Some people believe a new year is a perfect time for a new challenge, but turning your dream into reality involves a life-changing decision and you must consider the preparations that are needed before you make such a massive commitment. As a photographer who made the leap around the same time, I found in retrospect that most of the articles offering me advice had only given a glimpse of the reality of becoming a full-time pro and had overlooked many aspects. So I have decided to offer realistic advice to those looking to take the next step, in a new series of business features that describe how to overcome the potential obstacles.
The prospect of being your own boss and choosing your working hours can be very appealing; however, the photography market is oversaturated and to succeed you need to be 110 percent committed. The majority of photographers within the industry are employed on a freelance basis and the reality is that 80 percent of your time will be spent running a business, handling finance and marketing to find new clients. You need to love both photography and the business side to be a key player in this market.
Before you make the leap into self-employment you need to be realistic and begin by planning and addressing how you could make it work for you, because everyone’s situation is different. Business Link, the free business advice and support service, states that “businesses are most vulnerable to failure during the early years of trading, with 20 percent of new businesses folding within their first year and 50 percent within their first three years.” This could be due to various factors, but these are the main points to consider, so you enter the industry with your eyes open.
Never forget the saying ‘Do what you love, love what you do’. A photography business should focus on a target market within the industry and avoid the jack-of-all-trades approach. Starting and then maintaining a business will involve a lot of hard work, especially in an oversaturated market, so you must love and be passionate about the subject you choose to photograph or it will be difficult to get motivated at times. If you are excited and passionate about your business, customers will notice and it will be easier to get them excited, too. Completing the steps to starting your business will also be a more enjoyable experience for you, easing the stress that inevitably comes with it.
Firstly, you should consider carefully what you have to offer the market: whether it is different to your competitors and if it answers a need in your area. The next step is to decide if you are technically ready to offer photography as a service. A photography business relies heavily on word of mouth and reputation, so it is essential you are confident about delivering a consistently high standard. If you are in any doubt you may need to do some brushing up or retraining to gain confidence. The fact of the matter is that if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.
DAY IN, DAY OUT
Self-employment is not for everyone. Of course, it can be rewarding to be your own boss, working the hours you want, but you can also wave goodbye to holiday and sickness pay, and say hello to filing accounts, marketing and the day-to-day running of a business. You need to understand that you will have many daily tasks to complete in addition to doing what you love: photography. If you cannot do them, who will?
Answer this question honestly: can you handle the day-to-day tasks that starting a business requires such as setting appointments, building and maintaining relationships with suppliers, book-keeping, marketing, filing, answering the phone and checking and replying to e-mails? If you plan to get help from your partner, great, or if you can afford to pay someone else to help, all the better. However, a great majority of photography businesses are a one-person operation starting on a shoestring and without a substantial budget to hire help. So if you want to get things done, the chances are you will have to do them yourself.
If you are going to get so stressed about these mundane tasks that there is not enough time to pursue the things you love to make you money, self-employment may not be for you. Starting up can be demanding physically and emotionally, both on you and those around you. Hard work and long hours are inevitable, particularly in the beginning, and this can have a knock-on effect, especially on relationships with family and friends.
Your commitment and perseverance is ultimately what will drive you on to create a successful business. Unfortunately, it will not happen overnight; it is going to take time and energy. The reality of being self-employed depends on many factors, including your attitude and confidence about making your business grow. One thing is for sure, to transform your ideas into reality you need to be honest with yourself and accept that being a photographer is not just about photography, but also about running a business.
It is essential to have entrepreneurial expertise but you must be honest about the level of your own skills. To ensure your business will last, look at the skills, knowledge and experience you have already acquired in order to assess if you could run a successful venture. Firstly, a crucial part of starting up and day-to-day management is finance, which includes having a good grasp of cash-flow planning, credit management and building good relationships with your bank and accountant. There is no guarantee that your business will make money straight away, so you need a backup plan setting out how you will live.
Ideally, you should aim to have sufficient reserves to last you for several months without an income from your business. To do this you need to calculate your basic outgoings and the money you need to survive. It is all too easy to underestimate the total budget so I would advise adding 20 percent to the final figure. If there is not enough in the bank to see you through until the business begins to make a profit, then you are not ready to start up and you must consider how long it will take to save this money before leaving your current job.
Try to cut your current costs in order to make the necessary savings. For the best chance of surviving within a competitive market, nothing should be left to chance or underestimated. Not only will you need to be extremely motivated and determined to get a business off the ground but, unless you are already financially secure, it may be necessary to continue doing a day job until you are ready to make the transition into full-time self-employment.
Being realistic at this stage is likely to save a lot of disappointment in the long run. If you decide to launch your new business without enough funding to cover your living costs, it could be a struggle to keep your business afloat. If outgoings are relatively low, you might consider a part-time job to see you through this period. Although there are many different sources of potential start-up funding, including bank loans, overdrafts and private loans, you will be taking a risk, especially in the present economic climate. Going down this route will add financial pressure and a commitment to repay the money. For some it can be too much and their business folds, leaving them in debt.
Of course, you will not become an expert in Business management overnight, but by evaluating your strengths you will be able to make the most of your assets and take action to overcome your weaknesses. This could include learning new skills or drawing on outside help by delegating, recruiting or outsourcing. The key to success is careful planning and the right timing.
Ultimately, you are the only person who can decide when the time is right and you are truly ready, but deep down you will know.
WORDS OF WISDOM
Be realistic about what you can achieve and the timescale for doing so.
Learn how to handle uncertainty and develop a positive attitude.
Be prepared to take chances and gamble on your ideas.
Learn the key qualities of a typical entrepreneur.
Be determined to complete every task you set yourself, no matter how large or small.
Always keep moving forward.
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