Business of PhotographyFears in moving forward

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Duck
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Fears in moving forward

Postby Duck » Fri Oct 16, 2015 12:31 am

This is more a post to openly vent internal frustrations. I'm sure the ensuing discussion will help me sort my head out and possibly give me a different view of my situation.

I have been an artist all my life. 20 years of that has been as a tattoo artist/illustrator. Prior to that I was a commercial graphic artist. Amidst all that I have always had a camera at hand but it was never my primary medium of choice. My hands, with pen to paper, have always been my bread maker. Ten years ago (damn how time flies) I moved from film to digital and it re-sparked my love of photography. About five years ago my goal was that I would move into commercial photography once I lost interest/became unable to continue as a tattoo artist. To that goal I pushed myself to really learn the craft of creating quality images. I still have a ways to go but we all know that learning never really stops, but I feel I am at a point where I can hold my own and provide a decent product.

This past year has been a non stop flow of work in my tattooing business. So much so that if I had the room for an additional artist here that artist would have a full schedule. For now it is just two of us, myself and my other artist, Jeannine. While it's good to be busy it is a double edged sword. Regular customers now have to wait longer to get chair time and I have to work longer hours to keep up with the demand which means less time for family and other interests (photo clubs, workshops, etc.) let alone any mental and physical stress from the overload.

Then reality hit hard when I was sent to the hospital because of pancreatitis due to gallbladder stones. That laid me out for a week and then a couple more weeks after that on light duty. Lying in a hospital bed with little to do made me reflect on my current position and where I wanted to be. I love my job (let me re stress that because people can't comprehend this). I REALLY LOVE my job but I'm starting to get burned out by it and that scares me. I have had a fortunate life that I've generally worked at something I enjoy (with a few in between jobs that really sucked) and I don't want that ruined.

I also realize I'm not getting any younger. The majority of my clientèle are one to two generations younger and while my reputation keeps them coming in I do understand there's that generational gap. Hiring a young artist was one of the best things I did. Of course there's nothing to make you feel old than having the kids you tattooed years ago coming in with their kids for their first tattoo. Much like watching a family grow through a series of portraitures.

While sitting in the hospital I told myself I should start easing off from tattooing and start moving towards my next chapter, commercial photography, before I get too disgusted with my day job. I figure I can use my day job to float my photography until the latter gets to the point of maintaining itself. That has been my thinking for the past few years, actually, but now I'm wondering if that can realistically work.

During a brief down time due to a cancellation I took a walk to a neighbouring building that has studio spaces for rent. Basically an old large warehouse building retrofitted and subdivided into various sized rooms. Most are large open spaces with high ceilings and inexpensive rents, the cheapest being $400 plus utilities but no amenities. It's a large work space that would need some renovating (not an issue) on the third floor without easy access. Getting to this space requires GPS navigation as the nearby elevator is non-functioning. THen there is the issue of possibly having a leaking roof (based on visible damage on first inspection). Overall, aside from some minor inconveniences, the place has potential. At least it would be a studio space where I can set up equipment without being cramped (as I am in my current cellar studio) and spacious enough to host workshops. It sounded ideal until I started thinking about how I would maintain both business.

We all know how much time and energy a new business requires. There's a lot of leg work in finding clients and then delivering the product once those clients are obtained. Then there is the peripheral tasks that seem to swallow up any free time; bookkeeping, portfolio building, equipment maintenance, and the required remodelling of the space until a fair level of decency is attained without being embarrassed by the looks of the place. That would all be stacked on top of my current workload. Can the two be juggled effectively without one or the other suffering so much that it affects business?

As you can probably tell, I am at a point where I am second guessing myself. It's not a good position to be in as things can stagnate very quickly. But it's scary. Will I be able to manage two rental? Can I afford to ease off from my day job enough to start up a second business? Am I making the right choice or is there another way to approach this that I may not be aware of?

I know what I want to do and I know I want to do it with the same care and commitment I have built my current business with. I have a stellar reputation and nothing less can be applied to my next chapter. It's just overcoming that hurdle, making that transition or, as they say, "taking the plunge," that seems to be keeping me at bay.

So, before I "take the plunge," I would love to hear some thoughts, words of wisdom, practical experiences and so forth from you all. If anything just to allay any internal fears I have. Thanks in advance.
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Re: Fears in moving forward

Postby TomCofer » Fri Oct 16, 2015 2:07 pm

Duck, I can see how such a decision could be scary as hell. I suspect that Bobby with his recent relocation experience and Ed with his long photography experience could probably provide you with the best input on the matter.

I don't know much about the subject, but I would think the decision maker would center around the photogarphy market in your area. Is there suffecent photography work to be had in the area? Is the area light or heavy with photograhers now? Do you feel that you can meet or beat their quality and/or prices and compete with them?

I'd suggest that the matter would require some serious research and financial calculations before making a decision. I cheer for anyone who has the intestinal fortitude to take the plunge and start a photography business in today's world, but would hate to see someone fail due to a lack of prior planning and research or unrealistic expectations. I believe you have the talent, skills, and knowledge along with the ability to teach as you've shown around here. I wish you the best with this tough decision.
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Re: Fears in moving forward

Postby Duck » Fri Oct 16, 2015 7:38 pm

Thanks for the support Tom. To answer a few of your questions; there is plenty of work to be had in my area (fortunately). I am fortunate to be in a fairly central location to two major industrial hubs. My town alone has made it very appealing to companies to establish their businesses here. We have some major players in Connecticut, including; United Technologies, Pitney-Bowes, Stanley/Black-Decker Tools, General Electric, Xerox Corp., Union Carbide, Olin Corp., U.S. Surgical, Timex, Playtex, Unilever, Bic, Gerber Scientific, Strum-Ruger, Schick, etc., etc., etc. Getting work shouldn't be a problem.

I guess I'm just having the typical jitters most people get when launching into something new. I can't afford to just close up an 11 year old business to start a new one, fresh with no clients. That would be suicide, not to mention the wife would not appreciate the move. I guess I just need reassurance to take the plunge. I know on the onset it will be hard work and a financial commitment as the transition is made.

I feel like the scared kid at the top of a high diving board. Watching others from below looks easy but once you are up there looking down... that's when the gut does flip-flops.
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Re: Fears in moving forward

Postby Ed Shapiro » Sun Oct 18, 2015 7:14 pm

Hey Duck!

First of all, I sincerely hope that you are recovering well from your recent illness and hospitalization. What a coincidence- I too spent some time in the hospital with kidney problems- bad stuff! So- I can relate to your situation in many ways. I am going to write a more detailed post for you in a little while- I would do it right now now but things here are in a state of chaos what with my taken ill, work behind schedule and a massive renovation job taking place at my studio- it's like open house field day at the asylum- if you know what I mean!

My immediate advice is STOP and rest! It is never a good idea to make life changing and financial decisions when you are ill or even in the recuperation stage- hospitals are depressing places at best and when the body is a state of malfunction, the mind is always affected- gallbladder issues gotta hurt! Try to take a few days off and watch silly movies or slapstick cartoons- this causes the brain to secrete endorphins (happy chemicals) that put you in a better state of mind without drugs! I am not kidding- not in the least- I was told this by several wise doctors- it helps and it works! LAUGHTER!

Well- you know, as per your experience as an artist that many of the arts, professionally speaking, become rat races and entail horrible eating and sleeping habits, feast and famine issues, insane deadlines and all kinds of stress which tends to take its toll in the health department of our lives. We don't tend to keep banker's hours and in this day and age, even the banks are open all hours- it's becoming a 24/7365 world! Clients want instant service and instant gratification in the commercial field and many of think that the world of digital photography makes for instantaneous creativity on demand and many of the younger generation of art directors erroneously believe that every problem can be solved in PhotoShop! Good camera work si still required for optimum results and that takes time and craftsmanship!

I am not trying to discourage you or paint things black and I am sure that your talent and experience in the art field will place you way ahead of many photographers with more technical training than artistic talent! Plus- you are good in the computer and can furnish you clients with many auxiliary services such as typography, art direction, layout and design services and valuable advice!

The thing to avoid are what I call the “grass is always greener” syndrome and even if you decide to put more of your efforts into you commercial photography business, do so on a transitional basis. When we look at business from a neutral perspective, we realize that many successes and failure are the result of fads and fashion. Although the concept of tattooing is very old and traditional in certain circles, it has now hit the marketplace with a passion so in my opinion, it would be unwise to drop it at this point in time. I am sure you are quite aware of this what with the increase in your volume of work and your savvy as a businessman. The reason I am pointing this out is that you will need to accumulate a good amount of funds to jump start your commercial photography business. You may need more equipment but that is the least of it! When I decided to move into the commercial field and do less portraiture and weddings, I had to invest big time in promotional efforts.

I spent lots of time pavement pounding and invested heavily in creating all kinds of portfolios. If I was after the local beer manufacturer for business and had no sample of that product, I would create some- same with high tech merchandise and just about anything one can think of based on the local industries in your city. I spent a train-load of money on business shows, food shows, display booths at industrial conventions and trade shows. I wanted to become almost omnipresent in the commercial market and to a degree, it worked well. The problem I ran into was that, lets say for example, a manufacturer of saxophones could not fully believe I could photograph one of his instruments properly even if I showed him an award winning shot of an accordion. This is not always the case but it does factor in. With the advertising agencies- well- there is lot of politics and sorry to say BS in that segment of the business. I am not a great natural politician and I do not manage BS very well. I believe in hard work, consistent results, friendly business relationships and good old good service. Unfortunately enough, sometimes nepotism , razzle-dazzle and BS prevail in getting certain assignments, but again this is not always the case so we learn to get around the detours and the obstacles. Good works speaks for itself but good salesmanship is essential! Unlike doing work for private individuals can create a steady flow of recommended clients, in the commercial field, I find that customer loyalty is not always there and mot companies will not recommend their good sources to their competitors- they like to keep those things secretive.

Of course, all of this varies from one geographic location and marketplace to another. A good business plan is always compulsory right across the board- business is business and money is money wherever you operate and certain principles always hold true. The same goes for various industries; it is oftentimes surprising to me that the same principles apply to a bakery shop as to an aircraft factory! Sometimes, surprisingly enough, you can make more money, percentile wise, from small shoots for the bakery shop than a long tedious job for a major industrial client!

I hope this helps! Again- health first! Take it from this old guy- try never to overextend yourself in business to the point where stress becomes a way of life- pace yourself! Find good staff and delegate- every time I did not do that I regretted it!

Ed.

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Re: Fears in moving forward

Postby Duck » Mon Oct 19, 2015 5:43 am

Ed, thank you for your advice. You are right, I am definitely reacting to an emotional reaction from getting laid out and that's probably not the best way to make decisions. Truth is, I do see a change for me in the near future and I agree I need to transition wisely. It's just trying to decide what steps to take now and what can be taken later that's proving to be a bit of a stumbling block. I hate trying to second guess myself as I'm always afraid of making the wrong move. Unfortunately wrong moves can be expensive. Such as deciding on getting an inexpensive studio to get out of my basement. The desire is strong but the doubt is constantly there. All those "what if's" come to the surface.

Some say that when in doubt the best line of action is to take no action. But then, when is the best time to take action if not when impassioned? I get what you mean though. ;)

So I will give myself some time to put together a more cohesive plan. Maybe revisit my situation come spring time. In the meantime I'll do some more homework and perhaps start expanding my portfolio.
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Re: Fears in moving forward

Postby Duck » Tue Nov 17, 2015 11:23 pm

Well, I decided to take the plunge and rent a studio space. Rather than taking the whole nut on my own I am going to be sharing a rather sizeable space with two others; an audio engineer and a videographer. Collectively we may be able to help eachother out, who knows. I do know that I don't want to waste another year like I did this past one. I made all kinds of promises to myself that I just did not keep. Maybe having a rent bill hanging over my head will be the motivator :-)

I will be getting the space ready during December/January with a move in date beginning of February. At that time I want to start seriously rebuilding my portfolio and pushing for more substantial client work. It will also be nice to have a larger teaching space, maybe get some photoMENTORIS workshops going here on the East coast :-)

I'll post some updates as this project moves forward.
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Re: Fears in moving forward

Postby TomCofer » Wed Nov 18, 2015 1:08 am

Best wishes and luck to ya Duck!
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Re: Fears in moving forward

Postby Ed Shapiro » Wed Nov 18, 2015 4:09 pm

Hey Duck!

Good on you! I'm sure you won't regret your decision. I have built a number of studios, over the years, and this has always been an exciting, stimulating, encouraging, motivating and totally fun experience. Each time it is like a dream come true in that you get to put things where YOU want them to be and create the ideal working conditions for the way you work. You will no longer have to set up and take down equipment and will always be ready to take on jobs as they emerge.

This kinda project really gets your creative juices ruining, not only in the photography department but also in building stuff, improvising in order to save money and even scouting around in what I like to call “junk yards and charity shops” for furniture, props and gear. It like you start off with this empty space and make SOMETHING out of NONTHING- it's a great feeling of accomplishment!

Yes! There will be some new overhead expenses but you'll be OK as long as your figure theses operating costs into your prices and apportion a percentage of them into each job based on your project volume.

Another thing I find is very important is to begin promoting your new facilities to you existing and potential clients right away. Try to plan a pre-opening period and a grand opening or open house event when you feel you have gathered enough interest. Investigate the industries, retailers, distributes and service companies and create your portfolio according to what you think their photographic and advertising requirements will be.

Last time I promoted my change of location I sent out postcard size announcements to potential clients on an ongoing basis. Each card had a product or industrial shot on the front of the card and some creative and succinct copy on the back. An example is attached here- I hope it will be somewhat useful in your planing.

Congratulations!

Ed : :thumbup:

Copy for attached image:

This is a Ferro-Scan, a highly precise instrument that is installed aboard aircraft. It's designed to detect microscopic metallic particles in the fuel lines which is highly critical to aircraft safety and maintenance.

The client wanted an image that is “so sharp that you can see the dust on it”! We have the optical equipment, lighting facilities and most importantly, the knowledge, artistry, skill and techniques to produce such imagery.

Oh- you can't see any dust because we carefully cleaned the product before photographing it . Attention to detail is what we do in our product and industrial photography.

Call us in for your next photographic requirement or come and visit out new studio facility.

Attachments
Ferro Scan.jpg

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Re: Fears in moving forward

Postby Duck » Wed Nov 18, 2015 7:16 pm

Ed Shapiro wrote:... Last time I promoted my change of location I sent out postcard size announcements to potential clients on an ongoing basis. Each card had a product or industrial shot on the front of the card and some creative and succinct copy on the back. An example is attached here- I hope it will be somewhat useful in your planing.


This is a great idea. I was not planning on doing any kind of 'grand opening' event, just casually slide in and set up shop. As I mentioned, I will also be sharing the space with a couple other creatives to keep rent costs down. Hopefully being surrounded by other artist types will help in bolstering creativity, bounce ideas and help spread the word. A "one hand washes the other" scenario of sorts. Perhaps we'll end up motivating each other too. :)
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Re: Fears in moving forward

Postby Ed Shapiro » Thu Nov 19, 2015 3:10 pm

Yeas ago there was and perhaps still is to some extent, a truism about the three most important prerequisites of a successful business venture; location, location and location. For the most part however, my own opinion has differed with this concept and my latest experiences and observations has led me to believe that the current prerequisites are Promotion, promotion and promotion., especially where commercial photography is concerned.

Fact is that commercial photography is not an impulse item or service and nowadays even business people do quite a bit of there “shopping” for their required services via the Internet and other incoming data, information and advertising. They don't walk around or drive around anymore- perhaps they are too lazy! They don't even “let their fingers do the walking” anymore so the “Yellow Pages” is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

So...you location is not as important as it used to be, especially if your product and service is not of a “retail” nature in that you will be dealing with businesses rather that the general public. As long as you have an efficient and adequate work space you can manage well.

When I speak or actually undertake events like grand openings and other avenues and advertising concepts, my goal is not to make a “big splash” or go on a high saturation adverting blitz with the accompanying outrageous rates . What I want to do is slowly but surely become “omnipresent” in the business or social community that I am targeting. This takes time and that's why I am suggesting your starting early, even before your move in or set up date. I send out my literature, attended trade shows to display my work and meet potential buyers. I did a bit of pavement pounding and made appointments to visit art directors and ad agencies to show off my portfolio.
Before getting seriously involved in the commercial sector, I used the same concept in the wedding business, I networked my head off!I had my pictures hanging in every bridal shop, catering establishment, invitation printers shop, flouriest,'s showroom and other related places- just about anywhere they would allow me to display my stuff. I knew this was a successful approach when a wedding couple came in and the groom asked me if there was anyone else in town that did wedding photography- just about everywhere they went they saw my images! Back in the day- there were 5 pages of “Photographers- Wedding and Portrait” in the local telephone directory. It was my first year and I missed the Yellow Pages deadline, yet I was booking well!

Of course, your fellow renters should network and refer clients to each other and perhaps do some joint advertising or work together on client's projects. This can work but there is not guarantee that will happen very often or at all. You don't really get to know folks 'til you live with them! Sometimes the “creative types” are not particularly business or promotionally minded. Most of the ad agencies have a number in in-house artists and craftsmen on board but the are usually in another room and well separated for the “account executives” who's actually bring in the business and keep the clients happy!

The rule of thumb is: If you and a close circle of friends, cohorts and colleagues are the only ones who know that you do great work, the customers will not be knocking on your door any time soon. You got to go out there and get 'em!

Enough out of me! All the very best of success in your new venture!
You got the talent!

Ed


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