Professional or Hobbyist?
Ok, so maybe you’ve heard this comparison before. But, maybe you haven’t. Either way, it is probably THE most important question to answer before you learn how to start a photography business. Established photographers should also reflect upon this important question. You may end up being a hobbyist in disguise.
You need to define which one you are, because simply stated: you can’t be both.
The professional and the hobby photographer share a love for photography and the desire to document and create art. This is where it can confuse people. It takes a whole lot more than love of photography to run a successful business.
What is the major difference between the professional and hobbyist?
Money. Most of the time that is the biggest indicator of which kind you are. A hobbyist usually do not have an understanding of the money it takes to run a business, and if they do, they are a true hobby photographer! A hobbyist does photography for fun, not for business. These days, it is too easy for almost anyone to call themselves professional, when in fact, they are a hobbyist. Since there isn’t a test to take to get into this industry, the cost of entry is relatively low. That makes for a perfect situation for hobbyists disguised as professionals running a good portion of the industry. You need to define what you are before you can start or improve your business.
I have a camera, a computer, a website, and a business name. Am I ready to start a photography business?
That decision is ultimately up to you, but speaking from experience, it isn’t the best decision to jump in feet first. It is possible that it will all pay off and in the end, you will do very well. However, the failure and burn-out rate in photography is high with hobbyists trying to enter the industry before they are ready.
In order to call yourself a professional, you should have or be doing the following:
- Business plan and model
- Registered name with the state (if business name is different than your first and last name)
- Marketing and advertising strategies
- Business checking & savings accounts
- Disability, Liability, Equipment, and/or Health Insurance
- Paying all applicable sales, use, and income taxes
If you are unfamiliar with any of the above, take some time to learn about them before you start up your photography business.
I have all of that, so I must be a professional…right?
Not necessarily. Ask yourself this question:
Do you feel like you are constantly working, but you aren’t making much money?
Photographers that have their workload in control based on how much money they want to bring in is where they separate themselves from the hobbyist. When I was a hobbyist in disguise, I was way over-booked and thought it was a good thing! People wanted to book me, because they liked my work. The truth of the matter was, I was doing a poor job of managing my workload and didn’t value the quality of my work. When you value your work and your time, you will be less likely to burn out and have your business fail.
A lot of photographers have had to make this transition at some point in their business, so if this is you, don’t get down on yourself. This site is here to help move your business forward. I am not suggesting you charge the same as the next photographer, but you absolutely need to have your pricing in line with your time and expenses.
This is a great example of why my Photography Pricing Worksheets are a necessity for your business.
After entering your monthly and annual expenses, you have the ability to see what you are making (at a minimum per session) and see what your profit is after all expenses and taxes are taken out. It is extremely eye-opening to see where your money goes when you run a professional business! Here is an example of the pie chart breakdown in all of the workbooks:
Based on the amount I put in for my session fee and print minimum and expenses, it show I am making an annual profit of $16,364. This number is only about a third of your total gross income. The rest of it goes to taxes, expenses, and cost of goods sold. Let’s say you are a photographer charging $75 for a session plus disc of images and think that you are pocketing all of that money, in reality you are pocketing only $25. The money you are making per hour drops significantly if you factor in the applicable taxes and business expenses.
In Summary: Which one are you?
Hopefully this blog post didn’t leave you scratching your head. The goal of this post was to either show you a clear picture of either what is realistically ahead of you in order to start a photography business OR make you take a deeper look into your established photography business. If you are a hobbyist in disguise, do something now. Do not put it off until you are burnt out from working so hard and making very little, because by, then it’s too late.