First of all, thanks very much to Ruth.
I got her message a few weeks ago asking if I could write something on sources of finance for photographers who are in the process of starting up their business.
There are lots of services out there, but most of them charge you for the information. I’ve done my best to find some free directories, listings and search tools for you to check out.
So, what would a new photographer need the money for?
The main expense for most of us is going to be on camera equipment, and probably a computer, monitor and software like Photoshop. Plenty of other things like insurance and some basic marketing literature and a website come pretty high up the list as well. Possibly leasing or buying a studio space too.
There’s plenty of stuff you want to buy, but not all of it is necessary early on in the business. Do consider my final point at the bottom of this article about the advisability of making a big investment early on.
What kind of financing is out there?
Well, your options are…
1. Get a loan from friends or family
It ‘should’ normally be on very favourable terms, could be enough for everything you need, or not even enough for the camera.
2. Get a bank loan
Hard to get at the moment and the repayments may be too much of a risk.
3. Get a loan from any one of a number of charitable and government sources
These guys are trying to help you get started, and are able to offer very favourable repayment terms, giving you time to get your business up and running.
4. Get a grant from these or similar sources
A grant is generally money given to you that you never have to repay, providing you keep to the conditions attached to it.
I’m going to focus on 3. and 4. in this article and offer some resources to help you access what’s available.
Some loans and grants will be non specific, designed to help any and all new businesses, but lots of them are targeted. They may have been created to support minorities, women, specific business sectors or geographical regions, or just anyone who has an especially innovative idea they want to get off the ground.
Bear in mind though that there may be a lot of competition for these favourable start up loans and grants, the application process could be time consuming and complicated, and there is no guarantee of success at the end of the process.
Here are some of the key resources you are going to want to check out if you’re interested in going down this path. Incidentally, many of them offer or can suggest how to access free and subsidised business skills training, mentoring services and advice, so keep an eye out for those too.
If you are based in the US
My first port of call would be the US Small Business Administration (SBA). It offers its own loan programme, and has loads of advice on government grants too. Go to this page to use their excellent loans and grants search tool.
The Business Owners’ Ideas Cafe has an in house grant programme, but you can also access a list of grants they’ve discovered for you. You need to register first, but there isn’t a cost. Go to this page for more details.
If you are based in the UK
Business Link – http://www.businesslink.gov.uk – is the go to place for advice. This page is the key section on government financing and grants, and you are definitely going to want to run your details and requirements through their Business Support Finder for info on any grants, loans and expertise you might be eligible for.
This is definitely a great place to start, and lists a lot of schemes.
There are loads of art and charitable bodies out there who offer grants to photographers. Again, the criteria may be specific, perhaps targeting students or those who a striving to help the destitute or disenfranchised in society through their photography, or plain and simple for those who are just excellent at what they do. If you’ve got a great project, you might be able to find someone to back you.
Check out this page http://photophilanthropy.org/resources/find-photography-grants/ on the PhotoPhilanthropy website for loads of grant making bodies. Here is another good resource http://www.david-campbell.org/photography/grants/, and if you are in Australia, check out http://www.ccp.org.au/opportunities.php.
Is there an alternative?
Well, I for one started off pretty slowly, with a camera and lens, and worked for free at first, still earning money from another job I had. I then charged more and more as I got better, and put my earnings back in to the business, investing in better kit, marketing materials and eventually a studio.
My initial investment was some pretty basic camera kit and I was lucky enough to be able to fund that through savings I had. You definitely do need some money to get started, but not necessarily a lot. This route is very low risk, as you’re not taking out big loans, however favourable the terms, and you’re also giving yourself a chance to see if you actually like being a photographer.
However, if you do need to get finance for your first camera or for some other aspect of the business, a start up loan or grant may be just the thing.