When starting out in the photography business, it's difficult to generate the startup capital and the client base to operate out of a studio location right away. In fact, it can take many years to achieve this milestone. For me, the first 11 years of my career were built on an in-home studio concept. I greatly prefer working in the studio that I have today, which is very spacious and accommodating. However, I had great success working from home over the course of those first years, working in all kinds of conditions. I've had studios set up in basements, kitchens and even my master bedroom! It wasn't easy. With four children at home, it was definitely a balancing act. But it's how I got my start and I would like to take some time to share some tips that will help those of you who are doing the same.
For those of you with children, this is especially valid. You should select an area of your home that is off the regularly trafficked paths. A front room that is rarely used, a basement or even a spacious bedroom will work best. While you want a space that has good light, it's more important that you have privacy. You'll also want to consider an area near a bathroom, where clients can freshen up quickly. I would recommend locking this room, if at all possible, so it's impossible to be rummaged through when you are not holding a session.
You can set up a desk, organize your props, furniture and wardrobe, and perhaps arrange a comfortable seating area, all in one space. If you are working in a room that doesn't have a closet, consider purchasing a rolling rack, some shelving and storage bins to organize your space. The more attractive the better, but function should be your main concern. A custom closet company might be the most ideal storage solution if your space and budget will allow.
I always vacuumed my studio space at the end of every day, and touched up the bathroom. This is a great time to restock your candy supply, check your emergency kit and tidy up. Make sure everything is put back in its place. This will help you start a new day fresh and energized instead of rushing around trying to straighten up.
A to do list is a great idea, not only for home studios but any studio. First thing in the morning, I would always go through a printed to do list that would help me avoid any embarrassing situations. It included things like checking the bathroom, lighting candles, baking some frozen cookies to fill the house will a delicious smell, brushing my children's hair and washing their faces, white balancing my camera and reviewing my daily and weekly schedule. Over time your check list will grow as you find things that need to be double checked each day.
If possible, you can create a more sophisticated experience by committing two spaces in your home to your business. A front room makes a good waiting area and sales room. This doesn't have to be used exclusively for this purpose, of course, but it should be a room that is not often used. This is a good place to keep coloring pages, crayons, puzzles, and toys that can entertain children. You can also stock this space with some current magazines and bottled waters. Most of all, this is the perfect place to showcase your work and display product options in a tasteful, non-crammed way. You don't want to overwhelm the space, so only feature your very favorites. A product binder or two is all you need to display printed products like birth announcements, save the dates, etc. A projection system will significantly boost your sales averages, if you can get one. If not, a large screen television is another option that will create a dynamic slideshow experience during the sales meeting. In either case, you will want to dim the lighting considerably, so blinds or heavy draperies might be necessary.
Make sure the bathroom your clients use is stocked with some diapers, wipes, lotion, combs, hairspray, hair gel, a hairdryer, nail polish remover and any other essentials that your clients will need to freshen up. If your home has enough baths, you might also want to use the "off limits" rule on this area as well.
Part of what will set you apart in your photography business is your professionalism. This can be harder to maintain in your home environment, but a carefully maintained SOP in your client experience can make all the difference. When a client makes an appointment, collect the fee right away, just as you would at a bustling studio. Send a reminder email two days before the session and a phone call reminder the day before. Stick to the agreed session time, even if your day is open afterwards. You owe this to yourself, and it helps create a consistent experience. When the session ends, schedule a sales meeting within the week. Do a phone reminder the day before the sales meeting (and remind them that all decision-makers must be present). Throughout the sales process, don't be too flexible. This gives the impression that because you are working out of a home studio you can afford to charge less than you are worth or give more than was paid for, which is certainly not the case. After the sales meeting, collect payment and give a timeframe for the order completion. Finally, make the phone call when the order is ready for pickup. I think packaging is where an added investment can really pay off. Spend the time and money to create attractive, professional packaging the matches your brand. This will make a wonderful and lasting impression of professionalism. After the final delivery, make sure to send a hand-written thank you note. These procedures should become standard, setting you up for success as your business grows and your schedule becomes more crowded. Most of all they help create a polished image that you can be proud of.
I hope these tips will help you take your home studio to a more efficient and effective place. I urge you to make the most of what you have now, and resist the urge to stretch yourself too thin too soon. Moving to a studio location is a huge step and one that you're never quite prepared for. So enjoy the process!