Sunday, May 20, 2012

Making It Big Without A Big Investment

Did you know it's cheaper to start a business than it is to get an MBA?  To top that off, if you invest in a business for 2 years and only break even, you will be better off than someone who has gone to school full time for two years and has to pay back a $30,000 loan for the next 30 years.  Plus, when you work for yourself, no one can fire you and you can create your own pay scale.  This is why I enjoy being an entrepreneur and making my living by doing what I love the most.

Inevitably, the diatribe I get from new photographers is... "but, I can't afford the fancy equipment, the fancy blog, the fancy website, yada yada yada yada."

Who said you needed these things?  Not me.  I certainly didn't have any of those things when I started out.  What did I have?  I had a hand-me-down Olympus OM10, 35mm with manual focus and manual advance.  I just gave people photos as gifts after family gatherings or weddings.  My photos ended up on their walls and on their coffee table, and THAT was how my business started- even before I knew my business was starting.
 I actually didn't set out to become a professional photographer- people just loved my work and asked me if I could work for them.  
I had no website.  All of my images were being posted to Shutterfly galleries (after I finally got a small point & shoot digital camera and learned that labs would scan my film to disc), just so other out-of-state friends and family could see them.  I did headshots for people who wanted to be actors, models, and performers - simply because they were my friends and I had the technical know-how of working a camera with depth of field.  They paid for my film, and my processing, and I even got a little extra to help me upgrade my lenses and buy more batteries.  Eventually I was asked to photograph a wedding and I knew I couldn't photograph a wedding without an auto-focus SLR to get the results I wanted, so I just asked to be paid enough to cover the cost of a 35mm Canon Rebel and an extra flash.  They got all of their images to scrapbook, and I put a few on a basic "dot mac" website, as well as on a free gallery and on a flickr gallery.

That was how I started as a professional photographer- no website, no fancy lab, no fancy gallery, no fancy lenses, no fancy cameras, just whatever I could put together with what I already had.  Of course, that's not how my business or my equipment looks now, but that's what got me to where I am now- where I can own all the professional equipment I want to own, where I can hire people to help me, where I can go to the workshops I want to attend, where I can pick and choose the clients I want to work with, and where I can take vacations and time off when I want to rejuvenate.
The reality is, if people want to pay you for the work you're already doing, with what you already have, than it's a good sign that you have enough talent and skill to earn a living from your craft.
Whether you have the talent and skill to run a business and turn a profit is an entirely different subject, but you most certainly can rely on the economic engine of people wanting to hire you for your talent to be a good judge of whether you can become a professional.  Actually, this is how many entrepreneurs start out- by simply sharing their passion with other people and creating from their heart.  Anytime someone says "I will pay you to do XYZ for me"- it means that you have a talent or skill that is valuable enough and desirable enough for other people to pay for it.  The key to being profitable and making a living from it, is to always spend less money than you make.  If you only make a little but spend even less, than you're creating good business habits that will help you sail easily toward long term success and a great retirement plan.
Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find smarter solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.


  1. The problem I find with the noobs these days is that they think heading down to the Best Buy and buying their camera is the entry gateway to business.

    Then they'll worry about all of the window dressing instead of getting down to the hard work of learning the craft, particularly lighting. I used to do retouch work back in the day for some of the MWCs (moms with cameras) and the stuff was so bad that I couldn't do it anymore - it was eating way too much of my time and I couldn't stand to look at it anymore.

    I know of one guy who got himself so worked up over a business card logo and social media crap that he almost gave himself a stroke. That's such crap. Put your name on a card and be done with it - move on to things that matter.

  2. That's why I encourage only getting into business once someone says they are interested in paying for your work. That's when you know that there will actually be a return on your investment. You can do it the other way around, by starting before the market has demonstrated a demand, but it's going to take more financial investment and business acumen up front. In photography, I find it's better to just do it for passion and not put too much pressure on yourself to learn everything technically before actually trying to make a living from it. There are some amazing amateur photographers out there who will never make their living from photography even after investing decades into their craft. They probably could make a living from it, but it's not important to them. I think in any small business, the best business is one that is built on passion for the craft and for giving people something from your heart.

  3. I couldn't agree with you more Anne. If I didn't have passion for photography, I definitely wouldn't be putting my time and heart into it. I'm a newby, a very slow-starting newby. I'm excited everyday, even if I'm not shooting for money, because I love taking photographs and I love having my own business. Everyday is a learning game, but the good kind. I had no idea how much footwork goes into running your own business and being your own boss. I still haven't quit my day-job, and I don't know that I will anytime soon, but I know that every second I spend on my own business is a step toward that. This blog is part of my everyday inspiration. Thank you, to all of you, who support and write this blog. I wish there were more blogs like yours.

  4. This blog is amazing...this is so real...but yes many of us give us too soon...rather wait for that tag spending thousands thinking we might not get that edge we are looking for... may be not everyone believe in themselves like you did in yourself Anne...And as we know fortune favours the brave... so you were favoured with fortune at the end of the day... :)

  5. Jade - Try defining for yourself how many clients, or how many jobs, or how many requests will be the point at which you decide to make the leap. If you don't define this for yourself, you can wait for the universe to tell you by having your job removed from under you, or by being forced to do something different. However, it will be much less of a shock if you start planning for it now and if you define for yourself, when that time will come.

  6. Madhu - I certainly wouldn't say that I was "favored with fortune". I worked hard and made plenty of mistakes to suggest I was not lucky, but merely determined to create what I wanted. Likewise, there is a lot of risk involved in success. In fact, I would say that the amount of success you have in anything is equal to the amount of risk that you're willing to endure and overcome. If you can become comfortable taking risks without safety nets, you will go farther faster than those who weave their nets first. This is not to say that one should risk everything all the time, but that some comfort with risk is necessary if you plan to follow a dream.

  7. yeah you are right Anne risk is very much required if success has to be achieved...risk along with loads of hard work and patience... :)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...