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If you want to make money with your photography business, the easiest way to start is by saving money on expenses. Cutting back on spending may not be glamorous (actually, it definitely isn’t), but saving money means a fat paycheck at the end of the day for you – the business owner, and that’s pretty fantastic in my book. So if you’re ready to start treating your photography business like an income producing machine, read on to find ways to minimize what comes out of your pocket.

Stay Out Of Debt
Avoid debt like the plague. Both personal debt and business debt make interest work against you, when you should be using it to your benefit. If you can’t see any way to avoid going in debt, you may have started your business too soon. There are definitely advantages to being a part time photographer, and staying out of debt is a big one. It’s not impossible to run a studio with debt, but it definitely stacks the cards against your success.

Network Before Advertising
Advertising is expensive. It’s not only expensive in terms of running a few commercials, it’s expensive in the return you get on your investment. If you haven’t read Guerrilla Marketing, you can stop thinking about saving money for just a minute and spend $10 for a wealth of great information. One of the points the book brings up is how many times a regular consumer has to be exposed to an advertisement before the message sinks in. I don’t want to spoil the book for you, but I’m going to let you in on one of the secrets in the book – the number of exposures before purchase is pretty high. Directly talking to potential customers and referral sources is free, and it’s usually more effective than mass marketing. Networking usually has a much higher return on investment than throwing money at the media.

Create Your Own Website
If you have some talent and time, but you’re low on cash, make your own website. Even if you’ve got no talent in web design, there are quite a few free or low-cost templates out there. I do need to let you know though, that as soon as you start to book sessions and bring in money, I’d definitely look into having a professional design your website. I’ve got a buddy who runs his own web design company, and I’d recommend that you put him at the top of your list when you start looking around for a web designer.

Do Your Own SEO
I know, I’m throwing acronyms around like it ain’t nobody’s business. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it means getting your website to show up higher in the search results for Google. We get probably close to 1/3 of our new business from search engines, so it’s definitely worth the effort. You can expect articles on SEO for photographers in future blog content, so subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Don’t Rent Retail Space
Getting a retail studio doesn’t mean that you’re going to be a more legitimate photographer. It just means you’re going to be scraping by at the end of the month. Not only do you have to pay for rent, you have to pay for additional utilities, upkeep, etc. I know a home studio isn’t an option for everyone because of zoning restrictions and limitations of your location, but if it’s doable, it will save you big money. You may be hesitant to try a home studio, but if you’re going to save a few thousand dollars a month by avoiding retail, I’d say it’s definitely worth a shot.

Shoot On-Location
An alternative to having your studio based out of your home is to shoot on-location. If you decide to go this route, don’t think of your on-location shooting choice as a limitation. Sell it as a benefit – ie we want to make our photography as convenient for you as possible, so we’ll meet you at your home or at a place you’re familiar with. Plus, you can do some pretty amazing locations that retail studios don’t get to do much because they’re usually tied down to one location.

Hold Off On Big Purchases
If you don’t absolutely need to purchase big-ticket items, wait until you have the need. I’m not talking about bad planning. Obviously you can’t shoot a wedding without a camera and lenses. You can, however, shoot a wedding without a prime lens for every focal length. If you’re just starting out, you won’t need all the same software as a big studio. Find free or low-cost alternatives to start out. I remember we started out with the calendar and financial software built in to our phone until we got too busy for this to be practical. I wish we had known about Studio Cloud’s Free Studio Management Software, but we didn’t at the time.

Hire Professionals When Needed
Sometimes, saving money is really throwing money away. I know for the first few years we were in business, I did our taxes on my own. Who needs accountants anyway? After we finally broke down and got an accountant to do our taxes one year, I found out that skipping an accountant isn’t always the best move. We missed out on big deductions when I did our taxes myself. In fact, we would have come out with more money in the end even after hiring an accountant. Ok, so I’m not such a genius, but that’s not news to you anyway. Also, don’t forget about lawyers. They may charge a few hundred dollars on the front end, but they could be saving you thousands of dollars and headaches in the long run.

Don’t Hire Employees
I think we all wish we had employees to do the work we’d rather not do for our business. Unfortunately, if you do decide to get a full-time employee, you’re probably going to waive goodbye to 100K after salary, healthcare, taxes, etc. If you’ve got the work to justify the employee, by all means, bring somebody on. If you can handle the work on your own, though, I’d definitely recommend holding out for as long as you can.

Join PPA
Doesn’t joining PPA cost money? Yep, yearly membership dues. So how can you save money by joining PPA? They’ve got partnering businesses that give amazing discounts to members. The Office Depot discount is one of my favorite. I’m pretty sure the discounts we get at Office Depot alone pays for our PPA membership. Plus, PPA gives plenty of educational material if you’re willing to invest the time to learn.

Wrapping Up
So I’m sure that for every suggestion I have, there will be photographers with differing opinions. I’ve got no problem with that – in fact, I’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment. Even with all the different opinions on how to save money, I think most seasoned photography business owners agree that the bottom line for saving money is that we have to look for ways to practice delayed gratification and to carefully watch where the money is going.

Did I miss any big money-saving techniques that you use? Have you found that saving money has made a big difference for your studio’s bottom line?

10 Responses to “Make Money With Photography By Cutting Costs”

  1. Sire says:

    I’ve had a couple of businesses and both time I had to go into debt, once it was quite sizable. The thing was they were established and I was able to use their past earnings to see whether or not it would support the loan as well as make enough to support myself and my family.

    Starting out on a new business is quite different as you have no idea what your earnings will be or even when it will start coming in.

    As a photographer I suppose it would be easy enough to set a part of your home apart as a studio and a place to entertain prospective customers. Once things take off you could even purchase another home that could be your actual studio, the real estate itself being a nice investment.

    • TJ says:

      I’d say it makes more sense to go into debt if you know that you’ve got a steady income stream that justifies the debt. For a startup, I think it’s a pretty risky move for sure – businesses always seem to take longer to get started than what you think they will. You just never know when the business will get to the point of breaking even.

      I’d say even if you had to meet at a local coffee shop, you’d still be better off than investing big money that you don’t have into retail space.

  2. Alex says:

    Network before advertising and do your own SEO. Now they are two tips that I can relate to – definitely a good article for any business really.

    • TJ says:

      Hey, hey! Great to hear from you on my blog! Yea, your site is actually a pretty great example of both SEO and networking. If you guys get the chance, go visit Alex’s site to see some of these principles in action.

  3. Very nice article TJ. My husband and I had a virtual tour photography business at one time. I wish I had read this before we started.

    I do have one word of caution for photographers who want to build their own website. Beware of “website builders”. Lots of website hosting companies let you use their software to build your site for free in exchange for hosting with them.

    The problem is that you are using their software which means that you don’t really own your “site”. You own your domain name but should you need to move your site (they may go out of business or fail to deliver good service), you don’t have a website to move. If you go to a new vendor, you have to build your site again.

    • TJ says:

      Hey, hey! familiar face, different place! Great to see you. You’ve offered some great advice with making sure you have the code for your own website. My recommendation would be to try to start off with your own html (may not look the greatest, but you’ll learn a lot, and you can make it look pretty as you get a little further). If you don’t feel comfortable with that, maybe you can find somebody on Craigslist and give them a shot. You’ll still end up saving quite a bit with a Craigslist guy if you look around. Thanks again for the visit and comment!

      PS – curious about what ended up happening with your virtual tour photography business.

  4. Maybe I will end up getting set up with PPA! Thanks for all the advice!

    • TJ says:

      I think you’ll find that it’s worth the investment. At least for us it is. Let me know how it ends up working out for you.

  5. Photography is just like any other business, it is important to reduce costs in order to stay profitable. Building your reputation is a great way gain clients without spending a lot of money. And, if you are going to advertise, make sure it is very targeted to your market. It’s not wise to blanket an entire city with advertisements, because this can be costly. If you are a wedding photographer, try to get a list of all of couples that will be getting married in the near future. Or, market to people that are friends of people you’ve done work for in the past. Send these potential clients brochures, flyers, or postcards with photos of past work. . Also, pass out business cards to people you meet or to prospective clients. Highly targeted promotions can cost very little and have a very positive return for your business.

    • TJ McDowell says:

      Good points my friend! If you’re marketing to everybody, you’re probably wasting your money. Market to somebody, and at least you’ll have a chance.