Why I Don’t Have a Storefront

Ready for things to get a little personal? Here we go!

Probably the number one question I get from prospective and current clients that I work with, other than general pricing information and the experience I provide, is “Where are you located? Where is your studio?”  And I always cringe just a little bit on the inside.  Why?  Because my answer is, “Well, I don’t have a studio.  I work out of my home.”  This may not be cringe-worthy to most people, but for me, I always feel a tiny bit…second rate when I share this with people.  For the longest time, my confidence as a photographer has been placed in other people’s perceptions of my level of professionalism, and that was very much tied to my work space and location, or lack there-of.  Working from home just doesn’t sound as official or legit for a business.  In my head, I was thinking to myself, “Jen, real photographers are the ones with the big beautiful storefronts and a huge studio shooting room and they are there 8 hours every day.  You obviously aren’t doing that, so you’re not a REAL photographer.”

Now, realistically, most people probably aren’t thinking that about me or my business.  But I always thought they were.  This was not a good outlook.  It tore down my confidence, and I always second-guessed why people would choose me as their photographer.  What I’ve learned is that hardly any of my clients find the fact that I work from home a negative.  Most have been completely understanding.  And I remember talking with one senior who said that it wouldn’t matter if I worked out of a garage or shack or whatever – it’s the final image and attention to detail that matters.  Hello, Jen…get over it!

For the past several years, as my business has evolved a bit, I’ve slowly but surely been turning my basement into my studio location.  Back in 2011, I was meeting clients in their homes for ordering sessions, lugging along a few samples and my laptop, and setting up on their kitchen table or in their living room.  It worked at the time, and actually was a great service to be able to show people on their walls exactly what a 16×20 framed portrait would look like.  But it was cumbersome, and I always felt like I was intruding.  So, I shifted directions and turned half of our rec room in our basement into an ordering lounge.  My budget was tight, but I was able to score some great furniture and a huge TV and make it look fab.  I added some more samples to display for my clients as well.  Overall, it’s been great!  I’ve loved having this space and it’s worked really well so far.

In the past year or so, I’ve been slowly introducing studio work to my portfolio and clients.  One of the reasons it has been so slow is because I’ve been trying to figure out the limits of my space.  Our basement has low ceilings, and the room I’m using for my client lounge is narrow and long.  It would be great for just a studio, but it’s a tight squeeze for studio AND a client lounge.  I’m often shuffling around furniture like a game of Tetris.  It feels a little crazy to squeeze all this into such a small space, but like Tim Gunn says on Project Runway, I “make it work.”

The image below was taken a few weeks ago in my basement studio!

This leads me to the answer to the question posed in the title of this post – why I don’t have a storefront.  Yes, there are some distinct limitations of working out of the basement of my home.  It’s small, I have to make sure it’s clean and tidy, and there’s a bit of a loss of privacy when you operate a business from your living space.

However, there are SOME big advantages too.  Perhaps the biggest is that I have no commute, other than the minute it takes to walk down the stairs.  This is SO nice!  It also saves me money on rent, extra utilities, and additional insurance, plus I get some tax write-offs by using space at home.  All of this means there is money I can put back into my business and give my clients an even better experience, instead of putting into all of the costs of renting.  The truth is, commercial rental space in our small college town is expensive.  I’d have to either raise my prices, expand my business to take on more types of sessions (something I’d be willing to consider), or find other creative ways to offset the cost of rent in order to make that work.  All of these options I’m not a huge fan of at this time, though that may change someday.

In the end, working from home has been a good thing.  It’s been good for our family and works for our stage of life right now.  In maybe 7 or 8 years, I’ll probably consider a studio space more seriously, but for now, I’m sticking with what I’ve got.  It means that I have to challenge myself to really create an unforgettable experience and give the best service possible.  It also means I have to stretch myself creatively to use the space I have for shooting as best as I possibly can.  What I’ve learned is that I can give my clients exactly what I want using the space I already have.  🙂

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