Is your goal of opening a photography studio soon becoming a reality? Maybe you’re still in the dreaming phase of it! If so, I’m sharing a few pieces of wisdom from one studio owner to another one.
In this episode, we’re pulling back the curtain to give you an inside look at what it’s like to be a studio owner, things I’m glad I did, advice I wish I’d had, and a few lessons I’ve learned through experience! Grab your notebook, and let’s plan for a few things before you jump all in to a photography studio space.
Clocking In with Haylee Gaffin is produced and brought to you by Gaffin Creative, a podcast production company for creative entrepreneurs. Learn more about our services at Gaffincreative.com, plus you’ll also find resources, show notes, and more for the Clocking In Podcast.
Review the Show Notes
The History of The Studio (1:09)
The Current State of The Studio + Lessons Learned (2:19)
Finding the Perfect Studio Space (2:55)
What I Learned After Opening a Photography Studio
1. Remodeling The Studio & The Investment (3:13)
What I’d Do Differently in My Studio’s Remodel (4;30)
1. Checked the foundation/state of the rooms before planning
2. Considered worst case scenarios and planned for them
3. Given myself a longer timeline for opening and taken dedicated time off work to do it.
Before + After Photos of The Studio:
2. Save at Least 6 Months of Studio Rent (5:26)
Why: You should be able to pay for your studio space for at least 6 months without any sessions (or in case a global pandemic hits) so you’re able to work through the first few months of getting your name out there.
Bonus Tip: Figure out how much you have to shoot in order to pay studio rent each month. (9:23)
3. Create a System for Rentals that Works for You (9:33)
My System in Honeybook (9:53)
1. Create a webpage for your studio rental with an inquiry form.
2. Have email templates for every scenario to gather details or send over brochures, proposals, applications, etc.
3. Send a proposal email with details and what to expect, along with a proposal that requires a 50% deposit due upon receipt and 50% due one week before rental.
4. Send a reminder email the day before their rental with a code, rules, and the address.
5. Send a feedback questionnaire and request for a google review.
4. Set Boundaries for Yourself in Your Business (11:51)
Communication Boundaries (12:01)
Renter Applications & Boundaries (12:45)
5. Setting Rules for Your Studio (14:45)
6. Plan a Budget for Maintenance in Your Studio (16:20)
7. Invest in a Security System & Keypad Code for Your Studio (17:27)
Why I Got Security for My Studio: (17:39)
1. Being alone in the space and inviting unknown clients to the space.
2. Having recurring dreams of someone breaking into my space.
Why I Got a Keypad Code: (18:30)
1. Driving to the studio before and after every rental wasn’t efficient.
2. I can always ensure it’s locked after a rental right from my phone.
The Woman I’m cheering for This Week
Review the Transcript:
As we approach the two year anniversary of opening The Studio by Gaffin Creative, I wanted to share a few big lessons I learned in the last two years when it comes to opening and running a photography studio. Today’s episode is all about pulling back the curtain on all the good, some of the bad, and the lessons I’ve learned while owning a studio space.
Hey y’all welcome to the clocking in podcast the podcast for entrepreneurs and professionals making their way in the working world i’m your host Haylee Gaffin this podcast is produced and brought to you by Gaffin Creative a podcast production company for creative entrepreneurs learn more about our services at Gaffincreative.com plus you’ll also find resources show notes and more for the clocking in podcast so let’s clock in and get to work.
For those of you who are new around here, you probably found me through some type of podcast content, and you know that I produce podcasts for creative entrepreneurs. BUT I also own and manage a studio space in Chattanooga, TN.
So back in 2018, I had this idea to start taking brand photos in my area, because it really wasn’t a big niche back in 2018 and no one in my area was doing it. I also wanted to set myself apart by opening a studio space. I struggled to find a space that was reasonably priced and met all the things that I wanted in a space. I gave up on this idea, because I realized I wasn’t booking enough photoshoots to make it worth my time and looking back, I had no plan for what I would do with a space.
Fast forward to 2019, when I was booking more headshot clients, and meeting with brands for my side hustle helping with marketing, websites, and social media. I soon realized that I could use a space for more than just my photography. I could use it as a meeting space instead of Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. So, on my way home from a Starbucks meeting, I passed by what is my now studio space and saw that it was available for rent. I called, set up a tour, outlined a plan for remodel, pitched it to the landlord, and boom, I began renovating that space two weeks later.
So now that it’s been over a year and a half since opening, we’ve been through a global pandemic, and it feels as though we rose above so many obstacles, I want to share a few lessons that I learned along the way that I think other photographers looking to open a space should consider. These lesson will include a few things I planned that worked out in my favor that I’d also recommend to photographers, a few things I had never considered, and things I’ve put in place based on experiences I’ve had over the last year and a half.
1.So let’s start with the planning of the studio. Finding a space that was perfect for what I wanted was not easy. Honestly, there are still so many things I want to change about my space, but it takes time and money.
The space I’m in right now barely looks like it did on tour day. I had planned a one month remodel and spent about two and a half months remodelling due to some construction delays and issues.
I invested a little over $2500 into the studio remodel, but thankfully I have the world’s best landlord, who exchanged the upgrades for rent credit during that time. He knew I was making great improvements to the space and was so supportive.
My studio had yellow walls and blue carpet when I moved in. The construction delays come when we realized that there was old hardwood under the carpet in two rooms. This meant we needed to hire someone to remove it—and I wont go too far into detail, but let’s just say that contractor didn’t a great job and cause more issues than he helped. This delayed my opening by a month.
Long story short, we got it worked out, but it was a ton of manual work, stress, and I essentially was out a full month’s rent due to the delays because of one person.
If I had to go back and redo that entire remodel, I would have checked every room’s foundation before moving forward, determine worst case scenarios for everything, and given myself a little more time for construction (because when you’re relying on someone else and not doing the work yourself, you’re working on their timeline).
All in all, I’m really happy with how it turned out. The space is stunning and almost unrecognizable now! I’ll make sure to share a few before and after photos in the show notes on the website at gaffincreative.com/012.
2.Now let’s talk about how the delay didn’t completely kill my chances of opening a successful photography studio!
Before I ever opened the space, I decided that I needed to save up enough money in my business to continue to pay myself as I always had, while also being able to afford rent for a least 6 months while I was still growing the business.
I opened the studio while I still had a 40 hour a week client, essentially a full time job. So I knew that it was likely that I wouldn’t be able to cover rent costs with my sessions alone. So I set aside the money in my business account to cover for 6 months as a just in case, because the last thing I wanted to do was shoot 5 sessions a month and every penny go to the studio rent.
So I did just that. I officially announced the opening of the studio at the beginning of October, mind you, I got into the space the last week of July.
October of 2019 would be the official opening date of The Studio by Gaffin Creative. When I opened, I was in the photography studio every single day. If I was paying for a space, I was going to be there. I actually did not have my first studio rental until December of 2019. And because photography isn’t the majority of my business income, it meant that all of that profit went straight to rent for the first two months of being open. Thankdully I’d set aside the money for it and look at it as an investment.
In January of 2020, I made more than my rent in studio rental and finally felt a sense of uptick in my investment and business. February was the same, followed by a fully booked March… until the last of the month when the world shut down.
I remember in the same day, getting 10 different messages from late March and early April bookings asking what cancellation policy would be with COVID.
Those were followed by even more messages through the end of April and into May. I honestly thought I was going to have to close the studio. We couldn’t shoot, we couldn’t be out, we couldn’t do anything to use the space. I decided to tell each renter that they could have a credit for their payments and that as the space was open, they would be able to use it at a later date. Those deposits and fully paid rentals covered the expenses of the rent in April and May, but when June hit, our town started to allow businesses to operate again and all of those credits were being used. I had to fork out that backlog of my own saved money to cover rent while I waited on approval for PPP.
Thankfully I received it and rent was covered by that while I waited for all of those credits to be used.
Honestly, none of us ever expected a global pandemic. None of us wanted this to happen. I am truly shocked that the studio is still open. I sometimes sit back and wonder how? How was my studio profitable during that time? How did we come back? Without that saved money to help with rent, without reasonable and wonderful photographers in the community, without that amazing support and encouragement I had, I don’t think it would have survived.
If I could give a piece of advice to a photographer looking to open a studio space, it would be to ensure that you can pay for the space for at least 6 months without any renters or photoshoots. And as a bonus tip, figure out how much you personally have to shoot in the space to pay for it and make sure that owning a studio space is beneficial to you vs renting someone else’s space.
3.After I opened, I quickly learned a really big lesson—create a system for rentals that works for me AND set really good expectations.
I use Honeybook to manage my inquiries, bookings, contracts, and payments. My renters can either email me to ask availability or inquire on my website. I’m still figuring out the best way to manage sharing availability. I originally was using a calendar system, but it ended up being a pain to manage when I would block off dates for potential renters and they didn’t pay.
Let’s walk through what my process looks like really quickly and if y’all want a more detailed episode on how I use Honeybook, please let me know and I’ll share more!
First things first, I have an entire webpage dedicated to the studio for renters. It shares all the rooms as they currently are, details on how rental works, rates, and a form on how to book.
Once they inquire, I have templates to help with any potential question, request, and denial. Once we’ve got all the answers they need, they’re sent a proposal where they have to pay a 50% deposit, then the other 50% is due one week before their rental.
Within the proposal email, I highlight the key details they need to know about rental and what to expect from me.
The day before their rental, they’ll get a reminder email of their rental with a code to get in, a reminder of some of the most important rules, and the address to share with their clients.
After their rental, if they haven’t already or haven’t in a while, they’ll receive a feedback form and a request for a google review. This has helped so much with what I do for improvements to the studio, but also let’s them feel like the space is there for photographers. I am actively listening to their requests and concerns.
It also helps with growing my rankings on Google. 5 Star Reviews can go a long way! Now if you’re looking for a project management tool, for your business, I highly recommend Honeybook. I’ve been using them since before I opened my studio and manage all of my clients there. You can use the link in my show notes for a free one week trial, plus 50% off your first year!
In addition to that, if you’re looking for someone to help you build out a full suite of email templates, brochures, questionnaires, applications, and more, I do offer one-on-one style coaching for studio owners who want to streamline their business. It’s not something I advertise too often, but I know how tough it can be to go through these lessons on your own. So if you’re interested, reach out via my website or shoot me a DM on Instagram.
4. Speaking of setting expectations in those emails, it’s important to actually create boundaries to protect your space and yourself.
The first thing I want to note is boundaries with communication— I highlight in signature of every email I send what my office hours are and that I prefer to keep all conversations about rentals in my emails.
Now I’ll definitely answer DMs about the space, but I prefer to push people to email me or inquire on my website to actually book the space. I do this because if I need to reference a conversation, I only have on place to go instead of 4.
In addition, I typically don’t respond to messages or email at night or on weekends, but I will take the time on the weekends to answer inquiries, because I don’t like to wait more than 24 hours to get back to a potential renter—especially if it’s a last minute rental for the next week and I have the availability.
The next boundary I set for my space is who actually gets to rent the space. This little section is probably the one that makes owning a studio sound awful, but I promise once you set expectations and find the right renters, you’ll love every moment of it. After a few really tough situations with renters, I added a rental application for photographers I don’t know.
This came about after renting to people who weren’t running a legit business and people who didn’t respect my space. Holes in walls, scratches, torn furniture, misusing my personal gear, and just people who were really disrespectful to me in communication or my space caused me to realize that I needed to set better boundaries.
Let me share a few examples. The first example is disrespecting my space. If someone comes in and leave the space in an absolute mess, doesn’t take care of watching how they move furniture and scratch my walls, and makes it obvious, I try to communicate the issues with them and more times than not, they end up on a list of people I don’t rent to anymore if they can’t respect the feedback or they don’t change behaviors.
The second example is when people don’t respect me as the studio owner. If some gets mad at me because I don’t have the availability I want, it’s a red flag for me. It’s happened where I’ve been called a liar when I told someone an entire week was booked. Red flag. I had to set a boundary to not rent to someone like that because their money is not with the anxiety my conversations with them bring on.
I’ve also been told that a photographer was talking bad about me to their clients (who I knew) so they wouldn’t book me for photos in my space over them… for a type of photography I don’t even offer. Red flag. Because of that, now that photographer doesn’t even get the opportunity to rent from me, when they could have just respected me and allowed me to refer them when I get inquiries for that type of shoot.
5.Since we’re talking about boundaries, let’s go ahead and talk about rules as well. I do have rules listed in my emails and contracts that I request not be broken. This includes moving furniture unless discussed prior, it includes being respectful of noise levels considering the neighbors who are in the complex, no nails or damaging my walls, and being present with your clients and not leaving them alone in the space.
I share these rules in my contract, the proposal email, and the reminder email—as I want to make sure that my renters know the rules and know that I’m serious about them.
6While I have rules in place, it’s also important for any potential photography studio owner to know that rules will be broken, which mean you need to budget for maintenance and replacing items. This lesson kind of feels like a lot of work, but you’ll realize it just come with territory of letting other people use your space. Not only that, but your own photography clients will also cause some of these problems.
So I’ve had tons of items broken, ripped, stained, you name it. If I can’t fix it, I either replace it or just toss it. It sucks to put your money into something that someone else breaks—but this is where those boundaries come in and establishing a relationship with your renters so that they respect your space.
Now before I move on to the maintenance part of this, I do want to say that I have some of the best renters. It took a while to get here, figure out who I could trust, and really set those boundaries, but I honestly don’t have any renters that I don’t enjoy renting to anymore. Like most of my renters are gems and I’m so thankful for them!
So back to maintenance—scuffs and dirty walls are going to happen. Between rentals I try to go through and check for these things. Usually a magic eraser will do the trick, but that’s not to say you won’t have to touch up with a fresh coat of paint every now and then. There are times I’ve created really cool wall art for sets, and I have to fill all of the holes and repaint full walls. But I also have had a few renters in the past break no nail rule or use command hooks and pull them off wrong, which ripped the paint. So I had to patch and repaint, because this si a photography studio and it’s meant to be photographed and the last thing I want is for a renter to have to edit holes out of the walls.
So I’d definitely set aside the budget to at least maintain paint touch ups every quarter, and replace blankets, pillows, plants, etc that wear down over time.
7And the last lesson that I learned and probably the best investments that I’ve made and would advise anyone to make would be security and a keypad for the door.
My security system actually came out of fear from two things. One was that I was a female in a space alone and I wanted some type of security for both my protection of someone showing up unexpectedly and for the headshots of people I didn’t know coming in the space.
My space used to be an insurance office, so I still get people coming even after two years of them being gone, people will come there thinking its the same place. Not that this is a scary situation to be in, but I feel more protected being able to answer through the ring doorbell than to open the door to someone I don’t know when I’m alone in the space.
The second reason I decided to get a security system was I kept having recurring dreams that someone broke into my space and trashed it. So I wanted to make sure that it was documented in some way if that ever happened and that I could do something about it.
I do give my clients a heads up that there are security cameras in the space so that they and their clients don’t feel uncomfortable when they see them.
THe other really awful component that I added for both security and convenience is a keypad code for getting into the space. When I first opened the studio, I would drive there to meet the renter, unlock the door, and ask them to lock it when they left. Let me tell you why this didn’t work for me:
I was wasting so much time for so little money when people were only renting for an hour. I’d have to stop what I was doing, let them in, then leave. This wasn’t productive or efficient for me.
Additionally, I’d ask them to lock the door when they left and I’d say about 25% of the time, a renter would forget, which left my studio open to anyone to get into.
In adding the code keypad, I was able to reduce my time at the space in half per renter (because you know I still have to go clean it after), and it improved the security, because they’re asked to lock the door when they leave, but rather than driving all the way there, I can simply check my phone to see if the door was locked. If it wasn’t I can remotely lock it.
Overall, I think the security was the best investment I made in my space, because it relieved a ton of stress I never realized I would have when opening my photography studio.
I’d love to know if you’re interested in opening a studio space, what’s holding you back, or how your experience with a studio has been!
If you’re in the Chattanooga area and are interested in renting The Studio by Gaffin Creative, I would absolutely love to talk and invite you to my facebook group for photographers in this area so shoot me a DM!
If you’re a studio owner and hoping to learn more about my workflow in Honeybook, I offer one on one coaching and workflow implementation services with email templates, brochures, and feedback questionnaires I created for my own brand that we can customize just for your space!
I really hope you enjoyed this episode! And if you’re loving this podcast and the content I’ve been putting out, I’d so appreciate a 5 star rating and review on the Apple Podcast App! Thanks so much for listening.
This has been another episode of The clocking in podcast. You can find the show notes for this episode and more at Gaffincreative.com. Thank you so much for your listenership and support. If you love this episode, I’d be so honored if you leave me a review in Apple podcast app. Until next time, I’m your host Haylee Gaffin, clocking out.
This week, I’m cheering for my dear friend and social media expert, Ainsley Walls. She and I have been connected for years in the advertising world and just reconnected this last week over some really cool things she’s planning for in her business.
I know a lot of times that taking big leaps is scary, but I also know the return those plans can make for your life and business.
If you’re looking to do something big, like open a studio, invest in education, or invest in a new service to help you in your business, it is so important for you to weigh the benefits, then if you move forward, trust the process.
So while I’m cheering for Ainsley this week, I’m also cheering for those of you who are looking at the next steps in your business and considering big leaps for your future!
Don’t forget to cheer for someone this week! Until next time, I’m clocking out.