Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Take Days Off!

It's that time of year again!!!  Wedding season!!  When weekends are a bust, free time is at a minimum and when you question why you ever got into this field in the first place.  The temps begin to soar and you look longingly at swimming pools where your friends are basking in the sun and you are running off to another shoot.  The summer holidays everyone enjoys with a cold beer in hand you spend with a cold lens in hand instead.  Most of the time though, it's worth it but sometimes you stop and think about all of the fun you are missing.  You look at the schedule that is bearing down on you for the upcoming season and feel a bit of dread about losing the weekends you've gotten used to having over the winter break.  We've all been there and if you claim you haven't, you are lying.

When I first started out a little over 5 years ago, I would take every booking and let them have any day I was free.  The first two "wedding seasons" for me were May - October solidly booked with no weekends off at all, many weekends were with multiple weddings.  It took me a few years to finally see that I needed breaks in the summer and started scheduling days off during my wedding season.  It took me another year or so to stop feeling guilty about doing so.

Look, I like money.  I just happen to like my sanity a bit more.  

*insert catty remark about my lack of sanity here* ;)

I'm not saying you need or should take every weekend off but when you start booking up with weddings or portraits, step back and look at your calendar.  After a year or two you should know where your sanity threshold is and when you start to hit the burnout stage from back-to-back weddings.  I found for me, 6-8 weeks is my max in a row that I can happily do.  More than that and I get a bit antsy.  Go through your schedule and schedule those weekends off on your calendar and make sure you stick to it unless it is something that you TRULY want to shoot.   Also, I know a lot of photographers refuse to schedule sessions on Sundays to take a day off from shooting during the week all together and to have one weekend day with their family.  I really like this idea and have been trying to transition to this myself.

I really hope that you take a moment after reading this and hit up your calendar and take sanity breaks for yourself.  Even if you've already booked up most weekends with weddings, take Sundays off and stick to not shooting or working that day.  I promise you, those little breaks will become a haven for you in the busy months ahead!

Corey Ann is a wedding & lifestyle photographer from North Canton, OH. She is a mix of everything - fashionista (runs Clothes for Pros, clothing suggestions for photographers), travel guru, deal hound and geek rolled into one. She's had a website online since 1997 and a blog since 1999. When not plotting world domination or her next trip, she can be found reading one of the 100+ books she reads a year. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What WON'T You Do?

A lot of people set out do define themselves and their business in terms of what they WILL do, however, you should also create a set of intentions for what you WON'T do.

This week I had to fire a client. I had to do it because they were starting to cross over into an area that I have determined unacceptable for me and my business: rescheduling a shoot more than once.

If this were a direct client for my business, I would have asked for a non-refundable retainer for the appointment that would be applied to their total package. This ensures I'm still compensated for spending the time and travel even if someone doesn't honor their end of the request and commitment. However, in this particular circumstance, I was serving as a contractor for an agency that entrusted me to serve this client and to get the job done no matter what- which meant no retainer fee or penalty to the client for not holding up their end of the commitment.

After the client scheduled and cancelled three times, I decided that it would be in the best interest of the agency who hired me if I just fired this client. I never have this problem with my own clients, so I was a bit nervous about how it would be handled by the agency when I acted on their behalf, however I also let the agency know about the client abusing their service offer. I told the client that due to the number of scheduled cancellations, I would need to cancel their request for photography and they could resubmit a new request when they were ready to communicate more clearly and honor their commitment. Within hours of firing this client, I received three new requests from the agency for clients that were all able to make a commitment within the next two weeks. Obviously, karma was on my side and I made the right choice.

While I've been traveling the world, I've also decided that I WON'T work on the weekend, unless it's a very special circumstance that I know will be of a greater long term benefit. In fact, not only have I decided not to work on the weekends, but I've decided I won't do any shooting gigs with my professional gear on Monday or Friday either. This allows me to have more four day weekends and to make sure that my work load is manageable while I'm working with reduced internet speeds and occasional internet outages or times of disconnection. This also means that I'm not using my professional gear for personal projects that aren't going to result in additional income to pay for the wear and tear on the limited gear I'm traveling with.

I started defining what I WON'T do a couple years ago when I needed to maintain more control over an incredibly busy shooting, meeting, and speaking schedule. I decided that if Saturdays were shooting days, than Sunday and Monday were days off and any shoots that were photographed on Saturday weren't going to be ready until at the very least Wednesday or Thursday- because I knew that Tuesday was also going to be a day to catch up on inquiries and communication with clients. Putting limits on when I'll work has helped me create clearer expectations for clients and has allowed me to define my time off and to really take it without guilt for what I'm NOT making progress on. Feeling guilty about taking a break is pretty much the worst feeling ever because you never feel like the time really is YOURS to have when there are outstanding projects. However, if you've set clear expectations with your clients that you don't work on certain days in order to have time to connect with your family and friends, than they can also have more reasonable expectations of the fact that you deserve weekends in your work week as well.

I hope that this post can inspire you to define what you WON'T do in your business so that you can avoid being taken advantage of as a creative soul & business. The healthier and happier you are as a creative business, the more people will value your time and want to work with you.

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Filing Taxes & Finding An Accountant

With taxes on the mind for many small businesses and other productive procrastinating perfectionists, I'm happy to share this guest post from Kathy Rappaport...

It’s almost April 15th! Whenever the tax due dates fall on a weekend or holiday we get extra time to procrastinate on filing our taxes. When you need more than than a couple extra calendar days, you do have the option of filing an extension. That would make your due date October 15th and once you file it’s called an Automatic Extension TO FILE. Sadly, that doesn’t mean you get more time to pay.

You would file Form 4868 but you must include how much tax you have paid and how much you estimate you will owe. And you might need help from an accountant or tax preparer to figure that out. As a business owner, it’s recommended that you actually have an accountant review your profit and loss quarterly to coincide with your quarterly estimated payments so you have no penalty and won’t owe when it comes time to file your actual return. Doing this actually eliminates that “heart attack” when you hear the actual amount of tax. If you do have a review before the year end, you can actually plan ways to reduce your tax obligation by opening a retirement account, spending money on tax deductible expenses and grouping deductions into one year to maximize deductions. Often, you can save whatever amount you might pay for the service to have it figured for you.

And this assumes that you are filing as an Individual. You may have a small business return that you file with your personal tax return called a Sole Proprietorship and you file a Schedule C for your business return.

To choose an accountant that is right for your business you should have an idea of the different designations of people who can prepare your tax return and why they are qualified:

1. Certified Public Accountant (CPA): This is the most educated person regarding business and tax; they’ve gone to school for a Bachelor’s Degree, taken a multipart test and done a two year internship in various types of accounting. Most have a specialty like working with Closely Held Businesses or Entrepreneurs or Corporate Tax Work or Audits or Financial Planning. Highest Caliber of Tax Knowledge and business knowledge. Licenses by state and can represent you in front of the IRS for tax matters.

2. Enrolled Agent: This person has studied tax and accounting and passed a test administered by the IRS which allows them to represent you at an audit. No degree or formal course of study required.

3. Enrolled Return Preparer: This person may have just worked down the street for that national chain that is well known for filling in the blanks. In some states they must complete annual testing and limited studies in Tax Preparation to know what to fill in. They may not represent you in front of the IRS or actually give you advice on what to do with your taxes.

How do you choose the right tax preparation for you?
First ask people in the same line of work you are in if they are happy with the person they use; You need a professional who can guide you in important choices for your business like whether to incorporate or become an LLC or S-Corp you would want a CPA who can recommend what is right for YOU; one size doesn’t fit all. Interview them. There are many options to select from and what is right for your friend is not right for you. Education is important but you should also be comfortable with the person you choose. They should never “pat you on the head” and tell you not to worry about it any more; you should be educated and informed so you know what is going on. After all – it’s you who is ultimately responsible if they make an error in your filings. Do you have bookkeeping issues you might want help with? Then you may want someone knowledgeable in QuickBooks or other accounting software who can help you. If their office is messy, will they lose your paperwork? Do they pay attention to you as a client? Are they listening to your concerns? All of these questions are just as important as the one question everyone wants answered – How much do you charge and how much will I owe?

Kathy Rappaport is a full time photographer with a studio in Woodland Hills California. Her first career was banking for 17 years when she opened a Bookkeeping and Tax Business which she now consults exclusively with Photographers. She is married to Frank – a CPA with a tax practice specializing in small businesses and entrepreneurs. Both Kathy and Frank are Certified QuickBooks Advisors.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Do You Get Forum Rage?

It's that feeling of disgust when reading someone else's post on Facebook or in an online forum. Another person's post can make you feel angry, hurt, or frustrated all because "someone was wrong on the internet." It's quite similar to road rage in that it can actually be dangerous to your health (or your computer) if you allow it to continue bothering you.

Forum rage often peaks mid-to-late slow season, when normally productive people are spending more time online sharing ideas and thoughts in the same space, or in the middle of winter after too much cabin fever has settled in. When people are busy being productive, they don't react as angrily to what is being posted online. They take it as a grain of salt and move on. However, it's hard to react without rage when you aren't feeling as happy and healthy as you usually might when there are other things to do and think about. My advice if you ever feel yourself getting wound up about something you see online:

  • Stop what you're doing and step away from the computer.
  • Go for a walk outside, or take a shower, or run an errand, or head to the library, or a cafe, or anything else to get yourself away from the computer and out in some fresh open air.
  • Walking around helps regulate blood flow and calm blood pressure.
  • Fresh air helps clear the mind and restore a sense of balance.

Several years ago I got forum rage from reading posts on DWF. Most of my frustration came from reading very mean and nasty comments from obviously unhappy curmudgeons who did little more than talk about how awful the photography industry was rather than actually getting out and doing something about their own lack of work. I also got rage when my posts would be censored for trying to help other people by offering up solutions that worked for me, but apparently were not allowed because my solution providers weren't supported advertisers on the forum. Eventually that frustration turned to anger nearly every time I visited that forum. Then I asked myself, why am I paying for a forum full of mean people who are also censoring my attempts to help people nicely?! It all seemed very backward and unproductive. I decided my money could be better spent elsewhere on something that I loved and really made me feel good - like a gift for an awesome client or extra trips to the cafe in the middle of the day when I wanted fresh air. (For the record, I've heard moderation is better now, but I have other communities I love more now too. I know how to step away from it all now, so there's a chance I'd go back, but I really don't feel like paying to share my wisdom- that's why I'm on PhotoLovecat- it's free, uncensored, and no one else has to pay to read it!)

There are plenty of "private" places you can hang out for free and share or ask questions online. You might already have a local photography Facebook group, and if not, why not start one? Or how about a private Facebook group of your own set of friends for the really sensitive information that you don't want to trust beyond your inner circle? Some people prefer Google Hangout - whatever is most convenient for you. However, I would caution you that any place with more than ONE member is never truly "private", but I'm sure you're internet savvy enough to know that by now. Truly private matters that would damage you or your family should never be shared online ANYWHERE. Screen capture and copy & paste are far too easy with instant updates that can archive your words long after you've deleted them. Remember, online words are FOREVER, even after they seem to have been deleted or removed.

A few more reasons not to stay in an angry environment online:

He who angers you conquers you. ~Elizabeth Kenny

For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness. ~Author Unknown

If you kick a stone in anger, you'll hurt your own foot. ~Korean Proverb

Are there any forums, or maybe even just Facebook friends in your online life that create rage for you? Were there some that made you angry last week that you want to avoid this week? If you feel like you can't unfriend them or leave them, you can still "hide", "block", or turn off any alerts from them so that you aren't being triggered or tempted to get sucked into the drama. You might be amazed how productive and happy your day feels without any drama in it! ;-)

Anne Ruthmann is a lifestyle & wedding photographer from Boston, MA. She spent 10 years practicing marketing & management in corporate and non-profit businesses before pursuing her passion for photography as an independent small business. She loves helping others find creative and smart solutions to business problems. Follow her on Twitter to see her daily adventures and thoughts.