The Right Way to Stay in Business

Sorry for the posting fall-off. I’ll be straight with you: Times got tight, I had to take a second job, which basically excised all my blogging time. However, it’s a good idea for photographers to have a blog. It’s better to have one sooner rather than later, so I’m getting back on the wagon.

I’ll make time.

Today, I’m going to be talking about why times got tough for me, and how I am avoiding the problem from here on in. Life is unpredictable, and provided you don’t do anything stupid, anyone can thrive in good times. Good business practices give you the tools you need to sustain yourself through bad times. Let’s take a look at the kinds of work I was getting last year, how much I was charging, and what those rates meant for my business at large, and some other bad ideas.

Flawed Thinking: Some money is better than no money.

Stringing for a few small papers in Atlanta, I was making about $150/day, using my own equipment. That kind of money does not even cover the cost of renting the equipment I was using (I was being paid less than the cost of putting the same gear in the hands of someone who has never used a camera before.) The problem was that I was operating under the assumption that ‘some money is better than no money’. This is dangerous because it ignores the fact that you expend resources (gas, time, batteries, risk, and effort all equal money in the end). It was just plain bad business to accept rates like that. I had a few clients that I worked with at this price point. I continued to struggle because I was not making enough money to feed my business, allowing me to move on to the next level.

Lesson Learned: If you don’t charge enough to allow yourself to survive, you won’t survive.

Flawed Thinking: Not understanding Licensing!

I booked a couple nice commercial photography clients: restaurants, fashion designers, etc., but my rates did not include any compensation for usage restrictions and licensing. Oops! I would just “hand over a cd.” Not good. I was just plain leaving money on the table. It doesn’t matter how inexperienced, unprofitable or untalented you are, your copyrighted images need to be licensed for use, just the same as with the big guys. Get a feel for how much these things should cost. I started with Pricing Photography, and it’s been a great resource for getting my pricing in line.

Lesson Learned: I’ve gained a stronger understanding of the pricing structure of my industry, and I am now comfortable charging rates that are comparable to those in my competition that are staying in business.

Flawed Thinking: Advertising by itself can provide a sustainable set of leads.

I’ve gotten most of my clients from referrals or by meeting them on other shoots. Now, this is different for commercial work and for portrait/family work. (I tend to keep my business segregated as business-to-business (b2b) and business-to-consumer (b2c).) I spent quite a large portion of my income on advertising on theknot, adwords and a few local online listings. I was bleeding a few hundred dollars a month on internet advertising and never generated a single lead from them. That was a big problem, because I didn’t have any other marketing plan in mind. Money was going out and it wasn’t working for me. It was just going away!

Lesson Learned: Reach out and make personal connections with other vendors in the bridal industry, make myself a value-add to their services, and tap into their pre-existing customer base.

So that’s why I’m in the spot I’m in now: accepting jobs that weren’t paying for themselves, not charging enough for the jobs I was getting, and fruitlessly spending the income I was getting in non-productive ways. Here’s my plan for the near future:

Start working the art show circuit in my region. Art shows have low overhead, and should provide me with a good cash-based revenue injection, allowing me to fuel future endeavors. This is a big priority, because that revenue will be the lifeblood of my business while I move to establish myself locally. This money will allow me to court local business into my stable as clients and vendor partners.

Upcoming topics:

* I’ll be showing off my DIY art show booth, made with parts from Home Depot.

* I’ll be showing off my new studio space, and how I’m pimping my garage into a true powerhouse of a studio.

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