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Thursday, 13 February 2014

Professional Photographer Column: September 2013

CROSSING THE LINE:
WHEN A HOBBY BECOMES A BUSINESS



Rewinding to 2009 I was having a fairly regular conversation with people that went something like this;

Well-meaning Friend: Wow, you are really good at photography.
Me: You think so? Thanks!
Well-meaning Friend. Yes, I really do. You have real talent. I mean, really, you could make a living at this. People would pay you for these pictures.
Me: Hmm. Maybe that’s a good idea. Maybe I should set up a business…
These conversations were fairly regular because I didn’t go anywhere without my camera at this point in my life.  I was in those first throes of a passionate affair with making pictures and also in love with the thought that I could make money from something I enjoyed doing SO much.  I took the image above in August 2009 for fun and to ‘have a go’ at using fill flash.

Fast forward to 2013 and this month has seen me draw a very distinct line between what was once a hobby and is now a business.  That is an easy sentence to write but not so straightforward to accept as the next (necessary) step in my journey.

I know with absolute certainty that many of you reading this column will be having the conversation above with well meaning friends and questioning if you can do the thing you love and bring in some money?

I am evidence that it is possible to live the dream although here are some gentle warnings about the reality of it.

Building a business on your own as an entrepreneur is going to mean you will have less time to do your hobby than you did before.  This may sound strange because I actually spend a lot more time shooting now then 4 years ago.  However, the reality is that these days I spend almost no time creating images for me.

What was once a creative outlet and stress reliever for me has turned into a stress trigger.  Not so much the taking pictures part but running a business, having so many stakeholders that rely on peak performance from me in terms of health, energy and creativity on a daily basis.

If, like me, you were always an employee you will need to adjust to the life of a freelancer.  It is hard to forecast, hard to turn work down and hard to switch off and have quality down time.  I am a very self disciplined individual – if you are not think very, very carefully about this one.

You will have to do shoots that you have very little interest in creatively.  Be under no illusion that all of my portrait shoots are with beautiful, designer clad, children running along beaches in the golden hour.  Hell no.  But I put the same energy into shoots that don’t inspire me and remind myself that this is how bills get paid.

I have a shocking social life for at least 9 months of the year so when I get the chance to drink I stay up until 4 am and feel totally wretched for about 3 days afterwards.

You will have to accept that you can’t possibly do it all and begin to outsource elements of your business.  With the lifting of pressures like admin, book keeping and first stage wedding edits comes the invoices from the people that you are paying to make life bearable.   And let’s not forget the chiropractor bills that are the result of carrying heavy kit for at least 10 hours at weddings.

I’m pretty sure that if someone had pointed all of this out to me back in 2009 I would have just nodded and carried on regardless.   Despite all of the above I do feel very grateful for what I do.  I get an enormous amount from it and I give an enormous amount to my clients.  It is just that now I have accepted that all of this comes at a cost and that there are certainly easier, if less rewarding, ways of making a living.  

Accepting the truth about running my business will hopefully result in me making decisions going forward in a more practical and strategic fashion.  I can be far too emotional about it all and I need to save this kind of energy for my friends and family.  I hope that the column doesn’t seem negative – I am merely reflecting on the truths that I have learnt.   I have absolutely no regrets looking back but I know that it is time to make changes for the future.

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