I’ve been thinking a lot about how to deal with growth lately. As things pick up in various aspects of my work – editorial, architecture, and fine art – there are certain things I think I need that would make shooting and day-to-day life much easier. Things such as a set of PocketWizards, storage space for work, a car even, whatever tools are appropriate for the level of work you’re starting to do. There is however a disconnect that occurs – one doesn’t transition into a new stage of their career overnight. For a while there is a time when you might really need that new piece of equipment but the volume of high value work isn’t at a level that justifies the expense. So how do you know if you should invest early or wait?
The simple answer is that almost always you should wait. Here is why:
You Don’t Need It: We all have drawers full of equipment that we thought we really needed to have, which is now collecting dust. Chances are that that you don’t actually need whatever you think you need.
Debt Sucks: When making large purchases we often bet on the item paying itself off over time. Often these decisions are clouded in the excitement of a new job or tied into your ego. Going into debt to buy something only to realize the work you forecasted was just wishful thinking is not fun at all.
You Need Overhead: Something that many forget when starting out is that you need money to make money. A job might come up with a lot of expenses, if you just spent all your money on new equipment and can’t front the cost of the shoot then you could actually end up losing the work.
There are several things you can do to by-pass these issues and figure out when you really should buy something.
Rent: Renting equipment is a great way to figure out if you actually need it or not. If you find that you are always renting the same piece of equipment one job after another, that’s a good indicator that it might be time to buy.
Borrow / Share: You might band together with a group of friends and buy a piece of equipment to share. Just be sure not to do this with anyone flaky and clearly layout the rules for how you’ll decided who gets to use the equipment when before making the purchase.
Hustle: You’ve gotten this far by working hard and making the most of the equipment you have, will a few more months kill you?
In the rare circumstances when the purchase will pay for itself within one job, it might be a good idea to go for it even if that means you won’t get a lot of profit. Also, if you’re honest with yourself and think that a new piece of equipment will tip you into a higher level of work then go for it. Sometimes you just have to risk it and see what happens.