Thursday, May 22, 2014

eBook review: Starting a Photography Business

Photoshelter has another book available for free download. It's available in PDF format which uploads nicely to Google Play Books for viewing on an Android tablet. As the book is in letterbox format, some panning and scanning has to be done to read it - particularly on a 7 inch tablet. It's quite a short book being just 19 pages; more of a booklet really but it does highlight interesting issues regarding starting a photography business. All of Photoshelter's publications are props to photoshelter's service which is to sell websites to photographers. Thus they will be heavy on the how to do things and very light on difficult issues because Photoshelter, not surprisingly want people to take up photography and to use their services.
The book starts, promisingly enough with a pleasant blue & white cover stating that it contains advice from experts and recent college photographers of the year. This is probably where most people would stop reading because immediately "college photographer of the year" conjure up images of disheveled, unkempt students trying to take a picture with an old and battered camera in one hand while trying to talk on a cellphone and smoke a marijuana cigarette all at the same time. The interviews with the photographers are actually quite good reading however.

There is a section on writing a business plan which looks promising until it becomes obvious that there's no explanation given as to why a business plan is important. There are examples of what might be included in a business plan that make some sense but there's no mention at all of market research which should be the critically important issue for any business. There is no point in anybody starting a business without knowing whether their product will sell. Certainly big corporations can buck the trend and produce a new gadget that nobody has any use for and then persuade everybody that they really need it as Apple did with the iPad. All that's covered in the marketing paragraph is that it's important to identify who the business is going to serve and how to reach them.

How does a photographer reach a market? What is the market for photographers? Who is likely to buy photography? It is certain that after reading these questions, there will be a lot of head scratching before weddings will come to mind as a desperate attempt to produce some form of answer. What competition is out there for photographers? This is another question not answered. Is it even possible to ascertain the number of photographers out there willing to cover a wedding? Quickly checking Craigslist for Columbia, South Carolina came up with around 40 advertisers. The White Pages came up with 43, a Google search came up with 1 million results. The Chamber of Commerce for Columbia had about six photographers listed. The Chamber of Commerce for Lexington had 14 listed. It can be hard to ascertain competition from an internet search. Hard questions have to be asked and real research done which the book does not even mention.

Perhaps the biggest clanger that the book drops is about creating a business entity. Certainly mention is made of creating a limited liability company to protect the photographer from too much liability. Mention is made of insurance too. The book does not mention that in many jurisdictions it is possible to do business as a photographer without actually having a business entity. Indeed, rather than going to the expense of setting up a business entity, it would seem to make more sense to try the water first doing photography as a hobby job before throwing money into creating an official entity.

The best sentence in the whole book states that many photographers fall in love with buying equipment to cover every eventuality. As stated in A fool and their money are soon parted, covering every eventuality is expensive. In the earlier article, the cost of covering most situations without mentioning add-ons like flashes etc, the cost could well exceed $25,000. After that, the statements become a little debatable. One statement alludes to photographers spending $10,000 to $15,000 every two to three years on equipment. That works out at $5,000 a year or $416 a month. This just seems a ludicrous amount. The only assumption that can be made here is that equipment that's not needed is being purchased as a tax write-off and then sold on the black market.

Advice is given on not using credit to purchase equipment and to use existing equipment instead. This is really sound advice. Credit is largely why economies around the world virtually collapsed in 2007. Perhaps the best advice on credit is never to buy anything that cannot be paid for using a debit card.

The section on taxes is well meant but generally not that useful. It's helpful to keep a journal of expenses together with receipts. The book does not mention that so many tax "claims" can be fraudulent, preferring to mention solely to mention mileage as a potential area for fraud. For small businessmen, the accounts usually are riddled with suspect claims - wining and dining potential clients that are actually friends and family and business trips that are actually holidays. The book does mention that the IRS does audit people from time to time.

Setting rates and booking clients is an interesting section though it seems more written as protectionism for local photographers. Dire warnings are made over underpricing work. The fact is though that many photographers these days will be very happy to photograph an entire wedding for $150 and just to slip the images onto a USB memory stick. Given that weddings last about an hour and the photographs are usually done after the wedding, that's not bad pay for a couple of hours work and even includes fuel and the memory stick. The whole section on setting rates just sounds so wrong and smacks more of protectionism than free market economics. Oddly enough despite the title that includes the words "booking clients" no mention seems to be made of booking clients.

The next two sections about insurance and getting an agent just represent desperation on the part of the author to find something to fill space. The biggest reason for insurance which is coverage against 3rd party claims is totally missing. The agent section speaks solely of top photographers or the 1% that can actually make a profit out of photography and that's just plain baffling because the book is not aimed at photographers that are anywhere near the top. The book is aimed at photographers that aren't even trying to do business as photographers yet.

The remainder of the book consists largely of interviews with college photographers. As might be expected, only college photographers that can claim to be in some small way successful are interviewed. The vast majority who aren't have not been interviewed and are thus conspicuous by their absence.

The last page is an advert by Photoshelter. Hardly surprising since this is a publication by Photoshelter. Generally the publication read like an advert. Issues that needed more in-depth analysis were glossed over, problems were mentioned and more emphasis placed on success. The book has been designed to enthuse people into taking up photography as a business and to take on Photoshelter as their photo hosting service. This is not a book that it's possible to recommend as being in any way good.

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