So you want to open a studio?

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?

 

So you want to open a studio? photo

 

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:

Front room:

So you want to open a studio? photo

(squeeeeee look how tiny my baby was!)

So you want to open a studio? photo

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.

Shooting Room:

So you want to open a studio? photo

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:

So you want to open a studio? photo

 

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:

So you want to open a studio? photo

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.

Front Room:

So you want to open a studio? photo

So you want to open a studio? photo

So you want to open a studio? photo

So you want to open a studio? photo

 

Shooting Room:

So you want to open a studio? photo
Packaging station that doubles as a changing table for babies (I have a changing pad I put on top of it):

So you want to open a studio? photo

So you want to open a studio? photo
That back wall is where I do most of my prop shooting with seamless, fake floors etc.:

So you want to open a studio? photo

I also have a white leather modern sofa that lives back there now that I shoot babies on like this:

So you want to open a studio? photo

So you want to open a studio? photo

And then outside around the little town where my studio is I do all of my outdoor work like this:

So you want to open a studio? photo

So you want to open a studio? photo

Oh!  And look how pretty my refinished old floors look:

So you want to open a studio? photo

So you want to open a studio? photo

And my sign:

So you want to open a studio? photo

 

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:

  1. Your pricing is making you profitable. Are you paying yourself a good salary every month?
  2. 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.
  3. Do you have money saved up? It’s expensive.
  4. Will your clients come to you?
  5. 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!

Thank you SO much for letting us share this fabulous article on the CMblog, Amber!  You can check out more of Amber’s beautiful work on her site and on her blog.

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20 Responses to “So you want to open a studio?”

  1. Aug 12 2011 at 7:47 am #

    Hi,

    Thanks for this! Can you share how much shooting space you would suggest someone have at a minimum? I would love to specialize in newborns but am sooo tired of lugging stuff to my clients home . . . it's probably a 5 year plan but am just thinkging!

  2. Aug 12 2011 at 8:00 am #

    gorgeous studio!! So happy for you! Thanks for sharing the realty of opening a studio!

  3. Life with Kaishon
    Aug 12 2011 at 8:12 am #

    What an incredible space. Congratulations on achieving something so great. I love the light in your studio!

  4. Aug 12 2011 at 9:16 am #

    Loved the article and especially the photos! I'd love to someday have a studio and you have not only inspired me but also made me think objectively. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Aug 12 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Hi Julie! Mine is HUGE, 1700 sq feet and I use every inch but you definitely don't need this much space. I know a lot of ladies rock their smaller 500-800 sq foot natural light studios.

  6. kari
    Aug 12 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    You just TOTALLY inspired me…… Thank you!!! ♥

  7. Crystal @ Hibiscus S
    Aug 13 2011 at 8:49 am #

    Hi Amanda!

    It's amazing how similar our stories are. I recently leased a 2nd floor 2 bedroom apartment (cheaper than a commercial space) and negotiated with a vintage clothing shop located below to display my work. I had to rip carpeting, refit electrical wiring, but it was worth it to be located in my town's quaint "historic downtown" shopping area. It's all been a huge change since I just recently moved from NYC, where I had a job in a big studio with a million props at my disposal, to Florida, where I'm trying it out on my own. The move has been a great benefit as we now have a home near family and great space for our 3 yr old son. (The studio is near his daycare.. BONUS!) It's been scary, but reading that someone is out there taking the same risks and succeeding really does help fight the negative feelings that creep up sometimes.

    P.S.. Even our layout scheme is similar… Organic Bloom am I right?

  8. Sarah Wilkerson
    Aug 13 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    test!

  9. Liz Van Dervort
    Aug 17 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Hi Amber! What do you mean by you would "NOT be able to do this if you were charging $200-600 for cd?" Do you mean, if you were charging for CDs instead of sessions? Or do you not charge at all for cds, because then you would book less sessions?

    Thanks

  10. Aug 18 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Liz, I mean if I was shooting and burning, aka shooting a session and giving away all of the images on CD anywhere from 200-600 as it would cap my sales and make it impossible to be profitable after taxes are taken out.

  11. Jenny Kammeyer
    Aug 19 2011 at 8:09 am #

    Thanks for this, you are so inspiring!

  12. EG
    Oct 17 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    What's your average revenue and net profit per session now, not counting the studio rental? What about once you add in all the overhead of the studio?

  13. Randall Dela
    Nov 11 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    I've bookmarked So you want to open a studio? | ClickinMoms. I wish I owned a leather sofa set rather than a chaise sofa back when we had our first son. This really is one of the few things I pointed out I actually needed with the second baby. Thanks alot : ) Randall Dela.

  14. Dec 12 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    Wow, Amber! Congrats! I am hovering on the edge right now. I do have a great studio set up in my home and my clients come to me, but having a separate, commercial space would really up my perceived value. You've given me lots to think about :-)

  15. Everardo Keeme
    Feb 29 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Inspirational and helpful, thank you for sharing.

  16. Aug 20 2012 at 10:32 am #

    Cool site. Cheers for sharing.

  17. Oct 15 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    This is a very good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Short but very accurate information… Thank you for sharing this one. A must read post!

  18. Nov 25 2013 at 7:06 am #

    I love this studio and this story! I hope to be this successful one day.

  19. Mar 13 2014 at 1:48 am #

    Great article! I just signed the lease on a tiny little space in Fredericksburg VA. Its not a store front but it’s affordable for me, it’s on the main road downtown , its got a skylight for natural light (yay) & they are painting it white for me (bonus). I loved reading your story and wish you all the best.

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