Starting a business on your own is scary. Most photographers will come to a point in their lives where they must decide whether they carry on with photography as just a hobby, or whether they turn it into a professional endeavour. Making that jump is never an easy one. It is a huge leap of faith, and you may well risk your financial stability by making it.
For many people, the solution is starting up the business and trying to run it at the same time as carrying on with full time work. You might convert part of your house into a photographic studio, or even build a shed on your property which you can use. For those who do not have this option, a low rent office can be converted into a studio by bringing in professional grade equipment. But now there is an even trickier question to answer: how do you get the right balance between focusing on your job and focusing on your new business? How can you build up your client base at the same time as working a full time job? Here are some tips and pieces of advice which might just see you through.
Use your time wisely
For a while at least, you might find that free time is a thing of the past for you. Every waking hour will be spent either at work, or growing your business. This does not have to be a bad thing. If you have passion and enthusiasm, then you may not mind dedicating your time to the cause. What is important is that you do not just work hard – but that you work smart.
Wasting time will not get you anywhere, and as time is of the essence, you will want to start optimising it as much as possible. Start by realising that you have more free time than you think. Do you have a lunch hour at work? Great, well, now you can spend twenty minutes eating and forty minutes working on your business. You can do this right from your desk, so long as you are permitted to stay there during lunch. If you are not allowed to use your work computer for personal means, fire up a laptop or just browse on your phone. You can use this time to check emails and respond to clients, make phone calls, and research, as well as updating your website and social media pages.
Find automated processes that will help you to streamline the way you spend your time. You can use a scheduler to make your social media posts go out at the right times and keep things ticking over even when you are busy. Have an automated email to go out to new subscribers. You can even set up your system so that a new email is automatically sent out to your email list when you put up a new blog post, or so that it is shared to social media instantly.
Being a photographer in charge of your own studio means you have to be your own marketing department too. When you only have a small pocket of time to spare, you can get those marketing activities done. Ten minutes waiting at the dentist? Take a look on Twitter and retweet or reply to some relevant tweets. Stuck on the train for half an hour? Type out a new blog post on your phone, or respond to emails. Waiting for a friend to arrive for a dinner? Check Instagram and network.
Make sure that you open up your days off fully to booking clients. Most family portrait businesses can get by fairly well by shooting at evenings and on weekends, as these are the times that other people can get out of work too. Even shooting seniors works with this schedule, as they will no longer be in school by the time your opening hours start. Book up two or three clients on a day that you have free – and remember that any national holidays can be used to their fullest.
If you have holiday time from work, you can book the time off when you have a client or two that needs to shoot during the week. So long as you are making more on your day off than your daily wage, it is worthwhile. Even if you run out of holidays and have to take time unpaid, this will grow your business at the same time as increasing your spare cash.
Don’t be afraid to reinvest
If you are working from home with your photography, then chances are that you will not have too many overheads once you have bought all of the equipment that you need. While you are paying off that investment, take some of the money that you are earning and reinvest it. If you have a paying client who wants beautiful clear images with retouched skin, then save yourself some time and spend up to a quarter of the fee you charged on professional retouching. This will save you time so that you can focus on bringing in more business, as well as getting a professionally retouched image that your clients will love and show off.
You could also invest in Photoshop actions if you are determined to do the retouching yourself. This is a great approach, as it means that the creative control remains in your hands, allowing you to maintain a great image throughout the process. Photoshop actions are an investment that will both save you time and make your finished product much better. Taking a lot of the hassle out of post production gives you the chance to upgrade your business with little effort – and at a low price.
You can also invest in new equipment. Get a better lens for portraits, or more powerful lights. Find a better range of backgrounds which will add variety to your senior shots. Hire a professional model or two so that you can upgrade the portfolio on your website with some stunning shots. Try your hand at a new style of photography that you would like to pursue, so that you have something to show when potential clients come calling.
Reinvest in your education, too – watch webinars, download and read eBooks, and follow courses until you know just about everything you think you need to. Look at how to do your own accounting, how to market yourself, how to build a brand, and how to maintain a busy book. These are all useful areas of knowledge which will help your studio to grow.
Use your connections
If you are still at work, then you have access to a wide field of people who might require your services. Rather than trying to keep your extracurricular activities quiet, make sure everyone knows. If they have families, invite them to get a family portrait done. If they have teenage kids, remind them about senior portraits. Offer them the chance to be models for a day themselves. All of this is valuable marketing activity which can really work on a personal level.
Remember also to save money and time on your work as a photographer where you can. If you know a printing service through your work, use them to print your photographic jobs. If there is someone in the company who moonlights as a freelance social media manager, see what kind of price they will give you. These useful contacts will not be available to you if you turn the studio into your full time job, so use them while you have them.
Watch your bottom line
Make sure that you do not start spending more in order to celebrate any early success. Rather, you should be trying to save as much as you can. Turn off lights to save electric, consider cooking from home every night instead of eating out or ordering in, and cut out the little luxuries that you do not need. Save up as much cash as you can. If you ever intend to make photography your full time occupation, you will need to have that little nest egg in place just in case.
You should also keep track of how much you are making. This is very important because you are going to need to know when you reach that point that you can make the change. Let’s say you want to continue at around the current salary. When you are turning away work because you are too busy, then that is the time to recap your finances. How much money do you make in one day of shooting? Take the minimum figure, never the maximum. If you multiply that by four days a week, is it enough?
The reason you multiply by four is this: you may still want to take off at least one day of the week, though it is likely that you will not get a fully free day at all. Another two days at minimum should be spent out of the studio. You need to edit, market, follow up previous shoots, chase invoices, do the accounts, and all of the other essential parts of running a studio.
If the numbers work out, there is one last question to offer: will you have enough work to fill the time? If you only have the interest for three days of work, then the numbers need to be rerun. Moving forward carefully like this will allow you to change from full time work only when you are at the stage where your business is ready.
Do you have any top tips for running a studio at the same time as working? Perhaps you have done it yourself? Let us know in the comments!