It seems like every day there’s a new photographer in town. As a more established business (I’ve been at this since 2013 after all!), there are a few mistakes I see new photographers make over and over again. While there’s nothing wrong with trying things your own way, some of these mistakes can certainly be averted with a little bit of knowledge! Read below for the top 10 mistakes photographers are making and how to avoid them!
1. Not registering the business
Let’s be clear, if you’re taking money from clients (even if those clients are family and friends), you absolutely NEED to register your business. It’s cheap and takes 30 minutes (some states even let you do this online). This will give you access to being able to accept payments, get a business tax ID number, and pay sales tax (more on that below). Most of all, it’s kind of a legal requirement.. so don’t wait. If you’re serious about your photography business, take a day to figure this registration thing out and get it done.
2. Not collecting sales tax
The state of Connecticut requires you to collect sales tax on all goods and services. It’s not really an option or a nice to have. You HAVE TO do it. Which means, you have to add sales tax to your session fee and product orders, keep it aside, and then pay it to the state. They provide an easy online system to do it, and you either pay monthly or quarterly.
3. Not investing in GOOD education
It’s easy to think that we’re better than we really are at photography when all our friends are telling us how great our pictures are! It’s difficult to be objective with our own work and I know for a fact that I thought I was much better than I really was when I first started out.
Education is something I invest in every single year, even now. Learning to be a better photographer, knowing how to run a profitable business, and self development are all things you should be doing from the very beginning. It will cost money and will require time. But it’s definitely worth it.
Some ideas for how to grow as a photographer.. You can watch live classes for free on https://www.creativelive.com/. You can find the industry leader in what you’re looking to learn about and either purchase their online course, read their book, do an in-person workshop, or hire them as a mentor. There is so much we can learn simply from reading, being part of a photography community, and absorbing as much as we can from people who are a step further than us.
4. Spending too much money on the business
Did you know that you can classify your photography as a hobby and still write off your camera and equipment expenses? (As long as you’re not deducting more than you made.) Way too often aspiring photographers will go into business so they can purchase more gear and have it as a tax write off. The problem is, if you’re not taking your business seriously and bringing in consistent income, it’s not really a business (and the government agrees). There’s nothing wrong with having a photography hobby! But if you are serious about being profitable, then you have to be really mindful of your spending. Sue Bryce says, “if it doesn’t make the ship go faster, don’t buy it”.. and I agree. In short, don’t buy something unless you really truly NEED it!
5. Not focusing on client service
Photography is fun and everyone loves great pictures! But if that’s all you’re concerned with, you’re probably short-changing your clients. Even now, I’m constantly working on improving customer service in my business to make it easier for my clients to work with me.
All too often, new photographers will take weeks or months to deliver photos, have no client on-boarding procedure, provide very little help to their clients, and have no defined process that every client goes through. It is very difficult to gain new customers and grow without providing a consistent experience to every client. Taking pictures is easy, it’s the good customer service that most people get wrong.
6. Not putting aside taxes
If you’re not setting aside federal and state taxes, then April will be a very difficult time of year. Granted, I’m assuming your business is actually making a profit (which should certainly be your goal!). Read “Profit First”, figure out what your tax liability is, and set aside that money so you have enough come tax season.. and so you’re not stressing out about it during the rest of the year. The simple rule of thumb is that you should allocate 30% of your gross income to business expenses, 30% to personal earnings, and 30% to taxes. So if you charge your client a thousand dollars, you get to keep $300 of that amount for yourself.
7. Trying to skirt credit card fees
Venmo and PayPal Friends & Family might not have credit card fees, but they’re also not a legal way to take payment for business-related purchases. Instead, you can require checks. But for any legit full-fledged business, you should probably have the option for your clients pay with a credit card. I personally use and recommend Square, and you can get free processing on your first $1,000 if you use my link to sign up here: https://squareup.com/i/NLALORPHOT. But how do you handle the fact that you’re taking home 2.75% less? You make sure that you’re priced accordingly (more on that below).
8. Not having liability insurance
If you’re working with clients, you need liability insurance. As someone who hates spending money, this was one of those “Do I really NEED it?” items that I personally didn’t want to buy. But guess what? It’s a legal requirement and once again, not really optional. Does it cost money. Yep! That means you, once again, have to account for this business expense in your pricing!
9. Not charging enough
I get it. You’re just starting out. You have no real clients (your best friend and your Mom doesn’t count). And you want to keep your prices low and your services accessible. That’s absolutely the intent of most new photographers: “I don’t charge those crazy prices so that anyone can have professional photos!”. It’s a commendable goal.. but there’s also a reason why the industry standard is what it is. It’s very hard to make a living wage charging low prices, especially once you factor in equipment, insurance, and general business running costs. It sucks. Trust me, I know.. but the best thing you can do if figure out exactly what your business is costing every month/year and make sure to cover those costs, plus your income, with how the prices you’re setting on your products and services.
10. Not looking at finances
Do you know how much money your business has brought in this year? Do you know how much you’ve spent? Do you know what your average sale was this month? This year? How about what you actually brought in as salary or profit?
If you’re too scared to look at your bank account, keep track of your business finances, or know where you stand financially, you are not alone.. but just because it’s unpleasant and not fun, doesn’t mean you get a pass. This is the #1 mistake that a lot of people make that seriously hurts them, because they simply don’t want to know what’s going on with their finances. Not wanting to know isn’t going to make things better! In fact, it will probably make things a lot worse because you won’t know what steps you should be taking to remedy any issues that are coming up.
You don’t need to check your bank account every day, but you do need to track your spending, income, and cash flow so you know the status of your business and can move forward to achieve your goals.