by Ron Pybus Published
A new series of articles on the business aspects of being a successful photographer by Ron Pybus MA ASWPP
My cousin, a hairdresser, once said to me "Give me a pair of scissors and I am brilliant, give me a pen and I am rubbish." Give many photographers a camera and the images they produce are stunning, but their businesses fail or just hang on by the skin of their teeth, paying more to the landlord of their premises than they have as take home pay themselves. The reason is often that they have no idea how to run a business effectively. They are brilliant at taking images but have no routine when it comes to administration, they have no business plan and no systems in place. Over 50% of new businesses fail within the first two years, not because of what the owner does, but because of what he does not do.
This will be a series of articles in this magazine, which aims to help the photographer who is struggling to make ends meet or who is just starting in the business, to achieve success. It is not aimed at photographers who see themselves in the upper strata, but for the majority who run a small studio or are thinking of setting up in business and who have never successfully worked for themselves before. It is geared to the one or two man business working from a home based studio or a small high street (or just off high street) studio. It will be very practical and down to earth in its approach and is based on my experience as a former qualified manager.
There is little about taking pictures, but there is a lot about the equally if not more important side of the business - the administration of the operation. An average photographer can make a good living if he has the systems in place to operate effectively. A brilliant photographer will fail if he assumes that everything will happen to make the business a success just because his images are great. This first article covers one stage that is often skipped when starting a business - sorting out exactly what YOU want from the hours you put in.
It is important that you sit down in peace and quiet for an hour or so, uninterrupted, and sort out exactly what you want from the business. You need to be realistic and set targets that you can achieve. We would all like to have customers who look like movie stars, who know how to pose, who buy lots of images in big frames and who pay a lot for those images - and pay immediately. We would all like to shoot just a few sittings per week and earn several thousand pounds from each one - but life is not like that - it is real. Where photographers do command this type of fee, they never state the costs of advertising and the costs of staff and premises to achieve that turnover. They judge their success by the number of noughts on the sales cheque and by the not so subtle comments they make when lecturing to other photographers.
Not many photographers have the funds to set up lavish premises with specialist staff and designer parking spaces for Mercedes, Jaguars, Bentleys etc. If you are in this position there is little point in reading further - these articles are not for you!
What do you want from the business? My answers were very specific when I did this exercise. I wanted to be known for the quality of my work, the fairness of my prices, the speed of supply of images and customers who came back time after time. Also I wanted customers who sell for me. I also only wanted to shoot on three days per week! I wanted to achieve an income that left me without worries and with the ability to have at least ten weeks holiday per year. I also wanted customers to come to me without having to spend a great deal on constant publicity.
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