When contemplating the opening of a new photography business there is a vast and sometimes overwhelming degree of planning to be done. If you are going to be a single business operator or a “mom and pop” business you will have to “wear many hats” especially during the physical, legal, promotional and financial preparatory stages of your project. There is going to be a mountain of work to do. This is not an insurmountable job to accomplish and if I had to come up with a single word to define the most necessary attitude, attribute or trait required for success in starting a new photographic business the operative word would be “dedication”! Perhaps good old fashioned
stick-to-itiveness is even more descriptive. Even if you are a savvy organizer and efficient planner and manage to put everything in place in an orderly and timely fashion; the real hard work has only started to begin and the bulk of it is yet to come. When a new business opens, I strongly feel that it is on “life support” for an unspecified span of time until business volume and cash flow stabilizes. I don’t mean any of this article to be discouraging or scary but I want the new entrepreneurs to have a grasp and an overview of what the real world professional photography is like. Even a well established photography business requires a great deal of time, long hours and can be hard on one’s family and social life.
It is wonderful if one can control ones time management to allow for a more humane lifestyle and of course have more family time. Problem is, that certain fields of photography such as wedding and event photography and some aspects of commercial work can entail some pretty erratic schedules, insane working hours and feast or famine cash flow issues and at times; not a whole bunch of good fun unless you are fully prepared for it and know exactly what to expect. In the wedding business we work when other play.
Now matter how vigorously one promotes their business, there are seasonal fluctuations, tight deadlines and circumstance that can bring on sleep deprivation. For a long time, my studio offered more than one specialty and a certain degree of time-dependent variations can cause conflicts and some seriously grueling work days.
With weddings and portrait work, both luxury services, We have to work at our client’s pleasure when they are available and when specific events occur. With today’s typical two income families with kids in school, it is not likely that they can come in for a family portrait between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM on weekdays- so there goes your evenings and weekends. Most weddings and social functions happen on weekends as well. Folks coming in for consultations, sittings and wedding planning sessions usually want to do that on evenings and weekends as well. Most jurisdictions no longer have Sunday closing laws or maximum or limited working hours and this has brought about 24/7 business environment.
Corporate work can usually be done during regular business hours but some industrial assignments have to be done in the middle of the night when factories are not in operating mode. I have done food shoots in hotel or catering kitchens at ungodly hours when we can access the kitchen facilities without interrupting operations.
We also have to maintain regular office and studio hours for drop in customers, inquiries, pick ups and deliveries, production work and administrative duties. Rush deadlines can create utter havoc but this oftentimes comes with the territory in commercial and advertising work and its all about creativity on demand. When the work is there, we gotta do it. especially where loyal and repeat clients are involved.
Most photographers do not have major assignments or contracts to fulfill every day- theses tend to happen in clumps and lumps rather than in an even flow. Oftentimes almost overwhelming amounts of rushed and difficult work must be done to compensate for some long periods of down time.
Nonetheless, bookkeeping and accounting must be done in order to gather annual statistics that will govern our prices and fees and make certain that all overhead expenses are well covered and intrinsic in our prices. Sometimes this is a task that converts apparent chaos into logical mathematics.
With today’s costs of living, the costs of doing business and the state of the photographic business as it exists in today’s unpredictable marketplace- I don’t know of any successful photographers who maintain banker’s hours. Nowadays even the banks are open late to accommodate their client’s busy lives.
Many professional photographers, despite their talent, fail in business simply because they don’t have a solid financial business plan, the have no savvy with accounting and business analysis and neglect necessary sales and promotional requirements. Hard work and long hours will not usually kill a business. A serous lack of business savvy, organizational skills and good financial management is usually the killer. Even before photographers open the doors to the business and begin investing in equipment- the very first important investment should be in the services of a competent account and/or experienced business adviser. Some business are doomed to untimely death before the get started because of issues of under-capitalization, bad planning and lack of dedication. Good professional accounting and business advice is money well spent- your business plan is just as essential as you cameras and lights.
Efficient time management is certainly an important aspects of running a business and more impotently, running you life. Some businesses really present a challenge in that area- good luck to all!
©Ed Shapiro - Master Photographer
Ottawa, Canada Exclusive to pM