Photography Business Tips and Resources

by Jessica Gordon

February 20, 2014

NinetyNine Beans is a full-service accounting and bookkeeping company for photographers. NinetyNine Beans co-owner and consultant, Jason Aten, shares the three most-asked questions he receives from photographers, and gives his most simple answers.


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Where Do I Start? 

It may seem basic, but for photographers who are evolving their businesses from a part-time hobby to a full-time career, it can be an overwhelming idea. Aten’s advice? “Start by tracking your income and expenses by line of service.” 

In practice, when shooting different genres—weddings, families, senior portraits, commercial—think of everything as a separate service and track your income to see how much you made from each track.

For expenses, break it down by cost of goods sold (expenses that you pay for—for instance lab printing, retouching, album design) and fixed expenses (insurance, gear, annual subscriptions and an accountant/attorney). “The bottom line is if you track everything, at least [an accountant or tax professional] can come along later and help you make sense of it,” Aten says.

Why Should I Bother to Bookkeep?

This is a general question related to more detailed bookkeeping questions photographers often ask, but Aten advises organized bookkeeping as one of the most important factors in making money. “Most photographers enter accounting with the frame-of-mind ‘in April I have to do my taxes,’” Aten says. “We want to help photographers see that creating an accounting system can help you grow your business and make money, not just avoid being audited.” You can 

stick with the old faithful QuickBooks, but Aten recommends the cloud-based bookkeeping software, Kashoo (kashoo.com): “It helps you run reports, make decisions about where to cut expenses and focus on where your business is profitable.”

What About Taxes? 

Arguably the most complicated question because it all depends on your state’s interpretation of services, tax laws, and can be nuanced depending on how you deliver your product or service.

Bottom line? “Stop thinking about tax as something you ‘charge,’” Aten advises. “That implies you have control over it. Instead, recognize that your job is to collect sales tax on behalf of the state. Every state has different laws, but your obligation is to collect sales tax, and it’s illegal not to. If you’re ever in doubt of a particular situation, it’s better to be safe and collect the sales tax. If you don’t, it’s not the customer that will be penalized, it’s your business. If they didn’t owe sales tax, the client can always get a refund.” (Turn to p. 66 for more detailed sales tax information.)

Overall, Aten advises cultivating a relationship with an accountant who is familiar with small business. On the following pages, we tap into NinetyNine Beans’ best pieces of advice, with specific tips on how to organize your “beans” for success this year. 

Ask For Help: Resources for tax and financial advice

PhotographySpark
Business education for photographers, founded by photography SEO expert Zach Prez.

NiftyKnowledgeRocks
Business sense for photographers, founded by photographer and MBA Kristin Korpos. 

FStoppers Business Section 
Articles on multiple topics, including one by tax specialist Zach Sutton, taking you through the maze of complicated tax forms. 

Profit First Photography
Founded by photographer Alicia Caine, offering pricing bootcamps and business basics. 

Freelancers Union
Benefits, advocacy, financial advice and planning for freelancers. 

Jason Aten is a Michigan-based photographer who has documented weddings since 2001. With a background in sales and marketing (he was previously in management at FedEx), Aten’s interests naturally veer toward the business side of photography. He has since become a passionate educator and speaker about these topics (both for WPPI and CreativeLIVE)—helping other photographers understand what it takes to successfully master their books. Visit his blog, startingoutright.net, as well as the company website, ninetyninebeans.com, for tips on tax preparation, plans and pricing, white papers, free guides and more.

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