I recently sent out a round of emails to everybody who purchased a copy of my book and asked how they’re getting on in their stock business. To be honest, as always, the feedback I’ve received is that many are struggling to make much money in this game. Some are even thinking about quitting. Or the alternative, some are thinking about getting started and looking for some motivation!
So, in the few past days, I’ve been busy on the emails and doing my best to advise them. Here’s a gist of what I’ve been advising.
Manage your expectations
The rule of thumb is $1 per year per image (combined for all agencies) for average images with average commercial value. If you expect to make $500 in your first year with 50 images you’re probably exploiting a highly profitable niche. For us mere mortals, the beginning is a slow and tough journey where many mistakes will be made.
In your first year, work hard, get 1000 images up and you’ll probably make $1,000 which you can put towards getting that cool lens you’ve always wanted. Year two same thing and then you’ll hopefully have a little bit more to re-invest in the business. At this stage it shouldn’t even be about the money (but of course it is since it’s a business but try your best to change that mentality).
The correct mentality is about learning and improving your craft, to achieve bigger and greater things in the long run. Perhaps even to supplement your pension plan.
I’ve been in this game for 5 years and only now can I really pay myself a salary, in the traditional sense of the word. That’s how most businesses operate anyway, with many not even making it past the first year (especially in retail). We’re just fortunate that stock is a relatively inexpensive business in terms of costs…assuming you’re not hiring models and/or travelling solely to shoot stock. As for equipment, no need for a professional kit.
Set reasonable goals for yourself
I set myself some reasonable goals and work hard to achieve them. The key is that they need to measurable and realistic. One example of a recent goal I’ve reached is highlighted in this recent post.
It’s a marathon not a sprint
This is a long-term game. That’s not so helpful though since as humans we’re hard-wired to seek out short-term benefits and most importantly, to avoid pain (eat now or starve and the classic fight or flight). Work hard now and (maybe) earn later is a tough pill for many to swallow.
For the millennials out there reading this, you’ll probably be familiar with the need for instant gratification. Earning in stock is pretty much the opposite of that as I’ll discuss in the next paragraph.
Work hard now to earn in 6 months
This is really difficult for some to get their head. Spend 6 hours shooting and another 6 hours post-processing, keywording and uploading. 6 days later it’s earned 60cents. Get the point? What’s the point? Maybe there’s no point!
But there is a point, which is that you’ll need to give it at least 6 months for the search engines to do their work to index the file and for it to compete in the search engines.
Allow me to illustrate with one example. I shot this image of the back of a London bus back in November.
It didn’t sell for 4 months and just last week it had 10 sales with various different agencies. I assume that the recently flurry of sales means that it’s finally matured and reached a decent ranking in the search engines which should continue to be competitive for the near future.
I did a quick search for this image on Shutterstock with some common keywords “london, double decker, bus, seat” and I can see that this image is now ranked 4th for the most popular category. Cool!
Forget about the image once it’s been accepted
My point is work hard, submit and just forget about that image and how it’s doing. If it’s a strong enough concept, keyworded properly and with a little bit of luck it should sell soon. Sometimes I only get sales after 2 years or in the case of Alamy, a client license one of your images and only pay in 6 months anyway!
Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum. Some sales happen even a few hours after being accepted, but those are uncommon and if it does happen, great! Just don’t expect it often.
So, you’re feeling low?
Take a break. Two weeks…maybe three weeks. Longer than that means it prove more difficult to get back into it, and the stock photography market is already highly competitive as it is.
During this time, watch YouTube tutorials on stock photography, check out the contributor forums and basically stay in tune on what you would like to shoot and why. Perhaps it’s not a full break but at least you’re still in the game.
Once you’re ready to upload new images, then you’ll hopefully come back with new vigor.
Nothing like an Extended License to cheer you up
I find that there’s nothing better to get me motivated than an extended license ($50+ popping up to make it feel like it’s been all worth the effort.
Cheer up and let’s make the most of this opportunity!
About the Author
Alex is an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images . He’s determined not to waste his life away as a corporate drone so he’s devoted his past four years to making it as a travel photographer and freelance writer. He hopes to inspire others before it’s too late.
He’s written a book about his adventures and includes tips on making it a stock travel photographer – it’s called the Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography