Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Is Social Media HURTING Your Business?

Companies do a great job selling us on the idea that Social Media outlets help our business by keeping us in touch with our client base or introducing us to new clients- but what about all of the ways that it might actually be hurting a business?  See if you fall into any of the social media traps that are more harmful than helpful for your business....

1. Wasting Time
Have you ever opened your phone, Facebook feed, instagram feed, pitnerest feed, snapchat, etc. first thing in the morning, or during a break in the afternoon to think you were just going to spend a quick minute checking in to see what everyone was up to, only to find yourself endlessly scrolling and eventually wasting an entire hour looking at nothing particularly important?  How many emails could you have answered in that time?  How many solid work tasks could you have completed instead that would have actually helped your business, rather than mindlessly looking at whatever other people post?

2. Feeling Less Successful
Even though we all know how deceiving social media can be with regards to only showing the highlights of someone's life, we still end up finding ourself fall into the trap of jealousy by comparing our real life to someone else's social media stream.  For many people, these comparisons aren't empowering and motivating, instead they feel self-defeating and irritating because we "think" someone else is doing better or living a cooler situation based solely on their social media stream.  If you can't stop yourself from having those feelings, than the only solution is to cut off the source of that jealousy until you can do the inner work to return to the social media stream with more clarity and confidence.  Constantly comparing yourself to others does nothing helpful for yourself or your business, unless you're using it as positive fuel and examples of how you can move yourself forward.

3. Expecting Social Media to Bring Clients
Social media may appear like a great place to connect and stay in touch with clients, but how many of your social media followers are people who are really paying you for your work?  Too often someone thinks that if they just do all the right "social media" things, they'll bring in more clients, and that's not alway the case.  Social media may have a global reach, but your business may only have a local reach, and if you're too busy connecting with people who aren't going to hire you in a another part of the world to take time connecting with people in your local area who can actually hire you, than you're expecting social media to do the work that you should be doing in person with networking events and local face-to-face connections.  Look at your actual sources of income and where those clients came from - nurture those connections first and foremost before investing heavily in social media.

If you've ever felt like you're drowning in the social media lives of others and not fully living the beautiful life you have, it may be a good time to take a social media vacation by removing all those social apps from your phone to see how differently life feels when you aren't trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing.  It's amazing how much more of your own reality you can start to appreciate when you aren't comparing it to everyone else's social media reality.  You may even find that you may actually want to connect with people more in person, to see what's real and true for them at a person-to-person level rather than a "what I want the world to think about" level.  If you've never tried a social media vacation, it may be time to really step back and consider how taking a break may actually be more helpful to your business and life than always being tied into the stream.

Anne Ruthmann is a professional photographer in New York City. With over 11 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 InstagramTwitter or Facebook... but only if you aren't taking a social media vacation... ;-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

10 Ways to Benefit From Down-Time

When I started as a freelancer, I didn't know how to make the most of the space between clients.  I was either "on" and happily working on client projects or "off" and being a sloth or stressing about not having client projects.  It took me a long time to really learn how to effectively use my "off" time so that it became "on" time, even if it happened in long stretches.

If you're finding yourself in the middle of an "off-client-project" time, here are 10 things you could be doing to stay "on" in your creative business:

1. Trying Out A New Skill or Software
Testing a new skill or software is far easier and less frustrating when you aren't trying to meet a deadline.  If you've put off learning something new, but know it might help your workflow, it's best to catch up on your skills in between clients rather than in the middle of projects.

2. Building Your Portfolio With Personal Creative Work
The work that gets the most buzz is rarely work that created for a client.  It's often an extreme or highly artistic vision, fully cultivated by an artist that creates the most buzz and award-winning creative work.  Pushing your creative limits helps keep you feeling creative, even when client requests demand that you stay inside the box more than you'd like.

3. Attending Workshops / Watching Educational Videos
People who have been creatives for decades know that there's always more to learn, always another perspective to try, and always more knowledge to learn from.  If you're ever feeling stale or out of date, ramp up your awareness about what else is going on by tuning into the latest educational offerings.

4. Meeting With Colleagues & Previous Clients
It's often said that your "network is your net worth" and the way to cultivate that network is through regularly staying in touch with the people you've enjoyed working and interacting with in the past.  Who doesn't love receiving an invitation to hang out, especially when someone else is willing to pick up the tab?

5. Attending Networking Events
It may be impossible to ask a new client or connection out to lunch if they don't know you yet, but it's not impossible to get to know them during a networking event and create a connection that last beyond one event.  Search Eventbrite, MeetUp, and Facebook for events on topics that you're passionate about to find people who might be interesting to collaborate with.

6. Getting Healthy
If you're a freelancer who tends to sacrifice your health while working for clients during intensive projects, than you really need to bring back more healthy-time into your down-time, so that you can return to each future project with more health and resilience than you had before.  

7. Portfolio Organization
Have you ever had a new client ask for examples of a project you know you've done in the past, but couldn't find easily due to a lack of organization or a need to update your portfolio?  The more you can streamline access to your work for future inquiries, the more likely you are to land the next prospect.

8. Seek Publicity Opportunities
Have you wanted to be featured in a favorite website, blog, or magazine?  Spend time pulling together the required materials and developing a pitch for a feature that will drive the traffic of your target market back to your work.

9. Volunteer
Some amazing connections and opportunities can come from volunteering for something that you care about.  Pick an organization that is aligned with your values and find ways to donate your time or talent during your down-time.  When done with an open heart and desire for something greater than yourself, volunteering feels good in a way that goes beyond a simple working relationship.  

10. Spend Time With Loved Ones
Freelancers may often sacrifice time with loved ones in order to serve clients or get projects done on deadline, so it's important to take time to fuel the relationships that are there for you no matter what your work load looks like.  We have precious little time to nurture the closest relationships in our lives, and every little bit of positive guilt-free time together helps strengthen our spirit and ground us in ways that client and colleague relationships cannot.  

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, April 5, 2016

Creating a Business Bank Account

All too often, beginning or part-time creatives get into trouble with money management because they don't separate their business income and expenses from their personal expenses.  This problem can be compounded if you share an account with a spouse or family member who isn't part of your business, yet when they seem to be dipping into business income as if it's all personal income.

If you're a sole proprietor and you track your income and expenses religiously every month, than you may be able to get away with one bank account for personal and business as long as your business name is nothing more than your legal name and you don't need a DBA registration.  However, if you're not very strict about business accounting and you tend to put off most expense tracking until the end of the year or just before April taxes are due, you'd be best served by having separate business and personal accounts so that you can easily track your personal expenses separately from your business expenses.  Most creatives I know fall into the latter category- which is totally OK, and exactly who this post is intended to help.

If your business name is anything other than your first and last name only... even if it's just "Ron John Photography", you'll likely need to file for a DBA in order to legally collect payment under your business name.  It's often a fast process and some states allow you to take care of it all online.  A registered DBA is often necessary before you can open a bank account that will accept payment under a business name.  Certain banks may also require a registered federal EIN, even if you are not a corporation, do not have any employees, and do not collect sales tax as part of your business model.  You'll learn more about what's required from your local financial institution once you begin the process of applying for a business account.

Before I was a photographer, I worked in the financial sector, which gave me familiarity with the different advantages of credit unions and banks.  Credit Unions are often overlooked as a business banking solution because some people assume they aren't as convenient as a big branded bank that offers ATMs at every corner.  However, having those ATMs on every corner comes at a high cost to the average account holder by way of higher fees for regular account management activities.  Credit Unions are membership-based, which helps keep banking fees low while still providing convenient services like depositing checks through your phone, making transfers online, and making deposits and withdrawals at affiliated Credit Unions around the country, and some even pay for the ATM fees charged by other institutions!

If you are already comfortable with a certain banking institution for your personal account, you can always just open a business account at the same institution to make banking with two accounts more convenient- but opening a business account may also be a great opportunity to see what advantages are available at other financial institutions.  Large banks tend to be more beneficial to large corporations rather than small businesses- so definitely spend a little time exploring your options.

These services are important to me as a business owner in my financial institution:
- Free Checking Account: no monthly fees and a low minimum balance requirement
- Online Bill Payment: the ability to schedule recurring payments for credit cards or loans and to easily make one-off payments mailed direct to independent contractors
- Depositing Checks Online or via Mobile App: to avoid waiting until I can get to a bank
Deposit Availability: as a business, I can regularly receive large checks from personal or small business accounts and need to make sure there aren't excessive holds on large deposits
- ATM Availability & Fees: if checking out a credit union, make sure they are part of an affiliated network of credit unions for in-person banking even when you're away from home
- Online Statements: preferably in .xls format to easily import into accounting software, share with bookkeeper or accountant, or for categorization offline
- Online Expense Tracking Software: some very awesome credit unions and banks actually offer a built-in quicken product to help you categorize income and expenses right in your online account
- Online Account Transfers: to quickly & easily transfer from business to personal accounts
- Overdraft Protection: to make sure essential business bills get paid even if a client's check bounces
- Credit & Loan Options: for emergency business equipment purchases and expenses

Do you have any other questions?  Feel free to ask and check back in a few days for a response.

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, March 29, 2016

Incentivize vs. Penalize

Do you have a hard time collecting payment or getting client selections done on deadline?  If there are no incentives for moving quickly, things may almost always wait until the last minute or just after the last minute with an ask for forgiveness or a distaste for a late fee.  By incentivizing clients to act early and on-deadline, you help empower them to make the most of their time by rewarding early and on time decisions.

Take two different sets of language you might see in a creative agreement:
"Orders placed before the early bird deadline of 2/2/16 will receive 10% off the total order."
"Orders placed after the final deadline of 2/8/16 will incur a 10% late fee."

What excites you more?  What makes you look forward to completing your order early and on time?  What language creates stress for you if you don't complete it on time?  How do you want your clients to feel about working with you?

Here's another example:
"Prepaid packages save 10% when paid in full during booking."
"Payment options available for 3% more."

Another photographer recently said to me, "why would I want to give anyone a discount for paying their bill early or on time?"  My answer is that you should already have this "discount" built into your pricing profit margin for negotiation purposes anyway, and when you recognize that clients who wrap up their orders early are actually creating LESS work for you, you realize that you're actually saving even more money by way of administrative time.  When clients pay early it means you can wrap up their project earlier, it means their work isn't on your to do list overlapping other work you have to do, and it's one less bill to chase down and create a payment system for.

Please keep in mind that I'm not suggesting you shouldn't have late fees or extra fees for added administrative work - merely that by providing incentives for the client side of your process, you can wrap your projects up more quickly and ultimately provide both you and the client with a more rewarding experience.

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, March 22, 2016

Why $60,000 Revenue = $30,000 Income

$30,000 is the U.S. national median of photographer salaries according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.  Which breaks down to $15/hr when you divide that by a traditional U.S. working life of 50 weeks a year ($600/wk), and 40 hours a week ($15).  Obviously, photographers don't stay in this profession for the money; they stay because they are passionate about creating great images and can't imagine doing anything else they love more.

What many starting photographers don't understand is that in order to make that $30,000 salary, most photographers actually need to bring in $60,000 in revenue.  Here's an example of how that can break down in expenses for a full time photographer:

Individual expenses will obviously vary from person to person.  One photographer might save more by not upgrading equipment as frequently, but may spend more on education.  Another photographer might have a large marketing campaign budget (which I didn't include as a separate item), but gets health insurance from a spouse.  These numbers are just examples to provide a clue of where the money may go after it walks in the door.

This is also the reason that I suggest a lot of beginning photographers start with a 50/50 split on the revenue that comes in from clients.  Put 50% in a business bank account and 50% in a personal bank account.  This helps make sure that you're beginning your business with a solid practice of paying yourself while also setting money aside for business needs and expenses.  By splitting the revenue into expenses and income right when it comes in, you prevent the practice of not making anything to pay your bills, while also making sure your business can cover expenses to survive another year.

Have you been in business for a while and tracked the percentage of your revenue that goes to expenses versus income?  What percentage has been true for your revenue and expenses?

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.
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