Sunday, November 5, 2017

Managing The Fame Monster

Fame can create a type of PTSD (post-traumatic-stress-disorder) when you don't know how to deal with it and respond to it appropriately, or at least it did for me.  If you've witnessed someone else's journey close enough to the surface of fame, you may have a better chance of dealing with the public response as it arrives, but it took me about 10 years to really recover from a period of fame that I got early on in my career and felt very unprepared for.

I thought I was just entering contests and submitting work to get feedback and a response around what I was doing well, but it also turned into awards, publications, special features, speaking invitations, and things that started putting me in the spotlight before I was really ready to handle all the other negative stuff that came with being in the spotlight.  I didn't realize there'd be an entirely other element of reputation management that I'd need to deal with as well.  So I ended up taking a huge step back once all the attention got to be too much to manage and started taking me away from my clients and the work that was paying the bills.  I realized I just wanted to get back to doing what I loved: creating images for clients who valued my work without all the fame nonsense.  I gave myself a lot of time to consider what I could do differently if it happened again, and I hope sharing this helps you walk a slightly easier road through any moments of fame that come your way...

1. When You Finally Win Some Awards
People will hate you and people will admire you.  People will talk bad about you and they'll say you're the best they've ever seen.  They'll talk about how they can create better work than you, and they'll talk about how they wish they could create work like you.  They'll say they should have won the award you won, and they'll say they'd never be able to win the award you won.  They'll do this behind your back, to other people, online in comments, in forums, etc.

You really just have to let them do this without defending yourself.  You've already won the award and received the recognition that you were aiming for.  Any defense makes you seem insecure about your win.  Any boasting makes you seem cocky about your win. This is just part of what comes with winning. The only response people want to hear is how grateful you are that the judges liked what you sent them. (People know it's all judge preference anyway.) 

2. When You're Finally Published in Magazines
People will say you bought your way in.  People will say they wish they had your skill.  They'll say your work is too trendy or too posed or too staged.  They'll say you're amazingly creative and a genius for thinking of something so unique.  They'll say you copied them and it's all been done before and that you just rip off other people's ideas.  They'll say you're brilliant and inspiring and they want to be just like you.  People will take your work and try repeating the same results.  People will call you a fake.  People will say you have an inside relationship.  People will assume you can get them published too.  People will put you on a pedestal.  People will try to knock you off a pedestal.

Let them think what they want to think.  Being published and recognized means you don't need to prove anything to anyone.  The only response that people want to hear is that you feel really lucky your work was chosen out of all the great work they could have chosen from.  (People don't blame lottery winners, just their own luck of the draw.)

3. When You Finally Get Invited To Speak
People will say you don't have enough experience.  People will think you know everything there is to know.  People will suggest you need to teach because your work isn't good enough.  People will say you're teaching because your work is amazing.  They'll think your ideas are rubbish and uninspiring.  They'll think you've opened up an entirely new way of seeing things.  They'll walk out in the middle of your talk.  They'll stay after and want your signature.  They'll tell you what a fan they've been all along even though you're meeting them for the first time.  They'll become someone you once knew really well and now refuses to acknowledge you.  They'll think you're a hack.  They'll think you're an expert.

These are all a matter of their own varied perspectives and you have to go in knowing your message is only going to be heard and liked by about half of the room, much like running for American Presidency.  Remember that your message is less about you and more about what other people make of it even if it's not at all what you meant.  You're just the messenger who happens to be the one brave enough to stand on the stage.  The only response people want to hear after commenting on your speech is how you tried your best and were honored to have the opportunity.  (People honor the process of being selected and showing up, no matter the message.)

4. When Strangers Start Recognizing You In Public
I think it was Gary Fong who once said, you aren't really famous until the bagger in a grocery store recognizes you in the check-out lane.  It's a great way to put "fame" of any kind back into perspective of the larger world out there.  That being said, in the world of the internet, if you put yourself out there often enough, you may gain some stalkers or fans who do actually recognize you in places you'd least expect it, even when you don't have any makeup on or just walked out of the gym.  At first, you feel totally weird that a complete stranger is coming up to you and acting like they've known you forever and yet you know nothing about them.  However, if you know how to handle it in advance, you can level the playing field by responding really down to earth and friendly, rather than standoffish and rude because you felt attacked.

The response I've found which seems to work best for dealing with this kind of guerrilla attack is to say "Hello!  What's your name?  What are you working on right now that made you familiar with my work online?" It does take an extra minute to hear someone out rather than turning your head and running away as fast as you can, but it also becomes a chance to gain a little market knowledge about the tribe who follows you and how they found your work online.  It's also much more personable than simply standing there saying "Oh, thank you so much" over and over again on autopilot.  Having a real conversation with someone about what THEY know and can share with you makes it slightly less lonely at the top if you're traveling in an unfamiliar area and want some recommendations for a good place to eat or a special park to go for a run in.

Are there any fame monster moments I've missed?  Have you come up with some solutions and responses that work better for you?  I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments.

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.

Friday, September 8, 2017

When You Feel Like Letting It All Go

This feeling has happened multiple times while being a small business owner, yet each time the feeling is a little different and a little more nuanced.  I think it's safe to say that I've experienced the full gamut of reasons for feeling like I should let it all go.  This is a rarely talked about subject in the creative business world, and I want to share what I've learned about these feelings and how they have helped me, transformed me, and moved me to better places.

Issue: "I'm constantly procrastinating on certain parts of the work, maybe I'm not really cut out for this, maybe I should quit.  Quitting feels easier than forcing myself to do this."
This was how I felt when I had too many clients to manage, too many projects that were getting backed up, deadlines were being pushed further than was professionally acceptable, systems that were breaking down left and right and I kept getting bogged down in certain parts of the process that prevented me from making forward momentum as a solo-entrepreneur.

This was when I really needed to look outside of myself for help, rather than thinking I needed to do it all, but I was so entrenched in the problems at hand that hiring outside help just felt like more work and delaying everything further to get that help up and running.  I felt trapped, as if there was no way out, and as if I was failing my business and my clients, which led to feeling like perhaps I wasn't cut out to run a business at all, assuming this was my sign to quit and give up.  I was so wrong about my ability to turn it around, but the problems at hand made it difficult to see any other way.

Solution: Outsourcing, Hiring Help, Raising Prices, Fewer Projects at Once
If you're willing to give up your entire business because you can't seem to keep up with your business, than you NEED to start hiring help, outsourcing, raising your prices, or taking fewer clients.  This is a sign that your business is actually a huge SUCCESS!!!!  Hellloooo!!  You wouldn't be running into these issues if your demand wasn't exceeding your personal capacity to handle them!  Don't give up now- you're just hitting a painful growth spurt that is stretching you to expand and work in ways that you haven't explored yet!

If you're at a point where you would be willing to leave your business anyway, than you're also at a point where you can spare to throw some cash at hiring professional help or trying some outsourcing solutions.  If the alternative is not doing it at all, than you've reached a prime place to start narrowing your client focus and raising your prices so that you're only attracting and working with people who value your work at the same level that you do.

This is not an option anymore, this is clear cut sign that your business is experiencing massive growth and needs to grow appropriately to the kind of business you'd like to have in the future.  Would you like to grow into having associates, a business manager, and a post-production personal all under the same roof?  Would you like to grow toward being a more boutique, high-end artist serving only a select clientele?  This is your time to make that decision and set yourself on a better path that meets your needs in the future.  To walk away now would be to throw away your biggest opportunity for growth right at the moment you're being given the green light to grow in ways that work better for you.

Issue: "I want to let it all go.  I simply don't care anymore.  I don't even want to show up."
This was how I felt when I reached a place of depression in my life.  I didn't care about anything.  I wanted everything to fall away.  I didn't want to care about anyone or anything else except for my basic needs and survival.  Even making a plan to commit suicide felt like far too much work and energy than I was willing to give to the world outside of simply breathing and existing at the most basic level.  I often questioned why I was even alive.  I was stuck in a place of not valuing myself or my work and felt like existing was a burden to everyone around me.  I had to live through it and come out the other side alive in order to know what it really felt like and to have deep compassion for people who experience depression.

Solution: Massive Self-Care & Redefining What Makes You Happy
When I reached a place of wanting everything to fall away from me, it was largely because I lost touch with myself, with my spark, my inner fire, my reason for being and existing in the world.  I don't know how I lost it.  I don't know what brought it on.  I didn't even realize it was depression while it was happening.  I just didn't feel right, like I wasn't really myself or who I thought I was.

Later on, I realized that it may have been bio-chemical with things like lowered dopamine levels or adrenal fatigue, but it also could have been a symptom of not identifying with my work as part of my life purpose and not finding meaning in why I was creating for other people or how that work and creation was feeding my life in beautiful and meaningful ways.

What I really needed during this time was not to quit the only job that gave me creative spark when I remembered what creative spark was, but to invest in a huge boost of self-care and self-love to reconnect with why I existed and why I was continuing to do the work I was doing.  I was moving from a place of defining my existence and purpose by everyone else's standards to a place of being self-defined and self-motivated.

If my worth wasn't placed in what other people thought of me, how would I measure it based on what I think of myself?  What's really important in life?  What have I been ignoring?  What has been making me feel bad?  How do I reckon with that and reverse the apathy back into passion?

I had to tune out all the noise around me about what I should be doing and focus only on the very few small things that made me feel good at a basic physical and mental level.  Until I filled my own cup, it would never be filled by anyone else- not by any other job, any other relationship, or any other identity.

Once I recognized this and narrowed my focus on the things that actually made me feel good, rather than the things that everyone else said should make me feel good- I slowly gained my strength back.  I slowly began to remember who I was and how my work brought value to my own life as well as to the world.  My spark returned slowly and gradually, and I felt really lucky that I didn't completely give up my work, my relationship, my home, or my life.  I never would have been able to get to the other side and discover all the abundance beyond that depression if I'd given up everything that once made me happy and hadn't done some massive self-care to help me get there.

If you're feeling like giving everything up, recognize this as a sign of depression.  Tell your friends and family how you're feeling.  Ask for help.  Accept the help others want to provide.  Force yourself to be around people and places that used to make you happy.  Learn how to ask for support.  Remember how much you are loved by people who want nothing from you but your own health and happiness.  You can and will get through this.  It is possible.  It may take longer than you'd like, but keep on moving through that mud until you find dry ground.  Once you do, you'll learn how to weather any future storms better than ever before.

Issue: "I feel like I really need to create something else right now, and this is holding me back"
I remember this feeling very clearly from when I decided to leave my path on a music education career to become a full time photographer.  I was leaving something super safe because I was feeling so pulled and compelled to try and make photography work full time.  I simply couldn't give any more time to writing lesson plans in classrooms and dealing with parents and administrators, not because I didn't like it as much as I simply felt like I needed to spend all of my time working on wedding photos and learning post-production techniques to get the results I wanted in the final product of my photography.  Teaching was holding me back from spending time on photography, and even though I didn't see any security or know how I would make a living in photography, I just had to go for it and not get caught up in the what ifs.  My soul wouldn't allow me to do anything else.

Solution: Build slowly on the side, or make a clean break and run for it.
When I think about all the insecurity I felt in the beginning, it's ridiculously amazing to now look back at this fabulous creative career and small business that has supported me through multiple moves, through traveling around the world, through understanding the difference between low end and high end clients, learning how to go from 4 figures to 6 figures in just the first couple years, being published in international magazines and winning really cool awards for the artistry of my work, to being invited to present at some amazing conferences, to going on the road with my own workshop tour, to being flown to five star resorts in tropical locations just to take photos!?

Now that I look back at all of that I think- I had no idea what amazing abundance was on the other side of all my insecurity about how I would make it work.  Now I feel like I would be INSANE to let go of this AMAZING creative career that has created a life that has surpassed all of my dreams and all the things I thought were possible in a career as a creative.  Now, the security I once felt about a life as a music educator is the same security I feel about the life I've had as a photographer for the last 13 years.  I'm so glad I made a clean break and ran for the hills with my photography business- it was by far the best decision I could have possibly made at that point in my life.  I knew it was the right decision because no matter how much I feared what was ahead or how I would make it work, I knew that my passion for making it work simply could not be ignored or set aside, and that any moment I wasn't trying to make it work, was a moment that I was holding myself back from doing something greater than I'd ever done before.

When the universe calls you in different directions with a relentless passion to focus on something, to opportunities you haven't fully explored, and you have a very hard time ignoring it, that's when you know it's actually the right time to start your transition out and get to building and working on that next thing.  Whether you do it slowly in your spare time (which you need to create for yourself in order to have any spare time to begin with) or you just rip off the old career like a bandaid and wrestle with the sting of creating something new, your passion will not be silenced until you answer it and it calls you to begin NOW.

The future is always far more uncertain than the past.  You don't know if you'll have a full time job tomorrow even when you work for a corporation, despite how predictable it feels.  Would you rather someone pull the rug out from under you first, or would you rather build your next big thing while you still have security to work through the mistakes of trying new things?  You may not understand what the revenue stream or business plan will really look like, but you'll figure it out as you go and as people tell you what they value and want to pay for.  Trust in your passion to help you create the life and work you really want to be doing.  It's a call from the universe to expand, to grow, to be something you've never been before, and if you don't follow it, you'll be wasting the chance to live a life you've never imagined before.

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Competition Illusion

Over the years I've conducted several surveys of professional full-time photographers and it's amazing that the results stay consistent from year to year no matter how the market changes.

Survey Question:"When you look at the clients who actually booked your services, how did they find you?"

The percentage year to year tends to stay around 80% of booked clients coming through word of mouth referrals from previous clients, vendors, associates, friends, and family.  The other 20% tend to fall into website searches, social media, or trade shows.  There are a few rare businesses who flip that number on its head with a strong sales push or limited-time-offer at a convention, conference, or some very heavy targeted social media or website effort, but most full-time creative professionals who aren't selling education online are actually making their living on a strong referral business.

This is why competition is an illusion.

Most people are referring the 1 person they have trusted experience with.  Now, maybe a potential client has 3 friends who all refer different people, it still means you're only competing against those other 2 referrals.  Which is why, with referred business, you're not competing against every directory listing or search engine result available on a public website- only with other people who have great referral business in your marketplace.

Focus on referrals to eliminate competition.

- What can your clients say about you as a professional that makes the experience of working with you stand out from working with other professionals?
- Did you set reasonable expectations and exceed them?
- Were you pleasant and gracious to work with in person?
- Have you stayed in touch outside of projects you've worked on together?
- Did you do anything special that made their work or life easier?
- Did you find ways to connect them to other resources or help they were looking for?

When you focus on doing great work and working in a way that feeds your referral business, the competition is more of an illusion than a reality.  Each inquiry from a referral is exponentially more likely to book than an inquiry from a directory or search result.  How are you eliminating your competition by increasing your referrals?

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, May 2, 2017

3 Responses to Low Budget Requests

Rather than getting frustrated with people for not understanding your costs of doing business or not valuing the time and talent you invest into your work, stop assuming what they should understand and start educating to help provide more awareness around what professional rates should look like.  In order to be compensated at a professional level, it's important to respond to every unprofessional rate request with a more professional option.

Here are 3 different responses you can use when being asked to work for unprofessional rates:

1. Provide a more appropriate appropriate price for the request:
Thank you for your interest in working with me!  Based on everything you've outlined in your request, it appears that the appropriate pricing for that would really be $$$$.  Would you like to change the nature of the request or change the budget to a more appropriate rate for everything you'd like to accomplish with this photoshoot?

2. Describe what you can actually do for that rate:
Thank you for your interest in working with me!  At the budget you've described, I can provide two hours of documentary coverage at that rate, which that will allow me to produce approximately 60 images to choose from for this type of event, from which you're welcome to select 12 favorites for high resolution commercial licensing.  Would you like to move forward with this offer or discuss additional options?

3. Explain the price difference between professional and amateur:
Thank you for your interest in working with me!  I'm afraid that price is quite low for the professional resources and experience I provide- my normal rate for this type of project is $$$$.  Were you looking for an insured professional who can guarantee results, or did you want to work with an amateur who is still learning and may not have sufficient experience with this type of request?
(*This could be misconstrued as snarky, so use with caution and make sure you have the ability to provide an amateur resource like craigslist or a photo school of students who need to practice on clients.  Being able to provide an amateur resource if they want one shows that you're still a professional and willing to help others find a solution more appropriate to their request.)

If these responses don't seem to fit your situation, try this basic response recipe instead:

Step #1 - Express thanks
You'll notice all responses start with gratitude for the client's interest in your work.  We are truly lucky when people reach out to us individually to work with us.  In some cases, we may be the only creative they got the courage to contact directly.  If they were referred by an existing client or seen our work and fell in love with it- it's important that we honor their interest in working with us.  

Step #2 - Provide more appropriate information
In order to get people to adjust their perception or idea about what to expect, you must offer an updated set of information that helps them understand what they're requesting when it comes to working with the professional they're requesting it from.  Only when you provide more accurate information with regard to what it will cost or how much can be delivered within their budget, can they begin to adjust their own expectations and perceptions about what they can request from a professional.  Sharing is caring, and it's far more professional to care and share than to diss and dismiss.

Step #3 - End with a question
Every price inquiry response should end with a question to help continue the conversation.  I find it important to leave yourself open to continuing the conversation so that you aren't shutting the door to opportunity, but merely providing a window into what a more professional arrangement looks like while giving the client a chance to respond and negotiate their own interests further rather than shutting down alternative options or possibilities that meet closer to your mark.

If you see any colleagues struggling with unprofessional pricing requests, I hope you'll share this resource with them so they can stress less and work smarter about dealing with it in the future.

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 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:

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.