At SmugMug, we’re all about supporting your business and we love to help you succeed. Today’s guest post is by our longtime SmugMug customer and successful full-time professional photographer, Kathy Rappaport. She is CEO (Chief Everything Officer) at Flash Frozen Photography Inc. in Woodland Hills, California. For many years she kept her pencil sharp as an Accountant and honed her Marketing and Operational skills as a VP in Bank Management. She’s a QuickBooks Certified Advisor and consults with photographers on best business practices when she isn’t photographing families, children, dogs and women in lingerie (though usually not all at the same time). So, we were thrilled when she shared her tips with us, and we wanted to share them with you.
The US Small Business Administration says that 80% of small businesses fail in the first five years. So what are some good business practices for photographers so they don’t fail? Or better yet, so they succeed? Here are a few of mine!
1) Good Accounting!
If the reason you work is to make money, then you’d better track how much you make, how much things cost, who owes you money and how much you owe the government. My favorite solution is QuickBooks. It comes in Mac and PC Flavors and even Online and mobile editions now. My personal favorite is the Premier Edition (which is for PC) because you can track your costs and customers in detail. There are many good features to the program like customized invoices, sales tax tracking, customer tracking, inventory and product sales. It’s pretty easy to learn and maintain. Take care of your money and it will take care of you! There are other solutions, but, this is reasonable and comprehensive. And way better than a shoebox.
2) Good Pricing!
“My camera is paid for and I love to shoot so anyone who pays me something is my client.” Well, just because people pay you doesn’t make you a professional. A Professional has a business license, insurance and charges money for their products and services. You have to have good accounting to figure out good pricing. A good place to start is to figure out how much a fair hourly wage is for your skill level. Then multiply that times three or four. Why? Your camera will need replacement, your lenses will surely need service, your cost of business (like insurance, props, gas, supplies, your phone, printer , software, internet) are a part of price you charge. Don’t forget some of your time is spent on editing and finishing your work. You need to include saving for your future. Your retirement, taxes, and replacing your equipment. You can add up your costs and figure out a daily/weekly/hourly rate plus time to arrive at a price that will keep you in business.
3) Good Customer Service!
I hear over and over from some so-called professional photographers that it’s not necessary to call customers back or that they wait weeks to deliver work. If they have some miscommunication they send an email. The best thing you can do is be omnipresent to your clients. Respond NOW. Call if there is a problem. Knock their socks off and they’ll tell their friends. Disappoint them and they’ll tell the world. Underpromise and overdeliver. Find something special to say thank you. Maybe an extra print from the merchandise selection of your SmugMug catalog. Even a handwritten greeting card says you care.
4) Have a Good Plan!
Don’t just have an idea and implement it right away. Think about it. Plan it out in the form of a business plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Plan your marketing efforts, your customer service initiative, and your business goals. Make a calendar and a task list. Plan out the amount of money you want to make, how to get there and budget it out. It’s like taking a cross country trip without having a road map if you do things by the seat of your pants.
As a solopreneur, you shouldn’t do it all. You do need to get legal advice and accounting advice. You can get contracts online, but, they might not be right for your situation. Same with accounting. You should never take everyone’s advice when it comes to accounting and taxes. They are really personalized. Find out what kind of entity you should be. I hear S Corp and LLC all the time as advice but they really might be wrong for you and cost you big time in the tax department. You might have some graphics skills, but, a good printer and graphic designer will present your work to make you stand out. Maybe you even need to hire someone to train you in how to do something so you can do it properly instead of guessing. I don’t know the first thing about HTML and having an expert handy makes me sleep better at night knowing that everything is right.
6) Do Things the Official Way!
Don’t be a scofflaw. Get your location permits, business license; your DBA, carry liability Insurance, your Sales Tax License, your tax Identification number. Go to your local chamber of commerce or accountant and see what you need to do to be a real business. Not having those things can cause you to have penalties, interest, fines, or expensive legal and accounting fees. If people pay you to photograph, then the end result is you have a business. The IRS says you have to file a tax return if someone pays you as little as $400.00.
Practice your craft. Up your game. Take care of yourself. In your marketing plan you should be out there meeting people both inside and outside the industry. Learn about business just as much as you spend time learning about the latest lighting techniques. Up your game and keep improving and learning. Read good business books. You will never know everything, but don’t stop adding to your bag of tricks. Challenge yourself to reach for the stars. I know you can do it.