So, you want to start a photo business…
Excellent! Will it be a mad whirl of fame, fortune and glitterati?
Or will it be a money-suckin’, nail-bitin’, cuss-mutterin’ festival of frustration?
We’re all about preserving your manicure and linguistic decorum, so welcome to our new series, Photojojo’s School of Photographical Bidnezz!
Here’s Part 1: a list of photo biz pros and cons to help you decide whether running your own studio would make you happy… or crazy?
Photo credit: Banalities
So You Want to Start a Photo Biz…
Got some time on your hands, maybe a little severance pay, and you’re thinking about starting a photography business.
Sweet! Like they say, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
But they also say “to thine own self be true”, so let’s see whether you’d actually enjoy your own business before you get started.
The Small Business Administration is THE best resource for someone starting out.*
Now here’s the tricky part: look at the results objectively. Don’t think about how you “should” be- think about who you really are.
If you’re more gentle than assertive, more laidback than driven, running a photo business could be a little tougher for you. Good to know ahead of time, right?
*If you’re not from the United States, the legal advice and business forms won’t help you, but the advice and questionnaires are still really good.
Running a photography business should be amazing; shooting all day long, being creative, doing exactly what you love to do.
In practice though, most photo businesses are a lot less photo and a lot more business.
Photographers usually run into issues in a couple of basic categories:
- Money: dolla dolla billz y’all.
- People: dealing with other personalities.
- Business: red tape, bureaucracy and other miscellanae.
- Lifestyle: how happy you’ll be.
That’s why we’ve broken our pros and cons into categories, so you can figure out whether what you love about photography balances out what you hate about business.
1. Money Pros & Cons
- All your profits go to you
- You can write off business expenses (new photo gear! plane tickets to Bali!)
- You could become rich and famous
- Successful photographers make a pretty good living
- Most people have to raise more capital than they expected
- Expenses eat up a lot of money
- It may be years before the business shows a profit
- Variable income level and lack of financial security
2. People Pros & Cons
- No boss to report to!
- No suits, cubes or corporate protocol
- You can choose the people you shoot for and get rid of difficult clients
- You can work by yourself
- Negotiating fees can be frustrating/ stressful
- Clients can be nitpicky/ obtuse/ generally trying
- Tracking down unpaid invoices
- Cold-calling potential prospects, continually finding new clients
- Some people hate working alone
3. Business Pros & Cons
- Work wherever you want
- Set your own hours, take vacations whenever you want
- You can’t get laid off or fired
- Once you’re established, you can hire assistants/accountants/managers
- Advancement opportunities are theoretically limitless
- No 401(k) or medical benefits
- Legal liability, tax and insurance issues
- Accounting may not come naturally to right-brain creative types
- Long hours and 7-day work weeks are usually the norm
4. Lifestyle Pros & Cons
- Creative, artistically fulfilling work
- You can choose what you want to shoot
- You can travel a lot
- Even if starting a business is risky, it’s still really exciting
- “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
- Staying motivated and organized is challenging
- Being emotionally tied to success can make hard times harder
Wanna Give It a Shot?
Even if you know the pros and cons, you may still want to dip your toes in the water before you dive in.
Here are a few ways to try the photo biz life without actually starting a photo biz:
- Find a photographer whose work you like; this can be a teacher, a friend, or even some random person whose photo credit you saw in a local photo mag. Call them up and get a job assisting them. That way you can see what the day-to-day business is like, and whether it suits you or not.
- Volunteer as a photographer for a busy non-profit. Take on as much work as you can handle, to test how you do with large volumes of work, deadlines, and hectic shooting environments.
- Send yourself on assignment: shoot whatever you normally do, but keep track of your time (before, during and after the shoot). Track how much money you spent on the shoot, and write yourself an invoice. It’ll help you get an idea of how much time and money it takes to complete a job, and how much you should charge to make your time worthwhile.
- Find a mentor who knows what it’s like to run a small business. The Service Corps of Retired Professionals can match you with someone who’s been in the trenches. Or take some business classes- you might find you really like it.