In this first episode of the Part Time Money Podcast, I talk with my friend Justin, who started a part-time photography business to help fund the international child adoption process.
Justin has a great story and has earned around $5,000 towards his family’s goal in just six months. He isn’t a classically trained photographer and so he talks a lot about how he gained the skill and confidence to do this. He also shares some ninja marketing tactics for photographers on Facebook. As well as some beginner’s technical tips.
Listen to the Podcast
Questions I ask Justin:
- How did you get into photography and how long has the business been up and running?
- Has this side business been able to help you achieve the adoption?
- How did the first couple of photo shoots go? How did you gain confidence?
- How did you get your first clients and how do you market your services?
- How exactly do you market your services on Facebook?
- Talk us through some of the technical parts of taking and editing the pictures.
- When did you find time to do this?
- Anything else that you do to maximize your efforts?
- Any resources you can recommend for beginners?
- How are you going to structure this business to make it ideal for taxes and the adoption?
Visit Justin’s site: One Smile Closer
See Justin’s camera: Nikon D40
See Justin’s Software: Adobe Photoshop CS5, Adobe DNG Converter
See Justin’s Educational Resources: Pioneer Woman Photography and Action Central
Read the transcript of this podcast: just click show
Welcome to the Part Time Money Podcast, Episode 1, Making Money as a Freelance Photographer. I am your host, Philip Taylor, creator of PT Money Personal Finance.
Alright, well thanks for joining me today. This is the first episode. I am kicking off this podcast because I know you guys want more information about making money, specifically making money in a part-time business, making money on the side outside of your normal job, just some way to bring in some extra income, whether that be to pay off some extra debts that you have, to raise money for savings, or for whatever it is. That is what this podcast is geared toward. I took a survey on my blog a couple of weeks ago. The number one problem people said they were having was not enough income, and they wanted more content from me on how to make more income. I know how to blog. I know how to do some affiliate marketing. But, as far as any other businesses out there, I am not a pro, so my solution to that answer was to bring in some other people and to conduct interviews over a podcast format with people who are doing part-time gigs or have created side businesses that are now successful to bring in extra money. So, that is why I am doing this podcast. Ideally it is going to be posted every Friday with a different interview. But, if it is on a subject that you have no interest in, I hope you will stay tuned because hopefully there are some business principles that apply across whatever type of making money idea you have, and so hopefully there will be some information for everyone in each podcast. And then lastly, I just want to thank you for listening and reading and for participating and being a part of this. Let’s get it kicked off. This first interview is with my friend Justin who is a freelance photographer.
Philip: Alright, here we are today. I am with my friend Justin, and Justin started what you would call I guess a freelance photography business on the side. He has got a really interesting story as to why he started the business and also what he has been able to do with the income. Justin and I are friends that go way back. He actually is the guy who helped me make the PT Money rap video if you have seen that. He is actually the guy who helped me edit that, so he has been around a while and definitely is a good friend. I am excited to learn about this new venture in his life. He has not always been a photographer. This is something he has picked up on in the past couple of years, so there are a lot of people out there I know who are in a similar situation, either wanting to do this or having just started this, and so I think Justin’s success will be a real asset to other people who may be listening to this. So, Justin, I just want to say first of all welcome.
Justin: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Philip: Yeah. Yeah. My pleasure. So, how did you get started as a freelance photographer? Maybe give me a little bit of a background as to what your full-time job is and then how you are doing this freelance photography business.
Justin: Sure. Sure. I am currently a media director at a church and just kind of got into the photography side of things, just that being in a general area of some of the things that I do as far as creatively. I had really done more video than photography initially, but it is kind of like a lot of things, once you kind of get confidence in a certain area, other parts of that area, in that category, such as photography, film, kind of spun off of that because you kind of have that confidence in that area. My wife and I were talking about trying to generate some extra income to fund our adoption of a child from Ethiopia, and I kind of did some thinking about it and trying to think of ways that we could generate that income and tried to think of things that I already had possession of, things like I did have a small SLR camera at the time, a Nikon D40, and I had been taking some pictures just recreationally for the kids and family time, and I started thinking about skills I already had that I could put to work for this great cause. So, what I ended up doing was kind of coming up with a branding or something to call it. My wife helped with this. We ended up calling it One Day Closer – we were getting 1 day closer to our adoption campaign. That is what we initially called it. Then we made the photography One Smile Closer because everytime you smile and take a picture, we would set a price of a suggested donation of about $100 for a quick session of pictures, and that was 1 smile closer to us reaching our goal. So, the branding was an initial phase. We didn’t want to come up with something that people weren’t already spending money on because with family and kids you are already spending money probably on pictures and maybe going and getting some pictures done of your kids at the mall or having a friend do them and paying them a little bit. That is kind of why we came up with photography, kind of reallocating money that people were going to spend somewhere else but to use it for a good purpose we thought. That is kind of how I initially got into it.
Philip: Okay. Awesome. Man, yeah I have so many questions now based on that response, but I will start with just framing it in terms of the timeline here. When did you have your first photography session?
Justin: My first photography session was this past summer in 2010, so it has been about 6 months, I guess, roughly since we started our first one, and it started off kind of slow. We had 1 here and 1 there, and then it kind of gradually increased to where the last several weeks after Thanksgiving, we had 30 sessions booked in a 3 week’ period.
Philip: So, I have heard a little bit about adoptions. That is a pretty lofty financial goal to be taking on, so has this side business been able to help you achieve that ultimate financial goal of being able to adopt?
Justin: Absolutely. The goal financially for us was $30,000, which sounds like a lot, and it really was at the beginning, but the photography has raised close to $5000 so far of that goal in a short period of time, in 6 months. The total process of adoption takes a couple of years, so if you do the math (times what we have made now), we are probably looking at $24,000 in that period of time if you plan out the math there. So far it has done really well in a short period of time to help us reach closer to that goal of $30,000.
Philip: Okay. Okay. Man that sounds awesome. So, you mentioned $100 a session was a suggested donation. Sort of maybe walk us through that initial session you had with someone and I guess maybe the nervousness going into that. You really did not have a photography background per se.
Justin: I did have not have a photography background.
Philip: It sounds like you had a good camera to work with, but maybe talk us through those initial sessions and how I guess you learned to be confident in the business.
Justin: Right. Yeah. That’s a good point. When I first started I was taking pictures. My wife was helping me try to get the attention of the kid or the family or whoever it was while we were trying to take pictures, and it really was kind of nerve wracking in the beginning because you have to not only pay attention to the technical piece of equipment in your hand, but you also have to interact with the people that you are taking pictures of, so it is kind of a multitasking that is difficult. But, as I did more and more of them, the skill kind of became more like the second nature. You know I didn’t think about it as much, and then I was able to just interact with the people. And, as I was able to interact more with people I was taking pictures of, I started kind of developing that relationship with them and that client. The relationship was good, and so they wanted me to come back and shoot pictures several months later. So, it definitely helped the more confident I got at it, but I certainly when I first started was paying attention to my camera 90% of the time, 10% interacting with the person I was shooting, and so it was kind of crazy times, but now I look back at how much I have grown just by doing it multiple times, by getting out there and shooting. That has definitely helped to develop that skill of dealing with people and the equipment.
Philip: How did you get your first couple of clients, and how have you been able to market your services continually?
Justin: Sure. When we first started, of course friends were the first people who kind of jumped on board because of the adoption being kind of the center of what we were doing. So, we had a lot of friends and friends’ families, and those were our initial clients, but once they got their pictures back and friends of theirs saw the pictures, they liked them, and of course they recommended to their friends. So it was kind of this exponential effect. Photography is certainly word of mouth, but also our internet blog we had set up and Facebook were great outlets because I would post pictures as soon as I possibly could because the more people who were exposed to it and it was thrown in their face every time they opened Facebook, the more they were like, “Oh we need to have pictures done. Maybe he can do ours.” So the internet definitely helped with that and word of mouth. I would say it was kind of a dual outlet to kind of get people to see what we were doing.
Philip: Let’s delve a little deeper into your Facebook marketing. Kind of walk me through the process of how I guess you are connecting with people on Facebook and how that is helping to generate business.
Justin: Sure. Everytime I get done with a photo session I post just 5 pictures because I don’t want to get to where it is overwhelming posting all the pictures, and plus I just want to demonstrate my best photos, not any of the ones that aren’t up to the very best that I have. So, I post 5 pictures, and I always like to friend my client on Facebook. That way I can tag them in the pictures, and that allows their friends and family to see it. That is another way to have that kind of exponential Facebook effect to where they are seeing it, their family and friends are seeing it, so when any of them get ready for pictures, it is there. I always like to tie them back into our blog as well, so I will post the pictures, I will tag them in the pictures, and then I will have a whole separate post on their wall saying thank you to whoever the client is for helping us reach our goal and that we are 1 smile closer. I will actually link the blog right below that. It is kind of a 2-fold marketing strategy. One is to get the pictures and of course tag them but then also link them back to our blog for continuous viewers to be able to go onto our blog and not only see pictures but also hear our story. That has been a real important thing. I went to a conference and got to hear Donald Miller speak, and he talked about you needing to not just give people an idea of a product but give them a story to latch onto. Not that I am trying to peddle our adoption as being something artificial that we need to cling onto, but I really wanted people to be able to see what they are investing in, and they are investing in a child. So, by diverting the people over to our blog, they can see personally what is going on in our lives and what stage in adoption we are in. It lets them see a little bit more about what their money is going towards. As a result, obviously they are going to feel good about the next time they get ready to do pictures to come right back to me and have more made because they can see where the money is going to pay for our adoption fees and for our home study fees and just seeing us go through the stages with them being the ones contributing towards that.
Philip: That’s awesome. Do you actually have a fan page, or is it your personal page.
Justin: I have not generated a fan page. I just do it on my personal page, but I always link back to my blog, so that serves as almost a fan landing if you will.
Philip: Okay. So you talk to the client during the session about connecting on Facebook?
Justin: I do. I ask for permission to do that.
Justin: Then 99% of the time they are going to be enthusiastic about it because they want to see their pictures as soon as they are ready. So, if I can put them on Facebook and tag them, they are excited.
Philip: Right. And then they are going to promote it. All their friends and family will see it, and it is just exponential.
Justin: Absolutely. Social media is beautiful.
Philip: That’s awesome. So, let’s delve into a little bit of the technical aspect of it. You mentioned when people saw the pictures they were impressed and said let’s get our pictures taken too, so obviously that means the pictures were well done, either taken well and/or with a nice camera, and/or some type of editing software was applied to the pictures so they could really pop and really be professional-looking pictures. So, obviously that is not something that comes just natural to someone, so maybe talk me through some of the technical parts of taking the pictures, making them look right, and just kind of a general overview of how someone should gain the skills in those areas.
Justin: Sure. You know one of the first things that I had heard about and read about online (of course you want to do some research before you start to kind of skip the learning curve as much as possible) is one of the things I work on is a raw format, and a lot of your SLR cameras, even the ones that mom shoots at home and gets for Christmas, and uses for her pictures use it. A lot of people kind of shy away from that raw format because it takes a little more work and a little more space on your computer, but what it allows me to do sometimes is if I am a couple of F-spots too bright or a little bit too dark with my shot, it allows me to correct them with no loss. So, it cannot save a picture that is totally horrible, but it can kind of help you with that learning curve with kind of knowing the manual settings on your camera and knowing how to save a good shot even though you shot a little dark. So, that raw format is number one for me because I do tons of raw editing and not just taking it straight into Photoshop. I actually use a raw editor to help me with that. Also I use Photoshop CS3, and I probably spent 10 or 15 hours on my first photo session editing because I just wanted to figure out what was my magic formula to get something that I had seen other photographers get, and I just kind of have the personality to where I don’t want to be just subpar. I want to be the best I can possibly be, so I want to take the potential I have (which may not be a lot), and I want to do the very best I can with it. So, I spent a lot of hours on the front end learning, and now I am extremely efficient and speedy as a result of all that learning at the beginning. And, I say that because when you get a camera and you shoot pictures and you take it back to your computer and dump it on there, you can kind of see, “Hey, I did not do this right,” and you kind of learn, and next time you pick up ways to shoot it better. That raw editor definitely helped me make sure I didn’t huge mistakes that I could not recover from, and it kind of helped me just skip that learning curve, if you will, in some way.
Philip: Okay. So kind of repeat that for the technically illiterate guys like me. So, you took them in a raw format, and then you used a raw editing software? What is the name of that software?
Justin: Well, it’s actually in Photoshop, but you take a Canon camera, which for sure is what I used for a lot of the picture shoots. It generally creates a JPEG and a raw CR2 file. It does them both as a setting on your camera. Even the digital rebels and your basic SLRs have that function. You take that CR2, and if you dump it onto your computer and try to open it up, you get an error message. So you have to go to the Adobe website and you’ve got to download a little piece of extra software called the Adobe DNG converter. Once you get that little piece, it will convert all the pictures over to DNG. That is basically still raw. It is a little different tag at the end. And you can double click on it and open straight into Photoshop. It is native. It is just like opening a Windows movie in Windows Movie Maker. It is just a straight native file. So the Adobe DNG Converter is important. It is free. It does not cost you anything extra. It is just Adobe’s way of converting that file so it is ready to open in Photoshop. Did that help some?
Philip: Man, it is still a little bit over my head, but I am sure the people who are on the cusp of knowing how to do this right will appreciate that info right there. For me, I can just say I have seen your pictures. We had some taken of Kate, and they were just wonderful, as professional looking as anything I would have hoped to have seen. In fact, better because I do not have to pay for the rights to the pictures. You just hand me over a disk, and I have all the photos right there, and I can do anything I want with them.
Justin: Yeah, we definitely do that. We give our clients the CD with all the digitals on it, and one of the things I found too is that if I give them the CD, then I don’t have to spend time ordering pictures and doing all the things that can be tedious. I am done after I hand them the CD.
Philip: Okay. So a session usually takes about an hour to 2 hours, right?
Justin: We try to keep it around 45 minutes now. At the beginning in the onset, I took longer because I was learning, but now we try to keep the sessions around 45 minutes. Sometimes I will go to an hour if it is going great or if it is just taking a long time, depends on how I am doing that day.
Philip: And the editing part? How long does that take?
Justin: Generally about 3 hours once I get it on my computer. I will take the memory card and dump it over to my computer, and then I will use what I mentioned earlier, the Adobe DNG Converter which you download from their site for free from Adobe, and I convert those over, and then I can start editing.
Philip: I see. So it sounds like you have the process down to about 4 hours now all in all.
Justin: Yeah, and that really generates about $33 per hour to $25 depending on how efficient or not efficient I am. So that is about what I am making per session.
Philip: Okay. And so with your job at the church, you have got a couple of extra hours every night to be able to do this with, and then you work on the weekends, I am assuming, for the sessions, right?
Justin: Yes. I work on weekends, and sometimes in the evenings before the daylight savings time, I would work a little bit after work, maybe just a session here and there.
Philip: Okay. Awesome, Man. Well, this has been a great interview, but anything else that I am missing that you use to kind of maximize your efforts and really ramp up the business?
Justin: Yeah. I would like to talk a little bit more technical just because I know some people are listening and have cameras at home and kind of want to know what the secrets are and things like that, and not that I know everything, but I will share some secrets.
Justin: Two big no nos, I guess, when you pick up a camera, shoot, and get in Photoshop, don’t try to slam the saturation in everything. If you have ever edited pictures, you know it is tempting to push all the saturations all the way up because you want your picture to be super vibrant with color. But it does some funky things to skin tones, and it just does not look right. Even though you may think it looks better, it is a telltale sign of a newbie, a beginner. Don’t try to slam the saturation. The other big no no that I see a lot of times that can kind of let people know you are new is using the dark edge. It is real dark vignetteing just on the edges. It makes it real dark, and it is kind of a telltale sign. So those 2 things, slamming the saturation and darkening corners so much it looks like you have just a circle around your picture, are huge signs of a starter, so try to stay away from those and really pay attention to your skin, the skin of your picture. Zoom really close to it and take a good look at it. If it looks a little greenish or a little blue, go to your color balance and straighten that out. Skin tones are the most important part of a picture. If you don’t get those right, everybody can tell it is fake and you have done a lot of processing on it. So that is what I would advise you to do.
Philip: Good tips.
Justin: Also, there is a great action set out there that is for free too that I use several things on. It is from The Pioneer Woman. It is a woman mom blogger who actually has put out some Photoshop actions that are free and she uses in her everyday workflow (thepioneerwoman.com/photography). There are just some great actions there to help with sharpening a little bit. There is a slight sharpen tool that she gives you. You just press play, and it sharpens slightly. When you put them on the web on Facebook, it kind of makes them pop just a little bit more. I use that as kind of an icing on the cake so to speak.
Philip: Oh man. That’s good stuff. Any other places? You mentioned The Pioneer Woman. I am definitely familiar with her, and I will link to her. Any other places, resources, or educational spots you use online to kind of give you the edge?
Justin: You know I really have not used as much action as I thought I would when I started this thing. People really are just tempted. I really just use that set for the most part, and I just really kind of tried to learn the color balances and those different functions especially with the raw editor. There are really just so many things that I tried to do. I played with it for a long time, and I started to see what brightness means and contrast and exposure and just all the different levels it allows you to set. If you just insist on using actions, there are plenty of free ones out there. There is Action Central with some plug ins and some actions there. If you just type in free actions, they are out there, but I would learn the editor first. Then, once you learn your raw editor, once you start playing with that and knowing what everything does and getting your pictures right, then go looking for the actions. Don’t do it vice versa, because every picture is not going to fit that action that you are going to try to use on it, and it may just not look right. You may not know the difference unless you played around with the pictures before. So I would say that is the number one thing, play around with the editor. Learn what all the different sliders and functions do. It definitely helps.
Philip: Okay. Cool. Where can people find your pictures and see your service?
Justin: Sure. You can find a lot of our pictures on our blog for our adoption. It is onedaycloseradoption.blogspot.com. It is kind of a long name. That is where we put a lot of our family shots and stuff and some other things related to our adoption.
Philip: Okay. Awesome, Man. One more question, and that is sort of on the business setup side of this. I know you are only 6 months into it, but now you have some income. So, how are you going to structure this from a business perspective to maybe make it ideal for taxes and/or doing the adoption?
Justin: Right now we are meeting with a CPA, and we are not going to have any guess work here. We want to make sure it is done ethically and the very best way it can be done. A lot of our sessions right now because I have bought equipment and had invested, a lot of our sessions are just considered donations, and some of them are not. It just depends on how the client approached us. If they approached us as, “We want to give to your adoption,” and they gave us a check or cash and then we offered to take pictures for them – and that has happened a few times – in that case to our knowledge at this point they consider that a gift or a donation. All of them who come to us for pictures exclusively, we have a separate account set up, and we are going to file with our CPA here in the turn of the year, and we are going to definitely do what he advises. We are not going to try to figure this one out on our own. We are going to yield to a CPA professional and let him help us with that.
Philip: Okay. Good advice. But have you set up an actual business yet, an LLC or anything?
Justin: We haven’t right now, and that is something that we are kind of behind the curve on because we didn’t anticipate the success I guess. That is the hard part sometimes. It is something you invest a lot of time setting up everything, and then it is a flop. But there are some times you attempt something, and it is a success and you aren’t set up for it. That is kind of where we are right now. We are like, “Wow! You know, this is incredible!”
Philip: So you are just 6 months into it now. Do you expect to do this for some time going forward?
Justin: Actually my wife and I talked about it a couple of nights ago and decided that this could be a great extra income for us when our child from Ethiopia comes home to live with us. There will be those bonding months when she is here and she is a little baby. We figured my wife could stay home if I could continue to generate some income on the side to help compensate for her not working her part-time job right now. Her primary goal is to stay at home, but she does work some hours at church to help them with childcare. This kind of frees her up to be able to just stay at home with the child when she gets here and to be able to not have to worry about that.
Philip: Awesome. Awesome. I know there are a lot of people out there interested in the financing of adopting a child, so I definitely want to do a followup with you at some point on the whole adoption process. I think it is great obviously what you are doing and the way you have taken this approach to kind of take a part of this burden on your own shoulders and use your spare time to really do this. It has just been wonderful. It has been wonderful to see, and I think it is a great idea. I think a lot of people will be impressed with this interview, and I know you have given them some good technical advice too. Anything else before I let you go, any last tips or advice you want to share with any future freelance photographers out there?
Justin: Yeah. This should be less targeted to photographers and just in general because I know a lot of people are listening to this maybe want to generate some extra income for the holidays or maybe just for life in general. You can find something that you already have some sense of confidence or skill at. You know, if you are crafty woman who says, “Hey I have done some crafts,” maybe there is something that you have done before but it is right on the cusp of challenging you just a little bit, but you kind of feel confident in that area. Like for me photography was something that was in my area of expertise but was just off the cusp of it, so I kind of just dove right in. I would say if somebody is crafty, think about what is just out of reach, something that you have not tried before that could generate a little bit of extra income and could be fun for you and a challenge for you to learn a new skill, and do that. You don’t have to reinvent yourself and come up with something totally different. If you aren’t a creative person – maybe photography is not your deal even though you are listening to this right now – maybe you need to look at what you already have as far as your skill set and just go a little bit beyond that circle and look for something. That is what I did, and that worked for me.
Philip: Man, awesome advice. Well I appreciate you being on with me, Justin, and good luck to you going forward, and let me know if there is any way I can help you guys out.
Justin: Awesome. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Alright. That does it for this week’s podcast. You can always find me at ptmoney.com. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can also hopefully find this podcast on iTunes soon. I appreciate you guys listening, and I will be back next week.
Bear with me as I learn to do this podcasting thing. I’m a horrible interviewer. Need to work on my questions. But if you can fight through me, you’ll get some good insight into this popular part-time money making business.