Jay Cassario is a wedding, engagement, and portrait photographer with additional passion for landscape and star photography, which has earned him publications by National Geographic. He is a regular contributor to SLR Lounge.
The Nutritional Facts of a Successful Photography Business
by Jay Cassario, reprinted with permission
The Nutritional Facts
As a certified personal trainer and nutritionist for many years, I spent a lot of time teaching the importance of reading the Nutritional Facts on food products. It not only tells you exactly what ingredients make up that food product but it gives the percentage of each. I was often surprised at how many clients of mine never paid any attention to the food label, nor understood how to read it. Almost all of them just went by what was written on the front of the packaging. I always stressed to my clients the importance of reading the nutritional facts because some companies will cheat and name their products in a deceiving manner. Just because a food product says the word “healthy” it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about what’s in it.
Now almost two years into my photography business, I’ve started receiving more and more emails and Facebook messages regarding advice on starting a successful business. With society pushing photography as a means of documenting and sharing the happenings in our lives, it’s easy to see why. The popularity of photography has sky rocketed over the past few years. We no longer need to spend a lot of money for a decent digital camera, our smart phones are now just as capable as nice point and shoots were 5 years ago. Even DSLRs have come down in price drastically compared to what they were, making the transition to a more professional camera a possibility without breaking the bank. You no longer have to have an expensive, fancy camera to take nice photos. You actually don’t need to know anything about photography at all – the camera can take care of all of the technical stuff for you.
The idea of being a professional or starting a business in photography has grown as well. It seems that anyone with a little artistic talent and a nice app for adding filters can grow a nice following of fans and be considered a photographer. Upgrading to a DSLR with a decent lens may even make you feel like a professional photographer. What does it actually take to be a professional photographer? How hard can it be to run a photography business? What would be better than getting paid to take photos for people? Easy enough right? Sure.
Well, as good as that sounds, it takes me back to my personal training and nutritionist days. It reminds me of when clients would not realize the difficulty and complexity of following a strict diet and what it took to be successful at reaching your goals. I would have to stress the importance of food labels and understanding how to read the nutritional facts for a reason. It’s not always obvious what you’re putting in your body. Just like with food products that claim to be healthy by name, taking a deeper look at the ingredients of a successful photography business might surprise you. Just like with diets, most photography businesses fail. It’s a fact and I truly believe that it’s because most photographers don’t really know what goes into being successful.
During a recent shoot, I was reminded how big of a misconception there is to what it takes to run a successful photography business. I was told that I have the coolest job in the world and how awesome it must be to get paid to take pictures. While I do have to agree that I have one of the coolest jobs in the world, it’s not my only one. I politely explained that I still have a full time job as an engineer, my weekends are no longer days off, and I spend on average 15-20 hours a week at my computer editing after working 8 hours. The actual photography part of my photography business is very little when compared to everything else that it takes to make my business successful.
What does it take to be a professional photographer or own a successful photography business? What are the key ingredients? Well I can’t speak for every single success story out there, but surprisingly, photography itself is usually not the main ingredient. This is why I usually like to stress one important thing to those asking me the question: starting a business and trying to become a professional photographer may sound great but in order to be successful at it you need to be willing to put the camera down. Being a good photographer is a very small ingredient of being successful. I have seen great photographers fail miserably and average photographers be extremely successful. You need be good at business, marketing yourself, editing, and have good social skills among many other things.
I wanted to get an idea of how I spend my time on an average month to better answer the question of what ingredients make up a successful photography business. For the past 4 weeks I kept track of how I spent every hour of every day. I took the 672 hours in that 4 week period and subtracted it by the hours that I slept, which left me with 476 hours of time that I was awake. 7 hours of sleep was the average, so there were a lot of late nights trying to make deadlines when I had to be up early for work the next day. Here is how it came out and what the nutritional facts of my photography business look like.
If you enjoy photography and taking photos, especially if you are talented at it, the idea of turning it into a business may have crossed your mind. If it hasn’t already, it promise you that it will. I was raised by a wedding photographer mother and was introduced to a camera long before I can remember. Photography isn’t new to me but it wasn’t until two years ago that I decided to turn it into a business. I had a good idea as to what it would take to be successful and I knew that being a good photographer was just a small part of that. Obviously, photography is my passion but I also love the business part of it – which is a huge factor in my success.
Making money doing something that you love is the American dream but you need to know what it takes to make that dream come true. Most of the time it’s not what you think and taking a deeper look at the ingredients may change your mind. I thought that some of you out there might find this interesting. Whether you already own a business or looking to start one, it gives you a better idea as to what the bag labeled ‘photography business’ actually has in it.
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