Category Archives: Business Advice

Is Good Good Enough?


DSC_7617-Edit- topaz.jpg, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Jones.

So you take very decent photos and your friends, and even strangers, love your work. Armed with an arsenal of compliments you figure it is time to sell your work to the public at large. Is being good, good enough to be successful? The answer is a resounding “no” and there is a number of reasons why.

Is your work distinguishable from the crowd of other photographers?

If it isn’t then you better work hard to give people a reason to choose your work over another’s because when a person sees your work they shouldn’t get your work confused with somebody elses Look around at the work people do in the area that you plan to sell. See what themes and subjects are popular.You may find certain themes are popular and that may be an avenue to pursue. But don’t copy the work of the countless photographers who shoot that (whatever). Instead find your own individual way to shoot the subject or theme.

Do people want to hang it up in their home?

As I learned the hard way, just because people love your pictures, even the point of remarking and asking questions about your particular work, that does not mean they want to hang your pictures on their walls. If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me “I sure do love your work” I would be wildly successful (actually that is a bit of and exaggeration). But looking strictly at art print sales, while I do sell, it isn’t in high enough volumes to even be considered mildly successful. . I think part of the issue is this: while we tend to think of pictures as art, in the mind of the buyer it is really just décor.” People purchase photography to accent a room rather than to accent an emotion.

How do you plan to market yourself?

Artwork, even photography, does not sell itself. It requires more than just posting some pictures on the web. The “if I post it, they will come” attitude will net you a big fat NOTHING. Even putting your work in busy venues may not offer much in the term of sales either. Selling your work means selling yourself. That doesn’t mean that you must greet every person you meet with an elevator speech, but it does mean that you need to play an active role in promoting you and your work.

My biggest “market” is the people I know. I never push my products or services on them but they know about my work and I find ways to display my work in a non-pushy way. This ranges from posting pictures on Facebook to bringing new prints into work. Seek out even simple opportunities to promote your work.

Is your work exceptional?

There are plenty of good photographers out there. Technology has removed some of the barriers of entry and reduced the learning time for dramatically improving one’s photography. If you work is only good, you need to rethink entering into this business until you improve, especially regarding fine art. There is no room for mediocrity.

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Posted by on July 28, 2010 in Business Advice


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The Cost of a Photography Business – Selling Photos as Fine Art


DSC_7094.jpg, originally uploaded by Jeffrey Jones.

From the outside looking in, getting into the photography business seems pretty easy and fairly inexpensive and people wonder why photographers charge the prices they do. This is especially true with wedding photographers where the price can run the gambit from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Also there are many budding professional photographers thinking that with their equipment they are ready to start making some money and will often sell their services at a discount. This series of essays look at the costs of doing business and why photographers, if they want to earn money, need to consider what they charge for their services.

Art Fairs

There are generally two ways to sell your images; markets/fairs and galleries. Let’s assume that you want to sell at the market and fair, what do you need before you even start? While not a requirement, a tent is almost a must-have. It keeps the sun and elements off your head and, more importantly, off the merchandise. Tents vary in price, from a couple hundred dollars to closer to a thousand dollars. I spent a little more than $300 for my EZ-Up at Sams.
Next consider the display your art. Initially, I made the displays out of pegboard and 1x2s. Not very professional looking and the wife wisely suggested purchasing a rack system that disassembles easy. It looks very nice and costs about $250.

Add all the miscellaneous items together, including a folding table and something to hold loose prints, and call it an even $100. Now it is time to purchase some prints. Normally I spend about $30 on various loose prints, put them into Mylar baggies with backing board and sell them for $10. I probably make about $7.50 per print once I subtract out my shipping costs and the baggies and such.

Then comes the big stuff…the framed and matted 11×14’s. Past experiences taught me to have these mounted on foam core boards to avoid warpage that occurs with temperature changes and high humidity. I found a place that sells nice frames for $20 and it comes with a mat. Combine that price with the $15 print (I pay for the mounting of the foam core) and the cost per item is $35. I sell these at $85.

So far so good. My initial costs are $550 not including my inventory. Purchasing inventory takes a fair amount of funds, so let’s say that I purchase eight framed and matted 11×14’s, that comes out to $280 dollars and brings the grand total to $840.

Now I go to an art fair and the jury fees and entrance fees come to $85. It is 30 miles away and the government figures the cost per mile is $.50, and counting the miles ways comes to an additional $30. It requires $115 profit just to pay those costs. So, $50 profit per 11×14 means that I have to sell more than two pictures to break even.

Let’s say I have a good day and I sell six making my total sales (6x$85) $510. The frames and prints cost ($35×6) $210 and the entrance fee costs $85. My total profit $510 sales – $210 material costs – $85 fees – $30 car. = $185 . For the art fair I get there to set up by 9am and do not leave until 7pm making that 10 hours. So, in effect I have made $18.50 per hour. Not bad. Not great, but not bad.

So, if I sell six, I am happy. But what if I only sell 4? To date I have never sold that many pictures, at least the 11×14’s, at one fair. I think there are a number of reasons for that, but I will not get into that here. That would be $340 in sales – $140 in material – $85 fee – $30 car making the total $85. Now, I am working for $8.50 per hour. Is it worth it? Maybe yes, maybe no.

But there are other things to consider. Most art fairs require the artist’s presence for both Saturday and Sunday. Also, if the fair goes both days, it is very likely sales will not be doubled over a fair that lasts only one day. To attend fairs that are quite a distance from you home means a hotel room expense, which quickly eats into your profits. Weather and the economy also impact your sales, rarely in a positive way. One rainstorm might not only drive away customers but may also destroy your merchandise.

If, as a photographer/artist, you are not careful, you will only be funding the fair, the frame gallery, the printer, the food vendor. Everybody but yourself.

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Posted by on June 16, 2010 in Business Advice


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Networking – What is it good for?

Networking is one of those buzz words that seems to be flying about. We have all heard the adage “it isn’t what you know but who you know” so often that it is cliché. But how important is it to network? How big of a role should it play in the development and marketing of your business?

Starting a business is always difficult, but finding customers is even harder. In the beginning of my portrait business I selected a market and worked hard to promote it. This was done mainly through my photography booth at art fairs and farmers markets. The first year I handed out a lot of fliers but did not get much business and the second year I went even further by taking down names of interested people and put them on a mailing list. Sadly, all that extra effort has not generated any increase of business. This was really discouraging because every week people expressed a need for portraits  AND they liked my work and prices. Yet with all their excitement at the time those intentions never materialized into later sales.

After some reflection, the realization hit that almost all of my portraiture work was commissioned by people I personally know. At first that was discouraging since I felt like this indicated a failure to market myself to an audience larger than my group of friends and acquaintances. But then it hit me. Instead of thinking of this as a failure, it really was a success. People who know me and like my work will hire me. In competition with all the other photographers and voices in the world people like to deal with people they know and trust. By increasing the number of people I know, and making them aware of my quality services, should increase the amount of commissions that I receive.

I still plan to “advertise” as I have in the past, but with some changes. I will attend fewer of those events than I did in the past and instead start working on cultivating relationships. Not the false kind of “I want to be your friend so I can use you” but rather one of sincerity and, hopefully, of mutual benefit. But even if this method still doesn’t generate the amount of business that I hope, there is one blessing I will receive – new friendships.

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Posted by on May 25, 2010 in Business Advice


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Minimizing the Burden of Art Inventory

As I mentioned in the previous blog, carrying inventory is such a drag but yet it becomes a necessary evil. The question is how to best deal with inventory…

1. Reviews – Ensure the pictures you select are the most marketable. Do not go just by gut feeling UNLESS you have a proven track record. Rather seek the opinions of others. But not just ANYBODY. Not your mom. Not the people who think dark and creepy is cool (even though it might be). Rather, seek those people whose taste probably best match the buying public. There are plenty of opportunities for this. You can have samples printed up and ask friends an coworkers their thoughts. Or simply post the pictures in FACEBOOK and judge people’s reactions. Not only judge the reactions, but judge the people who make the reactions. A opinion of a middle class woman in her late 30’s carries a lot more weight, in my mind at least, than a teenage boy because after buying the latest games and CD’s the boy has no money to spend. Not only that he only has four walls, at best, to decorate.

2. Galleries – while is doesn’t minimize your actual inventory placing your work in various galleries does help keep down the house clutter during the off-season. Why stick your pictures under your bed when they could be hanging somewhere with a chance to be sold.

3. De-emphasis that portion of your business. I am not joking. Unless you are moving your goods quickly OR unless you have some huge markup that makes a few sales extremely profitable, this will NOT be a good money making venture. That are other avenues in photography that do no make the inventory demands that fine art does.

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Posted by on May 20, 2010 in Business Advice


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Inventory Is Evil

Selling fine art photography is a lot like owning a store since they both require that you have a physical product on hand for the customer to see and experience, otherwise you are not going to sell anything. People don’t go to a brick and mortar store to look at a catalogue and they don’t go to art fairs to look through brochures. They have money in hand and want to take that piece of art home shortly after the purchase.

But why is inventory evil, at least for the proprietor?

Inventory is speculation. When filling up my frames and bins for the season, I have no idea what is going to sell. I have some history on things that have sold in the past, but I really don’t know what people are looking for at any particular moment. Often my sensibilities do not line up with the average art buyer. I might have some biases towards a particular piece that causes me to favor something that will not sell or to reject something that will. It is inevitable that in the process of stocking the booth, good money is put into products that will not sell. Ever.  It is lost forever.

Inventory is space. What does store all those framed prints? They have to go somewhere. For me, they take residence in our bedroom. The plastic storage tub does not make for attractive décor. Since it is a given that we don’t store our prints areas of high humidity, that makes some of the most convenient places the most undesirable. Basements, garages and sheds often provide sufficient room but in the short time their environment will destroy your work. So unless you have a home or office with extra room in a climate controlled environment, you work often has to be stored in places that are not convenient.

Inventory is at risk – The more the work gets handled (in and out of boxes) the more it is at risk for damage. This is especially true of hard and fragile objects like picture frames. I did not sell many framed works last year and the frame show wear and tear. I have seen enough abrasions, scuffing, scratches on my frames to make me sick in the stomach.

What is the answer? I have a few thoughts, but will save them for another post….Stay tuned.

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Posted by on May 17, 2010 in Business Advice


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Different times calls for different measures

A photography business is no longer a business just about taking pictures, it is about marketing and using the internet to best leverage your business. Decades ago the options for advertising was few and the costs were high.  Even small Yellow Pages ads could cost hundreds of dollars a month. Yet with all of their costs, were they ever that effective? I don’t think so. And following the trends of current businesses, many others don’t think so as well.

The internet is a great leveling device. It allows the small guy (like me) to, with a little know how and maybe a little bit of money, compete with the bigger companies. But throwing up a website is not enough. Neither is starting a Facebook page. To drive the traffic, and to keep our businesses in front of people, we must learn the “rules” of the game and to say on top of current trends and technology.

This week I listened to one of the photography podcasts I subscribed to and was blown away with what the guest had to say. The focus of the show was Search Engine Optimization in relation to the photographer, but if you are not in the photography business, don’t let that stop you from listening because there are many, many nuggets of information you will gain. And, after you have listened to the podcast, let us know your thoughts.

Podcast on Search Engine Optimization

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Posted by on May 15, 2010 in Business Advice


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