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08/17/2005 03:27:07 AM · #1
I recently received an offer from a close personal friend to finance a startup photography business. He is thinking of a 3-5000 dollar investment. I wanted to solicit different advice on how I might structure a business proposal.

I am thinking of either doing digital weddings or portraiture, but I am unsure of what to give as a return of his investment. Does anyone have a website that you feel is good for reading up on this sort of thing? Or perhaps would you like to share your experience with running a successful business?

If anyone cares to respond, I will fully answer any questions you have for me on the specifics. Thanks DPC!
08/17/2005 03:54:27 AM · #2
In order to come up with any meaningful advice, I think I would need to know a bit more of your plans. What kind of photography business do you have in mind? Setting up a studio? Selling prints on the internet? Fee-based workshops? Publishing? Equipment retail?

In any case, the first thing is to know exactly what you want to do and give yourself an honest opinion about how good you really ar at it.
Second, make a list of the stuff that you absolutely cannot do your business without and see what it costs.
Third, see for how long you can hold out if the revenues don't start pouring in immediately.

If you're a photographer, do you really want to become a business manager? It's a very different life and not nearly as much fun as plain photography.
08/17/2005 07:42:18 AM · #3
Originally posted by Army of nOne:

I recently received an offer from a close personal friend to finance a startup photography business. He is thinking of a 3-5000 dollar investment. I wanted to solicit different advice on how I might structure a business proposal.


1) 3-5000 dollar is not very much. I would say that an amount like that could be nice as a supplement to your own funds. It should not be regarded as anything more though. Personally, I would make sure that you have other funds in addition.

2) I would regard such an amount as a straight (or rather subordinated) loan and definitely not as equity. Assuming you invest the same amount and hence you would give your friend 50% of the shares, that would mean that all your future efforts will only be 50% yours. Your time and effort will be a much bigger investment than the money and it will be your personal effort that will make or break the success of the business, not the money investment. So be very careful that you do not give away too much. Hence, I would propose the friend to reimburse him the loan whenever you are ready (i.e. have earned enough) at an honest intrest rate (e.g. between 5-8%).

The major question is what your friends objective is: does he wants to be part of a business or is he just helping you out. In the latter is the case, try the subordinated loan approach. If not, we are talking about a totally different and complicated game.

I know this does not answer your business plan question, but I wanted to give you some advice on the financial structure side. I have seen too many little partnerships between friends going sour based on the above. A partnership is in my opinion only Ok if there is a real added value you cannot achieve on your own.

Do not hesitate to ask for clarifications.
Good luck.
Don

Originally posted by Army of nOne:

I am thinking of either doing digital weddings or portraiture, but I am unsure of what to give as a return of his investment. Does anyone have a website that you feel is good for reading up on this sort of thing? Or perhaps would you like to share your experience with running a successful business?

If anyone cares to respond, I will fully answer any questions you have for me on the specifics. Thanks DPC!
08/17/2005 08:58:44 AM · #4
I don't know a website but there are several books at the library . One I enjoyed reading and got alot out of is Photography Your Way by Chuck Delaney from the New York Institute of Photography. I don't believe that you have to have alot of money to actually startyour business unless that is going to be your sole source of income to live on. I think if you want to try to start at the top and be as competive as the others then you probably do need the money and the resources they have, but alot of businesses start at the bottom and slowly work their way up. So if you have time, alot of heart and a steady work plan you can have a business as well as anyone else. As for the payback of the loan, I would also be careful there. I seen alot of court cases lately between the best of friends, be sure you have an agreeable legal contract written up to be the safest. Any thing on paper with dates and times and amounts is preferable to nothing. I have been burned to the point of almost losing my house from a deal with a person that I absolutely loved and I knew they cared for me but they didn't have a responsible bone in their body and my stupid generous almost cost me everything I had worked for for 12 years. So good luck and follow your dream- carefully.
08/17/2005 09:53:11 AM · #5
$3-5000 is not really enough to start a fulltime photography business. Maybe part-time, depending on equipment cost and if you plan to run it out of your house. Think about what kind of photography you want to do and what equipment you will need to do it. Unless you have a DSLR (or two) and a few lenses, equipment costs will probably eat up $5000 easily.

As far as getting money from your friend goes, be careful. Make sure you define his role in running the business and get it in writing.

You might find Mavrik's posts/tutorial on setting up a photography business useful. Link to part 8
08/17/2005 11:32:30 PM · #6
Thanks for all the thoughtful comments. It is a big help. It seems collectively there is a chorus of voices saying beware of doing business with your friend. Sort of goes along with the old saying that says the best way to ruin your friendship with someone is to move in with them. Going into business together would be a much more serious endeavor than simply living together (which I have with this guy, btw).

A few answers to a few questions...

1. This is a friend trying to help me out more than one who is trying to go into business with me. He is going to Iraq to work for Haliburton and wants to use some of the money he is going to make to try starting small businesses. So he wants to be serious and smart, but I don't think he is expecting a long term continual payoff from this relatively small one time investment.

2. This would be a part time business for me to start out with. It will be a source of supplemental income. It would be a dream for me to go into photography full time, but I know the 5000 is not enough to start out full time. Not only that, but I have insufficient experience to confidently embark on a full time self-run business.

3. I want to do weddings primarily. I will need to assist people a few times before I try and book one for myself. One thing that encourages me in this regard though is my experience in a professional photo lab.
It is perhaps a bad way to measure yourself, but I know I can do a better job than at least 50% of the photographers out there doing it for a living (at least 50% coming in to my store). And I dare say, given the almost uncanny crappy level of work, that number would be more like 80% after my first few.
Another idea I had though is going door to door soliciting people for professional portraits; either of themselves, their family members, their pets, or their houses... anything really. I have a sales job right now where I go door to door trying to sell security systems. I don't particularly like doing it, but I think for something I love as much as photography, I could. Plus it would be a way to jump start business, and contacts. Again, part time kinda stuff.

I have discussed most of this with my friend and he wants to help me get going. I would primarily be buying needed equipment with this loan/investment.

The advice to identify everything clearly in writing will be well heeded. I plan on doing that.

Dvodson, thanks for the particulars of your advice. It gives me a solid place to start forging and researching some type of official agreement.

Spazmo, thanks for the link to Mavrik's posts, hadn't seen that. Great stuff!

Didymus, you too give good warnings. As far as being a manager rather than a photographer, I know this will be true. However, at least I would be working and managing myself, instead following the orders of my company who couldn't give two craps about me. I'm sure there will be joyless moments, but I'll take the trade-offs I think.

Pixieland, love that last bit "So good luck and follow your dream- carefully". Spoken indeed like someone who has been there. I'll be sure to check out that book. My wife works at a library! This will definitely be a start little and work your way up kinda deal.

Again, thank you all very much for your comments.


08/18/2005 12:37:16 AM · #7
Get this book and read it - How to start and run a photography studio (or business). It is by far the best book on the business of running/starting a photography business.

Next: you know you need some experience shooting weddings. I am at month 5 since i decided to do this...and have 'guest' shot a wedding, assisted on one and hopefully will be shooting another the 27th (as a guest..so limited experience available - you'll understand that when you do it). I agree with your 50%/80% idea. THere are lots of crappy photogs out there doing weddings - BUT it is not the quality of their photographythat keeps them in business, it is their marketing skills. Read the above book and you'll understand.

Equipment: I would recomend: 2 Canon 20D or Nikon D70 bodies (300 or 350 and D50 can be made to work, or buy used). You need a back of EVERYTHING (body, lenses, flash, etc). You can use a film body if need be, as you'll likely never need it. Lenses: depends on your style - but at least: sigma 18-50 2.8 or canon 17-40 F4 or maybe 24-70 2.8? or tamron 28-75 2.8. A 70-200 F4 or 2.8 is great to have as well. Canon 50 1.8 or the 85 1.8 (the faster ones are better but gobs more money). I do know a photog that shoots with a canon 28-200 3.5-5.6 and charges $1000 an hour. But then she has $6000 in flash equipment and 25 years experience.

Flash: Metz 54 MZ4 or Quantum TD. Sigma EF500 DG Super as a backup, or perhaps a vivitar 285H. A flash bracket and a lightsphere or other modifier. TTL is not important, but really good AUTO mode on the flash is. And you'll need LOTS of flash practice (note triple emphasis!!!).

A couple more strobes (with battery - again, quantum or lumedyne). Toss in a pocket wizard set up as well. Backups too for this equipment.

Optional is a portable backdrop, laptop, etc.

Done first class, you will have $12,000 in equipment alone. Done on the cheap side, $4000 grand or more.

I am accumulating this on the cheap...so far: one body (300D), sigam 18-50, 50 1.8, backup 28-80, slow 70-300. Metz 54, backup an old manual quantarry. I have a lumedyne setup (one) and a vivitar/lumedyne hybrid. 4Gb in CF cards, 1 light stand, cases for everything, cords and optical triggers. I still need radio triggers, more batteries and a flash bracket. I have about $2700 tied up so far, not including the computer, PS, etc.

As for marketing..you'll need to do some...bridal shows run $300-500 for the booth space. Add $700 or more to equip the booth (500 biz cards, 500 brochures - all to give away. Then you need albums to show, perhaps a laptop with slide show, 2 to 4 LARGE prints, frames, and other decorations and signage. See the Lilley book for more into, or Bambi Cantrell has a book with some good ideas in it.

How do you want to charge, and how much? Proofs, proof book, proofs on CD? Need an assitant, second shooter, or ?? What is your business model?

SO now you are ready for clients - there are bridal shows in September and again in February-ish. You might book 15 weddings at the Feb show, or book 2. You will still front the $1000-1200, but it is the quickest way to get started. Oh, IF the bridal shows will let you in. They only let in so many in each field (caterers, tux, photog, etc).

Shoudl we talk senior pics, pet pics...read the book and PM me then.
08/18/2005 07:11:24 AM · #8
You really need to decide what you want to do. I've been "getting into" a business for the last couple of years and finally found that I had to write my business plan in self-defense because all my efforts were being disappated by trying to serve too broad a market. My personal interest originally lay along the lines of Gil P and DrJOnes who have professional glamour and advertising studios (as I understand what they do). The more I "invested" in equipment and practice I found that if I wanted to be professional I had to spend professional amounts of dollars and much more to the point professional amounts of time.

Right now I have a full-time career M-F and shoot headshots, modeling portfolios, family portraits and weddings at night and on the weekends. Being honest about the time and financial impact this has on my family and my own life was a step for me to take. A good modeling session (yes, Gil, whether it produces 5 or 50 frames ;P) generally takes 4 hours while the subject is in my presence. That doesn't count the time trying to come up with a damned idea or the time running around town after work trying to buy some props. And that's by far not the most lucrative portion of the business. As I started evaluating Return on Investment (ROI) for the dollars I've spent and the time I've put into this business I found that weddings were hands-down the most enjoyable and most profitable sector of my business. I've recently dedicated the lion's share of my marketing efforts towards that even though it wasn't what initally brought me to this. Before I made my original jump into playing at a business (with that "old" 10D) I'd shot a few weddings for family members. That was one thing. Nowadays I roll into a wedding having already met the bride and/or her parents to show them my work and discuss what we're doing; I couldn't tell you how many hours it took to put together my latest version of my wedding contract so that it doesn't sound like I'm just a jerk out for money; I've already gone to the venue either during the rehersal or perhaps before to get photos for my 2nd shooter so I can give him a concept paper on where I want him to be at different parts of the ceremony (complete with diagrams and small images with circled positions and notes); I walk in the door with over $10k of equipment for me and 1 other shooter at least; oh yeah and don't forget the insurance if you're gonna shoot events or models.

Heck, when I started I thought, "this'll be fun and cool" and it is. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE doing this even on the side. I'm staying at work because its pretty fulfilling in its way and it affords me the money to do what I like to do but I've grown over the last 3 years to understand that there's a difference in playing at having a business and actually pursuing market share (even if all you want is a measly 5% of your local market). I have to remind myself when I'm going through 1200 frames of the same wedding from 3 different angles (had 2 assistant shooters at that one) and my daughter wants to play that the client who paid us to commemorate her daughter's wedding deserves to have her work on time and with a high degree of attention to detail.

Many people don't work to build a major business in their area, they may be satisfied shooting 4 or 5 weddings a year. My target goal for 2006 is . . . well, let's just say that its to keep progressing in my career and to more than double the number of weddings I shot this year. I aim to compete with the top wedding studios in my area and I work diligently to produce comparable results at a slightly lower price. That may not be your goal but I urge anyone who has to support a family to read Mavrik's photography business threads and then decide to what level you want to take a business. Otherwise you may find yourself half-in and half-out like I was and wondering what you need to buy when and how many demo albums you should create and how much of a discount are you willing to give, for how long and to whom.

Having said all that, I hope to retire from my corporate job early and enjoy the unholy crap outta seeing joy on kids faces when their parents ask me to photograph them or seeing the bliss a bride feels on her wedding day and seeing Mom & Dad's satisfaction. Those events aren't just business, they're really satisfying to shoot (a good modeling shoot where I produce what I aimed for is also satisfying, too).

Kev
08/18/2005 08:20:27 AM · #9
Starting your business in wedding photography shouldn't be as hard as some people say...but I guess I'll find out next week as I have to shoot my first wedding (paid also -- about $1000 plus prints).

You definately need at least 4k in gear -- and a backup body is really a must as well.

Like someone mentioned above, as long as you are capable of properly documenting the wedding, being a good photographer is only probably 20% of the battle. You have to be a salesman, you have to market yourself, and just be an all-around persistant go-getter...it's not easy finding the business...and you have to relate well to people and be able to tell them what to do and how to do it. The moment they feel you don't know what you're doing, all your credibility is probably lost.

But either way, I'd definately recommend going for it...the investment sounds like a nice gesture, as long as he isn't looking to get paid back next month or anything. This is nearing the end of wedding season heh...and of course you're going to have to learn your new equipment before you just run out and start making money.

Good luck in whatever you decide...personally, I know for me that running my own business is the only true answer. I've known that since I was 12 -- but it's taken me this long to decide what I wanted to do with that business...and believe me, I've had some crazy ideas along the way -- photography is the first thing that actually looks like it has some potential, and thus I've invested a great deal of time and money into it.
08/18/2005 09:25:09 AM · #10
Yeah, I'd never say a photography business is hard work but its all about versatility and diligence. You have to be able to respond to customers much as deapee mentioned and you have to follow through. It doesn't matter if you are working 5 weddings a year or 40. If you can't follow through on what you sell, you're sunk. Many people on this site take outstanding photographs. That doesn't mean they'd succeed in a photography business.
It's not hard, its focus and diligence.

08/18/2005 09:41:32 AM · #11
Originally posted by KevinRiggs:

If you can't follow through on what you sell, you're sunk. Many people on this site take outstanding photographs. That doesn't mean they'd succeed in a photography business.
It's not hard, its focus and diligence.

Quite agree. Wedding photography seems like it would be very pressured to me because I wouldn't want to ruin the memories of someone's big day. I had the chance to shoot a wedding and turned it down.
08/18/2005 10:03:18 AM · #12
i hate to say this because we that take the pictures know differently, but to the general public - no one takes you serious without a canon or nikon slr.
People expect me to do work for free because i dont use one. 3-5000 is going to be totally eaten up by getting a camera and a couple of lenses.
08/18/2005 10:07:16 AM · #13
As deapee said - you need a couple of bodies, at the least for backup, but personally I would use two them both with lenses. In fact, I would want an assistant.
08/18/2005 11:53:10 AM · #14
Originally posted by mesmeraj:

i hate to say this because we that take the pictures know differently, but to the general public - no one takes you serious without a canon or nikon slr.
People expect me to do work for free because i dont use one. 3-5000 is going to be totally eaten up by getting a camera and a couple of lenses.


The image quality between a prosumer and a DSLR is very significant, especially when it comes to things like high ISO noise, shutter lag and so many other areas.

The idea of showing up to shoot a wedding with a prosumer cam is like showing up for a NASCAR race with a stock '72 Gremlin. You can certainly go around the track once or twice, but everyone else is going to blow by you. It's just not the right tool to get the job done and meet most client's wants.
08/18/2005 12:09:32 PM · #15
Originally posted by Spazmo99:

Originally posted by mesmeraj:

i hate to say this because we that take the pictures know differently, but to the general public - no one takes you serious without a canon or nikon slr.
People expect me to do work for free because i dont use one. 3-5000 is going to be totally eaten up by getting a camera and a couple of lenses.


The image quality between a prosumer and a DSLR is very significant, especially when it comes to things like high ISO noise, shutter lag and so many other areas.

The idea of showing up to shoot a wedding with a prosumer cam is like showing up for a NASCAR race with a stock '72 Gremlin. You can certainly go around the track once or twice, but everyone else is going to blow by you. It's just not the right tool to get the job done and meet most client's wants.


i shoot art so i'm not in it for clients. Good photos do not come from expensive cameras. If youre doing wedding photography you do need a slr, there is no gettig around it but it is mostly a "respect" thing. Still doesnt mean i should shoot for free because i don't use one.
08/18/2005 12:26:58 PM · #16
Originally posted by mesmeraj:

Originally posted by Spazmo99:

Originally posted by mesmeraj:

i hate to say this because we that take the pictures know differently, but to the general public - no one takes you serious without a canon or nikon slr.
People expect me to do work for free because i dont use one. 3-5000 is going to be totally eaten up by getting a camera and a couple of lenses.


The image quality between a prosumer and a DSLR is very significant, especially when it comes to things like high ISO noise, shutter lag and so many other areas.

The idea of showing up to shoot a wedding with a prosumer cam is like showing up for a NASCAR race with a stock '72 Gremlin. You can certainly go around the track once or twice, but everyone else is going to blow by you. It's just not the right tool to get the job done and meet most client's wants.


i shoot art so i'm not in it for clients. Good photos do not come from expensive cameras. If youre doing wedding photography you do need a slr, there is no gettig around it but it is mostly a "respect" thing. Still doesnt mean i should shoot for free because i don't use one.


If an SLR is not needed for you work, cool. I've seen your work and it's quite good, I enjoyed browsing around your site.

A camera is a tool, the best tool will not necessarily produce the best end product when in the wrong hands and many can produce a top quality product with less expensive tools. Still the most talented tend to use the best tools.

And, you are quite right, you shouldn't shoot for free just because you don't have an SLR.
08/18/2005 12:27:25 PM · #17
Originally posted by mesmeraj:

Originally posted by Spazmo99:

Originally posted by mesmeraj:

i hate to say this because we that take the pictures know differently, but to the general public - no one takes you serious without a canon or nikon slr.
People expect me to do work for free because i dont use one. 3-5000 is going to be totally eaten up by getting a camera and a couple of lenses.


The image quality between a prosumer and a DSLR is very significant, especially when it comes to things like high ISO noise, shutter lag and so many other areas.

The idea of showing up to shoot a wedding with a prosumer cam is like showing up for a NASCAR race with a stock '72 Gremlin. You can certainly go around the track once or twice, but everyone else is going to blow by you. It's just not the right tool to get the job done and meet most client's wants.


i shoot art so i'm not in it for clients. Good photos do not come from expensive cameras. If youre doing wedding photography you do need a slr, there is no gettig around it but it is mostly a "respect" thing. Still doesnt mean i should shoot for free because i don't use one.


If an SLR is not needed for you work, cool. I've seen your work and it's quite good, I enjoyed browsing around your site.

A camera is a tool, the best tool will not necessarily produce the best end product when in the wrong hands and many can produce a top quality product with less expensive tools. Still the most talented tend to use the best tools.

And, you are quite right, you shouldn't shoot for free just because you don't have an SLR.
08/18/2005 12:32:01 PM · #18
Originally posted by Spazmo99:


If an SLR is not needed for you work, cool. I've seen your work and it's quite good, I enjoyed browsing around your site.

A camera is a tool, the best tool will not necessarily produce the best end product when in the wrong hands and many can produce a top quality product with less expensive tools. Still the most talented tend to use the best tools.

And, you are quite right, you shouldn't shoot for free just because you don't have an SLR.


Oh if i could afford one, i would have one - but it took 3 years to be able t afford the one under my name. Art doesnt pay the bills hahah.
08/18/2005 01:01:21 PM · #19
Originally posted by mesmeraj:



i shoot art so i'm not in it for clients. Good photos do not come from expensive cameras. If youre doing wedding photography you do need a slr, there is no gettig around it but it is mostly a "respect" thing. Still doesnt mean i should shoot for free because i don't use one.


It is not a 'respect' thing. It is a necesary thing. I had a nice Fuji prosumer, and moved up to a rebel, and then got a good flash and a good lens. There is NO comparison.
In a church you WILL be shooting with a 2.8 lens and ISO of 400 to 800, 1600+ is not uncommon. A 70-200 2.8 is almost a necessity as well.
Shutter lag - if you have it (and ALL prosumers do) you WILL miss shots.
TTL flash - some prosumers can do it, but all dSLRs can. You will need to use flash - on camera at least, bigger ones off camera probably as well.
You will want to be able to make all the pics in to 8x10s (or possbly larger), so if you are shooting at ISO800 it better be pretty clean.
Of course you will shoot RAW.

Once you have seen what a dSLR can do, you will understand that anything less is NOT going to work. A 300D is barely adequate in some ways.
08/18/2005 01:08:29 PM · #20
If you seriously want to make a go of it you'll need a lot more than 5k. Get at the very least a couple of 20d bodies and 4-5 memory cards. Not to mention the lighting that's required. I think in equipment alone I have around 20k invested. And don't have nearly what I need...of coarse i doubt i ever do. ;-)
08/18/2005 01:09:06 PM · #21
Originally posted by KevinRiggs:


...
As I started evaluating Return on Investment (ROI) for the dollars I've spent and the time I've put into this business I found that weddings were hands-down the most enjoyable and most profitable sector of my business. I've recently dedicated the lion's share of my marketing efforts towards that even though it wasn't what initally brought me to this.
...
Kev


I thought that too, and still want to focus on weddings. I was asked to do a senior portrait and began investigating that market - it is MORE profitable (per hour) than weddings. A 'top' local studio charges $400 for 2 lg prints, 6 5x7 and 60 wallets, of 2 poses.The sitting fee is additional! I caclulate that to be $20-40 in materials, an hour PP and the shoot time. The cheapest is $120 - 1 8x10, 2 5x7, 20 wallets for $120, no clothing changes, in-studio only, sitting fee included. What $5 in prints? An hour of your time? This area of photography has me intrigued.


08/18/2005 02:10:10 PM · #22
Originally posted by mesmeraj:

Art doesnt pay the bills hahah.


No kidding. I've been there and it's a damn shame.

Message edited by author 2005-08-18 14:12:03.
08/18/2005 06:15:25 PM · #23
Originally posted by Prof_Fate:

[
Of course you will shoot RAW.


I disagree with that statement. I'm not trying to call you out Chris, because believe me, I see the benefits and the downfalls to be honest.

If you talk to some of the big-time digital wedding shooters, 90% of them are shooting JPG. They know their cameras, they know their lighting, and they just don't need to be bogged down by the processing of a RAW image. I guess being able to shoot twice as many shots with the same amount of memory is also a big thing.

I realize there are die-hard RAW folks here that will disagree, but in the wedding world, I think RAW guys are in the minority.
08/18/2005 06:18:35 PM · #24
Originally posted by deapee:

Originally posted by Prof_Fate:

[
Of course you will shoot RAW.


I disagree with that statement. I'm not trying to call you out Chris, because believe me, I see the benefits and the downfalls to be honest.

If you talk to some of the big-time digital wedding shooters, 90% of them are shooting JPG. They know their cameras, they know their lighting, and they just don't need to be bogged down by the processing of a RAW image. I guess being able to shoot twice as many shots with the same amount of memory is also a big thing.

I realize there are die-hard RAW folks here that will disagree, but in the wedding world, I think RAW guys are in the minority.


I'm a recent jpg convert. I use to shoot everything in raw. Now I shoot a very limited number of images in raw. Shooting jpg is like shooting slides, raw is like shooting negative...
08/18/2005 06:29:21 PM · #25
I agree...although I was never into RAW...jpg is so much easier for me. If you know your camera, know your settings, know your lighting, I just don't see the point. If I fill a gig up with JPG's, I'll get more keepers and it's easier to look through and process (for me). If something's not spot on ... I won't try to 'rescue' it -- that's also why RAW is worthless for me.
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