I’ve known Nish for over 25 years. He was there when I started my first job out of school, and over the years our careers and lives intersected. These days, as well as being a friend, Nish and his family are also clients. For many years Nish was a financial planner, even running his own firm for a period. To have someone with that professional skill and background decide to engage me and my firm to act as their financial planner is to me, one of the greatest professional compliments you can receive.
Today I’m really excited to share with you a little bit of Nish’s hugely successful transition from the corporate world to running his own photography business – Nish Photography. But it doesn’t just stop there. Because Nish and his incredibly supportive wife Janine made a second transition a few years later by making a sea-change. Leaving the big smoke with its big mortgage and hecticness, and moving the family to a small seaside community about an hour out of Melbourne. Nish and his family have never been happier. I asked Nish how these two major transitions came about, and I think there is absolute gold in what he was able to share. So let’s dive in and take a look at this real life example of someone who has achieved choices in life, true financial autonomy.
So far in Financial Autonomy – the audio blog, we’ve looked at different transitions that you might make in your life – moving from being an employee to starting your own business, reinventing yourself after a redundancy, or rebuilding after a divorce. In future episodes we’ll be exploring many more, like planning financially for starting a family, making a career change, and retirement.
Today though I’m really fortunate to be able share with you a real life experience of someone who has successfully achieved not one but two major transitions.
In preparing for this piece I interviewed Nish to gain a better understanding of how his move from the corporate financial world to running a photography business unfolded, and then how he and his family subsequently made the transition from inner city life to a small seaside community.
I started by asking why he decided to make the initial move from the finance world, where he had worked in various roles for around 20 years, into photography.
He attributed the initial steps in that direction to a discussion he had with a psychologist who encouraged him to spend more time and energy doing the things he loved. His two great passions beyond his family were music and photography.
So he took some singing lessons and picked up some small gigs playing his guitar and performing. Now that’s no small thing. First you need to acquire the skill of singing (he already knew how to play the guitar), then you need to have the courage to get up and perform in front of real people, and then you need to find venues and convince them to let you play, ideally with you receiving some money for the effort.
He did it.
Next came photography. Nish told me he’d essentially missed the transition in photography from film to digital, so as with the singing lessons in pursuing his musical interests, there was a financial and time investment to be made in bringing his skills and equipment up to the level required.
He recognised that the singing wasn’t likely to be a viable alternative to his current career, but saw that photography presented the possibility of building a business and giving him an option to escape corporate cubicle captivity.
So he launched his photography business as a side project, working on weekends. His initial focus was family portraits and weddings. He built his web site, and promoted himself through word of mouth. He gained valuable experience and knowledge. He operated this way, working his normal job, and developing his photography business on the side for roughly 12 months. This is a great strategy to progress towards a transition, and one you certainly should consider if this is your financial autonomy goal.
Eventually, and after a significant nudge from Janine, his wife, he quit his job and devoted himself full time to his photography business. I asked Nish what steps they took financially to make this huge step possible. The key things were:
- Janine always monitored their family budget, and so had a good sense of how much income the household needed to keep afloat. She was therefore confident that they could manage on her wage alone for a period.
- They changed their mortgage to interest only to reduce the loan repayments.
- They approached the change as a 5 year plan, with the understanding that Janine’s income would be the primary income to the household during this period, and then at the end of that 5 year period, Janine could potentially pursue her own transition, perhaps working fewer hours, and Nish’s business would by then be at a level where his income could be the primary support for the household.
In addition to these financial planning steps, through Nish operating the business as a side project for a year, he had already identified that the relationship management skills he had learnt through his corporate career, were applicable to building his new business.
He’d also started to get some corporate photography work, and shortly after moving into photography full time he pivoted the business entirely towards this corporate work, which has been a key to the success of his transition from employee to self-employed.
So let’s break things down. Nish’s successful transition to self-employment entailed:
- A low risk trial for 12 months. Any money he made was reinvested back into the business. This period wasn’t about making a fortune. The gain here though was knowledge and experience, not least of which was finding that his initial target market was wrong – family portraits and weddings, and that he was better suited to corporate work. This is right out of the Lean Start-up approach of a minimum viable product. Put your idea out to market with the lowest investment possible, and then get market feedback as to whether your idea, your concept is right. Then use that feedback to change or improve your offering.
- They had a survival strategy, as I explained in episode 1, mapped out. They had a household budget and knew their numbers. They knew that with the mortgage repayment reduced to interest only, they could survive on Janine’s wage alone while Nish built up the business. This knowledge was empowering to them both. Without this knowledge, the stress levels would have been enormous.
- They were realistic about the time it would take to build this new business – a 5 year plan. Nish and Janine embarked on this adventure, not with the expectation that the new business was going to be an instant success, but with a realistic time frame that enabled Nish to develop his skills and the relationships essential for the business in a sustainable, long term way. Nish told me that it wasn’t until year 3 that he started to make a reasonable income. I wonder how many people in a similar position, with less planning, would have quit after 12 or 18 months?
As inspiring as that story is though, as mentioned in the intro, Nish and Janine didn’t stop there. About a year ago they made a second transition, moving from inner city Melbourne to a small seaside community about an hour out of Melbourne.
Financial Autonomy is about gaining choice, and this move was in very large part, motivated by that desire. Nish and Janine had always wanted to live by the beach, and indeed when in Melbourne, they were within range of the beach. But beyond that, city property prices are expensive, and that means a big mortgage. They wanted to have more flexibility around when and how much they worked. Part of their 5 year plan was to be in a position where Janine could reduce her hours. This sea change was an important step in making that possible.
Once again, Janine’s handle on the family budget empowered them to know what was possible. They were able to determine how much they could afford to spend in the new town, and then look around to see if the type of house this budget would allow, was suitable for their family.
Pleasingly they found a home that fitted all their requirements, and Nish tells me that the whole family has just never been happier. Like all parents, he worried about the kids moving schools and making new friends. Well it took less than a day for his girls to settle in, and their happiness in this new seaside life has been a core ingredient on the overall success of the move.
I finished up my discussion with Nish by asking what advice he would give others who dream of gaining choices in life. He offered four suggestions that I think are absolute gold:
- Love what you do. Pursue your passions. You’ll look back and think “why didn’t I make this change years ago?”
- Talk to your partner and approach your transition to Financial Autonomy as a team. Nish freely admits that there is no way he could have achieved what he has without the support of his wife Janine. She both gave him permission to have a go, and the nudge needed to take the plunge.
- Don’t listen to nay-sayers. For both the career change and the sea change, Nish had plenty of people tell him he’s crazy. He relayed the story of some friends who were absolutely convinced the sea change was a terrible idea, and that in a short period of time they would want to return to the inner city but would be priced out. Those friends recently sold their Melbourne home and bought a house not far from Nish and Janine.
- Follow your heart. Take a risk sometimes. It is scary, but it’s well worth it.