When you decided to launch your own photo business, your passion for spreadsheets probably wasn’t the motivating factor…though I do love a good spreadsheet. If you’re anything like me, your desire to build something of your own and your love of people & beauty are likely the real reasons you set out to earn a living creating photographs. However, as you’ve probably already figured out, running a successful business requires both.
For us photographers, finances can feel downright overwhelming. But staying on top of your money, understanding cash flow, planning for the future, and implementing a savings strategy can go a long way in relieving money anxiety. And with less stress about money comes more time and energy to focus on the tasks & people that give us life! With this in mind, I bring you these 6 financial management tips to keep your photo business numbers in check and maintain your sanity as a business owner.
1. Make a Separate Photo Business Account
If you haven’t opened a business bank account yet, you’ll want to as soon as possible. Any income you receive from clients should go directly into a business account. This also applies to paying your business bills. Making sure your personal and business finances never mix is the best way to simplify the process of tracking profits, budgeting, and even filing your taxes. And if your photo business is an LLC (or you plan to make it one), you’ll be required to keep your accounts separate, so starting now is a good idea.
2. Clarify What You Actually Need
These personal and business accounts will have something to do with each other. I am a BIG proponent of taking the time to understand not just what you want, but what you actually need financially. Sometimes we set out after these lofty money goals (or no goals at all). But if we can first understand and work on bringing in the funds we actually need for our life, we can gain a little flexibility and breathing room in how we structure our business. Are you the sole provider responsible for all of your family’s needs as well as health insurance? Do you need to bring in half of your home’s income but have a partner whose job covers the insurance? Or is your main goal to bring in enough money for a couple of great vacations and some fun money? Your personal financial needs can change pretty dramatically depending on your role in providing. Since your personal finances play a huge role in determining how much you need to make each month, understanding your money is the key to mapping out expectations from your business. If you haven’t yet, create a personal financial plan or budget that details your monthly expenses, outstanding loans, debts, credit card payments, and any other short or long-term financial commitments you may have. I highly recommend including future financial goals like retirement savings, buying a home, or saving for your children’s college fund. A solid personal financial picture will help guide your photo business plan moving forward.
3. Track How Your Photo Business Money Moves
Now that you understand what it costs to run your life outside of your business, focus on what it costs to run your business day-to-day. It’s essential to know how your money moves so you can accurately track your expenses and monitor the financial health of your business.
You’ll first need to understand what’s coming in. I use HoneyBook to get a handle on my photo business income, but if you’re not ready to dig into a CRM like HoneyBook, a simple Google Sheet will do the trick too! Then, you’ll deduct your business costs (subscriptions, purchases, products, outsourcing costs, etc.) to find your net earnings. This is the first step toward crafting the perfect budget.
While the word “budget” might feel scary and tedious, it’s actually a great visual tool to help you see the money coming in and going out. I love using Mint for both my personal and business budgeting as I find it simple to use and perfect for my needs (and I get no moolah for telling you this ;). I know many small businesses and entrepreneurs who find YNAB or Quickbooks a great fit. Believe it or not, I’ve come to view having a budget as freeing. I’m not fearful of finding I don’t have enough, and I get to choose how the money in each budget gets spent! This is a major mindset shift for me and leaves me feeling filled with gratitude for what I do have rather than leaving me focused on what I “can’t” have.
4. Think Ahead
I know it can feel daunting, especially if you’re living contract to contract, but I want to take a minute to encourage you to think about the future as you build both your personal and photo business budget. Create a list of essential and nonessential expenses, knowing that you can pair back to that “essential” list if push comes to shove. Yep, you need the cell service, but that lens upgrade is likely not necessary just yet. Consistently contributing to an emergency fund (that you don’t touch unless you really need it) can make all the difference when hardships occur – and if you’re in this for the long haul, I promise you they will. Make a habit of putting money aside for slow seasons and surprise expenses – imagine the peace this buffer would give you if your business income were to take a big hit (2020 anyone?). In a culture that tells us we deserve to have all we want right now, even at the cost of debilitating debt, I challenge you to shift your mindset to slow, sustainable growth. And then… make a conscious choice to really enjoy what you get to have!
Understanding your costs and establishing a buffer is the best way to keep track of your books like a pro!
5. Is the Price Right? What to Charge in Your Photo Business
As photographers, we bring a valuable skill to the table, so it’s important to ask if we’re reflecting this with our pricing. Ask yourself if you’re charging enough for your packages. Are you profitable? Can you justify your rates? Is what you’re earning worth the time & effort you’re putting in? If you’re a relatively new photographer and aren’t sure how to price your services in the first place, do a little research and maybe reach out to some pros for advice.
So how can you figure out what to charge for your photography? The experts will tell you to add your total business costs to your desired profit. This number will be the price you charge the client. I like to think of it more like this. Those numbers we came up with before – the ones that reflect what we need and/or want for a living? What options do I have in my business for achieving those numbers? Because the beauty is, you DO have options.
For example: if your goal is to earn at least $5000/month from your business (with $500/month in operating expenses), you could achieve this by photographing :
a) 11 bargain weddings
b) 2 mid-level weddings and a focus on product sales
c) 1 higher-end wedding
d) 1 luxury destination wedding with all the bells & whistles every 1.5 months
e) 1 mid-level wedding plus 5 portrait sessions
f) 5-6 branding sessions
g) 5-6 associate photographer weddings
h) 3 births with a focus on album sales
i) 11 home interiors
See what I’m getting at? Clarifying what you actually want your business to look like AND how much profit you need it to produce can allow you to reverse engineer your business budget!
You might be looking at some of these pricing models above and thinking they feel unrealistic where you sit. By no means am I saying “if you set this pricing model, they will come.” No, pricing your services successfully is far too nuanced for that. My hope is to show you that you DO have options when it comes to building a profitable business that meets your personal and professional needs. Getting clarity on what photo business model might best fit you and your life is a great place to start.
If you’ve owned your photo business for a while but aren’t sure if it’s time for a price/model change, take an honest look at how your bookings are going. Does the type of photography you’re doing fit with what you want in life? Does your business actually meet your financial needs? If you find you’re consistently growing your client base or turning away jobs, it might be a good time to increase your prices. The advice I was given many years back was to increase my prices X amount of dollars each and every season that I continued to book. I’m not sure this is the right advice for everyone and haven’t followed it blindly, but I do think it’s a reasonable place to start. Each season of shooting you complete = the more experience and skill you have = the more value you bring to your clients! The beauty of building your own thing is that you are in charge…if a price increase feels right and goes well, excellent! If not, there’s no shame in bringing it back down and seeking some advice on where you might be going wrong – this photographer has done both! :).
Keep in mind you don’t have to announce price increases to the world on Instagram. Instead, update your pricing on your website (I highly recommend you create a website now if you don’t have one already – I LOVE what I use for mine). Grandfather in any current clients, and let repeat clients know your pricing has changed if they book with you again. Prepare yourself that your new pricing might not be a fit for all of your past clients – that’s okay! Part of building your own brand and honing in on your audience is learning who you are not for. I cannot stress enough that this is a process and won’t always feel good (let’s be real, none of us like rejection), but know you’re not alone in this photo business growing pain.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Managing finances doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and that’s okay. You may be able to handle your budget, track your invoices, and set your prices, but what happens when it comes time to file your taxes? In fact, doing so is the best way to avoid major bookkeeping errors that could end up costing you more money in the long run. I am a BIG fan of outsourcing tasks that I’m not skilled in and take an inordinate amount of time to do on my own.
Check out some financial pros in your area like a CPA or bookkeeper. Not only can they handle the hard stuff, but they’re also a great resource to run through money management strategies with. At the end of the day, you could learn something new to help grow your financial literacy and benefit your business. Ask some peers if they can refer to someone they love if you don’t know where to start.
Running your own photo business is filled with perks – I’ve been more grateful for mine these past 16 years than I can tell you. You get to surround yourself with beauty and have the flexibility and freedom of working for yourself with the fulfillment of building something of your very own. Though you might not be a financial expert, having a grip on your business finances is essential for continued growth, your confidence in taking calculated risks, and guiding decisions for yourself and your clients. With proper planning, the willingness to learn, and a little organization, you’ll be well on your way to growing as both a creator and a business owner.
You can do this! Take just a little time today for BIG future growth. Choose one of the budgeting tools above or dig into the one you already have in place to help you gain some clarity on the money coming in and going out in your business. Dare to set some goals for yourself or make one move toward thinking about your future finances! I sincerely hope this brings you one step closer to building a photo business that feels good.