dot]com.
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