Owning a Photography Business Sucks

business_sucks_largeIt really does sometimes. It’s easy to start out with this photography dream. You have a nice camera, you take a couple nice photos, your friends and family tell you that you should start a business. At the time it seems like this glorious idea. You can quit that crappy low-paying job, make your own money, work your own schedule and do something you really love.

Well…there’s a reality to owning a photography business that I think people just don’t talk about. Sure, people say it’s not easy, but at the same time you see all these photographers out and about on social media bragging about how many weddings or sessions they have to edit, how many clients they have to photograph this weekend, the new equipment they just bought and more. Seeing those kinds of comments makes it easy to believe that running a business can’t be that hard, right? Or it may lead you to believe that success will come sooner in your business then it actually does.

I wanted to write this post because sometimes I feel there’s a contradiction in our industry. Photographers are always talking about how difficult this job is, but at the same time we see photographers who make things look easy. That alone gives us the impression that we aren’t booking enough clients or making enough money. You should never judge a book by its cover and I wanted to include some of the things I did in this post when I first ran my business that made it hard to get started.

Somehow the photography industry has set up these imaginary expectations that we should all be able to become awesome photographers at the drop of a hat and be running a profitable business in a year or less. I think there’s a lot of information floating around out there that adds to these illusions, because that’s what they are. Photographers don’t like to talk about or admit where their failures are, or where they started, or that they ever worked for free. Some photographers want others to believe they were always successful right from the start.

So here’s a few realities of my own that I learned the hard way. I am still always learning and making mistakes. I hope this gives you guys a look into what being a photographer is like the first few years and dispels the illusion that you can make a quick buck.

Reality #1 “Fake it ’til you make it”

Ever heard that line of advice? Some of those photographers posting and sharing about their busy schedules are well…lying. It’s a common business practice to make it seem you are more in-demand than you actually are. It helps other potential clients want to book you if you seem in-demand. Plus, no one wants to admit they’re a big crappy failure. Sure, there are a few photographers out there who are actually very busy. I’m just saying, don’t believe everything you see. You never know if what you are reading from other photographers is true or a marketing scheme. I’m not advocating using this as a marketing scheme nor am I putting down anyone who does. However, I wanted to point out that some of the things you see may not be true and you shouldn’t let them define how your business is doing by comparing your business to theirs.

Reality #2 Earning a Profit Takes Time

Here’s the reality. You aren’t going to make a profit for a very long time. Yep, I said it. A slow-grown business will more likely have success and last for years to come than a business that jumped in feet first without thinking twice. You know how people always say that loosing weight fast means it’ll just come back as soon as you’re done dieting compared to losing weight slow will help you keep it off? A business is sort of like that. Taking the time to really build your business will eventually pay off.

I have to be honest that you are not going to make a profit right away. You are going to spend more money than you make, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. I spent the first 18 months of my business building my portfolio and working for free. Sometimes I see photographers start charging after only a short period of time building a portfolio and then complaining they aren’t getting any clients. Clients want to know that if they pay you they trust you can get the job done. Maybe what I did was excessive and maybe there are photographers who could start making profit in less than a year, but they are not the norm. Take the time to build an extensive portfolio before charging. When clients finally start coming in and you’re ready to charge you have all the work you need to justify what you are ready to make and your clients will trust you more, be happier customers, and more likely to recommend you.

I’m just starting my sixth year of business. I’ll tell you that it took three years…yes THREE YEARS for me to make a profit. Part of this was due to the idiotic decisions on purchases I made at the beginning. I purchased Photoshop actions and all kinds of things I thought I needed and ended up not needing. I purchased the wrong lenses and equipment many times over. I feel I only just learned this lesson recently.

It’s also important to note that statistically it takes an average small business three to five years to start making a profit. Even the IRS in the United States knows and expects this. They don’t expect to see you show a profit on your taxes until after your third year of business. They expect to see you spending more money than you make.

The reality shows me that sometimes we expect too much upfront. We expect things to happen immediately and when they don’t it’s easy to get down on ourselves. If you aren’t making a profit yet, but you are dedicated to being a photographer know that it is going to take time, and expect it to take lots of time. Make a plan for the future for when you expect to be making a profit. This is what business plans are great for. 🙂

Reality #3 Getting Legit

Being a legit business sucks. Did I tell you I’m getting audited for my photography business sales taxes? Not because I did anything wrong, but because back in January when I was being all organized and on time I screwed up. I was getting ready to leave for China and I had to mail my annual sales taxes to the state and the city. I was even mailing them in early (how awesome am I, right?). In all the stress of leaving the country I accidentally put the checks in the wrong envelopes. Yep, the state’s check got sent to the city and vice versa. I can’t begin to tell you how much trouble this has caused me. I mailed those envelopes on January 7th, 2013 and it’s now September 11, 2013 and the problem is still not resolved. The city sent the state its proper check. So what did the state do? They cashed both checks and are auditing me because they’re confused about why I “overpaid.” Meanwhile the city wants its check too.

I could have easily avoided all this hassle over a $100 check if I decided to run my business under the table, but that’s just not the kind of business owner or person I ever want to be.

Being a legitimate and official business is probably the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do for your business. Before you purchases lenses, camera bodies, and Photoshop actions you should be getting your licenses and all your official ducks in a row. It’s not fun and sometimes it’s a real pain in the behind; especially if you’re like me and you could have just mailed the checks to the right places in the first place. Doh! Don’t worry, it’s not that bad to clean up. It just involves a lot of bureaucratic phone calls – the best kind of phone calls there ever was.

The reality is, if you’re not running a legit business it’s going to catch up with you later and it’ll be a bigger mess to clean up than it would be to figure it out in the first place.

Reality #4 Behind the Business

I thought being a photographer would be super glamorous. Spending long days staring at my computer, doing my own accounting, and all kinds of other things I didn’t imagine also became part of the job. Now I needed to be good at social media. I needed to be amazing at online communications and making sure people understood the meaning I was trying to convey. I needed to get the fastest speed of internet available to upload photos at a decent rate. As a result I’m the one that causes the neighborhood’s internet to slow drastically during peak hours. I needed to become a writer so I could blog. I have to pay more taxes and I get no health benefits or vacation days. Buying my own health insurance sucks so much and is so expensive we can only afford for one of us to be insured. My husband is currently not insured although this is changing very soon (kinda excited).

I’ll tell you that behind the scenes it’s not so glamorous. The first few years we were barely scraping by and were lucky to have help from our parents. Things are more steady at this point and we can rely on my income to live off of.

Reality #5 Facebook Makes Me Hate Business

Oh Facebook, how I loathe you! I do get about half my clients from referrals just by simply existing on Facebook. Now, I’m not complaining about Facebook’s rules (see last week’s post). I think their policies are their own and they can do what they like. What I don’t like about Facebook is how much harder it makes running a business. Here’s why:
– Sometimes I spend hours on Facebook that I could use working. It makes me less productive.
– I compare my work to other people and think I’ll never be good enough.
– I see other photographers posting about how busy and awesome their clients are and wonder what the heck is wrong with me when I am not busy with tons of clients.
– I join photography groups on Facebook in attempt to try to network and find a community of like-minded people only to get shut down by an industry bully.
– Photographers post mean stuff about each other and it makes me nervous to even be part of Facebook.
– Photographers pass around these memes that in some ways mock clients’ naive questions when they hire a photographer. I don’t like these. Since when did it become an us vs. them mentality? We need these people to want to hire us, right?
– Photographers are always complaining about how hard it is, but are making it look easy.
– Nobody will answer me when I have a photography question because people want to keep their business secrets private.

In other words, sometimes Facebook makes photography seem like a hopeless business to venture into. I have struggled with all of these things on this list at some point or another. Often times I dread checking in on Facebook because it’s not a positive place where I feel that as a person I can grow. I feel like it’s a place where I have to approach wearing full-on knight’s armor to defend myself.

Facebook makes me hate being a photographer. Here’s my reality… I had a photography Facebook page for about 2 years before I realized that everyone else did too. I was in my own little naive bubble. I was friends with the people I knew on Facebook, added clients as they came in, but I had no idea there were photography blogs, other photographers, photography groups, or photography pages of any kind. I feel lucky that I was naive to others when I started my business and that I could start without their judgement or making myself feel bad every time I made a mistake or wasn’t as good as someone else.

The reality of Facebook is that it can help you grow your business, but it can also be detrimental to your emotional health. My advice? Turn off and unlike, leave, or delete things on there that you don’t like. Make it a positive community for yourself by not engaging in situations or places on Facebook that cause you to question yourself or make you feel bad.

If you need a good Facebook photography group, feel free to join the Photography Awesomesauce one >here<

Reality #6 – Booking Clients

Part of this overall theme is about how we see what other photographers are doing and are comparing our own businesses. You see other photographers booking lots of clients and don’t book any on your own.

Here’s the reality about booking clients. It takes a LOT of time to get clients inquiring regularly about your services. I have to be very honest that when I started my business I didn’t book a lot of clients and the main problem wasn’t the price or me, it was that I wasn’t very experienced and my photographs were not that good. Nobody wanted to pay for something that didn’t look as awesome as Photographer XYZ down the street. I don’t blame them. Alas, sometimes consumers actually have good taste! 😉 That was probably the number one reason I didn’t book a lot right away. In order to book more clients I needed to improve my skills. That’s why I did a lot of portfolio building sessions. If I didn’t have clients coming in the door, I’d find someone to do a session with for free so I could continually practice. As my skills improved so did the demand for my services. It takes time for your skills to improve and a lot of practice. If you want to be booking more clients the best thing you can do is find people to photograph so you can practice and improve.

Set a goal for yourself to find someone or something to photograph at least once a week. If you’re not booking sessions make sure you are getting out there with your camera and sharing those photos on your website and Facebook. Make it your own personal goal to have a portfolio that is so full of experience no one will be able to deny your services in the future. Spend time educating yourself on better business and taking better photos. There is always something new to learn. Practice these newfound techniques!

As far as booking my own clients goes…as I said before I’m just beginning my 6th year of business. I’m very proud. I would say that it’s only been the last 2 years where I had to spend less time chasing down clients and they were coming to me on their own wanting what I had to offer. The first several years of business I would fight for clients and do just about anything to book them. My goal for the first two years of business wasn’t to have a session every week it was to have one photo “experience” a month with a client, be it free or paid. I didn’t care, I just wanted the experience. Make your client goals small, so they’re easier for you to reach. Sometimes it’s easy to say “I want to book at least 1 or 2 sessions a week” and then when that doesn’t happen you get frustrated. Realize that most photographers are not photographing this often all year round. During May-September I have about one session/wedding per week. Sometimes 2 or 3 a week and then none the next week, or nothing for even 2 weeks. October-April can be hit or miss. This year I have 2 weddings in October and one styled shoot. I have nothing in November, 1 wedding in December, 1 in January and nothing is booked February, March and April for next year. That’s what an average photographer’s schedule looks like. I may get more things booked as times goes on, but the winter months are very sparse and sometimes I go an entire month without any clients. I consider myself a successful business owner at this point, but even I see photographers who talk about being booked up completely months in advance and it makes me feel bad sometimes. Don’t let those things make you feel bad. Everyone’s business is different and building clients is going to take as much time as getting a profit is. It will come eventually, just focus on practicing and make your goals less lofty and more feasible.

Final Reality – Stop Letting Other People Decide What Success Looks Like for You!

In conclusion, I wanted to tell you guys that we need to stop letting other people’s standards for their own businesses define our own successes. Everyone’s situation is different. You may be a full-time photographer with all the time in the world for lots of clients. You may be a stay at home mom who can only take on 2 sessions a week. You might be a mom, a full-time worker, and a part-time business owner which really limits how many sessions you can take on. Success is going to look different to each of these people. The bottom line is we need to decide what success looks like for us. Once we do that we will be much happier with our businesses.

How to Get Your Photography Published

Emma and Josh are photographers who get featured a lot on weddings blogs online. I don’t have a lot of experience in this area so I invited Emma to come and write a little bit about how it works for her. It can be a great marketing tool. If a wedding blog choses to feature your photos they will link back to your website, which can help your SEO!

There are a couple different ways to connect with blogs and submit your photography to be featured. One is the old-fashioned way – emailing them a link to a gallery or just emailing them photos. However, many blogs are now using an online service called Two Bright Lights to submit their photos and connect with blog owners. Emma has been featured many times by using their service so I’m super thankful she’s taking the time to tell us about it!!

By Emma Smith

Two Bright Lights is a website/service that helps you streamline your submission process to blogs, as well as gives you an option to share your photos directly with vendors. I personally only use it for submissions to blogs and share my photos with PASS for clients.The amazing thing about this system is everything you need to know is right online. They list ALL the blogs/Magazines and Editors ( that accept via Two Bright Lights, not every blog accepts submissions with this online service. ) They have information on who is accepting what. If you want to read more about each blog you can and Two Bright Lights gives you information as to the blogs’ publication schedule, how often they post, and how many images they post. It’s really great information.The submission process is very simple. After creating an account you can first upload photos into an album on the website. Then list all the vendors involved in a wedding or photo shoot so they are credited accordingly. A vendor you worked with might already be listed, so you can search the database to see if they are on there. If not, add them manually. Then you can move to the actual submission process.Two bright lights walks you through the submission process using various filters to narrow down who you can submit to. For example you’ll want to decide between exclusive and non-exclusive blogs. An exclusive blog will expect that you feature a certain wedding or shoot only with them and with no one else. There are categories to submit weddings/engagements/ parties/lifestyles/pets…you name it. There are also filters such as location, style, and budget. When you are finally done Two Bright Lights filters out so you get a list of blogs/magazines who are accepting those types of weddings and shoots. You can choose where you want to submit. Finally, you use the categories to break your event down with colors, cultures, themes and add in any additional information and ‘SUBMIT.’

Submissions might take as quick as 24 hours or up to 2 months. Each publication lists the time it might take, and you wait until you hear back. Two Bright Lights also shows you when your submission is under review and you will get an email if it’s accepted that includes a publication date. If you’re not accepted you may receive an email saying, “sorry not at this time.” Sometimes they list reasons and sometimes they don’t. You can then resubmit to another publication if you wish.

If you’re selected to be featured, when the publication date hits, you get an email saying your feature has been published and right from that email you can share directly to Facebook or tweet about it! THAT’S COOL!

A few tips to keep in mind…

1. Make sure you follow instructions. Most blogs want non-watermarked, single images and they request a certain amount of images. If a publication wants 100 images and you submit 40 odds are you won’t get accepted due to failure to follow instructions. So, always read up on who you are submitting to and know the rules.

2. Dont take it personally if you’re not accepted (which is hard – I speak from experience), but there are many blogs and sometimes they just have a different vision. Try, try again…

3. Being published doesn’t make you a rock star and it wont get you 10 bookings. However, it gives you exposure.

Some of my features for you to check out:

The Step-by-Step Photography Booking Process

photography bookingAfter you’ve marketed and you have your inquiries rolling in the door and you’ve emailed back and forth about pricing there can be a little bit of that “what’s next” going through your mind. The booking process is almost a workflow in itself and you want to ensure that you are going over the same information and treating each client the same. This is basically a little step-by-step guide on how I go through my booking process and what works best for me. Maybe it can help you out.

Step 1 – Meet in Person

One of the biggest sales tips I got from a well-known mentor on doing sales was to do them in person. Meeting people in person can be an opportunity to develop trust with a client. Once you develop a trust, their desire to work with you is higher. After emailing back and forth with prospective clients about pricing, what’s included and all that jazz I invite them to my office to meet. There’s no guarantee that we’ll sign the contract then and there, but it’s nice to meet in person, show them more photos, and give them an opportunity to ask as many questions as they’d like. By meeting clients in person I find my booking rate is very high. Rarely does anyone who comes to meet with me not book a session. In 2012 I had one prospective client not book with me after meeting and that was it for the year so I find this method to be a great way to be personable and really show clients that they’re not just hiring your photography talent, but also hiring someone they want to work with and be around. If you don’t have an office to meet at you can still plan to meet at a nearby coffee shop and bring sample albums and your portfolio with you. Remember to offer to buy the client coffee.

Step 2 – Follow Up

After a meeting with a client I always follow up within 24 hours. Send them an email letting them know how nice it was to meet them and how you think it would be great to work with them. Offer them an opportunity to sit on their decisions and email or call with more questions if they have any. I’ve received a lot of responses from clients who say that I was the only photographer they met with who followed up with them after so this can be a HUGE plus for them booking with you. Impress them with your attention and customer service.

Step 3 – The Contract & Deposit (Retainer)

Once they’re ready to book you need to have a signed contract. You can do the contract at the initial meeting if they’re ready or after. If I have clients who are ready to book at the meeting I just let them know I’ll email them the contract information after our meeting. I use >Pixifi< to sign contracts and accept deposits online. A retainer (deposit) is required to hold a date and I cannot hold a date without the deposit. Pixifi allows me to send an online invoice to my clients they can pay online with a credit card – it’s super easy!

Step 4 – Confirmation

After they have signed the contract and sent you the deposit be the first person to send them an email and say thanks! If you’re booking a wedding you can start talking about the where and when you want to do engagement photos. If you’re booking another session you can send them information to get prepared and start talking dates and locations.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.

Step 5 – Share Information

Many photographers have magazines, books, brochures, welcome packets and more. I always wait until after I have a signed contract and deposit to send the information so I’m not wasting valuable time and money I’ve put into products to send it to a client who hasn’t booked. Once you’ve confirmed everything with them you want to send them any materials that will help them prepare for their photoshoot!

Step 6 – Send a Thank You Card or Gift

Depending on what type of client you are booking you may save a thank you gift until the end, but a thank you card right after booking with you is a great treat for your new client to receive in the mail. It can help you seal the deal and start bringing in their referrals before they’ve even been photographed by you!

Simple Wedding Photography
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means Photography Awesomesauce receives commission if you make a purchase using affiliate links.


3 Things Photographers Should Know About Credit Card Fees

credit card feesBeing a small business owner myself means that I often want to support other small businesses in what they do too. However, it can get a little bit awkward when I catch them breaking the law. This has happened to me a few times. I was once nearly charged state, city, and other local sales taxes for a service. In Colorado, services are not subject to sales tax, only tangible items. I quickly caught the business owner and tried to nicely offer my correction and help finding out more information about proper sales taxes. I’ve also been told, when purchasing products like used lenses from someone that if I pay via Paypal I’m expected to pay the Paypal fees as well. My spidey-business-sense sets off red flags when I hear things like that.

Now the legalities of these kinds of surcharges associated with using credit cards are important for you to know as a business owner if you chose to accept credit cards as a form of payment. The legalities are not always easy to find and often depend on the US state you reside in (and some of you it will depend on your country), as well as credit card companies themselves and their own policies.

A surcharge is an extra fee added on to another fee or charge. Some people will call them the Paypal fees, a credit card fee, a checkout fee and a variety of other terms. Usually businesses are interested in tacking on a surcharge that will cover the cost of the transaction of using a credit card. As a business owner it is always going to cost you money to accept credit cards. Different companies take anywhere from 1-4% of the payment. Thus, business owners want to find a way to cover the cost of these fees and will charge their customers and clients a credit card fee.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Many large credit card companies, like Visa and Mastercard do not allow retailers to charge their cardholders a checkout fee to use their card. If your client wants to pay you with a Visa or Mastercard, you may not charge them any surcharges. You’ll want to check other credit card companies to see what their policies are. What happens when these credit card companies catch you tacking on surcharges to their cardholders, I cannot say, but many of these credit card companies have places online to report retailers for doing just that. >Here< is a link to Visa’s report system.

2. 10 US States have a ‘No Surcharge Law’ which means you cannot charge a surcharge to use a credit card in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas. Each state’s laws are slightly different. Visa provide’s a great link to >this page< which outlines each of those 10 state’s laws pretty clearly. In these states if you are charged a surcharge you have a right to report the retailer to your state’s Attorney General. To those of you who reside and do business in these states please check out the laws and see exactly what the surcharge law is for you.

3. Paypal’s Terms of Service prohibits its retailers from charging a surcharge for accepting Paypal as a payment method. You can check out the Paypal User Agreement yourself at this >link< Click on Number 4 at the top (Receiving Money) and then scroll down to Number 4.6 “No Surcharges” to read their entire agreement on this.

It’s important to do your research for your state and see what of these state laws and company policies will apply to you, hopefully this article can start to point you in the right direction for your business. Personally, because of the policies of companies like Paypal, Visa, and Mastercard as well as my state law here in Colorado I do not charge any credit card fees. There are still a lot of great options out there for accepting credit cards. I use both Paypal and Square to accept credit cards and I don’t mind the fees because I can count those fees as a business expense.

Want to learn more about the legal official side of running a legit business? Join Photography Awesomesauce’s 6 week online bootcamp!

5 Common Questions About Photography Business, Taxes, Accounting, and Licensing

5 tax qsAfter receiving numerous questions the last couple weeks about business licenses, taxes, finances, accounting etc. I decided to answer a few. I’m no accountant or tax expert by any means so my knowledge is limited, but I do know some basics.

1. Do I need to be charging sales tax?

Anytime you are giving your client a tangible product, one they can hold in their hands, you need to be charging sales tax. However, that being said sales tax in the US can be extremely more complicated than you might think. Sure, you could look up the tax rate for your city and state and think, ‘okay I’m good,’ but it’s unfortunately not as simple as that. First you must have a sales tax license in order to charge sales tax. If you’re just starting your business and you have been charging sales tax without having a license, stop charging sales tax and get a license as soon as possible.

2. How much should I set aside for income taxes?

When you started your business the lure of being able to work for yourself, set your own schedule and all of that sounded great right? Well, one thing they didn’t tell you was you’d have to pay more in income taxes than you would at that corporate desk job. Your first year in business you’ll have more expenses than profit so it’s fairly safe to set aside 30% and it’s more than likely you’ll have some of that left over. Afterward you can reinvest the leftovers into your business. For the years after that it’s recommended to set aside 40%. I can imagine the jaws dropping. 40% is a good safe amount and depending on your expenses and how you file your annual taxes you may not end up paying all of that back. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

3. What kind of business license do I need?

This will vary incredibly from state to state as well as from county to city and so on. You’ll need to go to your state’s website in the business section to find out what the requirements are for you specifically.

4. What can I count as an expense?

Again, this may vary depending on your business, how much you spend, what you already have, and more. My best advice is to record all expenses related to your business and have a tax guy sort through and tell you what works and what doesn’t at the end of the year. A tax expert or accountant will know best and until that time of year comes around again if you keep tabs on anything you spend at all you’ll have a full list to go over with him later.

5. I want to start being able to accept credit cards, do you know any companies that allow me to do this without a fee?

Nope, sorry. Unfortunately all companies that process credit cards do take a percentage. Most companies are within the same range and don’t vary much. I highly recommend as an easy company to work with to process credit cards almost anywhere. I’ve been incredibly satisfied with them. The important thing to remember about processing credit cards is that you cannot charge the fee that the company charges you to the customer. That is against the law. That fee though does count as an expense you can take on your taxes.

If you need more help with taxes and the official side of becoming a photographer and legit business owner, check out Photography Awesomesauce’s 6 Week Online Bootcamp!