Tag: business

A new era at Doug Chinnery Photography

New Era

Things never seem to stay the same, do they? Look at Mars Bars – they are way smaller than they were when we were kids. Its no different in business. To succeed they need to change and adapt. So its time for change here with my photography business.

Since going full time as a professional photographer in 2011 my business has grown and developed much quicker than I anticipated. As many one person businesses find, the work load can become overwhelming and as a result customer service can suffer. My business background is in sales and marketing management and so I know how important it is to give excellent customer service. I have been having to spend increasing amounts of my time at my desk processing paperwork and answering customer questions which means less time doing what I love, which is being creative. I also have loads of ideas about projects that I want to launch, but time is making this impossible. There are also family issues with being a professional outdoor photographer and workshop leader. It is inevitable that you have to spend quite a bit of time away from home. I love being out in the beautiful places in the UK but I would enjoy it a whole lot more if my wife (and Stan, our dog) could be with me occasionally.

Until now, my long suffering and eternally supportive wife, Elizabeth, has worked part time every day as an administrator in the NHS meaning she has to stay home while I go off on various expeditions. However, this week, she handed her notice in at work in order to join me in the business. This 100% growth in staff has a lot of consequences. It will mean when you contact us, initially your enquiry will be handled by Elizabeth. She is an excellent administrator, well organised and efficient so hopefully you will see a faster response to emails. Any photography related questions she will route to me to handle. It also means I will be running more and diverse workshops as I will be freed from much of the mundane business management. You may get to meet Elizabeth (and Stan) on occasional workshops if she comes with me (and she is promising to make her world famous cup cakes and tea in the camper while we go off shooting too, so we will have refreshments on our return). I will also be free to write more blog posts and articles, to increase the amount of personal photography I do and I will have more openings in my diary for one to ones etc.

This is a big change for us. It is a leap of faith to give up a secure job and source of income, but we feel that to look after our customers in the way we want and to develop the business it is an essential progressive move. So, from mid-September onwards you will find Elizabeth on hand to help you in any way she can and I am here too, to help answer your technical and location questions. It also means that, a la David & Wendy Noton, she may well appear in more of my images as the ‘lone figure in the landscape’ (probably with a blurred dog running around her, too).


My wife, Elizabeth

How do I make a business in photography?

I have just read a superb piece by photographer David Noton in his dispatches column. Davids writings are always worthwhile reading. He is a seasoned pro with a ton and a half of experience and enthusiasm. In this article he tells it like it is and I agree with every word. For those thinking about making a living from photography it should become required reading. My experience as a pro is exactly the same as his.

Well, I say ‘exactly’, but that is not strictly true. My career path has a slight difference, but one I think more should consider.

David came out of the Merchant Navy and decided to go to college to study photography before going on to make his career taking pictures. I have never been to college (except to teach photography, ironically). I came at it from a totally different angle and one I imagine many of you will be approaching it.

My background is in sales and marketing management. My college and university studies are in business management. Photography was, and is, a passion. Then came the inevitable plea from a friend to photograph their wedding and this led to more and more job offers. Five years later I earn the bulk of my income from photography. I consider myself a professional. But I am still not a pure professional. I still work for my old firm. I am extremely fortunate to have a boss who allows me time to pursue my photography business. Five years down the line from that first wedding I am at a crunch point. Do I cut my final ties with the business world and take the plunge and become 100% a photography pro?

Read Davids article and consider the risks and challenges. Photography is a precarious profession. The competition from others far more skilled than most of us is fierce. Those paying for our services are paying less and less each year. As a result I have decided to continue as I am for a while longer. It is so tempting to have a romantic view of being a photographer but the whole subject has to be approached with the view of a hard nosed business man, not a romantic. I have a wife who depends on my and a bank who expects me to pay the mortgage on time. My bank manager is not a romantic!

The income from my company gives a measure of stability. I can depend on it and with it comes a car and other benefits (like holiday pay, a phone, sick pay etc The self employed will tell you how much you should value these things if you have them). The economy is unstable at present and as much of my income comes through my workshops I have to be realistic and realise taking workshops is a luxury for my clients, it is something they can quite easily cut back on if things get tight for them. I have managed to wean myself off of weddings and portrait photography. I don’t enjoy it and while it brings in the cash I am pleased to say goodbye to it (my last wedding is next week!… unless people want to pay me a lot more than I have been charging, weddings are the most stressful thing I do and the hourly rate  all things factored in is the lowest I make).

I think  any of you thinking about a career in photography should consider this approach. Maintain a core part time job, whatever that might be, and build a business in photography to run alongside it. At first the money will help you buy kit and get set up. Then it will help pay the mortgage. Maybe one day you will feel secure enough to take the plunge and cut loose altogether and that will be great, but if not, you can do what you love without much of the stress and worry being a full time pro brings. Sure, you can’t say you are a true ‘pro’. Real pro’s will always view you as ‘not quite the ticket’. But they will envy you. You will sleep a little better at night.

Remember, most photographers fail in their businesses. They fail, not because they are poor photographers. Rather they fail because they can’t run a business. As David forcefully writes in his article, you need to be able to sell yourself. Few people are able to cold call. Few can take the rejection. People putting phones down on them. Buyers telling them to get lost or that their work is rubbish. Few are able to cope with boring assignments making ugly things look wonderful. I have had to photograph gas valves. Palletts. Sewers. The romance of photography kind of evaporates when you are stood up to your knees in raw sewerage and then have to plunge your beloved carbon fibre tripod down in to it too… and then try and take images which make it look interesting. Those mornings you imagine standing on some stunning beach photographing the sunrise for money are very rare. More often than not, especially in the early days, you will be on an industrial estate somewhere trying to show enthusiasm to your client whose life is absorbed by magnetic hinge design.

There are few photographers who make it to David Notons position in life. He must earn a considerable amount each year and he gets to go places we can only dream of, but he openly admits he doesn’t feel secure and he now has nine people on his team being at least partly dependant for their financial lives on his shoulders.

I have no doubt I will be taking the big step in the near future, but I won’t do it until I am sure the time is right. I want to do it now. I am a romantic at heart, but I have to be hard-nosed right now. For now having the support of a second income is the best solution. I am patient. I can wait. If you are thinking of building a photography business in whatever field of photography you are keen on, I encourage you to take a similar approach. Have a second source of income until you know the photography business is right for you and that you can survive on what it brings.

Should photographers use Twitter?

Twitter is certainly a phenomenon. It has appeared as if from nowhere and people seem to love it or scorn it. 140 characters per message only. Is it a gimmick that will fade as quickly as it emerged? Or has it filled a niche and become an indispensable feature of our online lives? In particular, for us as photographers, is it a useful tool? Or a waste of time? If we are running a business does it provide tangible benefits or is it a distraction that consumes time we could spend making our living more effectively elsewhere?

I was a sceptic but am now committed to Twitter. It has its drawbacks but I believe it has quickly become a vital tool in my social networking system.

For those of you who haven’t been on Twitter and wonder what it is all about, here is a brief description. You create a free account and sign in. You are presented with a text input box in which you can type anything you want – the question beside it asks ‘Whats Happening?’. So you type something, within the constraint of 140 characters (and spaces count as a character – you soon learn to be very concise). Press’Tweet’ and your message is launched.

But who is going to read it? At this stage, no one. You have no friends, no ‘followers’. I guess some brave souls tweet away and hope someone will stumble on their tweets and decide to follow them. However, the best way to get followers is to follow others. Twitter will analyse what you tweet and suggest like minded people who you may wish to follow. You can read what they tweet and decide if it is of benefit for you to follow them. From the people you follow, Twitter will suggest more people you may be interested in. You can also see who people you follow are following and some of these you may decide it is beneficial for you to follow.

What happens when you follow someone. Simply put, their tweets will appear on your home page in chronological order. The most recent will always be at the top. Your list of tweets will be a unique combination of all the tweets of everyone you follow. It is unlikely anyone else on the planet will have an identical list to you – they would have to be following exactly the same people as you.

If one of your contacts says something you feel your contacts would be interested in you can ’retweet’ it with a click of the mouse and their tweet will be sent to all of your contacts. In the same way you can reply to a tweet if you feel you have something to say in response to it.

Tweets can contain links to useful or interesting web pages or images. Or, they can be just text. Its up to you. Long URL’s you want to tweet can be shortened by websites which convert them into ‘tiny URL’s’ to save characters.

You do have to be aware that every tweet you make is visible to the World and all of your contacts will see it and be able to read it. The exception is if you send a private message to one of your contacts.

Your followers can send you private messages and you are informed of these in your email inbox. You also get an email each time a new person follows you, giving you the chance to check what they are saying on Twitter to see if you wish to follow them back. Here I add a note of caution. You will soon get bizarre people following you… who obviously have no intention of ever reading what you write because they are following thousands of people. They couldn’t possibly be interested in what you are saying. What they want is for you to follow them and read what THEY are saying. Most are online marketeers or people promoting their own businesses and products. I do not follow anyone who has an unmanageable amount of contacts. I believe Twitter should be a two way thing. The only exceptions I make are one or two ‘celebrities’ who do say interesting or funny things and will obviously have thousands of followers but what they say is of value to me in one way or another, so I make an exception. I follow about a quarter of the people who follow me. If you want me to follow you, then you have to be saying things that are interesting, useful, humorous and so on (and I don’t follow anyone who uses foul language or tells off-colour jokes).

Now we come to its benefits for us as photographers. As with many forms of Social Networking, Twitter has given us the ability to be put in direct contact with many like minded people. Ordinary photographers, many of whom have a vast knowledge of equipment, techniques and contacts. I have tweeted brief questions and within seconds got back the answer from contacts. I also try and respond to the questions of others (I get mad with people in Social Networking who are only on the take – it should be a two way thing – photographers I follow who only post stuff about what they are doing and images they are uploading and so on soon get deleted from my list of contacts. I don’t want to hear just what a great guy you are – -I want to interact with you.)

I do get business from my contacts. I may post about a space on a workshop and get a booking as a result which is a real benefit to my business, but it also means my customers can contact me for advice or just to tell me what they have been doing since we met and because of the 140 character limit it has to be brief and to the point. It is often so much quicker than email.

I have linked my Facebook account to my Twitter feed so when I upload something on Facebook a tweet with a link to it appears in Twitter. Now Twitter is becoming a dynamic part of my social networking system. If a follower clicks that link they go to my Facebook stream and now they don’t see other peoples tweets, they are focused on my stream alone and this may lead them to clicking a link to my website and now they are purely focused on my work and from here they may link to my blog and start reading stuff I have put up. Twitter, in this way, has become an essential tool in social networking.

As with all social networking it can become a time waster. If you have too many contacts you can spend hours every day following everyones tweets, checking all the Facebook friends streams, commenting on all your contacts Flickr uploads, processing emails, reading and writing blogs, recording podcasts and listening to those of others and so on. It can become all consuming and thats before you have searched for bargains on EBay! Very soon you will get no work done. YOu have to be disciplined and apportion a sensible amount of time to social networking – enough to give real benefit to your customers and friends and enough to derive benefit yourself, but not so much that your business or life suffers. It is just a matter of self control.

I quickly came to see Twitter as indispensable.  I love how quick it is and how it puts you in direct contact with great photographers who soon form a part of your network. Most of the guys and girl photographers on Twitter are genuinely friendly and keen to help. It enables us to interact with people we would never have had chance to contact 15 years ago. Imagine being a budding landscape photographer in the 1960’s, 70’s or 80’s. We would have had no chance to talk to Charlie Waite, Joe Cornish or other greats. Their equivalents today are on Twitter, Flickr and Facebook and we can. We can ask them questions, get their feedback and perhaps even help them (they are human too). This has enormous and real value.

So, I don’t think Twitter is a waste of time (but it could be – thats down to you) and I do see real benefit to my business in Twitter. I also have learned a huge amount from the help of my contacts on Twitter and hopefully have been able to help others too. I recommend you check it out and make up your own mind.