The Photographer's Dilemma: Studio or No Studio?

The Photographer's Dilemma: Studio or No Studio?

Having a studio is an end-all-be-all goal for many photographers. We spend hours daydreaming about our imaginary studio the way that some girls dream of Mr. Right. Securing the coveted studio space, to a degree, symbolizes that you have arrived in some form or another, to some level or another. It's so nice to say "Yes, I am a photographer [pause, for effect] and I have a studio in town. No longer do you need to explain that you are working out of a corner in your guest room and that your dining room table is used for packaging, and your husband's garage storage closet is actually used to house props and blankets. You can put your groceries in the cargo space in your car, because finally your gear has a home of its own. Isn't that wonderful?  Yes. And No. Securing a studio is a BIG responsibility. And while it can drastically improve your business and elevate you to the next level of success, taking that next step is something that should be examined with the sincerity of any other significant decision in your life.  While sometimes it is so easy to jump on a “fantastic” opportunity (and sometimes it really IS fantastic), oftentimes excitement outweighs common sense and you can put yourself in a precarious financial position, or worse, do damage to the brand and business you are working so hard to build. There are some very big picture questions you should ask yourself well in advance of “the fantastic opportunity” so that you are prepared when the moment arises. Having these answers will allow you to turn away opportunities that don't make sense, and act quickly -- and thoughtfully! -- when they do!

What are your location goals:

• Is the location somewhere that is convenient to me (and does that matter?)?

• Will you be located near or away from your target market? Will this matter to you?

• Will you have visibility and foot traffic or will you be more private?

• What are the other businesses that will be near you? Will they be a draw, detraction or neutral?

What are your service goals?

• Will you shoot all types or just some sessions in your space?

• Will you offer walk-in services?

• Will you offer regular hours or by appointment only?

• Will you provide in person consultations and/or in person ordering?

• Will you offer an expanded product line (i.e. framing, etc.)?

• Will you work, shoot or sell or a combination of all three in your space?

• Will you be able to add in extra hours for studio management and upkeep?

What are your style goals?

• Will your style remain the same for studio sessions?

• Will your space allow you to shoot as you shoot now, or will you have to make modifications (i.e. augment natural light with flash, strobes, etc.)?

• How much equipment and furnishings will you need to purchase in order to create the environment you envision?

What will this do to your competitive and business position?

• By adding in studio space, how will you measure in comparison to your competition?

• What competitive advantage will studio space provide you with?

And even more important... what are the numbers?

Start Up Expenses:

• Lease expenses (first, last, security)

• Build-out expenses (paint, flooring, walls, electrical and HVAC modifications)

• Furnishings (working - desk, chairs, shelving, rugs)

• Studio Samples

• Props/Blankets/Backdrops/Benches, etc.

• Equipment (stands, lighting, etc).

• Signage

• Misc. (coffee maker, refrigerator, dishes, utensils, etc.)

On Going Expenses

• Rent

• Utilities

• Periodic refresh of above items

• Additional expenses (childcare, parking, maintenance fees, food and beverages, etc.)

• Insurance

With those numbers in mind:

• Can you afford your studio as is today?

• Will you need to increase your overall revenue in order to afford your studio?

• How many sessions, at your current session average, will you need to shoot to cover your monthly studio expenses?

• Are you able to handle the expenses while you ramp up your plan?

• What does your accountant/CPA think?

Inevitably, most successful portrait and wedding photographers move into some form of studio space, whether it be an outpost at their home, a selling and client meeting boutique or full blown shooting and full service studio. Doing so allows you to create a separation of your personal life with your business and can elevate your overall level of professionalism. And no doubt some people make the best decisions when they are spontaneous and not over-thought. But meeting an exciting opportunity with preparation and readiness, rather than relying on luck, will help you translate this next step into a successful business decision. Not sure where to start with finances, costs and profits? Design Aglow has created another exceptional educational tool that will cover the groundwork of basic business finance and budgets, provide you with Best Practices thinking to set up budgets for cost recovery, calculating your time and paycheck and pricing to support your brand strategy. In addition, we have provided you with three ready-to-use price lists that you can put into place today to immediately achieve profitable sales. Finally, of course, we have our industry experts weigh in with their thoughts and experiences to place everything into a perspective you will understand. Click here to check out The Essential Pricing Guide for Portrait Photographers.

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