Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Budgeting Equipment Replacements

People do taxes because they have to, but many fewer people do budgeting for annual repairs and replacements.  Every creative business relies on a set of tools to get an idea from thought form into a tangible form that can be sold.  Computers, cameras, paints, brushes, pencils, paper- all just a part of being a creative.  Whenever I do pricing consultations, one of the things I often encounter is that people aren't planning their equipment upgrades and replacements as part of their overhead costs and costs of doing business.  Yet, these tools are as essential as having a website, phone, or email to serve clients with.

If you haven't been in business long enough, the best clue about how often you'll need to replace something is in the warrantee information.  If you're buying a computer or a camera and even an extended warrantee won't cover that piece of equipment beyond three years, than you know that you'll need to expect to replace it after three years because even the company doesn't think it will keep working well after that.   If you have budgeted to replace equipment based on warrantees, you'll never be surprised by a tech failure- because it will already be in your budget.

If you happen to keep a piece of equipment beyond its extended warrantee, than either you aren't using it very often, or you happen to be lucky.  Most professionals use their equipment twice as much as the average user, which means getting closer to that warrantee guarantee quicker as well.  Here are a few quick actions you can start taking to better budget for your equipment replacements:

Take Action Now:
1. Create a spreadsheet of equipment you need to do your job
2. Record the price, serial number, month/year each piece of quipment was purchased
3. Record the warrantee expiration date based on your date of purchase
4. Tally replacement costs for each year based on warrantees
5. Create a monthly equipment replacement budget to help plan for costs

Here's an example of what that equipment budget might look like for a professional photographer:
- 2 Pro Cameras - $7,000 - Maximum 3 Year Extended Warrantee / 36 Months = $194.44/mo
- 1 Pro Level Computer - $3,000 - Maximum 3 Year Extended Warantee / 36 Months = $83.00/mo
- 3 Pro Lenses - $5,000 - Maximum 3 Year Extended Warantee / 36 Months = $138.88/mo
Even if we just account for these three essential things,  photographers who budget ahead know that they'll need to set aside around $417 every month for their camera, lens, and computer replacements.  Or if you prefer to look at it in another way- if you shoot 30 jobs a year, $167 of each job needs to be banked for the use of just these pieces of equipment.

Previous related posts on this topic:
How Much Does Each Click Cost?
Photography Overhead Costs (or Why Photography is Expensive)
Why $300 Should Be a Professional Minimum

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

WPPI 10 Years Ago & Now

In thinking about attending WPPI this year, I was trying to remember what year I first attended.  Thanks to the mighty power of Google, I was able to travel back through time to uncover my relationship the WPPI expo and conference...

In this 2006 post on how my business started, I already knew the importance of being part of a professional organization like WPPI for leaning, mentoring, and growing my business:

In 2007, which was I believe my first WPPI Expo, I got to connect with people I admired and reconnect with friends I met while attending the Foundation Workshop earlier the same year:

In 2008, I started hosting the PhotoLovecat Giveaway event:

In 2009 we hosted another PhotoLovecat Giveaway event and our blog became a place to share a public review of the WPPI events & workshops:

In 2010 I was getting back from a trip to Australia and settling into a new Photography Studio in Massachusetts, but Corey Ann held the torch and continued hosting a PhotoLovecat meet-up:

In 2011, we were able to start tracking WPPI Parties on Eventbrite and WPPI Attendee Twitter accounts to keep track of who was sharing what from where during the conference - may be interesting to see how many of those people will be at WPPI 2017?

In 2012, Corey Ann carried the torch for WPPI again, while I was living in Australia and following my dream of traveling the world for an extended period of time.  I still participated in online mentoring and webinar workshops, but was definitely more interested in exploring everything I could in Australia and Europe that year.

It seems the world of Wedding Photography starting changing dramatically in 2012-2016.  Major photography labs started closing.  Photo Schools started closing.  Online labs gathered more business.  Online photo workshops became more popular.  iPhones started to have printable quality images.   People could create Facebook groups for their wedding and guest's wedding photos.  Photo booths took over the job of formal portraits.  The world of immediate sharing and instant gratification started to become far more important than high quality imagery and beautifully curated artful moments from trained professionals.  Perhaps it is simply returning to what it once was when we operated in film: a luxury service for those who can afford the work of a trained professional, while non-professional instant gratification is satisfying enough for everyone who can't afford a professional.  I'm speculating, but would love to read your thoughts in the comments as well.

There will always be a low-end of the market for the entry level professional starting out and serving the people and referrals in their immediate area.  I have no doubt of that.  I also think there will always be a high end of the market for people who value working with a creative professional and want archival products of their once-in-a-lifetime moments.  I think the middle has been squeezed the most - forced to serve either the low end of the market with a lot of volume or the high end of the market with fewer clients and additional workshops and education services to fill the gap.

Personally, I started to trim down the amount of weddings I photographed and move into editorial and commercial not because of anything happening in the industry, but because I wanted more weekends and weeknights to enjoy time with my family and friends who work 9-5 jobs.  I knew weddings would likely be a 10 year run for me, simply based on how many people I saw leaving the industry in their late 30s and early 40s.  I also had a taste of what it meant to be constantly teaching in the photography industry, and decided that I didn't really want that to be my primary workload either.

I never wanted to be someone who lost their passion for the amazing moments of the wedding day or found any of it to be too mundane or typical.  Now, when I do get the chance to shoot weddings, it really is special again because it's not something I do every weekend or get too formulaic about.  I've been able to keep that passion by making it something I more rarely do when I'm not photographing editorial, commercial, or architecture & interior work.

Even though Weddings are no longer my main focus in professional photography, it has given me so much of what I needed to help me reach where I am now.  I still love the wedding photography industry and how, even though most people quickly cycle in and out of it every 2-4 years, it becomes a training ground for the professional photographer, for the budding creative entrepreneur, and for the future solution provider in the photography industry.  It has been very interesting to see how people who were once "just wedding photographers" have become innovators, educators, and amazing entrepreneurs in other capacities.

This year I will be returning to WPPI for just one day - the last day of the Expo, Thursday 2/9/17 to say hello to friends who are instructors and trade show vendors, to give hugs to people I haven't seen in years, and to host a gathering for anyone who would like to reconnect over dinner on the last day between workshops and awards.  We've come a long way baby, and I'm grateful for the role that WPPI has played in my own professional photography development and how it continues to support new and emerging photographers in many different ways.  If you'd like to join me for WPPI 2017, visit the Facebook event page below for the details and RSVP so I can save you a spot at the table...

WPPI 2017 Photographer Meetup

If you can't make it, feel free to follow along on the WPPI 2017 Twitter List I've started:

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 10 years of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5 Tax Organization Tips

If you're getting ready to work with a CPA, or do your business taxes by yourself (which I don't recommend), here are a few things you'll want to start gathering and organizing to make the process easier.  Disclaimer: I'm not a CPA, just a small business owner who pays taxes every year. Always take final consultation from a professional CPA with regard to your situation.

1. Do you have an assistant or contractor you paid over $600 total last year?
If they aren't on payroll as an employee, and have been working as an independent contractor, you'll likely need to send them a W-9 form request for their tax filing information and then a 1099 Misc. form with the total fees you paid them during the year.  This information needs to be gathered and shared with your contractors before January 31 to allow them proper filing time as well (you can still file late, you just pay an additional fee).  This helps you legitimize the expense for the independent contractor and it helps them document received income from your business.  If you paid them via an online service like PayPal or Venmo, you can likely easily search all payments made to an individual according to year.
Official IRS information on documenting independent contractor payments:

2. Did you travel to any of your jobs or clients last year?
If you're an on-location photographer, you likely traveled for almost all of your jobs.  The good news is that you most likely can expense that cost to your business.  If you took Taxis, Uber, Lyft, Car Rentals, or Airlines - you likely have records of all those purchases in your bank accounts or in the apps you used.  If you don't claim a car as a business asset & expense because you also use it regularly for personal and family travel, you can still claim the mileage you drove to meet and serve clients as well as any parking fees incurred during the job.  If you weren't tracking this all along with an app like Expensify, perhaps you have the addresses on your contracts or in your calendar that can help you determine the mileage you traveled for each business meeting, job, networking event, or on-site project, coupled with any debit card records made to parking structures.
Official IRS information on documenting & expensing Business Travel: https://www.irs.gov/publications/p463/ch01.html#en_US_2016_publink100033773

3. Did you entertain or buy meals during business meetings or travel?
If your work required you to eat away from your home office location, or if you bought meals for clients, vendors, or contractors while doing business,  you may be able to deduct those as well.  This is generally only a 50% tax deduction, even if it was a 100% expense to your business, so it would be best to talk to your CPA with regard to what is considered a Meals & Entertainment expense.  If you usually use a debit or credit card for these transactions, you likely have evidence in your monthly statements of what you've purchased by date while on a job or meeting.  If you haven't been tracking it all along and need to do it retroactively, an online financial organizer like FreshBooks or Mint can help you pull multiple credit and debit cards together in the same place to organize expenses.
Official IRS information on documenting & expensing Meals & Entertainment:

4. Did you buy equipment for your business last year?
New computer?  New software?  Online services?  Cloud storage?  Paper and ink to print contracts on?  Office desk & chair?  Currently, the IRS allows $500,000 in business equipment deductions, up from $25,000 in previous years.  For many freelancers, the overhead expenses of keeping equipment updated are often the sleeper costs that surprise them year to year, so it's important to consult on which business expenses are considered deductible.
Official IRS information on documenting Equipment Expenses:

5. Did you use any home utilities or home office space to run your business?
You probably needed a faster than normal internet connection to deal with all of those file uploads and deliveries to clients.  You probably needed a cell phone and/or business line to manage phone calls with clients who panicked at the last minute about their project.  You probably needed electricity to charge your phone and keep your computer running to deliver projects to your clients.  All of these things can be considered in the appropriate percentage for how they are used for business versus personal use.  Make sure you're keeping tabs on all of these expenses as they apply to your business so that you can properly deduct what's used to keep your business running.
Official IRS information on documenting Home Office expenses:

Again - always consult with your local CPA to make sure your record keeping and tax deductions are relevant to your situation.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. She has been a small business owner since 2004 working as a photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors. She spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

How to find a great CPA

After moving my business several times, I've had a lot of experience looking for a CPA to help with my business and personal filing, and whenever I found a great one, it often took me a while before I was willing to move on and find another one in my new state after moving.  Hopefully sharing this wisdom will help speed up your search!

1. Start Searching Locally
The importance of having a CPA you can sit face to face with is very important if you ever need to work on a complicated tax situation or work through an audit together.  Likewise, the ability to enjoy working with your CPA is huge when it comes to something that may be stressful or difficult.  All of my favorite CPAs have a sense of humor and lightness about difficult tax situations that have helped ease my concerns, while still remaining professional and demonstrating that they will get the job done.  You only get to see this lighthearted but professional approach by meeting in person.
- Personal Referrals: 
The best places to begin your search are with personal recommendations from other small business owners.  Even better if they have a similar business model to you and can share what they love about working with their CPA and how long they've been with them.
- Local Chamber of Commerce Website:
Next best place to search is your local Chamber of Commerce website, where they will likely have a directory of CPAs looking for business.  The people who work for the Chamber can tell you if they know the CPA personally or anyone who has worked with them as well for additional referral information.
- Business Networking Group: 
Third best place to search is a local business networking group - BNI is one of the more famous ones, but ask around and see what is available in your area.  Rotary may be the second most common networking group for business owners, while it has more of a philanthropy mission than a networking one, it's a group of people who believe in giving back to the community.

2. Define Your Tax Situation
Being able to describe your tax situation will help you with the phone screening process before setting up a meeting.  For example, here are a few ways you may want to practice describing your tax situation over the phone before deciding who you'd like to meet with in person:
- Personal Tax Situation:
Married?  Single?  Dependents?  Live-in parents?  Investments?  Multiple homes?  Personal property in multiple countries?  Inheritance?  Haven't paid taxes in 10 years and may need a payment plan?  Need to figure out if it's better to file separately or jointly with spouse?
- Business Tax Situation:
LLC?  Sole-Proprietor?  Corp?  Employees?  Health Benefits?  Online business?  Out of country sales  to manage?  Import/export business?  State to state sales tax transactions?

3. Create a List of 3-5 Places to Call
If making phone calls is scary to you because you prefer email - I suggest practicing the questions you'll be asking on the phone and preparing your statement about your situation.  A phone call can really help you rule out a company you don't want to meet with.  Was it easy to get the answers you needed in a timely way?  Were they sloppy and unprofessional in how they managed your phone call?  Do they have an office with multiple people and an admin to help them manage their clients?  You don't get to learn these things when emailing- only when calling on the phone.
Things you need to ask:
- Do you have a Certified Public Accountant in your office?  Will they be handling the return, or will it be a tax preparer?  Who would I be meeting with for the first time?
- Do you have experience with clients in my situation?  (State the personal and business situations you have.)
- When can I come in and speak with someone in person?  What should I bring with me?  Is there any fee for an introductory meeting?  What would someone with my situation expect to pay for their tax filings?

4. Meet at Least Two Different CPAs
If you only meet with one, you'll have nothing to compare the experience to.  If you only have time to meet with two about your situation, than meet with two.  If you can meet with three or more, great!  The more info you have, the more you can find the right person to work with.  Remember that investing more time into this choice up front means that you're less likely to need to invest that time again later because you'll feel comfortable knowing you made the best choice for you and your situation.  A great CPA relationship can be one you can carry well into the future of your business, so it's worth every bit of time you invest up front to find someone you enjoy working with and feel you can trust.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. She has been a small business owner since 2004 working as a photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors. She spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems. Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Stop Being Taken Advantage of by Demanding Clients

Into every creative's life a demanding client will fall.  Many creatives have a hard time drawing a line in the sand when it comes to working with demanding clients, which is why your fee and business should be structured in such a way that you anticipate every client will eventually become a demanding client.  The more you anticipate and practice responding to requests outside of your agreement, the easier it becomes.

The demanding client lifecycle generally looks something like this:
1. Client negotiates with Creative for reduced rate
2. Creative agrees based on something Creative thinks they'll gain from working with Client
3. While Creative is engaged in work, Client makes little requests here and there
4. Creative agrees to little requests, because they are at first easy to accommodate
5. Client turns little requests into big demands on Creative
6. Creative feels stuck because they have previously honored little requests without additional fees, and haven't implemented a structure for being compensated for additional requests
7. Client gets frustrated and more demanding that Creative is becoming less responsive
8. Creative gets frustrated that Client is becoming more demanding
9. Client thinks Creative is a flake and unprofessional
10. Creative thinks Client is evil and inconsiderate

If you take steps early enough in the process, a client may never reach the point of being considered a demanding client.

Here are the solutions to avoid clients becoming demanding at every step of the process:

- Don't agree to work for any less than full rate. It is far better to charge full rate, and have the opportunity to do a tricky job over again, than to work for a reduced rate with a client who expects full rate service.

- Have a written agreement for exactly what is delivered and how it is delivered.  This needs to make it blatantly clear to the client what is being delivered in what time frame and how many revisions will be allowed on work.

- Prepare client expectations that additional requests have a working fee attached.  By anticipating that the client WILL make requests above and beyond the work you have contracted for, you can be prepared by offering either an hourly rate for additional requests, or a revision rate.

- Notify client immediately when their requests fall outside of original agreement.  As SOON as a client makes a request that falls outside of your agreement, the client needs to know and be presented with options for moving forward.

At any point in the process, I suggest using this wording with a client to address additional requests:
 "This request will require additional time and expense that weren't planned into the original quote.  I've included an invoice to cover the time and expense to honor this request.  If you'd like to add any additional requests at this time, please let me know so that I can be even more efficient in addressing additional requests."

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over a decade of success as a full-time photographer in weddings, portraits, editorial, and now architecture and interiors, she spends any extra time she has helping others find smart solutions to business problems.  Stay in touch on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
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