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When most photographers set up shop, they focus on becoming better photographers, naturally. Few photographers, however, develop even the most basic skills they need to run their own business. They hope to hang on long enough to be discovered before they sink under their own lack of knowledge. That’s like building an intricate jeweled house atop quicksand. (Look in the mirror, repeat after me: “You want fries with that?”)
The “get discovered” strategy implies that someone else will take responsibility for your own financial well-being. Ideally, we’d all be born independently wealthy, have our spouse deal with the money, or find the perfect business manager or agent who can do this for us. I’m here to tell you — snap out of that lovely fantasy! Not. Gonna. Happen. And even if, by the grace of the angels, it did, you would still need to learn the basics in order to participate in the decisions being made about your money. Even the best business managers need your help to help you succeed. You really don’t want to be one of those poor schmucks who got super successful but are now penniless because you trusted someone else to handle all your business decisions.
In my new column for RESOLVE, “Seeing Money,” I’ll be sharing what I learned the hard way about the business side of photography during nearly 30 years in the industry. I started as a fine-art student, moved into photojournalism, built a multimillion-dollar advertising studio with a staff of 15, then closed that monster and reconfigured with a minimal crew and low overhead. Along the way I made and lost fortunes.
I never understood money; money was not my goal. I was — and am — all about making great images. But I learned to respect and understand that money has the power to support my most important work. I hope to help you realize the same thing by explaining what works, what mistakes to avoid, and how to recognize the ways our creative brains sometimes sabotage our own success — especially whenever it comes to managing money.
I am constantly trying to answer the difficult question, “How do you reconcile the conflict between art and commerce?” I give the long answer in my workshops. The short answer is, “Get paid to shoot what you love to shoot.” To achieve that, you have to build a solid foundation, step by step, to financial security.
Many photographers have a lot of fear around money; they think it will dilute their talent and corrupt their values, or they just can’t handle the math. I’ll provide pain-free financial management tips you can apply right away. OK, that statement was a lie — there is no such thing as pain-free financial management. But rest assured that my lessons will be less painful than if you did not learn these skills at all. Plus, you are benefiting from all the pain I’ve already gone through to get where I am today. Best of all, as you begin to learn and apply fundamental business lessons, you will find that you gain confidence and actually begin to enjoy the business part of your photography business.
In this “Seeing Money” column, I will discuss the steps you need to take right now to start (or save) your business. Check back soon if you wish you knew more (or didn’t realize you needed to know more) about: