Measuring Success or Just Keeping Score?

Measuring success?
Measuring success?

How do you measure success in your side hustle? Are you really measuring success or just keeping score?

There are so many measurements available for a photography business, or any online business for that matter. Page views, post likes, number of followers; the list goes on and on. You can spend all day looking at these statistics, but are they really helping your business?

 

Keeping Score

Keeping score
Keeping score

I think tracking the number of followers, page likes, and so forth that you have is just keeping score. It doesn’t matter except in a very general way.

For example, I currently have 393 page likes on my Facebook page Traingeek Images. What does that really mean? How does that help me?

In a very general sense it means that potentially 393 people could see a post I make there. The reality is that less than 50% of those people will normally see a post I make, and only a handful will actually click “like” on it. Facebook’s filtering algorithms try to present the most interesting content, and unless it gets engagement early, hardly anyone sees them. It’s only when a post goes viral, or least gets engagement, that it gets seen by more people… like this one.

At best Facebook page likes are a general sense of how many people you could reach.

The same goes for Instagram. I currently have 1,874 followers (a thousand more than last month!). How does that help me?

It means more photo likes – I average 150-200 per photo now – but that doesn’t really help my business. It might help my ego, but it doesn’t put cash in my pocket.

 

How Do You Define Success?

Before we talk about measuring success, we first have to define it. Success means different things to different people. A quick Google search gives three definitions:

  1. The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
  2. The attainment of popularity or profit.
  3. A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.

The common theme here is the attainment of a goal. You have to know where you want to go before you can measure whether you’re getting there.

I listed my goals at the bottom of my last post. You’ll see that page likes or follower counts are not in that list.

If you’re interested in doing sponsored posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, then follower counts will be important to you, because you’ll need a minimum number of followers before you’ll attract advertisers.

Like many people, I believe goals should be S.M.A.R.T.:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Use those SMART attributes to define your goals.

 

Measuring Success

Once you’ve defined your goals, you can measure your progress against them.

Let’s take my first goal, gross income of $1,200 for the year. To date I’ve received about $40, with another $80 or so pending, so I have to step it up if I’m going to achieve my goal. NEEDS WORK.

The second goal: stock photography income of $50/month. This month I’ve made USD $6.58 or about CAD $9.20, so I’m on my way. Given that I started stock in late November, I’m feeling pretty good about my progress here. ON TARGET.

You get the idea.

I do track numbers like Facebook page likes, web page views, and Instagram followers for my own interest. They are great for exposure but don’t lead directly to income, so they’re not part of my goals and they aren’t measures of success for me.

I’ll report on my progress toward my goals later this spring.

 

2015 Summary

2015 summary
2015 Summary

Here’s a summary of my photography side hustle for 2015.

I think it was a good year. I didn’t achieve all of my goals, but I had some good successes and I’m building a good foundation for success in 2016 and beyond.

Let’s dig into some details.

Starting Goals

My main goals for 2015 were:

  • Achieve a gross income of $1,000
  • Get into stock photography
  • Start doing photography jobs (weddings, portraits, events, whatever)

How’d I Do?

I did not achieve my gross income goal. You’ll see below that my gross income was $778.98. It was an ambitious goal, as my 2014 gross income was $427.52, so I did achieve a significant increase but not as much as I’d hoped.

I did get into stock photography, with some small success to date, so we’ll call that a win.

I did one photography job – I was one of the several photographers at the Manitoba Marathon and earned a decent income for my 6 hours of work. Another win.

 

Income

I had a gross income of $778.98, which includes some American income converted to Canadian at the exchange rate at the time. I record income on a cash basis, meaning I only count it as income when I receive it.

Here’s where the income came from:

I stopped running AdSense on my main blog (Confessions of a Train Geek) in May and that certainly affected the income from that. I decided that I’d rather solicit ads from companies and people I believe in rather than run random ads on my main blog. I’m still using AdSense on several niche sites. I probably will stop those once I get my next payout but I haven’t 100% decided on that yet. It’s not a lot of income.

 

Expenses

In 2015 I had expenses of $412.03, broken down as follows:

  • Web site expenses: 54% (hosting with Pair.com, name renewals, acquisition of this site’s name)
  • Photography expenses: 5% (Lightroom presets)
  • Advertising: 10% (Facebook ads for products)
  • Training: 2% (eBook for stock photography)
  • Software: 30% (monthly Adobe Creative Cloud payments)

My expenses were up in 2015 due to the Creative Cloud subscription (a good value, in my opinion) as well as the Facebook ads. I’ll be writing about my ad experience soon.

At the end of 2015 I paid my web hosting fees 24 months in advance to obtain a 24% discount. It didn’t get paid until 2016 so it doesn’t appear in my 2015 expenses. I believe this is a good investment to bring my expenses down.

 

Net Income

My net income was $366.95, which is 47% of the gross income (good) and more than twice my 2014 net income (great). I’m happy with that but I want to improve it for 2016.

 

Goals for 2016

Here are my 2016 goals:

  • Gross income of $1,200
  • Stock photography income of $50/month by end of year
  • Net income of $700
  • 2 paid work for hire gigs
  • Write and publish one eBook

Let’s get started!

 

How to Fail at Stock Photography

Old Wooden Grain Elevator with Blue Sky and Clouds
Old Wooden Grain Elevator with Blue Sky and Clouds

I tried my hand at stock very recently, and I want to share my experience and show you how to fail at stock photography.

Then I hope to show you how to succeed at it!

 

Why Stock Photography?

I believe it is important to diversify your income online. You never know when one income stream will dry up, and some things sell better at certain times of the year. One obvious income stream for your photography side hustle is stock photography. You’re taking photos anyway, so why not sell some of them?

The big appeal of stock photography is that it is passive income. Once you’ve uploaded the photos to the stock agency, all you have to do is sit back, the images will sell, and the money will roll in! How easy is that?

Of course, things are never that easy.

Strictly speaking, I am talking about microstock, where you offer a large number of images for sale at low prices. Traditional stock photography involves selling unique images at a relatively high cost per image, whereas microstock is volume-based and the images are “ready to use” for blogs or other online use. This article gives a great overview of the style differences between stock and microstock.

 

Getting Started in Stock

I knew next to nothing about stock photography, but a little research pointed me to this fantastic guide. “Get Started in Stock” (3rd Edition at the time of this post) is an excellent e-book and delivers what the title says. It is full of valuable tips and is well worth the modest price. Go buy it if you’re at all interested in stock photography. Those are affiliate links but I’d recommend it regardless. It’s a great value.

Vienna's Rathaus / City Hall By Night
Vienna’s Rathaus / City Hall By Night

The basic steps for getting started in stock photography are these:

  1. Register at one or more stock agencies
  2. Select images from your library to sell
  3. Edit the images
  4. Title and keyword the images
  5. Upload
  6. Profit!

Simple, right?

It is… but you’ll see that step 6 is the hard one.

 

The First Batch

“Get Started in Stock” recommends that you start with CanStock and then move on to Shutterstock (affiliate links). I followed that advice. I selected 10 photos, uploaded them to CanStock, and they were all accepted! Awesome. Great start.

I moved on to Shutterstock and uploaded the same 10 the next day. 9 were accepted and I was in. Sweet. I registered for Dreamstime (affiliate link) and uploaded there too. I decided to hold off on iStockPhoto for a week or two and just concentrate on these three.

I was really on a roll.

 

The Second Round

Key Example of How to Fail at Stock Photography
Key Example of How to Fail at Stock Photography – rejected at three sites

I selected a bunch of other photos from my library, edited them and uploaded them to those three again. This time I used FTP for efficiency (it’s all in the e-book).

It takes time for the stock agencies to review your photos to decide if they wish to accept them. I had close to 30 in the queues at CanStock and Shutterstock and Dreamstime… when it all came crashing down.

First up was CanStock, which rejected about 25 of the images. Ouch.

The big blow was Shutterstock, which rejected all 29 images.

Epic. Fail.

 

Picking Up the Pieces

I was devastated. After such a promising start, I got a hard lesson on how to fail at stock photography.

I stopped uploading for a day, just to take a breather and assess why so many were rejected.

Another triple reject - focus issues
Another triple reject – focus issues

The agencies give one or more reasons per photo, but I can distill them down to three main reasons:

  • Unacceptable image quality (focus being the biggest problem);
  • Too common / similar to others in their database;
  • Image was boring / didn’t “pop”; and
  • Image wasn’t saleable / didn’t tell a story.

They were right to reject them.

 

Back At It

I went back into my library with a far more critical eye. I was pixel peeping with a vengeance, looking for images that really grabbed the eye and could communicate a message or a feeling.

I also slowed down my upload rate. I aimed for uploading 5-10 images/day to get some quality in and improve my success ratio.

I had better success after that. My approval ratio is still not great but it has improved. In my experience, Shutterstock is the pickiest, followed by CanStock and then Dreamstime.

 

First Success

My first sale came four days ago, and it was Hebrew Clock on Old Town Hall. 35 cents!

I was so excited. When I noticed I had a balance in my Dreamstime account, I ran and told my wife. She was a bit… underwhelmed. She did see that it was progress, but she knows, as do I, that stock photography is a numbers game and one sale means more will come.

My second sale happened yesterday, and it was Boardwalk Up To Tourist Outlook Under Blue Sky. 25 cents!

 

Where I’m At Now

I am still very early in the game. My first upload to CanStock was on November 25, so I’ve only been doing this for three weeks.

At the time of writing, I have:

I have a net income of $0.60 after investing probably 30-35 hours of effort.

You might say that is a terrible hourly rate. You’re correct. I see it as an investment. Now that these images are out there, they will bring income, bit by bit, and as I increase my portfolio the income will increase. I don’t expect it to ever be huge but those images are now generating passive income.

 

Next Steps

Here is where I am going with my stock photography:

  1. Upload more photos
  2. Expand to more stock agencies (now on 5)
  3. Start shooting specifically for stock
  4. Publicize my galleries

My goal for December is to have 100 images online. For January I want to double that, and then we’ll see for February. My secret plan is to have 1,000 online by the end of 2016.

Wish me luck!

 

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.