Thursday, August 30, 2007

Leaping from Hobby to Profession

"When Free Is No Longer “Freeing”
written by guest blogger Lynsey Peterson

Most photographers have been there. So excited to have someone—anyone, not only willing to let you photograph them, but maybe even excited about it. Heck, maybe they even asked you to! Little old you with your yet to be determined business venture and your brand spankin’ new camera. You strap on your portfolio-building boots and head out…..again…..and again…..and again. But when is enough, well….enough?
I was talking to a friend of a friend the other day about pricing. Wait, backtrack: I hired a friend of a friend the other day. She is an interior design student who will graduate in the fall, has no “real world” experience, and no portfolio to speak of, and yet she quoted me her hourly fee without batting an eye. I have been a “professional photographer” (whatever that means) for 3 years and I still find myself doing freebies here and there. Why the difference?
In an effort to understand this, and myself, better, I soul-searched and came up with possible reasons. Why was she ready to charge people and I still struggled to know if I should, or even could?

  1. Confidence. Sure, I don’t know if she is any good. I mean, I haven’t seen a speck of her work. I suppose I could judge her based on her outfit choice. I mean how different could picking out clothes be from picking out say, a sofa, but even as I eyed her plain and pretty t-shirt and stylish crop pants, I couldn’t really figure out what makes her totally qualified to take my checkbook and do the shopping for my home that I am apparently not qualified enough to do. What did make me think I should take her seriously? The fact that she was going to charge me. The fact that she showed up with a figure in mind. Honestly, the figure could have been half or double—it was that she walked in saying “this is what my time is worth” that made me believe: hey, she knows what she is doing and she must be good at it.
  2. Which leads me to…..Knowing what your time is worth. I can appreciate that she took time out of her busy life to take on my project, why do I struggle to appreciate and value my own time? She arranged for a sitter, gathered supplies, put time and effort into my ideas before even walking in my door, and probably stressed, worried, and otherwise thought about it about as much as I do every time I leave my house with my camera bag on my shoulder. No one can put an exact dollar figure on their every minute, but I can respect that she had the forethought to think “this is what it will take for me to get enough out of it to be interested in doing it.”
  3. Self-Respect. Skye Hardwick recently said on a bludomain chat that she charges everyone except her parents and grandparents, because that is the only way they will respect her work and her as an artist. A very interesting way to see it. Here I was thinking that I was earning respect by basically donating my time and talent to the few people who were so bold to ask for or expect the donation. When you look at it like that, it’s hard to think that anyone who really valued your work, took interest in your talent, and wanted you to succeed, would ask for the quintessential freebie. And why do I want to work with people who don’t?
  4. To Make A Living. This is pretty basic. My interior designer/student/friend of a friend counts on these kinds of jobs to make her living. Her having an income is what makes her able to do what she needs to do to work: hire a sitter, purchase supplies, afford the time to work on it, and flat-out live. Even though she is just starting out, she understands that a job, no matter where you are at in your training, is still a job. Another photographer once asked how I got by with my pricing so low, and then offered the old you-don’t-really-work-to-earn-a-living-cause-your-husband-does. I have been fortunate to be in a place where I could start my business gradually, or even at all. But as I sit up until midnight editing, only to wake at 5am to care for kids who don’t go to daycare because I “don’t have a real job”, I can’t help but wonder, did this become a real job while I was busy working?

I don’t have the answers. I don’t know when a photographer’s work is “good enough” that their time and talent has monetary value. I don’t know at what point you have enough of a portfolio to hang your shingle and call yourself a full-fledged business. But I can offer this: I have started charging. Everyone. Prices that once seemed totally unreasonable for me to actually charge, and more importantly find people willing to pay, are now what you see on my price list, and I expect to raise my prices again before the end of the year. When my friends have babies or get married, I don’t offer to do it for free—I wait for them to call me. I stopped giving discounts, just because you know a guy I kind-of know. And you know what? My phone rings more than it ever did. Can’t help but wonder if everyone else was waiting for me to take myself seriously.

There are huge advantages for both me and my clients when I change. The biggest? It allows them, be them friends or not, to expect better work from me and me to know that I have to deliver the best I have. Do I work harder when I know it’s “real”? Honestly, yes. Do they make requests they may not feel they could if they were not paying me? Yes. Do I do everything I can to make sure that they are getting their money’s worth? Yes. Three years later I have decided that I’ve paid my dues, had great experience, learned how to produce a great product, and now can absolutely know that when I accept my fee, it is a fair exchange for valuable product.

But as my mom waited in my beautiful newly redecorated living room the other day for me to total up her print order, I found it in my heart to take 20% off her total."

If you aren't sure if what you have is a hobby or a business, please refer to this statement from the United States IRS:,,id=169490,00.html

Special thanks to Lynsey Peterson for contributing her thoughts and experiences!! Visit her blog to see what she's up to next!

Monday, August 27, 2007

How to Outsource with Independent Contractors

In order to take your business to the next level and free up your pesonal time, you will at some point need to outsource part of your workload. You may need to contract the services of a second-shooter, editor, retoucher, graphic designer, or errand-runner but you won't want to pay their income taxes or social security benefits if they aren't your employee. You also won't want to do anything that could later be audited and determined as illegal. The solution? Two very simple tax forms. I know what you're thinking... simple + tax forms = oxymoron. It really is easier than you think, and it's totally worth it to keep your business legit.

First, you will want to collect a W-9 from whomever you pay for their work. It's as easy as printing out the form and making sure you have a completed copy from someone before you start paying them. Here's the form:
W-9: Request for Taxpayer Identification Form. If you are currently paying someone under the table, I would highly suggest asking them to fill out this form before they receive another dollar from you.

You should also make sure that the two of you have a signed agreement concerning the expectations or deadlines of the job as well as any individual or company privacy rights or protections. I may have samples of these for you at a later time, but for now I'm just focusing on making sure you're legit with the IRS.

All year long you should be keeping a record of how much you pay each individual. At the end of the year, if the total amount paid to one individual is more than $600 than you need to fill out a 1099 Miscellaneous Income Form for each individual and provide them with their own copy at the end of the year. (You need their Tax ID, which is why the W-9 form should be collected in advance of payment.) All of the instructions are included within the form and there's always additional help available directly from the website.

Why is it important to document this pay with the IRS? So that you can legally deduct the income you pay independent contractors, so that you don't end up paying income tax on money you never actually earned! Especially when you could put those extra tax dollars into your retirement fund!

There you have it! Two not-too-difficult forms and you've taken care of your responsibilities to Uncle Sam and relieved yourself of paying someone else's taxes! Why didn't anyone tell you how easy it was before? Now go out and get the extra help you need!!

*Special thanks to Carol Drake, CPA; and Nate Reynolds for their contributions to this topic.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Become a Google Business Rep

A few posts back I talked about listing your business locally online. Well Google has decided to take it to the next level by recruiting people and paying them ($10 per verified listing) to help build their online local business directories. This would be an interesting way to meet your local business neighbors as well as a chance to introduce yourself and your business! Check it out --->

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Great Website Templates for Photographers

As a follow up to my post about the Golden Rules of Great Websites, I thought it would be valuable if I mentioned a few companies that are producing template based websites that make it super easy to create and maintain a great website. A great website is an investment in your business, and whether you choose to create a custom website, or something based on a template, a great website can make the best or worst first impression of your work. The following list are companies who have built their business around providing websites that are easy to update and manipulate, giving owners greater control over their presentation without requiring knowledge of web coding or programming.