turning pro yes or no

A while ago I was asked to write a guestblog for a Dutch photographers blog and because I had little time and I always want to post something that is different from the standard “put your light here” blogpost I decided to make a blogpost about something that is always a hot topic during some of my seminars and workshops.


Don’t get me wrong, photography is the best job in the world according to me, I love what I do and I don’t feel like I work a day in my life, however I consider myself incredibly lucky and one of the few that can do what I do thanks to the support of my family. Now a lot of people mail me or ask me for my advise on starting their photographic career, now let’s say we are talking about Mr. Smith (a made up name). Mr Smith earns a bit more than minimum wages at the moment, rents a house and has a wife and 1 son who is let’s say 12 years old. At the moment Mr. and Mrs. Smith have a relatively good life, twice a year they can go on a standard holiday, the rent is paid and they can safe a little bit of money for costs that are not foreseen, the only problem is that Mr. Smith loves photography and doesn’t really like his day job, he doesn’t hate it… but if he would become a photographer that would be awesome.

Gwendolyne 28 Juli 2012 - 2342

Now I totally agree with Mr. Smith of course, being a photographer is great, however let’s give Mr. Smith a few tips that might or might not change his mind.


1. Know what you have
At the moment everything goes well for the family Smith, in his spare time Mr. Smith shoots his images and during vacations he always creates nice travel books which everyone likes, and almost all friends and family give him the advise to do more with photography.


2. Know what will come
When Mr. Smith quits his job it means all income to the family Smith will drop down to zero, however all the costs will continue without any pauze, meaning from day 1 Mr. Smith must be able to pay for :
Utilities, rent/mortgage, school, insurance, income tax, VAT, car expenses, food, drinks, telephone, internet, tv etc. etc.
So the first thing I would advise to Mr. Smith is to make a list during at least a full month on ALL costs, so also when they go out for a small trip in the weekend, write down every cent that is spend, but also every bill that is coming back every period like insurance and rent. The first thing he will notice is that without knowing it there is a lot of money being spend, and that is without taking into account to be able to buy a new car when the old one stops working.


3. Know that you have to be able to reserve money
When you don’t have a job your income will be VERY insecure, especially in the first year or 2. In theory one should be able to earn the money you need in a year in a few months when you want to do photography because believe it or not, there is no work for a whole week the whole year round.


4. Dive into your tax system
This is what will bankrupt most starters in the first year. I’ve known many people who started their own business but never realized that in the Netherlands you will loose 21% of your invoices to the VAT, but that’s not all…. you also have to take into account the income tax at the end of the year.


5. Dive into your financial system
Not only VAT and income tax are different from when you have a day job but also think about health insurance, if you are now insured  by your boss you can add a considerable amount of cash per month for the insurance of yourself and your family, also the pension build up will stop so you have to do this by yourself now.


6. Other things you need to do
With an own business there is also a lot of extra insurance you need, think about your gear and of course legal and not to forget and income insurance for when you are sick or become inable to work, and this last one costs A LOT of money and if you don’t take this insurance please think about your family and stay with your day job, because if you are inable to work (depending on the country you life in) it would mean a tremendous change in lifestyle I’m afraid.


7. Customers
When you show your friends and family your images they will all say “wow you really should do something with this” however, trust me, as soon as you start shooting professionally they will not be the ones that will be paying you, they will ask you to do it for free or demand discounts so high that you can better do it for free because making the invoice will cost you more 🙂


8. Gear and computers
Doing photography as a hobby is cool, you can get away with certain things and you can maybe even use your software via the school system of your kids, however when turning pro this doesn’t work anymore. The gear has to have backups, you can’t go out with just one camera (that’s suicide for your business) so you will have to own at least one backup body, your computer has to have a proper backup system and of course ALL your software has to be legal, luckily Adobe has a great service via the creative cloud so it’s affordable for everyone, and let’s be honest if you can’t pay for the creative cloud you should NEVER ever consider turning pro.


9. What to do?
Now before you start with quitting your job I would advise to do a proper research to your market, what do you want to do? where are your customers? and what prices would you have to charge? A photographer that does everything is a bit of a Titanic, it all looks great but when it meets it’s iceberg it WILL sink. Better is to specialize in one topic you really really like and excel in, for example if you love nature think about travel, landscapes etc. (very tough market) if you like fashion think about adding business portraits, schools, weddings etc. but please keep it “real” and within the things you know you can do.


10. Social media and market research
Now that you’re ready and you know you can make it…. don’t do it yet.
First start out with the normal prices you would need to charge and do the photography in your spare time, I know it sounds like a lot of work if you already work 40 hours a week, but trust me, working 60-70 hours a week if you have your own business is normal, so if you can’t combine your day job with some “mild” photography business stop right away and keep it as a hobby. Now during this period try to build your social media presence and get the jobs you need, now if you succeed in earning at least half of your income from photography that way I think it will be time to quit your day job and pursue your dream.


11. Think about all the rest
Running a business is first of all no 9:00-17:00 thing, it’s a 24/7 thing, meaning you will go to bed with your business and get up with it, holidays will still be possible but it will also mean you will probably want to check mails, phones etc. more often, with a boss you can just turn everything off… when running your own business you probably can’t. Also think about the extra time you need to retouch, do bookkeeping etc. And of course take into account one very high hidden cost that almost everyone forgets…. your bookkeeper, of course you can try to do it yourself but I think you will very quickly realize that a good bookkeeper will not only earn you money but will also make sure that you won’t be hit with a tremendous amount of money you have to pay after a few years because you did something wrong.


12. Finally
I’ve discussed a lot of topics but to be complete realize that when you run your own business you have to have some “fat on your bones” meaning if your camera breaks down you will need to be able to run to the store and get a new one right away, that same day, if your car breaks down exactly the same. Also when your business grows you will need to get out of the house and have a proper office/studio/showroom (rent or buy) so also start saving for that, also think about personnel in the long run, and realize that although they can make you money they also cost you a load of money, in the Netherlands we always double (just to be sure we can afford them) their wages for the extra costs like insurance, taxes, pension etc. but this will vary per country. And there will be plenty of things I now forget like a pin machine, business cards, your book keeping software etc. etc.



I would like to add that this is not meant to scare people away from starting a photography business, however I do think that a lot of people only think about “I charge 100.00 for a shoot, let’s say I can do 3 a day and I earn a lot of money” and they forget that after taxes and all the other costs they would maybe need at least 5 a day to make it work, and let’s be honest I don’t know many photostudios that do 5 paid shoots a day for 6 days a week, also take into account all the extra work like mentioned in point 11 and I hope that if you’re thinking about this you make a wiser decision instead of throwing away something you already have.