Bob as you know I own the Lighthouse Lab in Sydney australia, a small analog pro lab. Your tips for buisness couldn't be more spot on. i launched a small buisness in exactly the way you mention and im reaping huge benefits from it. The market is totally in favor of small lab techs.
My lab has not completely fell into that void.
Though we still process film and hand print there is only enough of that work for a very few workers.
The bulk of commercial projects, in fact any projects have a digital element. Without this equipment we would have closed as well , or let me put it differently I would not have any rented square footage in downtown Toronto and I would have absolutely no staff.
2002 was a critical year, where I made the decision to reinvest into digital gear. It was the right decision for Elevator and we have grown and kept people employed.
But on the other hand , with the world flattening with the internet and forums such like this I could have not invested, moved to my dream farm and continued in traditional printing and made a decent living for my wife and I. She processes film for Elevator , I print up to murals and we both know how to mount prints and frame to very large sizes..
So to the Original Poster here is my two cents on the subject. If you want to be a printer.
the time is ripe, you have no competition,
Equipment is cheap, you are in a major international hub.
rent a small space, start up a small hand line, printing and small frame shop, if you are any good, if you have inner strength and a good personality , clients will come, one at a time, referal after referal. What is needed as a good printer is the ability to listen and try to give your client what they want.
If you see my site I print mostly by the hour on my clients paper. This is exactly what my wife and I will do when I retire, move to the farm and print for those still wanting my craft. I am a betting man and I believe I will be doing this until the day I die.
I am totally convinced that in each major hub worldwide there is room for this service, I know Mr Frizza in Austrailia is trying this out, I am not aware of any younger printers renting workable space in my area but they would do well , there definately still room for hand crafted prints with care.
Regarding the experience level.. I did not have any one teacher spell out wonderment of fiber printing, it started the first time I saw an image emerge. You can stand all day long and watch someone expose on the enlarger , but unfortunately for me it all came by practice, practice, practice.
tip one... make sure you can mount frame what you produce.100% added income.
tip two.... manually or rotary process non replenish film
tip three.. get a good archival washer
tip four.. print some shows that go on walls where photographers will see.
tip fourA.. do this at cost if it needs to be*people will see your work and want to know who the printer is**
tip five.. get a good internet presence
tip six.. make sure your shop is ground floor and not above anyone*floods*
tip seven.. work seven days a week
tip eight .. stand up for yourself and any workers with arrogant clients.
tip nine.. be a good listener and make extra prints,, up down density,contrast
tip ten.. dodge burn every image you make in your career
tip eleven.. learn split contrast printing
tip twelve.. pay your bills first
tip thirteen.. pay your taxes second
tip fourteen.. pay yourself
tip fifteen.. go to as many shows to see your competition
tip sixteen.. do not have live on credit cards
tip seventeen.. pay all debts
tip eighteen.. establish good credit with good suppliers and be faithful to them.
tip ninteen.. always redo work even if you thing you are right.
tip twenty... work hard and at a consistant level each day.