When I first started my business, I had limited resources and needed to use them wisely. I had saved up some money from my previous job and wanted to make sure whatever purchases I made, that they were investments that would benefit my business for a long time. Now that I’m a few years in, I can look back and see which of those choices really paid off. Some investments cost a lot in terms of $$, but have been completely worthwhile. Others didn’t cost me any money, but perhaps a bit of time, and have paid off a lot! If you’re just starting out, I definitely urge you to prioritize your major investments and to save up so that you don’t go into debt! Spend wisely! Here’s some of my top investments I’m grateful that I’ve made over the years.
I am a firm believer in always continuing to learn and improve, so it’s no surprise that this made my list! I’m obviously incredibly grateful for my formal education in college that taught me the basics of film photography (and some great fine art skills too!), but I’m also SO glad I invested time and money in continuing beyond that. Over the past 7 years, I’ve been to one in-person workshop, The Kitchen Sink Workshop by Amanda Holloway, and I’ve participated in several online classes put on by either Clickin Moms, or the extremely wonderful online video classes (which are very similar to workshops) put on by Creative Live. All of these have been FANTASTIC and I’ve learned so so much from each of them. I still go back and look through the KSW manual, and I re-watch some of the CL classes too. You never know when you need a refresher! Yes, some of these were quite expensive, especially the in person workshop (it involved flying to New Orleans, hotel, food, etc), but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. My business would be a shadow of what it currently is without those learning experiences.
* Taken at a lighting workshop I attended in 2015 – one of the best investments I’ve ever made!
You can’t buy friends, and you definitely can’t buy good relationships. They just take time and lots of nurturing. Getting to know the couples I work with, the families of seniors, local business owners and venues – all of that takes time. I still have a long ways to go in this, but I’m especially grateful for the relationships I’ve built up with other photographers. The network of people I know in Iowa and the U.S. has been so so great! I actually get the most referrals for weddings from other photographers, which just blows my mind!
Equipment & Slowly Upgrading
I obviously couldn’t operate a successful photography business without proper gear. Back in 2010, when I made the switch to Nikon, I’m so glad that I took the time to rent gear first to try things out, and to give me the chance to save up for what I really truly wanted. I didn’t have the best of the best right from the start. Instead of opting for the 24-70 lens, something that’s considered pretty standard for photographers, I bought a more inexpensive prime lens (the 35mm 2.0D) that took it’s place as my go to wide angle lens. Instead of purchasing the top of the line Nikon 85mm 1.4G, I bought the more affordable Sigma version (which many people actually rate as a better lens!) And instead of buying the Nikon 70-200, I rented it just for weddings for quite a while. I also made this decision because I wasn’t sure how many weddings I would do at that point, and I wasn’t certain I could justify such a HUGE and expensive lens if I wasn’t going to use it very much. These choices gave me the opportunity to put money aside in savings, and over the years, I slowly upgraded my gear to when I had the funds available. As of 2015, I have a full set of professional gear, and I didn’t go into debt for any of it! If I had to choose THE best investment with regards to gear, it would probably be my first Nikon full frame camera body, the D700. That camera was a dream and served me for many years as my primary camera. I loved it and it was totally worth every penny!
*My trusty old Nikon D700 – my first Nikon camera! I sold it in 2014 when I upgraded to a D750.
Saving Money Each Month
This is sort of an investment, and sort of an overall money philosophy. When I first started out as a wedding photographer, I just used my personal money to buy what I needed, which at the time, wasn’t much…I probably was a bit clueless! Then, when things started to shift in 2010 and I was shooting more weddings, my husband made the suggestion that the next time I got a raise from my job, we should put a certain amount per month away in savings, and that could go towards my business. This amounted to about $200 per month. Eventually, I built up enough savings to buy my Nikon D700 (used) and when I sold my old Pentax camera, lenses, and flash, I was able to use that to purchase my Nikon lenses. I had tapped out my savings, but I just let it keep building again, and that went towards my marketing, website, and eventually, towards renting a small space in a co-op building. A few months later, I had enough regular income from my business, that I stopped putting aside that money in savings, and actually started saving from my business income. Every month, I automatically transferred $100 to a savings account. And I didn’t touch it. After 4 years, I obviously had a fair amount built up, and was able to upgrade some gear, and make other necessary business purchases. I know this is all boring and probably not very exciting, but if there’s just ONE tip I can give to new photographers, it is to be patient and to save. I’m a HUGE fan of Dave Ramsey, so go check that book out of your library, and you’ll learn some great financial practices that are good for both your personal life, and your business.
The Right Tools
I could probably write an entire blog post on tools and essential software, and maybe I will sometime. But for now, I’ll keep it brief. The very first software I bought for my business was Photoshop. I wish it had been Lightroom, because frankly, LR is better and easier to use and more versatile for what I do. I still use Photoshop, but not nearly as much as I used to (and I think that’s mostly because I’m a better photographer than I used to be, and at the time, I used Photoshop to cover up my weaknesses as a photographer – gasp!) Alongside Lightroom, I’d say that the other tools that have been worthwhile investments over the years have been Pixifi (worth every. single. penny. for how much time it saves me), Photomechanic (the speediest way to sort and cull images) and SmartAlbums (I so wish this had been invented sooner – it has been a lifesaver for album design!)
For me, the most important criteria to consider when deciding on an investment is how that purchase will benefit my business in the long run, and if it’s something I can do without. Things that save me time are usually something I consider more highly, because I’m always about being more efficient! But buying the latest and greatest piece of equipment isn’t always going to benefit my business, so I have to really evaluate that more carefully. Right now, the next investment I’ll probably make (after I save, of course!) is upgrading my main computer that I edit on – I’d love something a bit quicker!