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Tips for photographers

Photo Business Finances : 6 Tips for Staying Sane

Hi, I'm kelsie.
I create heirloom photographs you feel and help my couples live their big days. I’m also on a mission to help photographers find small changes that mean big progress in their business & life!
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free resource
phoenix wedding venue guide
We've seen some things these past 16 years.  Let us help you hone in on the perfect spot for your big day!
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What if you could get crystal clear on what to charge clients to meet & beat your money goals, experiment with new ideas with ease, and make better decisions for your business and life?
yes please!

Let’s be honest…sometimes the financial side of our business can make us feel a little, um, like a phony. I know…you’re an artist. You just want to make beautiful things and have it pay for your life! Do you have to do the business stuff too??

You know you’re supposed to be figuring out your profit margin. You googled “how to find my COBD” for like 5 minutes once before the heart palpitations got the best of you. You’ve thought about hiring a pro to take care of it all, but $$.

Really you’re just hoping your business will be a success without you having to understand it all 🤞.

The truth is, running your own business is kind of a lonely place to be – it’s so hard to get out of your head and know what the best next steps are to move your business forward!

really understand.

The trouble is, without clarity in your finances, the chances of building a sustainable photo business – one that is a fit for your life and actually meets your financial needs- are pretty slim. Like non-existent 😬. You know this…and it’s probably why you’re reading these words right now. 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 bank account just for your business yet, I highly recommend you do. Making sure your personal and business finances never mix is the easiest way to simplify the process of tracking profits, budgeting, and even filing your taxes. Any income you receive from clients can go directly into your business account, and any expenses come straight from there (or a credit card allocated just for your biz) as well. 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

Your personal and business bank 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 personal money is the key to mapping out expectations for your business. If you haven’t yet, create a personal financial 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 personally use and love a free tool called Mint for staying on top of my personal AND business budgeting). 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

Once 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.

You’ll first need to figure out what’s coming in. I use HoneyBook and Mint.com 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! Once you’re tracking your actual income, you’ll deduct your business costs (subscriptions, purchases, products, second shooter payments, outsourcing costs, etc.) to find your net earnings. This is the first step toward crafting a realistic budget.  

While the word “budget” might leave you feeling overwhelmed, it’s actually a great visual tool. 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 always in the know, not fearful of being caught off guard one day when 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 – which it has for me. 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 come – 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 now!

Understanding your essential costs and establishing a buffer is the best way to manage your books like a pro!

5. Get Intentional With Your Photo Business Pricing

I can remember the overwhelm from when I first set out to earn an income from photography – the endless second-guessing whenever someone asked what I charged.  Feeling alone. How the heck was I supposed to pick that elusive right price – the one that would pay the bills and keep me booking, all without preventing me from ever seeing my family again?!

As photographers, we bring an invaluable skill to the table, so it’s important to ask if we’re reflecting this with our pricing. Ask yourself if your current pricing is going to achieve your personal and business goals. Are you profitable? Does your service and end product justify your rates? Is what you’re earning worth the time & effort you’re putting in? Does the type of photography you’re doing fit with what you want in life? Does your business actually meet your financial needs?

How can you figure out exactly what to charge for your photography? The experts will tell you to add your total business costs to the amount you hope to profit – this number will be the price you charge your client. I like to think of it more like this: those numbers we came up with in #2 above – 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, you could achieve this each month by photographing :

a) 11 bargain weddings 

b) 2 mid-level weddings with a focus on product sales

c) 1 high-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 price, 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 need some help understanding what you pricing means for your bottom line and work/life balance, you can get my Pricing for Profit Calculator here!

If you’ve run 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. 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! But 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). 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 it is for sure a necessary 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? I am a BIG fan of outsourcing tasks that I’m not skilled in or that are major time hangups for me. In fact, I pay a business CPA to handle my taxes each year and am SO glad I do!

If you need to, you can 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 when you run into questions or financial situations you’re not sure how to handle. 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 clarity in your business finances is key for continued growth, your confidence in taking risks, and making better aligned decisions for yourself and your business. With some 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.  

Do One Thing Today

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’s right for you.

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Hello

welome to the blog

I'm Kelsie, and I create heirloom photographs you feel and help my couples live their big days. I’m also on a mission to help photographers find small changes that mean big progress in their business & life!

Learn more

arrow

free resource

phoenix wedding venue guide

We've seen some things these past 16 years.  Let us help you hone in on the perfect spot for your big day!

DOWNLOAD

New for photographers!
pricing for profit calculator
What if you could get crystal clear on what to charge clients to meet & beat your money goals, experiment with new ideas with ease, and make better decisions for your business and life?
yes please!

free resource

phoenix wedding venue guide

On the hunt for the setting of a celebration that's perfectly you? Let us help you hone in on the perfect fit for your big day...