A little over a year ago, I came to a point of wanting to take the next step in growing my photography business. To me, opening a studio space made the most sense. The ability to have a dedicated place to work, meet clients, and sell prints out of, as well as wanting a way to make my business appear more legitimate, all factored in to why I believed a studio space was the next step. I recently finished up my first year of having a studio, and although it has been successful and definitely worth it, I wish I would have had a better idea of the costs you can forget about when budgeting for a space.
Utilities and Internet
I know that this should be obvious, but it is usually a very tight jump for a photographer to go from working at home to having a location, and every dollar counts. The important thing to know here is that you can’t merely guess on what your utilities will cost you. When I first started looking at locations, I fell in love with a space that was at the very top of my budget. After looking over all of the numbers they provided though, the utilities in this particular space would have added at least an additional $1,000 monthly, and ultimately would have broke me as well. With a little research, I found a beautiful space for only 10 percent of the utility costs that the other space would have required. Make sure that you consider all of the costs associated with a location, and especially ask for an average cost for utilities per month.
General liability insurance is something that you should probably have anyway, but will almost certainly be required if you have your have a studio. This can cost you anywhere from $300–$600 per year or more depending on the coverage you need.
Furniture and Decor
When you find a potential space, you really need to draw it out and sketch out the plan that you have for it, and then get estimates on everything. One of the costs that surprised me was the furniture. I planned for things like seating and tables. What you forget about is how quickly the little things such as rugs, display tables, and mirrors can be. Also, I later decided I would add a high-end changing room as well, which added several more items that added to the cost.
Prints and Samples
If there was one category where the cost was significantly higher than I was expecting, it was having samples of everything made. I had a few sample prints and albums already, so I planned on buying a few more and I thought that would be enough. You will quickly realize though how bare your walls are when you have more space, and as a photographer, displaying your work is extremely important. If you are selling prints and products as well, you will soon find how true it is that “you sell what you show.” Several large prints, albums, and a few thousand dollars later, my studio walls now display and help sell my work.
Backgrounds, Props, and Lights
Do you actually plan on shooting in your studio? If this is new for you, it’s going to include a whole new set of costs. The cost of decorating each backdrop, seamless paper, ways to mount backgrounds, and flooring all need to be factored in. Then you have additional photography equipment you may need such as lights, light stands, triggers, and modifiers. Depending on what type of photography you are doing, you will also need to plan for things like props, apple boxes, benches, and stools.
Preparing Your Space
I love the space I purchased, but it did cost quite a bit to lay it out how I wanted. This included removing some walls, building another, and redoing some of the plumbing and electricity. I painted every wall, and painting multiple coats over a large studio is a lot of money and time that you may want to hire out. Don’t forget about signage as well, which can be a good amount depending on what you decide to do. Lastly, it will be tempting to push it off, but with thousands of dollars of equipment in your studio, some type of security system is something that you will have to consider as well.
Don’t Count on the Studio to Add Income
I want to point out one other side of opening a studio: merely opening up a studio space, on its own, will not likely bring you additional business. I hear this all of the time. Photographers can often think that if they just open up a space in a good location, additional clients will start pouring in. It just doesn’t happen this way in business, and it definitely wasn’t my experience either. Honestly, I can’t think of a single client that I gained just because they were driving by and saw my space. I also have often heard photographers say they will rent out their space to other photographers on an hourly basis to help cover the cost. I have seen quite a few photographers attempt this, but I’ve never seen it consistently add enough of a profit to be relied upon when budgeting for the costs of a studio. Opening a studio can provide many great benefits for you business, but having it add additional income, on its own, isn’t one of them.
Is It Worth It for You?
Still, having a studio space has been an excellent decision for many photographers and one of the best business decisions that I have personally made. Just be prepared for it. Ask any studio owner that you know, and you will probably hear that the cost is much more expensive than what they thought it would be. Before I opened my studio, I did a ton of research and had most of these things budgeted out, and still spent several thousand dollars above what I had originally planned for. Having a plan that will consider all of these costs will allow you to make an informed decision. Planning well and opening a space in a time that is right for you will allow you to operate out of your studio and not have the cost of it become a burden to your business.