Here are a bunch of tips for up and coming photographers to help manage the cost of operating a photography business.
1. Image Editing Software. You'll pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars to stay current with Photoshop products. If you have not made the commitment yet, try Paint Shop Pro. It's as feature-rich as Photoshop, with nearly all of the capabilities, and some of its own that are unique and allow you to be creative and productive. You can also use most Photoshop plugins in this program.
2. Desktop Office Suite. OpenOffice, a free suite, available from OpenOffice.Org, has spreadsheet, word processing, database, presentation and other tools. You can read and write Office files. This will keep you from needing to pay hundreds of dollars for Microsoft Office products, and you are supporting the open source community.
3. Studio Lighting. If you are starting off with studio lighting, Alien Bees are tough, functional and not prohibitively expensive. You can add a light each year and grow your capabilities slowly. And they offer great light modifiers such as umbrellas, stands, soft boxes and more. They even have portable power and ring flashes.
4. Print Fulfillment. There are many good and affordable labs. Most of them can print far more efficiently than you or the shop across town. Find one which will meet your price, quality, product and service needs and will give you a generous sample print experience. The ability to accept orders from your computer and ship quickly will be important to you.
5. Inexpensive Online Communities. There are some free forums such as dpreview.com and studiolighting.net which are great sources of information on cameras, lighting, editing and other technical aspects of photography. Digitalweddingforum.com is a reasonably priced and very professional forum for sharing all manner of business, creative and technical information regarding most people photography.
6. Professional Organizations. Society of Sports and Event Photographers (SEP) is directed to event photography such as sports groups, but there are overlaps to other business areas as well. Their annual cost is very reasonable. Professional Photographers of Americal (PPA) is affiliated with SEP, and is more business oriented. They share events for their annual conventions. PPA also offers some insurance and legal protection. Wedding and Portrait Photographers Internations (WPPI) also offers reasonable annual fees and access to great resources and conventions. Attending a convention periodically will get you charged up and it's often a great way to get discounts on gear from the trade shows.
7. Insurance. You need to decide what to insure and for how much, but as a photographer, I strongly recommend Liability Insurance of at least $ 1 million. You can decide whether you want to cover your equipment separately or modify your homeowner's policy to cover it. Often, bundling car, home, liability and equipment to one insurance provider will save you money.
8. Storage. External hard drives are now under $ 100 for 500 gigs. You can not afford not to back up your data in multiple places. Also buy DVD blanks and burn copies of your client and business files to store offsite.
9. Midwinter seminars. Often a large national lab or group of businesses will sponsor a "tour" of one or more photographers, and provide a mini trade show. Often costing under $ 100, you get a solid day of education, dialogue, ideas and product awareness. You'll come back with a notebook full of ideas.
10. Conventions. There are probably a dozen large regional or national level photography conventions each year. Pick one every year or two, and manage your travel costs by sharing rooms with other photographers and planning your transportation and dining carefully. You can often save more on the product purchases than the cost of the convention and travel.
11. Web Site. Inexpensive web templates can be purchased for under $ 100. These templates can be customized by you to include your images, words, color scheme, logo and design elements. Often hosting can be bundled with this, or purchased separately for under $ 100 / yr. You will want your own domain name on a site that does not have someone else's ads. Also consider building your own shopping cart and gallery capacity if you do not have one now. Using fotoplayer.com and the Jalbum engine, you can create great albums on your own website with integrated cart and Paypal payment for under $ 100. And you can build a blog on your site or another site for free.
12. Studio from Home. It goes without saying that a home-based studio has far lower operating costs than a separate property. You can also potentially take tax deductions for business use of the home.
13. Hired Help. Paid internships are great opportunities for younger people to gain experience, and for you to have talented assistants. Consider contacting schools and universities in the area, or hiring a local person who has great work ethic to assist you.
14. Energy. This is both financially and environmentally important. Change your lighting, heating, driving and office practices to lower energy costs. Compact fluorescent lights, setback thermostats, good tire pressure, hybrid cars, trip management, computer shut-down logic and your printing practices can all be utilized to lower your operating cost.
So, now you know how to save a bundle and keep your bottom line strong!