Photography – Thoughts on Starting a Business

If you’ve never done it yourself, and no one in your immediate network has started a business this is a good post for those curious about what it’s like to start a business from the ground up – lets talk about some struggles. In a world where we are immersed in instant gratification, it’s incredibly frustrating to be reminded that reality doesn’t instantaneously change. Was it a bold move to quit my day job and start working on establishing a personal business brand – yes. Were the conditions ideal, no; no preparation, no established clients, one additional source of income with limitations, minimal network to pull from as an introvert, virtually no savings, etc. Ground Zero. Maybe your situation is better, maybe it’s worse, but here it goes…

The biggest struggle is income. If you can manage to get some savings – that is ideal! One of the biggest constraints is the car payment (which I plan on selling and significantly down grading). Without an established customer base I am not gaining much income, which puts stress on everything. At this point I’m seriously considering a part time job in order to maintain the minimum expenses and supplement the growing business without taking away too much time to focus on establishing my own business. It’s not ideal. It’s not the romanticized story of toughing through the hard times making it all work out without compromising or detaching from the primary focus, but it’s real. And if you’re going to start a business, it’s something you need to seriously consider. A business doesn’t start overnight unless you already have a strong network and savings to leverage. The bills don’t stop just because you’re scraping for income.

Where am I at after two months? One sporadic retaining client, multiple stressed relationships, very little income, and a small glimmer of hope at the end of a very long and dark tunnel. I do great work with the conditions that I’m presented with, case in point:

This link will take you out to my personal shutterstock portfolio. Most of which to date 3/23/19 is editorial work.

A tremendous amount of editorial work has been done this month (nearly 700 submissions)! I’m curious to see how it does on Shutterstock in the future. I’ve been told from several youtube contributors that editorial style photographs have a significantly smaller market base than do commercial use photographs. To date, I have 11 sales on Shutterstock (in 2.5 months it’s not entirely promising, but it’s a start), of which about 3 of 4 of them are editorial usage, and the rest of the sales (~75%) are for commercial use, even though the commercial photos (~300 encompass about 30% of the size of my portfolio) are a significantly smaller percentage of my portfolio. In other words, even though the commercial usage photos are a small percentage of my portfolio, they are the best sellers.

What have I done thus far, and what has been productive?

I’ve put a lot of effort into Shutterstock. And I mean a lot of hours. I really believe that it’s a great long term project, but it’s definitely not a fast paying plan. If you are interested in stock photography, you can set up a portfolio here ( but please understand that it is a long term income source. You will not make fast money here, but it is a good supplemental source!

Personal marketing!

I’m now live on Instagram and Facebook, check out my work through the links! Social media is an awesome and free way to establishing a local and global network which offer various potential benefits. More on both of those later…

On Facebook, I have an ad up for work as a model. In it, I’ve clearly stated that the modeling work is a trade of time for electronic copies of prints. To date, I’ve received about 6 applications, most of which have not responded back after hearing the gig does not pay cash, which is understandable. Unfortunately that doesn’t get me the results that I’m looking for.

Instagram at this point is another source for people to interact with my brand, i.e. find me (you can’t work with people if they don’t know you exist). Instagram is a platform that I am using to connect with local businesses and other creative individuals.

I’ve distributed roughly 18 flyers in moderate to high traffic locations in the surrounding areas, of which I have received one phone call which did not relate to a service I provided. But that one phone call has left room for a potential market… people who have 35mm film that needs converted to digital. There probably aren’t too many people converting film, we will see how that works out. So, to date, the flyers have not been productive in the way that I was hoping – in essence, complete radio silence. Now that it’s officially Spring I’m going to try another round of flyers at a slightly discounted rate to see what happens. Time is a big variable here that you need to consider when establishing a market base.

I was hoping to get some models to work with but that has proven difficult. Most of the people that I have talked to have not been overly enthusiastic about getting their pictures done in exchange for electronic copies. In lieu of not having people available specifically to model, I need to change tactics. Spring is finally here and people are naturally going to start looking for photographers to take photographs of their families and other events such as weddings! That’s a pleasant shining star. My intent is to reach out to the local school systems and offer a super bargain photoshoot to get leads in the tunnel. Note, I don’t necessarily want to do senior photoshoots for $20 a pop because it drives the value down for everyone and undervalues my time and service, but if that’s the angle I need to establish a market base then by all means, it’s a way to get my name out there – plus it’s not free! Which means I get to pay my bills. And people can’t hire you if they don’t know you exist. As I understand it, most business for photographers comes from referrals. At this point, since I have only one commercial retaining client, this means that I have a very limited network for potential referrals.

As a side note, businesses are not built on free work. Remember that! Imagine if Walmart, on their opening day, said, “You can take what you want at no charge until we figure out all the details!” For any budding creatives out there, really consider whether or not you need to do free work, discounted work, or stand your ground with a price. There is a time and place for all three. What’s your market? What’s your skill level? Do people know you exist? I have done great work and do great work. I’ll discount my work as a “trial run” for people, but no, I’m not doing free work. I don’t need experience. I need to pay my bills.

So, what’s the summary? I quit my day job without a real plan and because of it I’m even more frustrated. I’m working out all the details, but due to impatience, I’m working out the details as I figure it out. I do have a network that can help, but leveraging it is putting a lot of unnecessary stress on it. I will repay those debts, but it’s something for you to consider when starting your venture. Are you going to do it completely on your own? If friends and family help, it’s not free. It takes time and energy. And I can tell you, money changes things. You need time to build a portfolio and get your portfolio in front of people who will pay for work. Establish a network base, and clientele. Are all your legal concerns in order. Are you going to be filing taxes quarterly or yearly? Do you need insurance or contracts? All of these things have been brought to my attention after starting and still have pending questions, which adds even more stress to situation. It would be ideal to have all of this figured out prior to starting your venture. Perhaps it’d be better as a side project until it gets big enough to run on it’s own. Ideally you will start with your feet running instead of from ground zero. I’m considering picking up a part time job because what little savings that I did have will be gone by the end of the month. Your situation might be stressful now, but if you’ve got a job that pays the bills and you give that up, trust me, it can get even more stressful. Avoid that if you can. Get a plan and start to execute it in your spare time even if it’s only on weekends. The more people you have to help the better, but remember that every relationship has a breaking point. Bad things happen when you put too much stress on a relationship. Keep that in mind as well. My advice is to give it time to build a platform as a side project before you jump into the water completely.

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