When Should I Start a Photography Business?

  • Thread starter JGaulard
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This is an excellent question and one that many of us have asked ourselves over the years. Going into business for yourself is an exciting proposition. It means that you'll be your own boss, find your own customers and call your own shots. The only problem with all that freedom is the risk that comes along with it. What I'll share with you today has more to do with when you shouldn't go into business for yourself than when you should. Any old Joe can tell you when to start a business. "Now! Do it now! Hey, you won't find out until you try, right? Big risk equals big reward." I've really heard it all. Everyone wants to build their own business doing this or that. The primary issue they face though is inexperience. And that inexperience can sink the entire ship.

I'll give you the punch line up front and then I'll explain my own experience down below.

The only time you should go into business for yourself is when you're working a side hustle and that side hustle is making you more money than you're making at your full time job. I know, that's tough to hear because that means you've actually got to be working two jobs at once. I'll tell you the hard truth about the whole thing; starting a business is an 18 hour a day ordeal. It's not easy and you can easily lose your enthusiasm at around 11pm or when you're working all Sunday as opposed to going to the ball game with your friends. Business owners work all day and all night. It's not as glamorous as people make it seem.

I'll give you an out here. I'll offer up another scenario when you might want to consider starting your own photography business. Well, this one wouldn't exactly be starting your own business, but rather taking over an existing one. Let's say you currently work as a photography assistant for an individual who is a professional full-time photographer. You've been this person's assistant for about 10 years. You know the entire business, all the way down to the accounting, marketing and talking to any attorneys you may need to talk to for whatever reason. Your boss engages in steady gigs, such as wedding photography, high school senior photo shoots and couples shots. This same boss is planning to retire in a year or two and has offered to let you buy him out. He'll finance the arrangement so there won't be any huge sums of money leaving your pocket and entering his. And finally, your boss is running a highly profitable and smoothly operating enterprise. I'll give you this. Buy the business from your boss. You've got the experience, the talent and the financing. Just do it.

Otherwise, work your regular day job during the day and work your small business job at night and on the weekends. Forget about recreational time with friends and family. Build your photography business and when you reach the point of bringing in more money from your business than you're currently making at your day job, you might want to jump ship. Just remember, you'll immediately need to pay for your own health care, retirement, and taxes. These are big bills, so don't discount them. Even though photography doesn't have much overhead, relatively speaking, the behind the scenes cost can be substantial.

When I quit my full time normal job to go into business for myself about 15 years ago, I had arranged things in such a way as to pay all of my income tax from my traditional paycheck. I was making about a dollar a week there, take home. It was a nice setup because I didn't need to concern myself with making any estimated tax payments for the business. I was also making approximately twice as much with my side business as I was making at work. Those years that I built my business were used to learn about business itself as well as to get out some of the unexpected kinks. I learned that accountants like to charge a lot of money and a lot of odds and ends caused me to spend on things I had never considered. I also learned that being in business for myself was a huge risk. Anything could happen. I had no organization behind me to absorb catastrophe. I countered that risk by saving my money. And when I say saving, I mean saving. I saved a lot of money through those years and that money gave me the flexibility to make business decisions in an educated manner, rather than one where I would have been under duress. People rarely make good decisions when they're under duress.

Here's the deal. When you operate a small business, yes, you don't have to work for a company any longer. You do need to work for clients though. Instead of one manager telling you what to do, dozens of customers do. You need to please them. You need to be a friendly, charming, and charismatic people person. You need to know how to sell. And photograph. And post-process. And manage. And market. And think. And work, work, work. Say goodbye to watching TV and playing football. I'm serious about this. You'll be working during those times. It's tough being in business for yourself, so that's why I'm making the suggestions I'm making. Actually, a very good idea would be to interview those who are already in the field to get a feel of what they encounter on a daily basis. Ask them what they love and what they hate about their photography business. I'm sure they'll tell you.

If you do decide to make the leap, please let me know your story down below. I love small business and would enjoy chatting about it.
When Should I Start a Photography Business? was posted on 02-08-2020 by JGaulard in the General Photography Talk forum.