How to *actually* start a photography business for $2000
Again, sorry for the lag in posting.
I came across this post the other day in my google reader. I was pumped for some guidance in this area, because I have basically always been underfunded. I was looking forward to getting some guidance in to how I could spend what little capital I have. The post was a total waste of time, though. Jim guides you through some very wise gear purchases that, yes, add up to $2000. But the premise that someone who does not own a camera would seriously consider becoming a professional photographer is pretty silly.
More likely, when you’re ready to turn pro, you already own an assortment of gear that, to some extent, works for you.
The problem with Jim’s post is that once you’ve got your gear, though, you still don’t have any business. Unless you’re starting out as a weekend warrior, that means you won’t have any income. If you have $2000, period, the worst thing you can do is blow it all on upgrading your gear. I’ve said it before: renting equipment is absolutely the way to go for beginners. You get gear far better than what you can afford for a fraction of the price. If you’re shooting commercial photography, equipment rental is a billable expense. Time your gear rentals for commercial shoots so you get to keep it over the weekend, and shoot personal work with it then.
So, how would I spend that $2000?
Every dime of that money would go to marketing. The way I see it, unless you have customers, not just now, but in the future, you’re toast. My plan: book the work, rent the equipment, stash the profits away until you can afford the gear. Here’s a breakdown of where my time/money would go:
Buy a domain – $100 – You’re a professional? Not on flickr, you’re not. Make sure you’re hosted without ads, too.
Get an awesome website with built in storefront – $200 – An online portfolio is an important impression, and not a place where you can really pinch pennies. I would hire that work out. Find a college student if you have to. The storefront really makes it easier (nay, possible at all!) to sell prints to wedding and portrait customers.
Print portfolios – $250 – You should have at least 3 copies of your portfolio. If you have multiple portfolios, you should still have 3 copies of each. 2 are always sent out somewhere, and one is always at home. Keep those 2 in flux. They’re not getting you business sitting at home. New photographers shouldn’t worry about getting a really fancy book. Focus on great prints in a nicer than average binder. No one is going to pick the crappier photographer with the prettier book. That said, get decent binders.
Print business cards – $100 – I like moo cards because they allow me to show off my work in an unexpected way, but use what you like. Make them memorable, and pass them out like candy.
Join local professional organizations – $200 – Some of these are free, others aren’t. Don’t shy away from the paid groups. The trick is to actually attend meetings, and stay after to talk with people. This is where it all happens. If you’re not selling, you’re not in business. That’s what so many of these ‘how to be a photographer’ posts miss. If you want to do weddings, partner with vendors in related fields. Shoot their product line in exchange for their endorsement of you to their customers. If you want to do commercial photography, work for these and other small businesses directly.
Buy FotoQuote – $150 – Great pricing software. The trickiest thing for me as a new photographer was learning to price my work in a way that would allow me to stay in business. FotoQuote eliminates a great deal of anxiety.
So far, we’re only at $1000. Let’s keep going. At this point, it starts to depend on what industry you want to move into.
Weddings & Portraits? Spend that money on creating a booth and getting into one or two big bridal shows. If you’re leveraging yourself with other vendors, and your work is good, you should be able to get some work.
Commercial photography? Spend that money on mailing lists and mailers. Do your research and create a short list of about 100 or 200 possible contacts. Send them a card a month for 6 months. Call after three months and again after six.
With $2000 invested in marketing, it is not difficult to book enough work to recuperate your losses and establish your business. As you can, begin to buy up quality, long term investment gear. Skip the Sb-26s and save up for profotos. Skip the ‘prosumer’ crap and save up for L lenses. Think of the money you save by not spending $900, and then $2000 (or whatever) on nicer and nicer camera bodies, when you rent, and then save up for top of the line gear.
Anyway, that’s enough. I will, again, try to post with more regularity.