Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A fool and their money are soon parted

The best bit of advice given to me by my father was that if it costs money, it's not going to return anything on the money spent. It's so true and something that I have seen so many times in my life. Look at the internet as a classic example - it's possible to spend thousands on domain names especially if they're held by domain squatters. It's possible to spend thousands on some toe-rag SEO "guru". It's possible to spend thousands more on "getting listed" on search engines nobody has ever heard of nor uses. It's possible to spend thousands on fancy shopping carts and online stores for websites and thousands on web design. Stop! It's all a load of baloney.

For the small businessman, a website is a hindrance rather than an asset. A website costs money to maintain and work. It cuts off personal contact with potential clients. If a prospect will not meet to see your catalog then that prospect is a waste of time and is never going to buy your product or service. If they're not going to talk to you then you have no opportunity to offer a better deal than a competitor nor the opportunity to customize a solution that suits their needs. For most small businessmen, dealing with people out of the area is nonsensical. A caller from Nairobi wanting somebody to fix their plumbing and you happen to be a plumber in Tijuana - you're not going to fly to Nairobi to do their plumbing. It doesn't make sense! Plumbers in Nairobi are going to be far cheaper. The same for photographers - all photographers can take pretty much the same kinds of photographs. These days the only difference is post processing which can be hived off cheaply to somebody in India before the final printing is done based on price at a lab somewhere in the US.

Websites only really work for niche businesses or for big businesses. For small businesses, they're largely a complete waste of time and money. The total annual cost for my small business for the website ran to something like $70 a year for the web-space, $20 a year for the domain name and then a constant internet connection in order to update the blessed thing of $55 a month. Grand total $750 and that's without paying for toe-rags to do the SEO etc.

What does work for a small business is networking. Chamber of Commerce memberships are largely very dependent upon the chamber. They can range from chambers that actively help newer members to grow and blossom to chambers where new members are shunned. It pays to investigate Chambers before paying any money to join. Generally, they're not worth the membership for small businesses, even though some of the membership fee can be deducted from taxes.

Remember in business generally only 20% of expenses can be tax deducted. This is why so many business tax returns are full of such complete nonsense. A spouse being brought on a business trip. Read "20% deduction off a holiday". Many new businessmen don't realize this and thus their deductions aren't as good as they thought. Deductions are a sweetner from the tax department. That's all they are. It's still important to get good value and to shepherd money wisely. I've seen some abysmal money management in the past by businessmen.

If there's a piece of equipment that is not owned that might be needed for a job, the best thing is not to buy the blessed thing. Photographers are particularly bad for buying everything they can find to buy and for going in for needless upgrades to their equipment. As stated before in The Great Digital Scam, upgrades are usually utterly worthless and don't represent a greater increase in anything bar expenditure. If you've managed thus far without the equipment then sure as eggs are eggs, you can manage longer without it. The next question is how often a piece of equipment will be used. If it's not very often then it's not worth buying. Certainly if the income from it is several times greater than the expenditure then it might be worth renting something seldom used but that's debatable and it is probably not worth even renting. Better to focus on jobs that can be accomplished with existing equipment and just to pass on jobs that need new equipment and need the operations of new equipment to be learned.

Perhaps the biggest waste of money is when a fool listens to somebody else for their opinion on how much to spend and what to buy for a business. The worst friends one can have are those that will advise on how to spend money. The best friends are those who urge not to spend money and how to achieve the goals in a more cost effective manner. We have all had friends that have urged us to buy things because they think it's a good idea. Let's look more at that. If somebody is dead set on being a photographer then quite reasonably somebody might urge them to get backups in case their equipment fails. As a minimum many will urge new photographers to have two batteries for their camera and two cameras plus alternate lenses in case one gets dropped and broken. Hold up there - that's a lot of money!

Somebody starting out as a photographer with no specific goal might reasonably say that they want to produce the best quality images and if they're looking at Canon equipment might look at the following:
  • EOS 1DX 18MP @ $6,799 (two of them - just in case so $13,598
  • EF 16-35L lens to cover the wide to mid range photos - handy for small rooms with lots of people. $1,699
  • EF 10-22 Lens to cover ultra-wide to wide - handy for those even smaller spaces $649
  • EF 24-70L to cover a standard range - handy for general portraits $1,499
  • EF 70-200L f2.8 to cover a longer range - handy for long shots down the aisle $2,499
  • EF 100-400 Just in case you need to do longer distances $1,699
  • EF 55-250 Backup in case something happens to one of the L lenses for a range not covered $299
  • 2 spare batteries for the cameras @ $170 each.
Now the grand total for that (and it does not include extras like lens hoods nor a camera bag nor even UV or Polarizing filters) is an eye-watering $22,282 before any bookings have been made and before the photographer has even practiced with the equipment to recognize its strengths and work arounds for the weaknesses.

It's all pretty reasonable to want to do the best but is there a cheaper way? Certainly there is a cheaper way - a far cheaper way. Buying brand new Canon gear still, that whole lot could be replaced by one lens and one body.
  • EOS 60D $900
  • EF 18-135 $699
Even so - that's still a quite massive $1,599 before any work has been done or money earned. Surely it's possible to go cheaper? Why yes it is and quite well too. It's just a matter of switching brands.

Right here and now I will say that my experience of Pentax has been poor. Having said that, if it's treated gently there's no reason why it should not last at least a few months. Thus, the equivalent to the Canon solution in Pentax:
  • K50 $496
  • Tamron 18-200 $199
That is a solution that will cost $695. To be blunt, that's even too expensive for the amount of income somebody is liable to get from photography given that there are hundreds of others who have more of a network, more business credibility, more experience, a better eye, a better eye for the market and who have partners willing to support them while their business flounders.

The big killer with photography is the photographer that does not need to make a living off photography. They can do it far cheaper because they don't need to make a living. This is one of the many reasons why only a fool will buy into the idea that photography will make money. It's an alluring idea that soon parts such fools from $22K.

The moral of the story - enjoy your photography. Have fun with your photography. Then it doesn't matter if people don't like your work. Who cares? The chance of making money from it is nill. Just buy the cheapest you can buy and make it work for you.

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