Work from home or get a studio for your photography business?
Two weeks ago, a local photographer asked me to meet him for a coffee to ask my opinion on some big business decisions he was facing. The main question he wanted me to address was whether or not I thought it was a good idea for him to get a studio space.
That made me want to ask him just one question. “Why do you think you need a studio space”?
Before you get a commercial studio space, ask yourself “why” first.
Of course I had many more questions that I was ready to pepper him with, such as “do you think you can afford studio space?”
He like many photographers that get started was working from his home and like so many photographers he was finding out that it can often be inconvenient. He mentioned he was shooting wine bottles in his dining room ( that’s a tip off that he’s a commercial photographer) and tripped on a cord and spilled wine everywhere. That was his breaking point where he figured he should get a studio. I pointed out that he could just as easily make a mess like that in a commercial space, but I think he thought I was missing the point. He wanted, … needed a space to work from.
My history in studio spaces
I get it, I really do, you see back in 1982 that was me, fresh out of photo college and I figured that to be taken seriously I needed a photo studio. Partly because all the real photographers in town had a studio and partly because I thought it would be really cool to have a studio address on my business cards.
Keep in mind that when I got that first space, I had a partner and we shared all expenses, I was still living at my parent’s house, I was single and still worked full time at another job. So the $385 a month (all utilities included) was pretty easy for two guys sharing space. From there over the years I have had much larger studios costing me upwards of $1600 month just for the space. Today I enjoy having a dual zoned home with attached studio. The business space is just under 1000 square feet and is dedicated business space.
But enough about my situation, what about you?
Pros and Cons of both
Consider first – what works for you?
Today there are so many photographers working from home it’s becoming the norm, so what’s the best way to go these days? Home or commercial space?
Too often photographers jump into getting a space before they have the consistent monthly revenues that can justify such a decision.
I’d say it depends on your goals. Will your business be a full time or part time venture? Would you consider employees in the future? What kind of volume of business are you planning for? What kind of business hours do you want?
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These and many other factors would need to be considered when deciding on taking the leap to a commercial space. Let’s take a quick look at some pros and cons of both the home business and the retail business.
Home Studio – Pros
- No commute expenses
- Less overhead
- Shared facilities
- Free parking
- Work by appointment
Home Studio – Cons
- Lack of storage for equipment, backgrounds & props
- Need to share space work/personal
- Personal clutter
- Lingering cooking smells
- Lack of space
- Low ceilings
- Difficulty separating home from work
- Pets or children noise
- Lack of credibility
Retail Studio – Pros
- Larger dedicated space
- Credible storefront
- Separates business finances and expenses from personal
- Helps keep work at work and separates personal time from work
- Likely more storage
- Better display opportunities
Retail Studio – Cons
- Usually requires set business hours
- More expensive/ higher overheads
- Requires extra insurance, alarms, cleaning and maintenance
- Extra miscellaneous costs involved; signage, display prints, furniture, appliances
These lists are by no means exhaustive but you get the idea. The takeaway is this, the main con of having an external business space is the extra monthly expense that retail space brings with it. Each month you must make a certain amount of money just to pay for the space and your costs of sales before one thin dime can make it’s way into your pocket.
Wait until you're ready
Too often photographers jump into getting a space before they have the consistent monthly revenues that can justify such a decision. Obviously you can attract a higher end clientele if you meet with them in a beautifully furnished showroom of your photography than if you meet them in a coffee shop, but you must already have the regular income to afford getting that space. That might mean keeping a full time job and doing your photography on weekends and evenings until your photography business is squeezing your available time so much that keeping the full time job seems impossible. But remember that leaving a job with steady paycheques and benefits is a big risk!
What I’m saying then is to be patient and plan each goal so that decisions you make going forward are in line with your earnings. Debt, large overheads, and inconsistent cash flow have been the killer of many a passionate photographer’s dreams.
I would suggest being analytical about whatever workspace you currently use and look for ways to make it better. More space efficient, less cluttered, better decorated, are some areas to consider. Make a list of the things that you enjoy about your workspace and a list of what bothers you. Try to come up with solutions for the negative aspects of the space and once implemented, give it some time and then revaluate to see if it works better now.
Be creative in how your space is utilized. I am always amazed when shopping at Ikea how they make such small room spaces look so well organized and uncluttered.
Be creative in how your space is utilized. I am always amazed when shopping at Ikea how they make such small room spaces look so well organized and uncluttered. There is a place for everything and everything is in it’s place. This approach can work in our photography workspaces too. Our shooting space could also be our packaging space with the addition of a folding table and if we separate shooting appointments from packaging times where we box, wrap and bag all the outgoing client work in one session, then we are using our space in a more efficient manner.
Keep a dedicated place for all your photo gear, office supplies, and packaging supplies so that you can always find what you need. Put time aside each month to get rid of anything that accumulates that you don’t need to keep. A studio cleansing is always a good feeling for me. I feel like I have opened up new space each time I do it. Old backgrounds, shipping boxes, and shredded files make their way to the curb.
No matter what size space you have it will never be big enough if you keep a bunch of things you don’t need. Declutter weekly, dust and clean regularly and you will find that your workplace is a more enjoyable place to be.
Remember a big studio costs you more, takes longer to clean, and you must have the annual revenue to justify it. It can also be a fantastic and rewarding workspace that inspires you to create your best work. A smaller at home business space can be just as rewarding if you follow some of the ideas above and realize that the choice of a home studio generally means more money in your pocket each month. It can also provide clients with an environment that feels more like their own home and as a result they may be more relaxed for sessions and sales meetings.
What to do next?
1. Evaluate where you’re at now.
2. What are the pros and cons of your workspace?
3. What can you do to make positive changes?
4. Make goals regarding your workspace, either a better layout, more upscale furniture, better wall displays, more comfortable for clients etc.
5. If you think a separate studio outside the home is a goal, plan carefully for that transition,make financial forecasts based on present earnings and figure out what additional sales would be required to pay for the higher cost of space. Plan a time frame for the move and draw up a list of requirements for the new space. i.e ground floor, 10foot ceilings, parking, dressing room/washroom etc.
6. Talk with your accountant and get their advice before making any major business decision such as expansion or moving to a new space.