The immensely talented Amber Scruggs of Little Moon Photography wrote this fabulous thread detailing her journey towards studio ownership on the CM forums recently. I may or may not have squealed like a giddy schoolgirl when I saw it because I immediately knew it would be perfect for the CMblog. Amber is one of our CMpros and she so very graciously agreed to let me share it here with you all! Seriously – her photography is incredible, that’s a given. But check out what’s she’s done with this space! Awesome! And she’s also included some tips for those of you considering getting a studio of your own. Lots of food for thought here – thanks, Amber!
So you want to open a studio?
I have been in business for three and a half years now, worked another full time job as well until October, 2009 when I started doing photography solely full time. Having a studio/retail space has always been part of my business plan but I made sure I took my time to make sure that it was also the right time financially. It’s a risk, but very much worthwhile.
I live in a VERY large metro area so while on location a session “local” to me with traffic could be an hour drive each way. Add on two hours of shooting and that was four hours right there before I even downloaded my card. I specialize in newborns so I would lug everything but the kitchen sink to every single session. It got OLD.
I signed my lease at the end of March, 2011 to start April 1st. I found the space on Craigslist for a great deal. It’s 1700 sq feet and located in my town’s historic district, a super cute area and I’m right on the main drag so great foot traffic. The only issue is that I live a good 20 miles outside of DC (the city) so my worry was would my city clients come to me? I don’t want to spend $1500 a month and not use the space so there’s that risk. But knowing I wouldn’t be driving all over town for sessions, I knew I would be able to take more sessions a week as it’s only four miles from my house – a big selling point for me.
Here are the before shots:
(squeeeeee look how tiny my baby was!)
So looking at it, I knew it had potential. It’s an old building built in 1855 and my landlord said there were original wood floors under that heinous carpet.
It has two rooms, both with amazing natural light, immediately I knew I wanted the front room to be the sitting room/desk area and back room to be a big shooting room.
I knew I had to have it but I had to double check with my CPA and my husband to make sure it would be a good move financially for my business. Before studio, on a good month I’d make a very good number in sales but the rent plus all the taxes I pay would take a good chunk out of my bottom line and I most definitely don’t want to take a pay cut.
I also knew immediately how I wanted to decorate the space and went straight to Pinterest and pinned what I wanted to do. I was obsessed. I came up with this design board:
After going back and forth, I took the leap and signed the lease. I figured I would give it a go and if it didn’t work out I would not renew the lease (I signed a 1.5 year lease with utilities included the first half – I negotiated that).
Here’s where the nitty gritty comes in. It’s EXPENSIVE to furnish and finish a space. I set aside $10, 000 hoping to use half of it but I ended up using every single cent of it. I needed to hire a painter to paint the space white (with an accent wall) and that plus paint was $1500. I totally didn’t expect it to be that expensive but again, things creep up like trim that needed painting, etc.
We pulled up the carpet and the floors in the front room were perfect:
However, the floors in the shooting room had been painted. One hundred and fifty year old wood floors painted a sage green color - I almost fainted. How could someone do that? My landlord had “forgotten” they were painted. Whatever buddy. Sigh. So another $3,000 to have the floors in that room stripped and refinished. Definitely was NOT expecting that.
Also, another expensive part of opening a studio? SAMPLES. You want your walls covered with your work so I spent a ton on frames and canvases for not only my studio walls but the walls in the building that houses my studio. I finally just got a gallery up in the main hallway downstairs last week. It’s taken me three months to do that.
The end result though? So worth it. I’m in love with my space and it definitely makes me look and feel more “legit” to my clients. Plus, I have a space to do workshops, which I had been doing before but on location. Teaching and meeting other photographers is something I just adore and I’m so glad I have the perfect space for it now.
The after pics – though I have changed up a few things and added stuff since these were taken.
I also have a white leather modern sofa that lives back there now that I shoot babies on like this:
And then outside around the little town where my studio is I do all of my outdoor work like this:
Oh! And look how pretty my refinished old floors look:
And my sign:
But enough of that and back to business. Would my clients come to me? I’ve always consistently booked 2-3 sessions during the week and one on the weekends and figured with the studio I could do 3-4 weekday and one weekend easily.
I went ahead and raised my prices (had planned on that since January) and changed my pricing to make my studio session fee $200 and my on-location session fee $300 and so far this has worked as 90% of my clients now come to me. I also make sure to tell them that if they want an on-location newborn session I can only bring a few blankets, the beanbag and some hats/wraps/headbands. NO PROPS. I also offered my clients that had already booked me at my old non-studio pricing a “Yay! I have a new studio! Come to me and you get a $100 print credit” special. Total win.
I would NOT be able to do this if I was charging $200-600 for a cd. I do 4-5 sessions a week on average and since opening the studio every month I have increased my sales so the risk has most definitely paid off.
So you want to open a studio? Here’s what you need to make sure of:
- Your pricing is making you profitable. Are you paying yourself a good salary every month?
- Does it fit your style of shooting? For me it definitely does but if I was a lifestyle shooter like Tara Whitney it would not.
- Do you have money saved up? It’s expensive.
- Will your clients come to you?
- Will having the space ADD to your bottom line? This is the most important!! If it won’t help you grow your business then it’s not a good decision for you.
Even on the days I don’t have sessions I’m in the studio editing, packaging orders, meeting clients, etc. so I use it a lot. I’m also a full time mom but my kids are in daycare while I’m at work. I worked a FT job before I started my photography business so was used to working full time and knew I wanted to continue with that. Not to mention we kind of have to in our high cost of living area. I do have a flexible schedule though so that is very nice when it comes to spending time with my children.
So there you have it! Sorry this was long and I don’t usually like to throw around numbers but I think it’s important in an industry where people are giving their work away for minimum wage. You need to be business savvy to last in this industry, it’s not just about taking pretty pictures though that definitely doesn’t hurt!