Before You Open a Photography Studio

Before You Open a Photography Studio

Intro by Skip Cohen

If there’s one dream universal among the majority of photographers in the portrait/social categories, it’s having their own studio. Over the years I’ve watched some pretty accomplished artists expand to a studio and months later pull back as the overhead cost adds a new level of stress to their business.

I love these five questions Sarah Petty is suggesting you answer before moving! And, it all starts with figuring out why you want a studio in the first place. So often the decision to open a studio is ego driven and represents a quest to be recognized as serious about the craft, ready to expand and a sign of success.

The desire for your own space is universal in business. Moving out of an office environment from my old position at Rangefinder Publishing, I had to deal with my own ego when establishing a home office. But, my consulting business at the time wasn’t big enough to support an office and in fact, reducing my overhead over the years has given me the ability to focus on other areas to help grow my business.

You don’t need to let go of your dream for a studio – just keep it in check until the incoming revenue can support paying you a reasonable salary and then follow Sarah’s other suggestions!


By Sarah Petty

I remember the feeling. Knowing I wanted my business to be something bigger than the basement studio in my home.

I was ready to make it more of a fulltime business. Get a retail studio and raise my prices, but like many of you, I wasn’t sure how to do it.

I get this question often from photographers who are ready to move a home-based photography business into a studio.

Before you take the leap into opening a studio (and raising your prices to possibly cover any additional costs you incur), you need to make sure you’ve thought through the decision.

I’ve seen many photographers prematurely open a photography studio and have the doors shut shortly after.

I didn’t move to my first studio (which had bars on the window and cost me $300 per month) until I was already making enough revenue to pay myself a salary that had replaced my fulltime ad agency salary.

That’s one of the first places where I see photographers making a mistake – taking on costs they don’t need to and thinking if they build it, clients will just automatically come. It doesn’t work that way.

In fact, when you take on a studio space you shouldn’t be taking a pay cut.

Before you take the leap and open up a studio front, ask yourself these 5 questions.

1) What are your reasons for opening a studio?

Put your thinking hat on and find out the reasons why you want to open a studio.

• You hope it help you attract more clients (it may, but it’s not going to be dramatic enough in most cases to cover your new costs).

• It will make your business appear legit to clients and other business owners (this is an added benefit but shouldn’t be the sole basis for which you make the decision).

• You’ve outgrown your current space (a legitimate reason as well, but you need to look at how much additional cost you are taking on to have a new space).

• It’s always been a dream of yours (not a good enough reason, but we’ll talk through the financial aspects in more details below).

2) Are you currently paying yourself a salary from your photography business?


Make sure you are paying yourself a salary from your photography business.

If not, then you need to wait to move into a studio until you are. A studio isn’t a magic answer to bringing in more clients or allowing you to raise your prices. In fact, it just compounds any pricing and marketing issues you already have.

3) Are your cost of sales currently at 25% or less?

Find out your cost of sales.

This is the benchmark to follow to be profitable as a photographer. If they aren’t then you need to get these in line before you consider opening a studio.

4) How many additional sessions do you need to do to cover your costs?

Get to know how many extra sessions you need to do to cover the additional cost.

In the case of my first studio, my rent was $300 per month. I needed less than one extra session to cover the cost of rent and utilities. I knew I could do that and I didn’t need to raise my prices to do it.

5) How much does your average sale need to increase to cover your studio space costs?

Prepare a rough estimate on how much you need to raise the price to cover the overhead cost for new studio space.

If you didn’t get one more new client by having studio space, how much more would each of your existing clients need to invest to cover your new costs? If you would need to raise your prices by more than 20% to cover the overhead, you’re right in thinking your clients aren’t going to be happy and you’re going to lose them. And that’s ok! But you need an aggressive marketing plan to find the right new clients who are willing to pay your prices.

There are so many things to consider when opening a brick and mortar location. These are just a few to get you thinking on the right path to building a thriving, profitable photography studio. Do you want to open your own retail location? Why is it your dream?

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This article was written by
Sarah Petty

Sarah is a New York Times best-selling author, highly-acclaimed speaker, author, MBA and coach who started her own boutique photography studio after working for Coca Cola for 20 years and then meeting the marketing goals of a top regional advertising agency’s clients. She attributes the rapid growth of her boutique photography studio, which was named one of the most profitable in the country within just five years in business by PPA, to the creation of her own strong brand. Click on Sarah's photograph to visit her blog.

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