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“A Nation of Shopkeepers.”

Blog

This is where I write about what interests me.

“A Nation of Shopkeepers.”

James Stratford

Napoleon famously called England a nation of shopkeepers. He claimed he didn't mean it pejoratively, but it was a keen observation nonetheless. I am reminded of this comment when I go about my business as a photographer.

I deal with the public frequently, and I have noticed that many of the people I meet with have very little grasp of how a business works. I hear comments about hourly rates, confusion over gross and net revenue, no inkling of the work that goes into a business outside of that required specifically to fulfil one client's needs, and so on.

Once upon a time many people learned a trade. They would start their lives in apprenticeships or in their parents' business and would learn that what one pays for something is not entirely made up of just the value of that thing itself. Sadly, this is being lost in an age of the-nine-to five job and regular salary.

To use my own business as an example, I must spend money on far more than just the album I present to a client after their wedding or the prints I give a portrait sitter. I pay for insurance, a website, other marketing costs, equipment refreshes, computers and (expensive) software, etc. I spend time and money visiting suppliers, venues, colleagues, and potential clients. After I pay my second shooters and produce an album, I then pay tax on what I make as profit afterwards.

I love my job—I'm not complaining about that—but I wish the general public still understood that businesses have costs and those costs are not simply the wholesale prices of the goods they sell.

I also find that many people underestimate how much they earn themselves. The average wage in Britain is roughly £26,500. Trust me, this is a lot of money to someone starting a business and putting in long hours hauling their business off the starting line.

The same principles apply to all businesses. Your Starbucks coffee isn't just water and beans. It's premises costs, wages, marketing and transportation expenses, legal costs, and so on. Other businesses have research and development expenses, which is why they sue each other to protect their intellectual property.

The next time you employ someone, don't take the amount they are charging you and divide it by the number of hours you saw them or subtract your estimate of their wholesale price. Imagine the hours of work that goes into painting their van with their company's logo and phone number, the training they have done, the interest on bank loans. All these costs have to be covered by their revenue. That revenue comes from the customer.

There is one final thing that people also never seem to understand about those running their own businesses: stress. Running you own business makes every work problem feel personal. When something goes wrong, it feels far more stressful than your boss shouting at you in an office. When work isn't coming in, that means you don't earn any money that month.

When we consider the costs we might not know about, the stress that comes with being ones's own paymaster, and the long hours that come with the territory, perhaps we should all have a little more respect for the shopkeepers.

…but I digress.