• Ask Anything

I have been asked on multiple occasions, “So how did you start your business while you were in school??”. I’ll be the first to admit that it wasn’t easy. However, in some ways, it really prepared me well for real life. I was living in a house with 4 of my best friends. We had the time of our lives in that little house!! There are only a few short years when you get to live with your best friends and have no responsibility other than writing papers and watching chick flicks. :) I’d say running a business in college prepared me well for the real world because even though I was young and

didn’t have real responsibilities like a car payment or mortgage to pay, I did have to manage being a student, a roommate, a girlfriend/fiance’ and a business owner. It was tough. I couldn’t just hangout and do nothing but relax all weekend like my roomies. If they were planning a beach day, I would stay up late Friday night and edit last weekend’s wedding and return emails so that I could go. I’m still practicing that same type of planning to this day. We just went on a week long vacation and so I had to pre-blog 5 days worth of posts and edit all of my shoots before I left so that I could enjoy my time away. So during college, I learned the balancing act… however, I also never slept. I was involved in so much on campus and had multiple leadership roles so my time was very divided. If I only ran my business and wrote papers, I would have gotten more sleep! So that leads me to my first of 5 tips for running a business during college:

1. Be Realistic with your Responsibilities. If you’re in a sorority or have multiple leadership positions with different organizations on campus, you may be setting yourself  up for failure or burnout if you try to start a business at the same time. I wasn’t very realistic with my commitments. There were so many times when I would show up at 2am to a retreat because I had a wedding on Saturday. You’re going to think I’m crazy but I have, on multiple occasions, driven to a retreat on Friday night, left at 4am to shoot a wedding in northern VA and then driven back to the retreat that night at midnight…. just so I could feel like I didn’t miss out! We’re talking 6+ hours on the road!  It was crazy but I didn’t know what else to do. I was on leadership and needed to be there.  The hard part was that I had booked that wedding a year prior before I ever knew the retreat dates!  I loved leading the worship team for IV but it was really hard to juggle a full time job, being a student and leading a band. I also led a small group! It’s better to do a couple of things REALLY well rather than to trying to do EVERYTHING under the sun and fail at all of them.

2. Take Night Classes! Professors and parents are going to hate me for this one. Night classes were amazing for me! They are almost 3 hours long but they are only once a week.  Normally night classes consist of an hour and a 1/2 of teaching and then they either get out early or you have to sit there and listen to presentations the rest of the time! Well, I used my night classes to answer emails! I still paid attention but I got so much done during that time. While my peers were doodling and trying to stay awake, I was running a business and making money! :) That leads me to my next tip….

3. Don’t be Fooled by your Paychecks! If you’re receiving checks for $1500 for wedding payments, that’s going to feel like you’ve struck a goldmine as a college student! I remember checks coming in and my roommates saying “NICE! Lets go to the outlets!!”.  Oh how I wish! I don’t know what kept me from spending everything…. oh wait, yes I do… I needed equipment and was scared to death of TAXES! So instead of going on a shopping spree at the outlets, I saved what I brought in and I bought ALL of my equipment in one year. THIS IS HUGE! I bought “L” series lenses, a new iMac, a new laptop, a Mark II, camera bags, flashes and hardrives. I spent about over $20,000 my first two years in business but I never went into debt. If you’re young and are starting your business in college, you need to take advantage of your financial situation. If you are paying for school yourself, I understand that this means that not all of your income can go back into your business. However, if you’re blessed with some help from your family with room & board, tuition and meal plans, this is your chance to build a business fast and debt-free. Don’t be blindsided by your income… remember that 25% of everything you bring in needs to be saved for taxes and then you need to save even more for emergencies!

4. Try to get a room to yourself.  I was SO lucky to have a single room in our college house. This allowed me to stay up and work when I needed to without distractions…. well, my roomies would sit on my bed and talk to me while I edited but I loved that. :) Having a room to yourself also allows you to protect your equipment and stay somewhat organized.

5.  Guess what Happens after College?! People get Married! Share your business with your friends on campus! People ask me all the time “How did you get started?” … Well, I started my business during the time in my life when EVERYONE was about to get married! I think we did over 10 CNU Alumni weddings last year! Crazy!! Take advantage of this season of your life! Someone asked me “So should I even go to college if I know I want to do photography??”.  My answer to that isn’t going to work for everyone but I said “Yes!” Why? Well, you’re going to create an amazing market for yourself  during your years in college AND you can get a degree in business management!  For some, college wouldn’t be a smart investment but for me, it catapulted my business!

6. Create Systems! You need a system for everything you do. If you shoot a wedding on Saturday, schedule a time that coming week to cull and edit. It’s not realistic to just say “Oh I’ll get it done”. It will be 4 weeks before you deliver those images and that’s not going to get your clients talking about you. :) Schedule work hours when your roommates are in class! You’ll have the place to yourself and you’ll have a time limit.

7. Take Yourself Seriously. This is so hard to do. I felt so funny prepping estimated tax payments in the same room while my friends were hanging out without a care in the world. It was hard at times but it was so worth it! …. Especially now. I’m so thankful I believed in what I was doing and took it seriously from the very beginning because we’re reaping the benefits of that to this day. I tried to be as professional as possible from the very beginning so that I would be taken seriously by my clients and it worked! The more I grew, the more I was respected for my work.  Don’t think that just because you’re a college student, you can’t be a professional business owner. That’s just not the case! It’s going to take hard work and a lot of time and sacrifice but it’s an amazing feeling to graduate with a job that you created from the ground up. :)

I hope this is helpful for all of you young ones out there! I was in your shoes almost 3 years ago and I remember how tough it was. Just keep swimming. ;) It’s worth fighting for!!!




xoxo, Katelyn
24 Comments Ask Anything, Education
  1. Cassidy B reply

    This blog post is so what I needed to hear! I start college next week and I have owned my own photography business for 3 years now. It is really encouraging to hear you say that college has helped your business! I am majoring in Business also, so to hear that you did the same thing is awesome. I now have a lot more hope for my business! Thank you :)

  2. Klaire reply

    This was SO encouraging to read as an upcoming junior in college. Definitely good to keep in mind in order to have any following after graduation. Especially the part about saving/buying equipment debt free :) thanks so much for posting this!!

  3. Ahna Beth reply

    Thanks katelyn!! This post was for me. :D

  4. Ahna Beth reply

    Thank you, katelyn!! This post was perfect for me. :D

  5. Bethany McDonnell reply

    That is so awesome that you were able to start your business in college! And I’m so glad you recommend people to go to college anyway. I made some of the best memories ever at college and learned so much. Love your blog!

  6. Sarah Robertson reply

    Katelyn, I can’t even tell you how close to home this post hit me! Sometimes I feel like starting my business while I’m still in school is so difficult and time consuming and expensive that I just can’t do it… But you and your business inspire me so much to pursue my dream of owning a successful business. So thank you so much for being so unbelievably helpful and awesome!!

  7. Samantha reply

    I just graduated with an associates degree and am gearing up to go back to finish my Bachelors while trying to collect gear and start working professionally… It’s so inspiring to read this!

  8. Ashley West reply

    Reading this post took me back to my college days! I too started my business while I was in college. I actually didn’t know it was going to be a “business” until I shot a few families, and then a few more families wanted me to photograph them, and then all a sudden I was a business owner. I missed tons of Friday and Saturday night parties shooting weddings, but wouldn’t trade it for the world. I still found time to have fun with my roommates and learned how to balance work, bills, school, and a personal life. I always encourage others that if they believe it and work hard it is totally possible! I remember when I thought being a full time wedding photographer was so out of reach, and now it’s my full-time job in Columbus, Ohio. I am 25 now and have the career of my dreams that is flourishing because of all the hard work I put in during my college years. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Callie Lindsey reply

    Thanks sooo much for writing this, Katelyn! I’m starting my sophomore year of college next week and have been struggling with balancing life and business. this post was so timely and helpful! :) :)

  10. Alli McWhinney reply

    Great post, Katelyn! I am sure this will really help all the college students out there in this very position!

  11. Caitlin Alexander reply

    Yay! Katelyn- thank you. So encouraging to hear all of this and I am so excited to see how I will grow my business in college!

    Thank you, thank you!

  12. Caity reply

    Oh my goodness–LOVE this post!! I cannot even stress how perfect the timing is! I have been trying to get my business going during school, but I have been feeling so overwhelmed lately! This was just what I needed to read, especially right before I go back to school. Thank you for reminding me that my dream is possible if I work for it :)

  13. Anna reply

    Thank you for what you said! I need to take myself more seriously. This was so helpful!

  14. Jessica Lauren reply

    What a huge blessing and encouragement this post was tonight! I’m a senior in high school and was literally just talking to my parents about college and my business, and sometimes it can get really overwhelming and stressful to think about. This was so perfect – thank you!! :)

  15. katie reply

    Ahhhh I love this. I started my business the end of my sophomore year which was the end of your senior year, and I only really believed I could do it because someone else had DONE it and done it well!!! Your posts then helped me SO much when I was trying to figure everything out, and they still do to this day! It was a lot of hard work but I am so glad that I kept at it!

  16. Jaclyn Auletta reply


  17. Carissa Koehn reply

    Thank you so much for this blog post! I am a young college-age student so this post is totally what i’m going through right now! i really enjoyed reading it. it was so encouraging!

  18. Elizabeth reply

    Thank you for this blog post!!! Going back to school in a few weeks and starting to shoot weddings starting in October! Thank you!!!:)

  19. Rici reply

    Katelyn!!! Thank you so incredibly much for this post! I loved every line!!! I Think I need to print and hight light this one!!! I´m still at the Uni and I´m going through many of the things you have described! Like taking myself seriously. Sometimes people smile at me… but more and more are giving me respect that I´m going for my dreams. It´s a long way but it feels so good to struggle and fight for something I love!
    Thank you so much for sharing some stories from your beginning!
    Hugs & Saluti.

  20. Maggie reply

    Thank you so much for this post! It’ was very encouraging to read this!

  21. Mary Kate reply

    Thank you so much for this post!! I just graduated high school this year and I’m in my second year of my photography business. I’m taking a gap year before heading to college to focus on my business and invest in new equipment. It’s really nice to hear how beneficial college was for you because a lot of people I know can’t fathom why I’m choosing to go to college when I already have Thanks for sharing these tips as I know I’ll be using them over the next few years :)

  22. Carrie logan reply

    katelyn james you always have the BEST advice at the most perfect timing! thank you for sharing this and for being such an amazing example who offers Godly, sound advice. you are wonderful!!!!! xoxoxo

  23. Kristin Hines reply

    This post is exactly what I needed to read this week. I am on the brink of finishing my wedding and event planning certification and opening my business. I have to admit i was feeling a bit nervous about the situation. Thank you so much for this!

  24. samantha leonetti reply

    #7 is definitely the one i needed to hear the most. you are such an inspiration Katelyn ! seriously. thank you so much for all your advice

Reply to: