The Benefits of a Studio Space and thoughts: Chapel Hill Newborn Photographer

It no hiding it, I LOVE my studio…I love having a physical space that is dedicated for my clients.  My story for how I obtained my studio is pretty neat…and I love being able to share it.  In a nutshell, I won it in a contest.  (much like an american idol for small businesses)  I won free rent for a year and a grant for upfit…which was all pretty exciting!  But having the space now, close to 4 years later, I can’t tell you how much more I have grown to adore it!

I know that there are some who are thinking about acquiring space and I wanted to share my thoughts with you as to what I think are the benefits and the hazards.  The point is to go in with your eyes wide open and to not get caught up in all the “glam” of it, but to really think about your goals as a business owner.

Think about these things:  (here’s another blog post about a similar topic)

Am I busy enough to sustain it:  Meaning are you looking at a physical space because you can no longer handle the volume you are doing in your current space (office/home) or are you looking at the physical space as a way to grow your business hoping that it will increase your sales.  For me, I was already full time, I had a full client schedule and I wasn’t looking for a studio to make my business boom (though that is a bonus).

Access your needs:  Do you NEED it? I mean, seriously can you no longer function the way you are doing things now.  That can look like several different things, but for me,

  • Our garage was packed to the point of looking like an episode of hoarders
  • in person client sessions were becoming more and more difficult as I had more and more products (non digital items) to share.
  • I desperately wanted a place to do newborns so that I didn’t have to lug all the props and lighting around.
  • I wanted to be able to offer my clients a different experience than that of other photographers around me
  • I teach about 25 classes/workshops and do business coaching sessions and found that was becoming more difficult to host
  • I felt led to be a part of a community as I felt that my business was more than just offering beautiful pictures to people, that I felt a stirring to be a part of a presence.

So you can see that the need was great.  I was at a point where if I wanted to keep growing (which I felt that I was being directed to) I needed the space.

Financially can you support it:  This gets so tricky…as there is a small portion of the thought process of “if you build it, they will come” but you can not bank on that.  To this date I have NEVER booked anyone that walked in off the street, into my studio, and said, I want to book as newborn session.  It just doesn’t happen.  I am a destination spot, not a walk in and so I’m okay with that.  But being realistic that just by opening up doors to a brick and mortar means that you will increase revenue is a myth.  You have to be able to support it…and business experts say 12-14 months of not making any profit, but actually loosing it.

Think about these things:

  • rent
  • utilities, internet, sewer, trash
  • association fees (merchant association, chamber of commerce etc)
  • Upfit (this can be huge…but most spaces are going to need something…in my case I had an amazing owner that helped tremendously, but it still cost about 20K to get my business ready to open the doors. Things like signs ($5000) painting ($3000) awnings ($2500) beautification ($1200) all cost.
  • Merchandizing:  This cost me about $600 per month to update my store front windows…(never thought it would be that much) but I will say, people tell me all the time, they love seeing what is going to be next in my window…so I have a reputation to keep doing them.
  • Samples/Product:  Keeping these current and up to date and that I have enough to show a variety is costly
  • equipment:  While I still do mostly on location sessions, I use the studio for newborns and head shots so I have to have lighting/backdrops/etc…while this is not an on going expense, it was one in the beginning.

You can see that having my space is really expensive.  For me its about $3000 a month.  Now not everyone will need a space as big as mine or where the rent or costs are as much, but think about it.

Can you manage it:  I didn’t realize how much time and energy it would take just to keep the studio going.  I really didn’t have the time to manage the space by myself…cleaning it, keeping the displays up to date and current, doing my window, sending out all the information from the studio, attending meetings for associations etc.  It’s a LOT and so I was in a place where I needed a studio manager.  I just couldn’t do it on my own.  (an additional expense) if I didn’t have Brittany…then the studio would be such a mess!

What are your motives:  Lets face it, there’s the feeling that you haven’t “arrived” unless you have a brick and mortar…and please let me dismiss that right off the bat!  There are loads of amazing bossladies who have thriving and sucessful buiensees without one!  Having a studio, store front etc does not mean you are more successful…in fact, if you can make it without one…you will probably be MORE successful as you won’t be spending all that money and energy managing it.   Sometimes there’s an attitude it’s more prestigious ….don’t fall into that trap.  Strive to be content where you are and think about the “why” you want a physical space.

So now that you have decided to obtain one…here are some tips:

Have a Plan:  I highly strongly shout it from the mountain tops suggest that you have a business plan. This will help you in so many ways.  I had to do this as part of the criterria for the contest…but it will help you truly put a 5 year plan down on paper an make you look at the numbers, make you look at the goals and how you are going to obtain it.  If you haven’t done a business plan, you REALLY need to!  There are loads of great sites and links that will help you plan on out!

Location is Key:  Don’t settle just because it’s a space that is available or even better cheap…make sure the location fits your needs.  I choose a downtown location because I really wanted to be a part of a downtown community.  I felt that being a part of a community where we could grow together was as important to my business as having a physical space.  I wanted to be a part of something bigger than just me.  Since moving in, this has proven to be a huge factor for me.  They say in Realestate that location is key and its so true.  If you are going to go through the process of having a physical space…please make sure it’s in a location that works for you…where your clientele see you…where it’s visible (note small strip malls that have lots of turn over are probably not good)

Support:   Please don’t go into a rental or purchase agreement with out loads of support.  I know this may sound trivial…but it truly takes a village and you will need the support of your family, friends, community and beyond to make this work!  When you own a physical space, you can not just “walk away” for a week.  Or if your roof leaks, you will be calling everyone and anyone you know to help (I had to call my owner who was on a ski lift in Colorado when my roof was leaking the morning of a workshop)  So just make sure you have the support arsenal!

Look for help:  There are lots of organizations, opportunities and people that are there to help you.  Some of the ones to reach out to right of the bat would be

  • Chamber of Commerce
  • your town’s organization (most small towns have a business development team…reach out to them, often they have grants, properties and information that is not published)
  • SCORE this is a FREE service.  Make use of it!  It’s a group of entrapenures and successful business people who donate their service to helping others be successful.  It’s a wealth of knowledge that is FREE
  • Small Business Grants: They are out there.  You will have to do a lot work..a LOT of work, but it’s better than a loan!  Pay attention to the stipulations.  For me, I had to commit to 5 years in my space (paying rent for 4) and to work in my community to help promote it as much as I could.

So I hope that helps…other articles that might help as you are thinking this through are this one and this one!

As I mentioned before, one of the main reasons that I love my studio is for my newborn clients.  This past month must have been a baby boom as we were flooded!  And nothing could be more sweet or cute than this little fellow!  You will remember them from this beautiful sunflower infused maternity session…and their little guy is just adorable!  I could have snuggled with him all day long…and he was such a champ!

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