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Is it a just a pipe dream?
Old 01-08-2006, 03:09 PM   #1 (permalink)
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I was reading through the "Cut the Crap" post over the last two days, and came across one post with several rules (thirty of them I think). One of them said, more or less, if it's a hobby that's fine, but if it's your business you should treat it as such. Good advice, no doubt about it.

So here, once again as the newbie on the block, is the question. How tough is it to hang on this business? Obviously you need to have a certain amount of ability and need to be dedicated to learning your equipment, your techniques, and your market. But assuming that you are reasonably astute at those, and willing to work hard, how tough is it to really make a go?

A friend who shoots for ESPN gave me the push I needed to stop being a recreational photographer, but he was also very honest with me. He travels 35-40 weeks out of the year, and while he makes a reasonable living he is the first to admit that he was blessed to find one of the few lucrative positions that was available.

I love to shoot, and won't stop regardless. But I'm at a crossroads where I'm trying to determine whether I should retain my current stability and remain a serious amateur who might occasionally be paid, or take a leap of faith and really make a hard run at it. Give it to me straight. If you could do it all over again, would you take the same path?
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Re: Is it a just a pipe dream?
Old 01-08-2006, 04:15 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Well, from someone who has been successful, then lost that success... but who intends to be successful again...

It gets down to market and marketing. If you want to do well as a fashion photographer Fondulac, WI... it's going to be REALLY, REALLY hard. If you want to shoot competition aerobatics it's going to be easier. The only businesses that seem good anywhere you go are weddings and portraits.

No matter what, if you want to make money, people have to know you exist and are open for business. That might sound basic, and it is... but nothing matters more. You have to put your name and your work in front of the people who will buy your services as much as you possibly can. It costs money, if your customer is the general public, it can cost lots and lots of money.

Photography as a career is very possible, but you have to work within the parameters of you chosen market. Find a niche, show people how good you are at it, and keep on showing them. Know your market, stay focused on it, develop it and become known as the go-to guy with your particular niche.

Sure, it's a lot of work. Owning a business is a lot of work. No surprise there... but you have to work smart. Hard work doesn't equate with success. If that were true, a lot of very poor souls who work their butts off their whole lives would be wealthy and healthy and a lot of politicians and executives would be paupers.

Any business is like that; knowing and serving your market applies whether you shoot pictures, fix computers or demolish buildings.

I made the mistake of losing my focus and branched into printing and graphic design. It was a grand mistake that cost my life's savings. Now I'm struggling to get my message to my market; I have little in the way of capital to market and promote myself. Don't do that, stay focused; that's 20/20 hindsight.

Good luck,
Chip
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Re: Is it a just a pipe dream?
Old 01-08-2006, 04:39 PM   #3 (permalink)
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When I read this post, I just had to wait on the response. Reason being, I've been asking the same question for the last year. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/confused.gif[/img]
Whatever the market is, I've been finding marketing is key. Yea I'm broke and can't afford it, but I've got a printer that works fine and I've found flyers and talking to people gains business contacts.
In short, the past 4 months I've made a bigger commitment to my business goals as a photographer. I did it once as a horseshoer and I can succeed again as a photographer.
If anyone has ideas for marketing on a no income budget let me know. [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif[/img]
My point is here, you have to have the cahonas to gamble and and not quit when it gets tough. (the mineset anyway)

Thanks Chip for saying what I was feeling but needed to hear from someone else.
[img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/crazy.gif[/img] [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/grin.gif[/img]
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Re: Is it a just a pipe dream?
Old 01-08-2006, 05:58 PM   #4 (permalink)
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okay here is my 2 pennies worth. Only because I just finished or am still going thru the business building process. 1. are you in it for the business or because you like taking pictures? My Mentor told me once that a photographer/artist makes a terrible business man because he only cares about shooting. photography as a business has to be about the business first then the photography. 2.find something that sets you apart from all the other photographers in your area. 3). Money!!!! I dont care what anyone says you need it in order to succeed. You need money to get the right equipment and money for marketing. IF you look like the (GWC as people call it here). How can you expect clients to come pay 2000.00 on a portrait package. and finally findout who needs photographs in your area. (women, kids, realtors, brides etc.) and go after them. you have to be agressive in marketing. and oh yeah one more thing. IF you want to take photographs of nothing but pretty girls, I believe you will starve and go broke. Because unless you are Rolando Gomez or one of the other few lucky souls who have been chosen to make great money shooting the beautiful people, you really wont. Every hot girl out there has about 100 GWC'S willing to give them free pics in order to shoot them or pay crazy amounts in order to shoot them. The every day person is where you will make money. make them look like a model and they will give you there paycheck.
you can succeed! its just not going to be as easy as saying "I'm a photographer" But then again thats just my opinion....
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Re: Is it a just a pipe dream?
Old 01-08-2006, 06:54 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Twenty or so years ago someone asked a working photographer "what is required to be a professional photographer"?. His answer was one I never forgot, he replied "A working wife with a good salary". There are many outstanding photographers who go broke and there are many lousy shooters who drive a Mercedes. The difference is 'business'. Take any course or seminar in running a business that you can find, any business. Study promotion and marketing along with successful sales techniques and accounting. Learn to make a business plan and to stick to it. Having a business 'sense' is in some ways more important than photographic ability.

My own studio (retired!) handled commercial and illustrative (editorial) work, PR and portraiture. Fortunately Atlanta is serious market for all of those, with many publications being based here, a large and relatively afluent population, as well as headquarters for many corporations. I don't know about your area or what area of photography you are targeting, but if you are considering commercial/editorial learn to cold call, learn to get past receptionists whose job is to keep you away from her boss. Without the ability to do low pressure sales, it just won't happen. Study a couple of book on sales by Zig Zeigler, there are excellent.

Learn the different forms of advertising. When I began, I spent way too much money on high quality advertising. I kept running into people who said "Oh I know who you are, I see your ads all over the place". But clients didn't come in. I learned later I was doing what is called corporate identity ads, my name became known, but no business. Later a and rep said Add "10% discount with theis ad", I built it and they came! That's the sort of subtle knowledge you will need. If you don't have that sort of knowledge, then hire someone who does.

If you are able to break even in a year, you will be doing well. It's more likely to take a good two years to see a profit. That takes up back to the working wife! It's a tough way to make a living, but it's also wonderful.

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