Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Best Way to Start A Photography Business

Pick Up the Ball - And RUN with it

Interesting juxtaposition of events and issues today. I went back to a small town, where I once lived, for coffee with a good friend - in a café a few yards away from a building in which I had run a business (a music shop), for four years. Just as the business was bordering on profitability, the lease on the premises was revoked. I lost €35000 in retail value stock (I gave some away to schools and other worthy causes - and sold some at cost on eBay) not to mention probably losing about 3 years of my life from the stress.

My good friend was talking about starting a new business of his own. Naturally, he had mixed feelings about it, including excitement and trepidation. But, I was quite sure of my view on the matter. If you're excited, and passionate about it (which he definitely is) and have some knowledge and skill in your chosen area (which he definitely does) PLUS, you have assessed the risks and still think it's doable - Start the business!

My position is based on my own experiences of starting risky businesses - including Irish music - which I knew nothing about when I began (but on which topic I'm now a virtual expert) - and, of course, freelance photography. You'll never know what will happen, and you might not forgive yourself for not trying. What can you afford to risk to start the venture? Then risk that.

I also have a long background in practicing and teaching counselling psychology - and I have met too many people who are waiting until they are sure that all the conditions are in perfect order, before they proceed to do anything. This could be getting married; getting divorced; leaving their partner; having children; changing jobs; starting a new career; ending an old one - or whatever. Most of those people are probably still waiting, because the conditions are never perfect, the time is never really right - to do anything. Sometimes it's really wrong, but that's not the same thing.

Usually, the best time to start a new venture is when most of the conditions seem right. Waiting for all of the pieces to fall into place is like Waiting for Godot (he never arrives - and some scholars think that Samuel Beckett derived the name Godot from an old French word for life).

On the way out of the café we bumped into an old counselling student of mine, who is now the owner of an art gallery housed in - you guessed it - the building from which my business was evicted. After some coaxing, we went in (remember; I hadn't crossed that threshold in more than 4 years, and I never thought I would again) to meet Artist Geraldine O'Riordan who was preparing for a forthcoming exhibition. Her excitement and passion for her work was palpable - and her work is stunning. Quite bizarrely, it turned out that in a former life Geraldine was a interior designer and had decorated the house in which I now live. Ain't life strange.

I was encouraged to hear that Geraldine had a very similar view to my own on the matter of starting a new career, namely: if you have the drive and passion, go for it, life is too short to miss your opportunity to start. That was good to hear. I also discovered that laying ghosts is a bit like starting out on a new career path - you just have to DO it. The conditions to cross the threshold will never be perfect - and the reality is probably not going to be as bad as the fantasy.

Later, I read a post on a photography forum saying: " Can anyone recommend any good resources (e.g. books and web sites) that cover the business side of photography?"

So, I thought I'd offer my "Complete Beginner's Guide to Starting a Photography Business." It's all you need to know (assuming you can take a salable photograph and are able to keep your accounts in order - or at worst, can afford to employ an accountant).

Q. When is the best time for me to start a new photography business?

A. Now.

Q. When will the conditions be perfect to ensure a good outcome?

A. Never.

Q. How will I know if I am making the right decision to start a photography (or any other business)?

A. You won't, at least not at the start. But, with time, you may come to believe that you did make the right choice - and that's all that counts.

Q. What do I do if I start a business and it fails.

A. Start again. (But only if your If you're heart is really in it - and you have the passion and belief in yourself).


  1. That's a brilliant post Stephen and it’s very apt to my current situation (kind of).

    I agree with you whole-heartedly and even in these "uncertain" times I think its import to be confident in your chosen field, but ultimately, I think confidence is king.

    As a current business owner, I am trying to steer my ship in a slightly different direction, but the principles of your post still apply.



  2. Great post. Thanks for sharing your experience and advice.


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