Home · Register · Search · View Winners · Software · Hosting · Software · Join Upload & Sell

Moderated by: Fred Miranda
Username   Password

  New fredmiranda.com Mobile Site
  New Feature: SMS Notification alert
  New Feature: Buy & Sell Watchlist
  

FM Forums | Pro Digital Corner | Join Upload & Sell

  

Starting a Business
  
 
dpwelsh
Offline

Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #1 · Starting a Business


Hello,

I am new to the forum, but I've been a freelance photographer for almost 20 years. I say
"freelance" as in, mostly as a hobby, but I have done some small work and sell a fair amount
of my prints. I'm interested in taking a more serious approach to my photography services as
a profitable entity. The only thing really holding me back is the startup capital to fully outfit
with the proper equipment for portrait and wedding work. I have a Nikon D700 with only a
cheap 18-105mm lens at the present moment. Funds being a significant problem.

I believe I have the skills necessary to be successful as a paid professional photographer,
what I lack at present moment is the professional grade glass, studio equipment etc.

Realistically speaking, what type of capital is commonly needed to finance the startup of a
photography business? Lenses of the wedding/professional portrait quality are incredibly
expensive. Any advice or just take out a big loan, buy what I think I need to get started and go?

Due to my lack of indoor studio equipment, I mostly do outdoor shots at present moment.
Here's a few samples of my work, keeping in mind these are with an 18-105 lens, hardly the
choice for a professional.

































Mar 14, 2014 at 10:24 PM
colinm
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #2 · Starting a Business


dpwelsh wrote:
Realistically speaking, what type of capital is commonly needed to finance the startup of a photography business?


$0-100 for a state license, $0-100 for a city license, and around $500 for insurance. Let's call it $700 on the high side.

Unless you're in the middle of nowhere, there's likely at least one rental house in the area. Buying is a sucker's game when you're starting out. You don't know what you need. New models will come out. You'll figure out you should have bought the next model up. You'll realize you should have bought something entirely different.

Rent, rent, rent.

It almost never makes sense to rent cameras (break-even is typically a dozen or fewer shooting days), but you can rent a lens 100 times before you would have been better off buying it. There's also nothing wrong with the D700 you already own.



Mar 15, 2014 at 01:45 AM
Dave_EP
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #3 · Starting a Business


colinm wrote:
It almost never makes sense to rent cameras (break-even is typically a dozen or fewer shooting days), but you can rent a lens 100 times before you would have been better off buying it. There's also nothing wrong with the D700 you already own.


I think 100 times may be pushing it a little (or a lot).

I've seen a couple of wedding photographers do a great job with a D200 and 18-200 (one had the rest of his gear stolen the day before!) and get some pretty impressive shots, though getting the shallow DOF that many people lust after is obviously more difficult. So, if you have the skills, it can be done with less than top class gear by today's standards.

My problem with renting is that while there are a few rental houses around, it takes time to order, get delivered (or pick up if you're close), use it, then the time to return it, and that's even if they have what you want in stock and available. The last three things I tried to rent were all out already and so not available.

You may also find you have an emotional problem knowing that it's a direct (rather than indirect) cost of this shoot and comes straight off the bottom line. While it may work out cheaper in the long run, it's an emotional problem that's hard to over come for some people.

I also hate shooting with new gear without having time to play with it before hand. Every lens has a different characteristic and unless you've shot with it quite a bit you may not realise any problems until after the shoot, when it's already too late.

You probably know all the following, but I'll throw it in just in case there's the odd bit you missed along the way.....

The biggest barrier to starting a business is usually not the startup cost but the ability to charge enough money to cover your ongoing costs. That's not just buying lenses, but the realistic cost of travel (not just the cost of fuel), the post processing time, the cost of computers, cameras, glass, lighting, web site, domain registration, upgraded web design if you can't do it yourself, accountancy bills (something many people forget), insurance, local taxes (where applicable) etc, and that's before you even take out any wages or pay income taxes. All this is without even considering premises to trade from.

Your home insurance may not cover working from home for money, and it certainly won't cover paying clients coming to your home and injuring themselves. You'll need additional liability insurance for all these types of things.

Don't forget you'll need to get some contracts done for your clients to sign if you don't already have them. This could mean there's some legal bills too. Don't shoot for money without T&C and/or a contract in place. It's tempting to try to find a free contract on the internet but unless it's both designed for your local region 'and' up to date with current legislation (which does change) then you could find out that the money you saved was not good value if someone decided to make a claim against you.

Our four biggest annual bills are promotion, travel, accountancy, insurance (in that order). The start up cost is tiny in comparison. Often you need to invest a lot more money in getting things running than you'll have coming in. I haven't included gear in the list because it varies from year to year.

The cost of business promotion is often totally under estimated when getting started. How will people actually find you, and once they've found you, why would they chose you over the next guy? If you compete purely on price you'll never get anything but the bottom of the barrel, which is also where the most problems come in. The less people pay the more they seem to expect.

If you've been doing jobs on the side and selling prints but still don't have the cash for more gear, let alone startup cost, how many multiples of those shoots & prints would you need to sell to be making a rational income after all the expenses are taken out? Is that number actually achievable without getting burned out, and if so, how will you find all the extra customers? Where will your break even point be, both with and without you taking a wage?

There is a myth of "build it and they will come", but in business that's just not the case. Opening a business will not make people come and spend money with you just because you are there. You provide a compelling reason for them to do that, so what will that be?

Photography is totally discretional spending for most people, so you also need to be sure that there is both demand in your area AND that people have the money to spend in the quantity you'll need. It's no good asking $5K - $10K for wedding photography (as people on Creative Live keep telling us all we need to be doing) if most people's entire wedding budget in your area is only $2K.

Many startups think of their time as free, but that's just not the case. You need to be charging at least as much and preferably more (in fact multiples of more) as you would have to pay an employee to go do the work for you, including all the time they spend in the back room (preparing gear, computer time etc) AND travelling. Then you need to add a profit margin that allows you to cover the fixed expenses (accounts, insurance etc) and to totally replace all your gear (computers, car, body and some lenses) every 3-4 years. That's not the cost of buying all new gear, but the difference between what you can sell your old gear for and what it costs to buy the new gear. While you can write some of the depreciation off against taxes, you'll need to actually be making a profit for that to even come in to play.

Once you've figured out how much you need to be charging then you can figure out if you can even get the work to justify the initial costs of startup. Remember, most business startups fail because of poor cash-flow planning and inability to service the overheads from the income. They don't realise how hard it can be to get over the first few months with insufficient income to pay the bills and they often over estimate their sales (often by 90% or more!) which then don't materialise.

If it's a hobby that you're running on the side there is a temptation to do it cheap to get started, but then you have a really long haul trying to raise prices to the point it becomes sustainable full time (if that's where you want to go). Photography as a hobby is wonderful and it's easy to get drawn in to the romance of wanting to do it for a living, but as a profession you're likely to spend less than 20% of your time shooting (often 10% or less) and that number needs to earn enough to cover the rest of the time and still allow you to buy new gear and pay your overheads.

So the cost of startup may only be $700 or so, but you need to plan for additional costs (such as promotion, travel, legal and accountants) down the line and make sure you're going to be able to cover it, otherwise you're totally wasting all that startup money in the first place.

Oops, sorry this got so long....!



Mar 15, 2014 at 11:42 AM
dpwelsh
Offline

Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #4 · Starting a Business


Excellent advice, thank you. Quite the undertaking. I have done portrait work strictly through referral and made a few bucks. I enjoy the work, to me it's not even work as it is just something I love to do.

What do you typically do for printing? To this point I have been outsourcing to smugmug, but honestly, I think the quality can be much much better. Without buying all the printing equipment too, is there a good outsource printing company for professionals?



Mar 16, 2014 at 01:58 PM
Dave_EP
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #5 · Starting a Business


dpwelsh wrote:
I have done portrait work strictly through referral and made a few bucks. I enjoy the work, to me it's not even work as it is just something I love to do.


Doing a few on the side and turning it in to a 'real business' are completely different things.

You also have to challenge yourself on something very specific. Right now you enjoy doings this, you don't see it as work. But, what happens if it does become work, does become a chore? You gave up something you really enjoyed as a hobby and turned it in to work. You may not think that would happen, but for me photography & video is work and not a hobby, and shooting for fun is not what it used to be, in fact I often no longer take the camera with me fit's not work related.

You also run the risk of undervaluing yourself when talking to potential clients because you love doing it and it's not really work. That's OK when building a portfolio but at some point you have to set the rates appropriately. You need have a plan of how & when that would happen, or if it will ever happen. If you really just want to keep doing this on the side then it takes a completely different approach than turning it in to a proper business.

dpwelsh wrote:
What do you typically do for printing? To this point I have been outsourcing to smugmug, but honestly, I think the quality can be much much better. Without buying all the printing equipment too, is there a good outsource printing company for professionals?


I'm going to leave that to others in the US to answer because what I do here (which is a mix of in house and sending out) may not be the right thing to do, and someone may suggest a lab near you that is excellent.



Mar 16, 2014 at 07:52 PM
 

Search in Used Dept. 



dmacmillan
Offline
• • • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #6 · Starting a Business


Is your intent to do this full time? I see lots of red flags. When you say "photography business", what image comes to mind? Is it the mom and pop studio of yore that's in a store front? Is it working out of your home?

You stated: "I believe I have the skills necessary to be successful as a paid professional photographer..." What skills do you mean? Actual photographic skills is a small percentage of the skills needed to be successful. Great business, marketing and people skills are at least as important.

The greatest percentage of small businesses that fail do so because of lack of capitalization. Photo gear is just a small part. Good business plans are designed so that the business can function for at least a year with no income and can make it 3 to 5 years before breaking even or making a profit. Yes, you read about the big successes that started on a shoestring, but for every one that made it, there were 10,000 that failed.

Photography has long been considered one of the businesses most likely to fail so you can't walk into a bank and get a loan to start a photography business. You might be able to get a personal loan if you have excellent credit, but you will have to put up everything you have as collateral. This will put your family's financial future at significant risk.

This is perhaps the most perilous time in the history of photography for professional photography. The market is flooded with MWACS and GWACS. You mentioned wedding photography, but I get the feeling you have no experience. Go to Craigslist and look at the number of folks willing to shoot weddings for free just to get experience. Newspapers are gutting their photography staffs and the photojournalists are turning to weddings for income. They have a ton of equipment and experience. I know photographers who have been in business successfully for 30 or 40 years who are getting out of the business.

I was a professional photographer for 25 years (counting part time as a teenager) and was able to comfortably provide for my family exclusively with my photography. 30 years ago I quit photography and went back to school and earned another degree in computer science. It was the best decision I ever made, outside of marrying my wife.

Photography is a wonderful hobby but a terrible way to make a living.



Mar 17, 2014 at 10:54 AM
GoGo
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #7 · Starting a Business


Hi David,

If you really want to start a photography business, you might want to try assisting a few busy pro shooters in your area. You may not make a lot of money this way but you will get a valuable education in the business of Photography.

One consideration that is very important to photographers in general is who do you want to work for? Who do you want to target as possible clients?

If you want to shoot wedding and such then that is Retail (I know nothing about it) If you want to shoot for Corporations that is a whole different level and a much more sustainable business model.

Think about it?

Finding a mentor that you can assist who has a strong business may be the way to start your own business in the future?



Mar 17, 2014 at 06:47 PM
jefferies1
Offline
• • • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #8 · Starting a Business


I would do as much portrait work as you can to raise the cash. If you can't do that with portraits then why even consider a big investment in equipment. Equipment does not bring in business. Marketing does, at least sometimes but not always. Trust me on that one.
Rental is fine until you get close to the shoot date and they are out of stock or lost in the mail or stuck on some frozen runway in a FedEx plane. I would have at least the basic equipment in hand. Camera, batteries, long and short lens, 2 flash units. I would feel better with a main camera and back-up in hand with a 24-70 on it which will work for almost any event. Even an off brand like Sigma or Tamron lens will work as a backup and are a lot cheaper. Even a older model body just in case. I also worry about everything because if you name it , it has happened to me at least one time.
How will you get business. Make a plan for marketing and put a price on it. Start a portfolio of what you want to be paid for. If brides then it must be bridals. That is all they care to see. If business showing a bride will not get you work. Show a CEO of a company. Same for family and kids. Big market if you like shooting kids and family. Everyone wants to shoot weddings, but kid photos narrow down the field. Got to decide what you like and can make money at.
If you need income from photography to live then my first statement is even more important.



Mar 18, 2014 at 11:08 PM
Mark Rigsby
Offline

Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #9 · Starting a Business


You have to remember incorporation, find out if your services required sales tax etc. Glass means nothing, yes it's nice to have good glass but I know a guy who uses only tamron and sigma glass (the cheap ones) and makes plenty to survive. What a lot of photographers starting out don't understand is that it's not your talent that makes the business successful, it's your business sense and marketing skills.




Mar 18, 2014 at 11:29 PM
markd61
Offline
• •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #10 · Starting a Business


There is a lot of good info in here already so I will just add this one thing.

IMO the best strategy is to develop your skills and seek commercial clients. Not national firms but small local firms that need your portrait skills. As you get a few clients they will refer you if you are good.
Commercial clients are the most likely to be repeat clients. They need the images you make for the success of their business. It is not emotional for them, just business. If you do pro work at pro prices and are reliable you will be fine.



Make sure you are learning always. Photography needs to become an obsession or you will not have the interest to hone your skills.




Mar 21, 2014 at 03:49 AM





FM Forums | Pro Digital Corner | Join Upload & Sell

    
 

You are not logged in. Login or Register

Username   Password    Retrive password