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Photography Space

February 12, 2008

Speaking of the photography thing, it’s going well but it’s not without it’s dilemmas. There’s struggling to get customers to sign contracts, there’s advertising, there’s making sure you have (and can afford!) the right equipment… Most of that stuff seems to be going okay at the moment, but here’s a challenge I hadn’t much thought about before: studio and office space.

He asks, she says yes, the happy young couple goes to the web in search of wedding services. They find my web site either through Google or through the ads I keep posting on Craig’s List. However they find it, they’re intrigued by the quality of my work and/or the reasonableness of my fees. So they call or email: can we meet with you to discuss it further? Absolutely!

But I think you see the problem. Where can I meet them? If you believe that lots of these young couples will invite you to their homes, you’re wrong. They don’t. I end up having to meet them in public places like Starbucks. I bring along my laptop, some printed photos, a hard cover photo book, and a camera with a big lens which I place conspicuously on the table in front of me so they’ll know who I am. But come on. Starbucks? It’s noisy and crowded and totally unprofessional.

But let’s say they get over that. After all, part of the reason they’re coming to me is because I’m what you’d call a discount photographer. They get that someone like me to has to have low overhead. They’re still ready to do business, Starbucks or no. So the next thing they ask is: can you do engagement photos for us?

And then there’s the other dilemma. I have no studio space in which to set up my backdrop and lights. My only real option at that point is to forgo a backdrop and do it “on location,” in some accessible and picturesque place.

So I find myself wondering about time-sharing space for these things. Where can I get occasional space to set up a small studio, or have a meetings with clients?

Someone on Flickr suggested Bucketworks, which is a really cool idea. They have the spaces I need and it’s only about a mile from my office at the university. But then the reality sinks in: it costs $100 a month for a professional membership there. Which is totally reasonable! But I just can’t bring myself to pay that for two reasons. First, because my use of the space would be so occasional. If it’s just meetings, I might be there as little as five hours a month! Even if I had one studio shoot, it’s unlikely to bring me above 10 hours in a month. Second reason I can’t pay this is because my fledgling business is just starting out and income is hit or miss. There is no way I’m going to sign up for regular overhead expenses that might end up coming out of my family’s budget.

And maybe there’s a third thing to think about. My business is small, yes–but it’s going to stay small. By design. By choice. I have a day job and I’m not going to do photography every weekend. I’d be thrilled if I had one paying job a month in 2008. I’m talking around $10k of supplementary income. is it reasonable to spend $1200 of that money on overhead? I suppose it is, but that $10k isn’t guaranteed by any means. Things look good right now, but you never know.

Ideal scenario. I find a few hundred disused square feet in downtown Waukesha. Maybe the upstairs of a storefront place or something. I come to some pay-per-use arrangement with the owner, or–even better–I barter with them for web development or photography services.

Maybe I just have cold feet. Maybe I just need to get a few more contracts and go for it. Or maybe the whole thing is unnecessary.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

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  1. the people who own/operate the Salty Toad also own the space above, which is mostly unrented office space. Something to think about.


  2. Do you know any theatre people? Theatre spaces tend to go unused during the day, except just before shows open, when tech rehearsals and such are going on. You could barter for show/cast photos. And probably get free tickets, for that matter, especially if they need the audiences.


  3. another weird thought, why not use university space?


  4. Scott:

    I suggest you develop a business plan (if you haven’t done so already).

    By now you have enough “real” data and experience to develop a fairly accurate forecasts and plans without too many swags. Part of that plan will include projected income and expenses per month (or quarter) for the next couple years. You can also do some “what if” analysis including varying levels of activity, the renting of space and equipment purchase and their short and long term impact on the year end net profits. You can also look at the options of creating an LLC or S-corporation and the tax advantages (or disadvantages) with respect to equipment purchases and depreciation and income taxes.

    The bottom line is that it the plan forces you to follow a process and logically analyze alternatives, your businesses strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, threats and hopefully brings into perspective the anxiety of laying out money to purchase equipment and the impact to the business and your financial goals.

    There’s a lot on the web on how to develop business plans including the questions and items you need to consider. Make sure you start with a clear concise business strategy, mission and objectives otherwise you will be spinning your wheels in trying to take the plan to the next level of detail. From your blogs, it looks like you already have a competitive strategy.

    If you have any question, email me – I’ve done a number of business plans for start ups seeking venture capital funding and I also have a number of guides on developing simple but effective plans.


  5. Welcome to the business world!

    The suggestions regarding the business plan in the prior comment are the key. That plan will usually answer the question: Is this a business or just an enjoyable hobby? I’ve had my own home based, full time, business since 1987. In my case, and I’m sure in most others, if you try to make a simple hobby into an income producing business without a commitment to do what it takes to make it survive, it will eat up any profit potential there is. It then remains a hobby.

    I’m sure you already realize that any business operation has it’s unavoidable expenses. Most of those expenses simply keep the business from sinking, some will turn out to be for things that will eventually grow the business into something (maybe not bigger, but) better. With a thoughtful business plan this will become obvious.

    Have you considered converting some of your living space into an office and studio? If used exclusively for business purposes on a regular basis this could also be a tax deduction.

    How about co-oping with another photographer or two?

    Have you tried free lance news and public interest photography as a way to suppliment your other work and income?

    With my business my expenses run between 8 – 10% of my sales. That does not include my payroll, payroll taxes, or retirement contributions. And, of course, my business is home based, so I have no office rent expense. Figuring 10 – 12% including office space seems a little low at a sales level of $10,000. Office space will be a fixed expense and that ratio will fall as your sales go up.

    That business plan will help answer alot of questions of where you need to go from here. Good luck with your business.


  6. Have you considered converting some of your living space into an office and studio?

    Yep. But it’s impossible for the foreseeable future.

    How about co-oping with another photographer or two?

    Yeah, I’m putting out feelers!

    Office space will be a fixed expense and that ratio will fall as your sales go up.

    It really won’t. I don’t intend to grow the business beyond a certain level of work. I don’t want to quit my job, nor do I want to spend every weekend doing photography for someone. At my current pricing, we’re talking around $10,000 a year. Unless I at some point decide to charge a lot more, that figure will not rise.

    I hadn’t really even thought of doing a detailed business plan. I figured that’s what you do when you’re trying to get investors or bank financing. I’m not doing any of that stuff. Plus, the whole operation is very part-time. The money that comes in goes for equipment, supplies and … into my pocket. Pretty simple so far!

    However, I have a good friend and neighbor who just finished a very detailed business plan. Maybe I’ll ask him about it.

    why not use university space?

    I hadn’t even considered it! Maybe I’ll ask around…


  7. It sounds to me like you have a hobby that can bring in some extra money to pay for itself. Nothing wrong with that. I started my business on a part time basis while working a full time job. The business got the better of me. After the companies I worked for either closed down offices, or tried to relocated me, I decided to take control of my own destiny. I took the plunge and have been smiling (somewhat) ever since.

    Business’ have a way of requiring so much of your time that they take over your life. Surely not something that is a one weekend a month deal if you want to make a living at it.

    My sister and her husband have a photography studio business in Wayzata, Minnesota. They call it J&K Creative (www.artbyjon.com). Jon is an artist at heart and I’m sure he would love to spend all of his time doing that. He does alot of photography (weddings, senior graduation, corporate and free lance media) to pay the bills. They are running to shoots all of the time, all hours of the day and all days of the week. It’s a hectic way to make a living. You may want to visit their website for some inspirationsl musing.


  8. I work at Marquette University, where I have an interesting job that does not make me rich. But here’s the thing that’ll keep me there for another decade: I and my spouse and my children all get free tuition. I’m looking at putting 5 kids through college. Do the math. Now you know why I’ll stay here in spite of other opportunities!

    Having said that, if I thought I could do photography full-time, would I? I might!


  9. Free tuition! Thats a heck of a benefit!

    Let’s see Marquette University tuition, say, $25K per year times 5. That’s a $125K per year bonus. I’d stay too.


  10. There’s are many millionaires out there who started a hobby, turned it into a small business and found they enjoyed it and could make more money and have greater satisfaction than with their day job. Don’t limit your opportunities or thinking! Check out “Growing a Business” by Paul Hawken (http://www.amazon.com/Growing-Business-Paul-Hawken/dp/0671671642/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1202929861&sr=1-1 ) . The books has been out there a while, but very relevant to people considering turning something they love to do into a business.

    You should do a business plan whether or not you’re seeking financing. It provides a road map and plan rather than running “open-loop”.


  11. Hi! First time reader and commenter here –
    I really like your ideal scenario along with some of the suggestions above, like using theater space and university space. I was just thinking that beyond needing the occasional studio space, Starbucks is probably a very comfortable place for your clients. If most getting-married couples are under 30, Starbucks probably feels just fine for them (not unprofessional or distracting, that is.) In fact, some might even prefer meeting at a Starbucks!


  12. Cmon, the references to Starbucks threw me off again! Sounds like the past blog with Caribou that we originally met over. Quit with the Starbucks references and I’ll let you use my basement at times, or maybe even my new tearoom on it’s off hours… Come talk to me my son…over coffee of course!


  13. Two things, Kerry. First of all, I’d love to talk about occasional use of your space! Second, I have to explain that most of the people I meet are Milwaukeeans and I don’t make them come all the way to Waukesha–which is why I don’t meet them at the Steaming Cup! Honest!

    Talk to you soon!


  14. Okay, so Waukesha doesn’t deserve Milwaukeans driving out to do business??? They seem to call us into their town often enough. I say…bring em in!! They might start to realize that Waukesha is just one heck of a sweet place to live, shop, eat and play. (Go with me on this one, Scott!)
    Remember that I firmly BELIEVE that downtown Waukesha is a great place to visit. Got everthing that any other downtown has? Not right now…but lets keep the place moving in that positive direction. It starts with proper constructive and positive thinking….could make me a minority there…. Join the unusual crowd, talk downtown Waukesha UP! Cmon in, we’ll talk!


  15. I’m with you!


  16. My new TeaRoom was built on a concept to create a space where SPECIAL & CLASSY things happen. Like special anniversaries and engagements. Absotively posolutely could be photo opportunities. We really gotta talk! Could work well for both of us!


  17. Scott, I just sent you an email with two suggestions that might be useful… Let me know if they are.



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