Retire early & live your bucket-list

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How I retired before 40 | The Super-Niche

I’m Dan Baker, and I will teach you how I was able to be so successful in both the photography and video businesses that I retired before 40, with what I call the Super-Niche.  I was able to earn enough with my cameras to be able to retire at 38, and then spent several years traveling the world, doing everything on my bucket-list. After doing everything on my bucket-list (except seeing the northern lights), I moved back to the mid-west, where I grew up, to take care of my elderly mother.

Needing something to do with my time, I built an airplane. After that I decided that I wanted a faster plane, so I sold the first plane and built a second plane. That’s done now, and getting bored and needing something to do with all my free time, I started this blog to share what I learned from the very unique life that I have lived, and how I made so much money with a camera.

No matter what your career is, retiring early requires you to live below your means and do some serious investing. My career was behind a camera, both as a photographer, and also as a freelance videographer, with over 3,500 assignments completed for the major networks. You can read more about me on DanBaker.com

This article is not about the investing that I did. There will be lots more information on my blog about that in future articles. This article is about how I was able to find lucrative niches in photography. Anybody can retire by investing wisely, but the more money you have to invest, the faster you will be financially free. And I found ways to make some really serious money with a camera.

I want to define what I mean early retirement. Most people think that retirement means that you don’t have to do anything. They think that you can just spend every day for the rest of your life loafing around. Ask anybody who has actually “retired early” though, and they will tell you that having nothing to do gets boring really quickly. I did everything on my bucket-list, except for seeing the northern lights, but that only took a few years.

Then I built two airplanes, but that only took me slightly more than three years. I need some reason to get up in the morning, Something that I look forward to. Something that I feel a sense of accomplishment. I don’t need to make money, but I don’t turn it down either.

So I decided to start this blog. The purpose of this blog is to teach people what I have learned about making money with a camera, and also how I was able to retire very early, by living below my means and investing wisely. Don’t get the wrong impression about my lifestyle though. I lived in the Florida Keys for 28 years, which happens to be one of the highest cost-of-living areas in the entire U.S.

At one time I lived on an exclusive private island, and I also owned my own turbine helicopter. So I did not live a minimalist lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination. But I did live way below my means, because I had learned how to drastically elevate my income, with a camera.

The specific details of the niches I discovered for photography and videography are more than can be covered in just this one article. It would take an entire book to explain everything I learned. But I’ll give you the overview of the photography niche in this article. I’ll be writing an entire series of articles, covering specifics in detail, so you can check back to my blog when those articles are done.

When I moved to the Florida Keys I had never lived in a tourist destination before. There were no manufacturing plants in the Keys. Nor any giant trucking companies, or large office buildings, or home offices for large nationwide companies.

The Florida Keys in basically one-hundred miles of islands, connected by the Overseas Highway, and bridges. Lots and lots of bridges. Several hundred motels, from small mom & pop properties with 6-8 units, to giant resorts. Restaurants everywhere, and marinas filled with fishing and scuba diving charter boats.

I had never did any photography for tourism related businesses before, so I had to learn about the tourism industry from scratch. What I learned, is that every business in a tourism area has brochures, rack cards and post cards. All of which show beautiful pictures of the motel, resort, charter boat, etc. All of those photos were taken by a professional photographer. So there were already lots of “professional” photographers in the Keys, taking all of those photos, for all of those brochures. There are lots of photographers everywhere, and I was used to that already. So I had to just weasel my way into the Keys tourism industry. I jumped in feet first.

I had never did photos for brochures before, and here is what I learned. Every motel, charter boat, etc has to do three things to make a brochure. First they hire a photographer to shoot pictures. Then they hire a graphic designer to design the brochure. Then they have to hire a printer to actually print the brochures. So making brochures is a three-step process.

I remembered reading somewhere, in a photography magazine, that some printing companies specialized in printing brochures for the tourism industry, and used professional photographers as sales-reps, paying them a commission on the printing jobs. I had just found a side-hustle, to make a little extra money whenever I would be doing a photo-shoot. That sounded like just what I needed. I did some research and found that the largest of those printers, Dynacolor Graphics, was based in Miami.

I contacted Dynacolor and became a sales-rep for them. All I was thinking at that time, was that I could make a small commission, a little extra money, by steering the brochure printing jobs to Dynacolor. I was not expecting what was about to happen when I met with my first potential client, about doing their new brochure.

That first potential client was Mike, who was the manager for a mid-size beach front motel in Key Colony Beach, which is located in the middle of the Florida Keys. Mike started out immediately talking about how much he hated making new brochures. Motels make a new brochures every 4-5 years, whenever there has been renovations to the property, or swimming pool added, etc. In between those brochure re-do’s, they re-order more copies of the same brochures every year or so, until they need to get new photos shot again,and then make a totally new brochure, which they will then re-order copies of every year or so until they make another new brochure in 4-5 years. And so on.

Mike told me about the hassle of finding a new photographer every time he needed a new brochure, because lots of people, photographers included, only lived in the Keys for a few years, then moved. So Mike couldn’t just call the same photographer he used in the past. It was the same story for the graphic designer and printer.

But it was what he told me next that changed my life. He said that every time he didn’t like something on the brochure, and wanted it changed, the designer would blame whatever Mike didn’t like, on either the photographer, or the printer. The printer would blame any issue on the designer or the photographer. And the photographer would lay the blame on the designer or printer. Even the most simple thing that Mike wanted changed turned into a major headache.

So Mike hated having to get new brochures made, and from what he told me, I couldn’t blame him. Then it was my turn to speak. After hearing Mike’s telling me about how much he hated making brochures, I told him that I just happened to be a rep for Dynacolor Graphics, and I could take care of the entire brochure making process. He would only have to deal with one person, me. And anything that he wanted changed would never be a problem, that I would take care of everything until he was totally satisfied.

Mike told me that I had the job. I had not even had time to show him either sample brochures from Dynacolor, or my own photography portfolio. Mike said that he didn’t need to see them,  and for me to just  go ahead and make him a brochure. I hadn’t even given Mike a price quote yet either. He said it didn’t matter, just make him 50,000 copies of the brochure ,and let him know how much to write the check for. He then pulled out his checkbook and asked how much to write the check for.

I told Mike that he didn’t need to pay anything in advance. I would do the photo-shoot, and show him the pictures, and if he wasn’t totally satisfied with my photos he didn’t have to pay me anything. If he liked my photos he could then pay me for the photography, and make a deposit on the printing, with the balance due C.O.D when the brochures were delivered.

I did Mike’s photo-shoot, and when the film had been processed I took the transparencies to Mike to look at. I have to say that I had many years experience as a photographer by that time, and had no doubt in my mind that Mike would like my photos. Offering to do the photography without a deposit was something I had been doing for years, it separated me from other photographers, and I got lots of jobs when other photographers demanded a deposit before they would do a shoot.

Mike had invited the manager of the motel next door to come look at the photos for his new brochure. When I walked into the motel lobby, Mike introduced me as the “brochure guy”. He told his friend that he didn’t have to hire a photographer, find a graphic designer and then a printer too. Dan does everything, and there’s no headaches to deal with. Before I had even gave Mike a price for the photograph and brochures, his friend told me to do his new brochure too.

Mike was thrilled with his new photos and wrote me a check for my photography, and a deposit to Dynacolor for the printing. It was only later that I learned that I was the most expensive photographer in the Florida Keys. My day-rate was twice as high as the next highest photographer. After that day I never did any photography for anybody unless Dynacolor also did the printing.

The first full year that I lived in the Keys, my commissions from Dynacolor Graphics, was a little over $54,000. Adjusted for inflation that would be equal to over $122,000 in 2021 dollars. And that was just the commissions from Dynacolor, that was not what I made from the photography. Not to shabby for a side-hustle for a lowly photographer.

The niche that I discovered was doing the entire brochure job that the client needed, not just the photography. The dislike that business owners had for having to deal with a photographer, a graphic designer and a printer, was so strong that most of the time they didn’t even ask me for a price quote, they just wanted me to take care of everything for them, and tell them how much to write the check for.

That is part of what I call the Super-Niche, which translates exactly to 2021 and the digital age. This blog will be showing you how to do the same thing today, with photography, videos, web sites, social media, etc.

Thanks for reading,
Dan Baker

To learn more about Dan Baker, you can read his bio and client list. You can read all of Dan’s articles at his archive.  He uses the techniques in the Super-Niche to build the website for Fulltron Aviation, which is an umbrella of several aviation related businesses: Flight School, private airport, a social organization called the Hillbilly Squadron, and How-to GoPro videos.

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"Mercenary with a Camera"

Dan started a photography business at 13.  After a winter day that was 18 degrees below zero, he went on vacation to the Florida Keys to warm up, and stayed for 28 years.  He was financially free at 38 and retired. He met a cute blond and fell in lust.  She fell in love (with his stuff),  and they spent money like drunken sailors.  When the money ran out, she ran out, (with her cocaine dealer).  Dan and his camera went back to work, and he retired a second time 48 months later, at age 44.  Then he did everything on his bucket list (except for seeing the Northern Lights).  Then he was bored and went looking for something to do with his time, so he built two airplanes.  After the planes were done he got bored again, so he started this blog, to show you how to communicate with video in today’s world, and become financially free in only a few short years, just like he did.

- Dan Baker -