Monday, May 7, 2007

NPR- Retirement

I've written more than enough about why I like retirement, simply put it's about time and freedom. You can't find enough reasons to argue against having the time and freedom to do what you want, within the money you have. But I found a book in my bookcase I bought several years ago and forgot about. It's Mihaly Csikzentmihaly's book "Finding Flow." So I'm getting around to reading it.

I can't say much beyond that so far except one remark he makes in the first chapter is very interesting. It's about the old phrase, "time is money", but he turns it around to say it's about the money to have the time. It's the same argument the financial management service companies make in their ads about managing your money to have it for the things you want in life when you retire. Those ads, unfortunately, are for the upper middle and richer class of people, which is almost meaningless to those with less money, like me.

A year before I retired I attended a two day retirement preparation workshop for federal employees within 3-5 years of retirement. It's an excellent workshop to cover all the bases about the decision to retire, and the paperwork process to retire. One of the sessions is about money management, and a financial advisor talks about your retirement annuity and Thrift Saving Plan (TSP - employees personal savings account). It was probably the worst session for one reason, but it was good to help make decision about your TSP.

What was funny was the advisor talked about rolling your money into IRA or other investment portfolios. He kept talking about how you can "make" money in retirement in these plans. And slowly everyone's brain began to fog over. But something wasn't right with his advise, so I asked him what level of money does he usually deal with for his clients. He responded, "Usually it's into the six figures." So I asked everyone in the session, "How many of you have over $100K in their TSP?"

No one raised their hand, so I turned back to him and said, "Well, if I calculate it right, only about the top 5% of federal employees make enough to save $100K in their TSP during their careers. So why should we listen to you if you can't provide us with good advise about our TSP's?" He couldn't answser, and the workshop coordinator later said he was a last minute fill-in, someone with little experience in federal employee retirement plans.

Well, that's off track, but it's about perspective. And that's what I'm doing now. I gave myself 2-3 years to focus on my photography and added something else I'm doing along the way. But the focus is on photography, to get my computer system, camera systems, and work on the portfolio while learning all the new technology to process and produce all my images in-house. I don't develop my own film anymore, but it's about the rest, from camera to Web or print.

Well, now into my second year, it's hard to know where I am, and it may be 3-5 years before I'm really up to speed. You see I like take my time, even take time away from it for short periods when life intercedes, as it often does along the road anywhere you go these days, and I like to enjoy the process, often reviewing what I'm doing now and then to refocus on different aspects of photography. In short, there's a lot to learn.

Before I started this process I talked with several professional photographers, from the newly commercial photographers to the long experienced ones. They almost universally told me three things. First, it takes 2-3 years to get up to speed and begin producing good marketable images and begin building a portfolio. Second, it takes 3-5 years to get your business up and running where you're selling images, or photo cards in my case. And third, it takes 5-7 years to produce your first book or portfolio.

And all the while I keep listening to professional and watching other photographers in my situation, trying to get a small personal business working without wearing out or running out of money in the process. While I'm out on photo trips, like street fairs, festivals and such events, I look at the number of photographers with booths selling cards and prints. Some will talk about the business side of it if they have the time. And I visit small specialzed card and gift shops to see the range of photo cards they sell.

I've learned several things. First, there are a lot of photographers, either either one line or stock agencies selling others' line, in the business of photo cards. Second, the corollary to that, it's a very competitive business, for the types of cards and prints, and prices, meaning you have to do a lot of marketing to make it work. And third, it's not very profitable. With cards selling from $2.95 to $4.95, you have to price yourself near the edge of making it cost effective.

And? Well, while my friends who get my cards say I should market them, it's clear to me it's not worth the effort right now. I need a portfolio of image, a small inventory of photo cards, the process to produce prints and cards quickly, gettng the business legal and operating with a financial plan, and all the stuff required to start and run a business, namely a business plan. But they've told me in the first few years it's a trade-off for your time, doing photography or running a business.

And when I talk with them, they all recommend the same thing, if I want make it a personal endeavor to focus on photography for the first few years where you have the portfolio, inventory of images for cards, the supply of cards, and a plan to get the business started if you want to go that direction. But they don't recommend it if I want to do photography.

So, it's a road to not only to relearning photography, but understanding the viability of my work, which takes time. And that's if you're good and work hard. And, if you're like me, just longer since I'm taking it slow. But as I keep telling folks, I have the rest of my life, so I'm in no rush. And that's the key in some ways, to have the money to have the time to do what you want to be creative and live well.

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