Sunday, April 6, 2008

Starting Out - Taking A Second Job - The Right Way

One recurring conversation that I hear taking place is about photographers and second jobs - you know, the ones that make it possible to pay the bills.

The problem is, this is bass-ackwards from how it should occur.

Take, for example, the waiter. A waiter has figured a way out to pay their bills (even if just barely) from month to month. A waiter in this position has a great opportunity to start a business in the field of photography out right. How so?

(Continued after the Jump)

Someone in this position can do an honest assessment of what it costs to be in business, and also what it costs to earn a living doing photography.

Say, for example, as a waiter you earn $150/day with wages and tips. An honest assesment of your cost of doing business (CODB) as a photographer might reveal that it would cost you $350 a day for every day you're shooting. So, even though a call comes in for $200 a day - more than your waiter income, but less than your CODB were you a photographer, you can - and should - decline the assignment.

Why?

Well, being a waiter, your CODB is just a pen, paper and a decent outfit. In fact, you may even have a uniform, but nothing more. Your CODB as a photographer would include costs for computers, internet, cameras/gear, business insurance, and so forth. The declination of the $200 assignment leaves you free to do business in paradigm which keeps you profitable, and moreover, leaves you free to seek out the proper paying clients that you not only can do your first assignment for, but also grow a solid relationship with - enough so that you can afford to leave your waiter job.

IF you have taken a second job to sustain your CODB as a photographer, then you're likely going to fail. It's really not a matter of if, it's most likely a matter of when.

In other words, your second job should be that of photographer!

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.

15 comments:

Randy Girouard said...

I agree 100% I'm a full time firefighter/medic and in the off time thats when I can focus on my photography.

Sean Cayton said...

It's hard to decipher this piece. Perhaps you should have made the last sentence the first?

But on your point, I think it's a stretch as best.

A great argument against what you are advocating is the number of full-time newspaper photographers who, realizing their cost of doing business is subsidized by the newspaper, eagerly run out and underbid freelance jobs.

Annual reports, weddings, commercial work, you name it. It's pervasive. In some cases, photographers do realize their true income potential end up leaving their jobs, most do not and

These kinds of photographers have decided not to be responsible for the health of their profession. It's just a great way to make an extra buck, they think.

And it's also very clearly a tradeoff, so while the newspaper 'subsidizes' them with computers, equipment etc. the staff photographer's meager salary demands to be subsidized itself.

The irony is that when they end their newspaper careers (and most if not all will be find themselves at that point) they will have to rely on the same income stream that they used to think was 'icing on the cake.'

David said...

Amen! I was a waiter for 5 years before starting a photography business (and the two overlapped until I could make enough money in photography). Being on the inside of a restaurant that grossed 2 million annually, and knowing that I walked with more net profit than the owner really affected my perspective on overhead!!

Blue Devil said...

Agreed, I am currently a Web Designer... mid 60s annual income. Which makes things even harder for me to leave my current job. I have to make a LOT more than 65K plus expenses to consider quiting my current job. But it will happen.. sooner or later. :)

Paul said...

Wait a sec. Isn't the CODB pretty much the same for the waiter and the photographer? The waiter still has to have the camera, laptop, etc to take any job, unless he's renting anything. Which is going to be tough, because if he doesn't own his camera he's likely to be pretty rusty when he does get the paying job.

I fail to see how his CODB is less if he is a waiter. Most of those expenses seem like they are going to be there either way.

John Harrington said...

Paul -

You'd be considering the CODB for the Waiter and the CODB for the Photographer separately - considering that each is a "division" of that person's company. As I noted above, the "waiter" division's CODB is pen/paper/uniform.

Consider that there is no wear-and-tear on gear that sits idle, so the diminished value of that gear is zero as it pertains to wear-and-tear, however, it's fair to see that there is a diminished value for digital/computer gear that ages out. However, a strobe system would not.

John

Jeffrey Blake Adams said...

I devote a whole chapter on this concept in my book, however the idea of teh 2nd job is to benefit from the corp training, (HR, Sales, Logistic, Cost Analysis, etc) and networking. Many Silicon valley folks became succesful photogs, with buuilt in biz knowlegde and built in client list,,, due to their day jobs. Jeffrey Blake Adams

Anonymous said...

I think the point not being recognized here is aspirational costs to the industry. Regardless of all the fantastic, "Way it ought to be" advise given here by John, people will assume they'll make up the capital, which they initially have no real idea of exactly how much it is,or Rob Peter to pay Paul to hock Joseph, to pawn Saul, to get an assignment that in their minds will be the "Eureka" career breaker .They just can't wait. They aspire to be in the break out mode jumping off the cliff ready to roll with the big boys. Sean Clayton is dead on. Tie that in with the drive to aspire and we have a pollution of contributors and fewer intermediaries of review and really no standard barometers to evaluate and create disincentives for folks not assume they can at least TRY to be a photographer. Denial about capital is my major complaint about newbies, but who am I to tell someone they can't pursue they're dreams? Thanks for your time and energy John. SRE.

Anonymous said...

Their, not they're, excuse me.....

Shannon said...

I think you need to distinguish between fixed costs and variable costs. In deciding whether to take a $200 day job, the consideration should be what your variable cost of doing business is, without regard to the fixed costs. So that includes the opportunity cost of $150/day wages, the wear/tear cost on equipment, transport costs and whatever else. Of course, you need to weigh your fixed costs before you invest in the equipment - if you are only taking $200 jobs then its not worth it. But if you have the equipment its a sunk cost and plays no part in your day to day job calculations.

Of course a day job may not just have the $200 payment as a benefit - if it has the potential to lead to more work then you have to consider that as well.

- Shannon
www.shannon-jensen.com

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