Producing and Selling Calendars (Income Idea)

CalendarOne way to generate income for your photography side hustle is by producing and selling calendars. Many people enjoy having a beautiful calendar on their wall or desk, and your fans might appreciate the opportunity to purchase your artwork in this way.

I’ll talk about some options for producing calendars and finish with my own experience selling calendars.

Print Your Own

You could print your own calendars using a local print service, either through a local camera store or print shop, through a service such as Vistaprint, or even through a big box store like Wal-Mart or Costco.

There are advantages and disadvantages. The main advantages I see are a somewhat lower cost to produce each calendar, and the ability to have calendars on hand to sell, either directly to friends and family, or to give as gifts or samples when meeting with prospective clients.

The principal disadvantage is you must buy them first, so you have to invest your own money up front and hope to recoup it. Calendars are obviously time sensitive, so if you haven’t sold them by Christmas you likely are not going to sell them at all.

That leads me to…

Print on Demand Calendars

There are many services that allow you to design your calendar(s) and then they take care of the printing and shipping for you. All you have to do is upload your photos, design the calendar, and set what markup you want on the calendar. In theory they do the rest, although in practice you must do the marketing.

The big advantage to print-on-demand is that you pay no money up front. You must expend the effort to design the calendar, and market it, but the financial risk to you is zero.

The disadvantage is that the calendars are somewhat expensive. On Lulu.com, for example, the basic calendar has a minimum cost of $11.99, with no profit to you, so you must charge more than that to make any money at all. I must say I haven’t found them to be much more expensive than printing your own calendars, unless you print hundreds of calendars.

The Cost Question

You will get challenged by people who see the calendars in retail stores or calendar kiosks that sell for $5.99 or so. There’s no way you can compete with those prices, because you won’t be printing in the volume they do. Your best explanation is to say that the photos are hand picked and of high quality. For print on demand calendars, you could even customize a calendar for one client, if you want to spend the time!

My Own Experience

Lightroom Calendar Collections
Lightroom Calendar Collections

I’ve been selling print-on-demand calendars through Lulu for three years now. I’ve found that they are not a huge money maker by any means, but my readers keep asking for them, so I keep making them.

On Lulu.com you can sell basic or premium calendars. The premium calendars use heavier paper and are larger and don’t fold, whereas the basic calendars are folding calendars that you are likely more familiar with.

Here are my sales figures for the three years I’ve been selling calendars:

Year Types # Sold Premium Sold Revenue (USD) Average / Calendar
2013 1 10 0 $19.62 $1.96
2014 2 11 7 $44.98 $4.09
2015 5 7 13 (to date) 2 $34.00

$62.69

$4.86

I’ll note that the majority of calendar sales come in December, so I’m hopeful 2015 will be a good year. UPDATE: 2015 was indeed a good year.

The revenue is my cut of the sales, above what Lulu takes.

My Sales Strategies

I’ve evolved my sales strategies over the past few years. In 2013 I didn’t have much of a margin, so the average income per calendar was low. I was only selling one calendar, a Canadian trains calendar.

In 2014 I decided to increase my margins, and offered premium calendars which had a larger margin. That helped my revenue despite the fact that I did some discounting at different times through the season. I was selling two calendars, a Manitoba grain elevator calendar and a Canadian train calendar, in both regular and premium form.

In 2015 I decided to offer four different calendars – a Manitoba grain elevator calendar in both regular and premium form, and three different train calendars. I ran some Facebook ads to promote them – I’ll write about that separately. I also set up a sales-funnel type of page to sell them, with A/B testing using the Landing Pages WordPress plugin.

My Recommendations

Here are my recommendations for producing and selling photo calendars:

  • Start with print-on-demand calendars until you are sure you have enough volume to print your own;
  • Use your social media feedback (likes) to help you select the photos you will use;
  • Promote the heck out of your calendars – they won’t sell themselves;
  • Use a sales funnel/landing page to help people decide to buy.
  • Don’t expect a huge income from calendars. It’s seasonal and a lot of people don’t use calendars any more.

EDIT: Updated 2016/1/12 with updated sales figures for 2015.

Focus or Diversify?

Hoya Circular Polarizer - Steve BoykoIf you are pursuing photography as a side hustle, by definition you have a regular job that occupies most of our time, so you have a limited amount of time to devote to your photography business. The question becomes: should you spread our efforts across multiple aspects of your business, or concentrate on one aspect at a time? Should you focus or diversify?

Define Yourself

First you need to take a step back and define what you are going to do in our photography business. Are you going to be:

  • a wedding photographer
  • a portrait photographer
  • a fine art photographer
  • an event photographer
  • or some combination of the above?

Even if you decide you are going to be a wedding photographer, chances are you will also do portraits and maybe dabble in stock photography or fine art photography.

Note that this could be different from how you portray yourself publicly. I would advise being open about what type of photographer you are, but you may consider yourself an event photographer while publicly niching down to, say, a sports photographer.

Diversify

Diversification is key to success in many areas. In investing, for example, diversification is a key concept. Don’t hold one asset, or one asset class (such as stocks); diversify across multiple asset classes, diversify across multiple countries… spread the risk and spread the opportunity.

It pays to diversify in your photography business, too. Maybe you’re a wedding photographer. What do you do in the off season where bookings are less frequent? Diversifying into portrait photography can help smooth the load. The same goes for event photographers – maybe you shoot football. You need some income even when it’s not football season.

Having some fine art and/or stock photography can provide a steady income throughout the year. Diversification can pay off.

However, there’s something to be said for focusing on one thing at a time. Warren Toda argues that “when a photographer tries to be a jack of all trades, they may actually harm their business.”

Focus

The book The ONE Thing talks about focusing on the one most important thing that will move you toward achieving your goals.

There’s a lot to be said for a laser-like focus, concentrating all of your effort on mastering one aspect of photography, or driving one area of your business to great heights.

For one thing, you can get to know your target audience / customers really well. By focusing on, say, wedding photography, you can attend the wedding-related shows and skip the art or Christmas shows, saving money and getting in front of the exact customers you really want. Plus you can network with the right group of people. Getting chummy with sports photographers might be fun, and rewarding in its own way, but they may not be able to help you grow your wedding photography business.

Also you can get the right gear. If you dabble in all sorts of photography, you’re going to end up spending a lot more money than if you focus on one or two areas. You won’t need that expensive 600mm lens you bought for bird photography if you’re doing weddings. Those studio strobes won’t help your sports photography. Your photography side hustle has a limited budget and you need to spend it wisely.

What To DO?

I recommend you focus on the aspect of photography that you really want to excel at, and give it 80-90% of your time, effort and money. Spend the resources to get really good at it and develop it into a successful side hustle.

At the same time, take that 10-20% of your effort and diversify. Do some photography that you want to experiment in. Play. Learn. Network. You never know what you’ll discover that will help your primary focus.

 

 

Beginning the Side Hustle

rainbowHello and welcome to Photography Side Hustle. I will be writing about how to do photography as a “side hustle”, aka a second job, to earn additional income for you and your family. Many people have an interest in photography and we’ll explore how you can use your photography to earn some income.

I am an IT person, and I’ve been doing photography seriously for about five years. In that time I’ve seen my side income grow and I intend to grow it significantly over the next few years.

The key to a good photography side hustle is to have multiple income streams. We’ll look at the different streams available and how to take advantage of them.

I have several web sites that I maintain and generate income in one way or another:

Are you ready to start your photography side hustle?

Come join me on this journey.