Newest Member of the $1,000 Club: Thoughts on How You Can do it Too
Today I have achieved the special milestone at DT of $1,000 in earnings overall. Here are some thoughts on how you can do it, too:
First, a look behind the numbers. I joined DT February, 2009. You get excited with your first few sales but there really isn't much motivation to work hard at stock when you're making $10/month. It takes a lot of work to get to $10/month; duplicate the effort and then you're at $20/month. It's easy to let other priorities take precedence when it feels like you're spinning your wheels. In August of 2009 I got my portfolio to over 70 images and during that month I had 31 sales which averages to one per day. I made almost $40 for the month which I thought was huge for 70-some images. That's when you realize the potential of 700 images online instead of 70. I kept at it and set a goal of having 200 images online by the end of 2009.
Despite dedicating a portion of my time to grow my portfolio, it wasn't until February of 2010 when I beat that $40 to have a new "Best Month Ever." I had almost tripled the size of my portfolio yet the sales were not really growing. I think the reason for this is because of the types of images I was uploading at the time, which were mostly vacation and other generic images for which the competition is great. It's kind of a gray area; you have a great picture, DT will accept it, and you will get sales here and there, but uploading the same images everyone else is uploading, that is really not the way to go.
After one year with DT the picture became a little more clear. Once you start seeing what is selling well in your portfolio you begin to understand that it's better to have images with virtually no competition. That may be a "Duh" but in looking at other portfolios it's a concept many have yet to learn. I'm still going to upload generic vacation pictures because those secondary images still rake in a percentage of sales, but the focus should be in trying to figure out new and different ideas, and executing them well. Many of my best selling images are not what I would call great photographs. I have come to understand that Buyers want images that communicate a concept and will grab the eye and hold it there. If you play the "Stock Game," you will be given many images where you have to think "What the HECK is THAT?" If an image can't visually communicate a concept instantly, it's not going to sell. Conversley, it will sell well if it does, especially when it's better than the competition of the same idea.
How do you come up with new and dfferent ideas? I have a pile of papers and notes with ideas to create when I have the time for shooting. I search the database to see how others present a concept and I look at the sales. I go for walks and I'll just let my mind wander.
The biggest thing holding me back is time and resources. I've been trying to upload 20 images/month and it's a chore to do that. I have many failed images because I don't have the proper studio space and lighting equipment. Failure is not a bad thing, you learn from it and it makes you a better photographer and illustrator, but it does affect productivity. When you do hit those brick walls, you can't let them stop you.
Another thing I do is look at images done by others and examine their techniques. You can learn from even simple images; a generic scene may have used professional lighting from more than one source. A good camera can't always make up for a bad setup. I used to feel inadequate for not being able to do what the "Big Boys" can do, but now I realize I'm probably almost as good as they are, I just can't afford to buy the equipment that you need for a professional studio in order to make professional grade images.
I look for tutorials on the internet for photoediting ideas. Just learning how to fix noise was a huge step. Finding a GOOD tutorial is sometimes a challenge, but all the tricks of the trade are out there. It's merely a matter of looking and trying. The internet is such a wonderful tool for free learning!
Lastly, it's really up to you to reach your full potential. One thing I want to comment on in particular is something you sometimes hear in the forums: There are those who do this for fun and those who have fun creating a real business for themselves. There is nothing wrong with with one or the other. However, I've seen "Fun Only" people to sometimes take offense. The main reason they're here is they enjoy doing photography on the side and DT provides a means to reinforce that they are good photographer or illustrator with the occasional sale. They may not have the time and commitment to manage their portfolio as a business. There is nothing wrong with that, everyone has their main interests and priorities in life. People like me, perhaps it's less fun sometimes when treating this as a business, but it's fun doing photography, it's fun exercising my imagination, and it's fun building a portfolio that is actually turning into a second income. There will be those that will say $1,000 after 18 months really isn't much, and it isn't. While you can't make any predictions or forecasts, it appears I am on the verge of consistently making $100/month with DT. That's like driving a car and never having to pay for gas. Photography for FUN and as a BUSINESS is a very different mindset than just doing it for fun alone. The point is it takes sweat to get somewhere in stock. I may again be stating the obvious but if I write a blog on how to turn your efforts into a real business there will be those who will point out that's not why they're here. That's OK, this is fun too and they are probably successful in other endeavors. In the end, I think everyone eventually realizes you can't just throw out a few images and expect great returns. Human nature always looks for the easy path and it seems we never learn the lesson that the easy path doesn't exist.
This is hopefully just the beginning. What is the next level this business can take me to? The fun part is it's my imagination that will take me there.
I know the above doesn't give you easy 1-2-3 answers for the road to success and I'm sure many were hoping to find that, but if anything, there is that old cliche'... If someone like me can do it, then so can you!
Here is the image that got me to $1,000 in overall earnings:
Photo credits: Wisconsinart.