What do you need to be in business…really, honestly, what do you need to run a successful business as a commercial photographer? Well, you don’t need a camera or lighting gear, as all that can be rented (yes, it is better to own, but you can rent it and still shoot a project). You don’t need a studio–that too can be rented on an as-needed basis. You don’t need a full-time assistant, or an SUV, or even a computer–all those things can be rented/hired.
You do, however, need an effective website and other promotional/marketing materials. You can’t get business if people don’t know about you and what you offer and, in today’s tight-fisted and competitive marketplace, you need to get and keep their attention. This is stuff you can’t “rent” as-needed because you need it 24/7. No marketing/bad marketing = no business, period.
I would argue that the most important tool for your business is your website–it’s the main representation of what your business is to people who do not know you (well). If you cannot afford to get a good website (say $3000+ to launch), you can’t afford to be in business. Harsh? No, not really–that is just reality.
Way too many of you think that you can design your own sites (and promos, etc.). You can’t. You are not designers and you do not have the in-depth technical abilities to construct a good site. And you shouldn’t–you are photographers, not interactive designer/programmers! When you try to save money by making your own sites you are not only producing a marketing tool that is not effective (and often downright bad), you are tacitly telling the world that anyone who can learn the technical basics of any creative profession can replace the creative professional.
How is it different for a designer (or end-client) to learn how to use a digital camera and NOT hire you to shoot a project? It isn’t. They’ll (more than likely) make crap “good enough” images just like you’ll (more than likely) make a crap “good enough” website.
Be a professional photographer and devote your talents to making the best creative images you can, and pay a professional to design/build your website (and other materials). It’s an investment that will pay off.