Dear Photographer – Would You Like To Earn Money?
I’ve been thinking about this post for some time, and now feels like the perfect moment to share it. As Fall and the Holidays approach, our feeds are filled with photographers offering ‘mini’ sessions, but the only thing ‘mini’ about them is the price tag. This article aims to assist both novice photographers and those who have struggled to turn a profit, encouraging them to pause and reflect; so we can work together to change things.
When I first started out I had no idea what kind of investment starting your own business would be. And when I look around me I think a lot of people do not realize what it takes and costs to run a legal photography business. As I have always been someone who likes to advocate for others, and marketing and business tools are some of my strong suits, here is what I learned!
I started out charging next to nothing and for the first few years, I constantly had a loss. And not just any loss but a huge loss. I realized I needed to start raising my prices if I wanted my “hobby” to become a viable career. A good friend and fellow photographer sat down with me and we ran some numbers. No wonder I was losing money every year! Once you write down what it costs you to run your business, you realize that you have to reconsider your pricing model.
My monthly basic costs for my business are $1,880 alone. This amount does not include props, cakes, office supplies, camera equipment, or any other fun things photographers buy throughout the month/year.
So let’s do some math. Say you charge $100 per mini session; you would need to book 19 sessions a month to just cover your basic costs. That’s before you pay taxes (which I am hoping you do!). You would probably be in the 22 – 32% tax bracket with photography as your real business, so let’s go with a 30% tax bracket to make this math easier. You would actually need 25 sessions a month to pay taxes and cover your basic costs. And then you still haven’t made any money. You just paid the bills.
Let’s say you want to have at least $2500 a month for living expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, kids, pet stuff); that is another 25 sessions a month. Now we are at 50 sessions a month. That’s about 13 sessions a week. Is it doable? It may seem so. But don’t forget the hours of communicating with clients via email or phone, and the time it takes to upload and proof your images. Editing images for me is usually between 1 and 3 hours per session. And then even more communication with your clients.
I think it is fair to say that you can spend at least 5-10 hours per client per session including shooting, communicating, and editing. So even if it is just 5 hours with 50 clients that would be 250 hours per month, which earns you $5000 and means you get $20 per hour working 63 hours every week. That is almost double the time the normal person works in corporate America.
Instead, let’s say you charge $400 per mini-session. In order to make the needed $5000 a month, you would need only 13 sessions per month. That is a way more realistic goal and you can devote more time to your clients and not burn yourself out by working constantly around the clock. After all, your time is very valuable.
By not charging your worth, you are not only hurting yourself but also your industry. You might not care at this point, but in a few months/years, you are going to have to raise your prices in order to stay in business because the above scenario is not sustainable long term. You don’t want clients used to paying rock-bottom prices for high-quality work. Honor your talent and your time, and calculate the costs of running your business. Figure out what you want to earn and how much time you have to invest to get to that number. There are great calculators out there that can help you with that, here is one for example. Invest in you and start earning money for the time and effort you put into your business.
Below I wrote down my monthly expenses and everything else that came to mind that hopefully will help you fill in the missing gaps in your business. In the end, we all want one thing: to provide the best service to our clients, while making money to feed our families and put a roof over their heads. Photography is an expensive business when run legally, so it is worth making sure you have all the tools to be successful and succeed in living your dream.
Monthly Tools For Success
These are all things I use in my business to help me be as organized and successful as I can be. Without these tools, I would not be able to provide my clients with the experience they asked for and deserve. I have listed them and linked them for you and also showed you the monthly average cost so you can include these costs when establishing your business budget.
1. Most Important is your website! This is what potential and current clients will see and go to for information and your portfolio. You want this to be the most impressive tool in your business.
- My website domain is registered with Google but it was bought by Squarespace recently. When picking your website domain think about something that will be with you for a very long time. So pick something catchy or in my case, I chose my name. Monthly cost: $12
- I have two email addresses that I use for my business and get them via the Google Business Suite. I like the Google platform but I can use my domain email instead of having a Gmail extension. Please make sure not to use your Yahoo, AOL, or Gmail email address when approaching clients. Having an email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org lets customers know that you are a serious business. Communication is usually the first way of contact. Monthly cost: $25.52
- All my website content is hosted by ProPhoto, I love their designs and their pages are WordPress-based so easily to understand and modify. Yes there are free pages that offer websites, and that might be nice when you start out, but having a professional website will set you apart and clients will see that you are willing to spend money to earn some. Monthly cost: $39
2. The second most important part of your business is business liability insurance! I cannot stress this enough. You are not a legitimate photography business without insurance. You want to make sure you are covered for cases of emergency or if a client trips and falls on your property. Do not ruin your or your family’s future by not being properly insured. You wouldn’t drive your car without insurance. It is the same thing, just even more important! I get my business insurance through The Hartford. It renews once a year and I pay it in full, but I broke it down so you could see what it would come to monthly: Monthly cost: $99
3. I like to be on the safe side of things so I also have insurance for my equipment. I also have access to a network of lawyers, together with getting lots of information from the PPA(Professional Photographers of America). Their membership has come in handy a few times and as I said, if you should ever be in a prickly situation with a client they will help you resolve that situation. Peace of Mind. Monthly cost: $27.92
4. The next most important thing for my photography business is a studio software system. I would be LOST without mine. I got lucky a few years ago and during a Black Friday Sale, I bought a lifetime membership. It was a huge investment at the time but has paid for itself many times over. I love how easily I can be in contact with my customers and how I can schedule out emails and have peace of mind when sending contracts/ invoices you name it! I use Pixifi and I can highly recommend it. Feel free to use the link to sign up and you will receive 20% off for the first six months! They have different monthly plans that start at $29 and end at $139.99 the plan I have would be a Monthly cost of $54.99
5. All my client photo galleries are hosted and delivered with Shootproof. I love their slick look and I love how user-friendly they are. They have different plans starting at $10 and ending at $30 per month. Mine is right in the middle. Monthly cost: $20
6. In order to reach your clients, you want to consider a newsletter. I love a good newsletter because not everyone uses social media and maybe one day we wake up and all social media will be gone (maybe not likely, but look what happened to Twitter!) In that case, you will be glad that you collected email addresses! I know they have free ones up to a certain amount of clients, but I love the look and options Flodesk provides. Their plans are usually between $38 and $64 but I got them when they first came out and locked in some old pricing. Monthly cost: $19
7. Most photographers I know use Lightroom, Photoshop, Bridge, you name it; that is a monthly subscription from Adobe. They provide the best editing tools and help give your photos a polished touch. I just checked their newest pricing and I again must be locked in some old prices because right now the plans seem to be between $20.99 and $54.99 a month. For this blog post, I will use my costs though: Monthly cost: $10.62
8. As I told you I like to be on the safe side of things, so I like to back up my computer and my images. As you should too. Crashplan is an amazing computer backup system for your business and private life! They also have different price plans here is mine: Monthly cost: $10.62
9. Depending on what type of business you are running: Sole Proprietor, LLC, or S-Corp you want to look into some accounting/payroll tools! So let’s do that:
- QuickBooks has changed my life. I was using an Excel sheet for the longest time and I would update it every night, but once my accountant showed me QuickBooks as an accounting software I was sold. And you will be too. What a neat way to link your business bank accountants and itemize all your expenses in one place. At the end of the year just give access to your accountant and voila! They have different plans between $15 and $100 a month. I will use my pricing for the purposes of this post: Monthly cost: $30.30
- I also use Paychex to run Payroll and my 401(k) plan. Paychex will also send me a W9 at the end of the year. My company is an S-Corp therefore I am an employee at Ute-Christin Photography. I used to be an LLC for a long time, but once I got divorced I wanted to protect my personal assets a bit better and decided that an S-Corp is the way to go! Monthly cost: $69.78
- I love to think ahead so I set up a 401(k) plan with Paychex so I can put some money away for when I am old and gray. Monthly cost: $35
Section One – Monthly Total Costs: $453.75 Yearly Total Costs: $5445
Healthy Choices for Your Business
When you are self-employed you have to take care of all your insurance needs. When I was married this part was a bit easier because I was covered under my ex-husband’s insurance. Now I am responsible for that part and let me tell you it isn’t pretty!
Monthly Medical Insurance Plan cost: $766 Yearly cost: $9,192
Monthly Dental Insurance Plan cost: $37 Yearly cost: $444
By now you know I like to play it safe so here is some extra insurance:
Disability Insurance Monthly cost: $119 Yearly Cost: $1428
Life Insurance Monthly cost: $48 Yearly Cost: $576
Section Two – Monthly Total Costs: $970 Yearly Total Costs: $11,640
As you can see this list is already quite long and I could keep it going! Not all of these services would apply to everyone. However, at the end of the day, they are needed for a successful business! Internet per month ($70), cellphone (or landline) $100 per month, alarm for the studio $45 per month, cleaning lady $240 per month. If you have a studio and pay rent it could be anywhere between $1000-$2000 per month.
I left out costs such as office supplies, marketing budget props, postage & mailing expenses, cakesmash cakes, camera equipment, and tools. If you factor all those costs into the above you will quickly realize just how expensive it is to run a legal, legit, and successful photography business. Let’s start making you some money!
Thank you for reading on! I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post as much as I enjoyed writing it. A little bit more about me, I am an on-location, natural light, lifestyle, and portrait Photographer, focusing on Maternity, Newborn, Baby, Families, and Children of all ages in Connecticut. In addition, I have a beautiful photography studio located in Milford, Connecticut, which is best suited for Newborn, Maternity, and Milestone Photography Sessions for children three to twelve months. Take a peek at my cozy state of the art studio located right off Exit 35|I95.
SOCIAL MEDIA LOVE
I love posting sneak peeks of my current sessions on my Facebook and Instagram
I hope this post was helpful – if you have any questions feel free to reach out!