Starting a photography business
This post is my opinion. Some will agree with me others will want to argue about it, but it is my opinion. It is one of the few opinions that I am currently not open minded about to change.
Introduction to the problem
When are you a "business"? My opinion is when you want to be a business. Agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, your state, county, and city all have various regulations when you are considered a "business". Does your "business" have to be a full-time job that pays you a living wage? No. The IRS may consider your "endeavor" a hobby but your state, county, or city may require you to register as a business. I'm not here to advise you on when, how, or if you should "register" as a business. That is a job for lawyers and accountants. If you are required to register as a business and fail to do so there may be some legal repercussions as a result of this failure. Again, I am not going to advise you on when, how, or if you should register, check your local and federal regulations, consult an attorney and your accountant.
So, what is this post about? I'm glad you asked. I see posts frequently on Facebook and other social media sites talking about "you're not a business", "you're a momtog/dadtog/mwac/gwac". (Definitions if you are not familiar with the acronyms; Momtog, usually a stay at home mom who has a camera. Dadtog, a dad with a camera. MWAC/GWAC; Mom/Guy with a camera). When I see these it is generally my belief that it is an attempt to glorify or make the author feel superior to others. In my experience, most of the time I have seen these posts they are not in response to a question about starting a business but rather as a rant. It is often followed by a series of supportive comments and those who offer a different opinion are quickly assailed. Often the arguments are, "they won't be in business in 3 years". According to the SBA (Small Business Administration), 52% of small businesses are home-based and only 1/2 remain in business for 5 years and only 1/3 remain in business 10 years. (Source: SBA Frequently Asked Questions ). So here is my response, "Who cares, how does this hurt you?" If you bother to ask "how does this hurt you" you quickly get "they are KILLING the industry!"
I will also add that I have been guilty of these comments in the past. I have reflected on my stance and determined it doesn't make a difference to me.
They are killing the industry
I just love this argument because those that say it just have to blame someone for the problem. "They" are not killing the industry of photography. It isn't that simple. There are a number of factors that have created an environment of a more competitive photography industry. To name just a few; inexpensive cameras (starting with the Kodak Brownie which was introduced in 1900), digital photography, the internet, cost reduction strategies. The marketplace has changed. In 1982 the Commodore 64 personal computer was introduced at the price of $595 ($1,461 in today's money). The Commodore 64 had impressive specs:
Today, you can get a computer for less than $200 you can get a computer with 32,000 times the memory not counting the advances in graphics, computing power, etc. The computer market has changed.
There are a lot of things that are "killing" the industry, or more correctly changing the industry.
You have to cover your costs and make a profit
Not to get political but our soon to be President claimed a loss of nearly $1,000,000,000 in 1995 (today it is 2016) and continues to use that loss to cut his tax obligations. Does this mean he hasn't made a profit? What if I only want to recoup a portion of my costs? The IRS considers me a hobby then but I may be required to have permits, tax obligations locally, be required to have "business" insurance. So am I a business? Again, my response is what difference does it make to me if you call yourself a business. What if you don't pay any of those things? Once more, what difference does it make to me? I would suggest getting those things because it may cost you.
There may be many people like me. I have another source of income that pays my bills. I can live on that source of income. I run my photography as a supplement to that income. So if I only make $7 an hour that is $7 an hour I didn't have before and I like photography more than "flipping burgers". (Note: I do make more than $7 an hour doing my photography. I chose that number because that is near or below the mandated U.S. minimum wage).
You can do crap and still be a profitable business
I have seen this said more than once. While it is, in fact, true the thought of it bothers me more than the person who runs their business and is not profitable but provides quality. I am more concerned about the quality than I am about profit. Don't take this wrong, I love money and getting paid a decent amount but I provide the same quality when I do the trade for time shoots with models as I do when I get paid. To me, it is all about reputation. I would rather be known as a good photographer than a great businessman. This may be why I will never truly become rich or well-paid but that is my choice so don't try to bully me, make me feel like I am less than you, etc. You run your business, I will run mine. If I get asked a question about business, I don't mind sharing my thoughts or insights but ultimately it is a decision you have to make for yourself.
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