28/11/07

Basic Business Studies for Photographers: Credit Control and Invoicing.

Or, How to get Paid as soon as Humanly Possible.

Some of this article may overlap with "Good Habits" but that's no bad thing. Here, in as simple a form as I can present it, is the mystery of getting your money out of companies you work for.

Things to Do.

Invest in an accounts package such as Quickbooks or Sage, whilst I don’t make full use of mine (Quickbooks) I find it indispensable for keeping tabs on invoices that are outstanding, as well as preparing VAT returns in a very short time. With a couple of clicks you can bring up tables that show you precisely how much you’re owed, by whom, in a useful summary form, plus you can usually “zoom in” to specific invoices to check dates/numbers etc.

Make sure your invoices are very clear and contain all the information required, but not so much that they become hard to follow. As an absolute minimum an invoice should contain the following info:

  • Date
  • Job Reference
  • Client’s Full Address
  • Invoice Number
  • Your full name, address and contact details.
  • Itemised fees and expenses, totalled at the bottom
  • Your Schedule D Number (evidence of self-employment)
  • Your VAT number (if registered)
  • If VAT is applied, it needs to be listed separately.

You may also wish to add payment terms, usage terms for the images, and bank details for electronic payment. You may also need to attach copies of any receipts to your invoices, though this depends on the client. It’s common sense here, but if your invoices are scruffy, hard to follow or illegible, they’re not going to get paid quickly, and are more likely to go missing.

How to get the Invoices paid, or what happens to your Invoice when it takes the Magical Journey to the Faraway Land called "The Accounts Department".

Always find out from the person who commissioned you, precisely where you need to send the invoice, and if any extra details are required, such as the issue of the magazine it’s aimed at, or the name of the commissioner. Every company works differently, but in my experience (mostly within the magazine world) it’s normal to provide your invoice to the editorial staff who commissioned the work, and they will then approve it, and pass it on to accounts, who will then “put it on the system”* for a while, and then pay you in the next cheque run/scheduled bank transfer. Sometimes this method works backwards, and your invoices go off to accounts first, but clearly, as with sending your invoices as soon as possible, the more accurate you can be with this procedure, the quicker you’ll get paid.

Find out who you need to speak to within the company when it comes to late payment – there’s usually very little point in calling the editorial staff of a magazine, for example. Once you have a name and a department, make a note of every time you call them to chase up outstanding money (record date, time, who you spoke to, which invoice number and what was “promised” - as in, “we’ll get you a cheque in 7 days”) You will need this record if you ever go to the small claims court, as it shows the efforts you have made to recover your money. It’s not a legal requirement, but every little helps in building up your case.

On the issue of personnel, there’s often little point in harassing the editorial staff of a magazine, or the creative part of an Ad/design Agency for your outstanding money – all large companies have departments which deal with paying freelancers/outside contractors. These are often called “bought/purchase ledger department” or simply “accounts” (duh). The personnel in these departments are often quite removed from the people commissioning you for work, so while there’s never any need to be rude when chasing an outstanding payment, don’t be too afraid of stepping on toes. In my experience it’s quite common for the commissioning personnel (art directors/creatives/journalists etc) to want you to get paid as swiftly as possible. Although it may seem like they’re the ones with all the power, most people who commission me recognise that having a good freelancer on their side is very helpful when they want something done in a hurry, and will often fight your corner within their company. However, I wouldn’t take this for granted, and whatever you do, don’t start whinging all the time. Occasionally of course, the hold up may be on the commissioning end, and your invoice may still be sitting on the commissioners desk, waiting for signed approval. If this is the case it’s time to use your sweetest, politest voice and remind them to pass it on to accounts.

If you really are getting nowhere and have been pursuing an outstanding debt for what you feel to be an inordinately long time, well in excess of your usual credit period, then you need to issue a final reminder before proceeding to the small claims court (UK only obviously - your country may well be a bit different). Obviously I’m not a solicitor, and can’t offer legal advice, but my understanding of the small claims process is that you have to show evidence that you have made every effort to recover the money, and the final reminder is the last stage before filling in the court forms. You can find suitable examples at: Pay on Time. I’ve had recourse to use the final reminder twice, with the simple wording added that unless payment is received within 7 days of the letter’s date, court action will be an automatic consequence. Thus far it’s always been enough to jerk people into action and payment has been received. Suffice to say, such clients get added to my “black list” and henceforth any work for them has to be paid for up front. This may seem quite an abrasive approach for someone freelance and self-employed, since surely we should all be bending over backwards to get whatever work we can? All I can say is that companies that behave like this are simply not worth wasting time with, you don’t need the hassle and when you start to factor in how much time you’ve spent chasing them for money you realise that you could have spent the time so much more profitably. For example you could have been out gathering new work, or even shooting, and once you calculate your basic hourly rate and factor that in, it’s very realistic indeed to write these clients off as bad news.

*leave it on a pile on their desk.

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Basic Business Studies for Photographers: Equipment and Insurance

Equipment.

For tax purposes, photographic equipment that you own or purchase, can be considered a business asset and therefore the value of it can be taken off your turnover to reduce your tax bill. The specifics of “capital equipment” as it’s officially known, change from year to year, and are not suitable for a brief introductory guide such as this. Your accountant will offer you advice on how best to list this equipment, and may even suggest the most tax effective way to buy more. The definition of "listing" is a bit hard for a non-accountant like me to impart, but essentially something is listed if you used business assets (i.e. your profits) to buy it, and you use it to generate revenue.

One thing to bear in mind is that if a camera or similar is listed as a business asset, you may be forced to sell it if your business runs into trouble and you have to pay your suppliers. Once again your accountant can give you the best advice. Personally speaking I’ve had everything listed in the business from day one, and as I’ve bought new gear in, that’s been listed too. You are also allowed something called “depreciation” against the value of the equipment. Put simply this an allowance each year for the decreasing value of equipment, it will be a percentage of the total amount which then gets deducted from your profits to further reduce your tax bill. The details of this change annually, so once again, your accountant is the best person to turn to. Sorry I can’t be more helpful, but this really is one of those areas that require technical knowledge!

Insurance.

It’s never the first thing on people’s minds, but as a practising professional photographer, and to a lesser extent an assistant photographer, you should think very seriously about insurance. At one level it’s comforting to have all your camera gear, computers and portfolio etc covered in case of loss or damage, but more importantly you should look into public liability insurance. Public liability basically means that should an accident occur involving a member of the public as a result of your actions, you shouldn’t end up paying huge costs (compensation, legal bills etc). This is presuming you didn't cause the accident by negligence or twatting them round the head with a tripod. Most insurers offer a policy for around £50 a year that provides you with about £1 000 000 of cover, but as always it pays to read the small print. Almost all of them are unlikely to pay out if it can be proved that you were negligent/stupid (say for example you left an unsecured power cable running across the pavement) and there will certainly be an excess to pay and other conditions to be met.

Likewise check any conditions relating to the cover of your equipment, the most notorious being theft from parked cars. There was a famous case (possibly an urban myth – an old lecturer was always quoting it!) of a group of photographers attending a conference or similar, on returning to their cars they found that a very thorough thief had made of with the lions share of their collective equipment. Although slightly distraught, they all presumed they were covered by their insurance, only to find that under specifics of the policy, the equipment was only covered if kept locked in the boot of a saloon car. Hatchbacks, estates etc, or any equipment left on display were not covered and collectively they lost thousands. The moral of the story is be careful in the first place and don’t presume that the insurance will cover everything.

As a guide to prices, for approximately £15 000 worth of camera and computer equipment (UK and 45 days worldwide), portfolio cover, goods in transit up to £10 000 (covers you if you lose clothes for a fashion shoot, or objects for a still life) public liability up to £2 000 000 and professional indemnity (for legal disputes), and Employer's liability I’m paying around £750 per year. The Association of Photographers often have deals whereby you can get bits of the insurance you need, but not bits you don’t, and they can often be considerably cheaper than the high st.

Other Posts in "Basic Business Studies for Photographers": Intro, Break Even and Your Money, Tax, Accountants and registering as Self Employed, Good Business Habits, Equipment and Insurance, Credit Control and Invoicing.

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Basic Business Studies for Photographers: Good Business Habits

Business and Personal Accounts.

Although it’s not a legal requirement for a sole trader, the way many people choose to deal with the difference between business and personal expenditure/income is to have 2 different bank accounts. As long as you actually keep things in their relevant place, everything is very straightforward. The usual method of making "owner’s drawings" in this case is to pay yourself money from your business account to your personal one. Don’t get too paranoid about keeping things separate between the accounts, it’s largely for the convenience of yourself and your accountant that things are set up this way, and nobody’s going to penalise you if you buy your week’s food shopping from your business account, just as long as you don’t try and claim it as a business expense!

As far as the banks are concerned, having a business account means they can hit you with more bank charges, but in return they often give you an oversized cheque book. Actually, on balance I think they might be screwing us there. Some things never change.

Common Sense

There’s no magic or mystery to running your own business, it’s simply a case of being methodical, and it really is true that 30 seconds spent dealing with something when it happens can save you hours at a later date. Simple habits of good housekeeping will pay huge dividends at the end of the year when you come to collate your invoices and receipts, as well as being worth a fortune in tax-allowable expenses. Even the most experienced accountants cannot be expected to know the ins and outs of every piece of camera equipment for example, and simply taking a few seconds to write “camera equipment purchase” an a receipt for a lens, could be worth a couple of hundred pounds off your tax bill at the end of the year.

Some Simple Habits that will make you Attractive to the Opposite Sex.*

  • Writing on each invoice as it’s paid into the bank, the date, method, and if you have one, the number of the paying in slip. This makes it very easy for your accountant to track exactly what's been paid and what hasn't, as well as identifying any bad debts.
  • Dividing your receipts into payment methods, e.g. cheque payments, petty cash, credit or debit cards. This is something a lot of accountants ask for, and if nothing else, helps to keep their fees down.
  • Keep receipts in separate envelopes for each month, and at the end of each year divide them as above (if you’re really thorough you could do this monthly as you go along!)
  • Keep a simple petty cash record. This needs to be no more than an exercise book with columns for the date, payments in/out, description of the item, and the running balance. Some of the expenses may seem pitiful (buying stamps for example) but if you don’t list them you can’t claim for them against tax.
  • Get into the habit of issuing invoices for jobs as soon as you have all the necessary information (your expenses, purchase order numbers and so on.) You can expect clients to take anything up to 90 days to pay FROM THE DATE THEY RECEIVE YOUR INVOICE! Obviously it’s in your best interests to get the invoice on their desk as soon as possible.
  • As bills are paid, write on them the date and method of payment, with the cheque number if applicable (otherwise put “direct debit/BACS/Visa” etc). It’s also handy to duplicate this information on your cheque stubs if there’s room. Besides helping your accountant out at the end of the year, they can help clear things up in case of any dispute with your suppliers.
  • At the end of each job, or at least weekly, go through and collate your receipts. If you’re particularly busy it can be easy to forget what a certain receipt was for, and since some things are more tax deductible than others it’s important that everything ends up in the right place.
*this might not actually happen, and it's certainly never happened to me. Mind you, these habits could save you money, and how sexy is that! I'll get my coat.

Besides keeping your annual accountancy bills down (and your accountant happy!) the more fundamental reason for practising these habits is that they keep you in touch with your business, which is a good thing, as we don't liek nasty surprises. If your accounts are computerised it can often be very simple to find out how much money is outstanding, but otherwise you’ll need to be maintaining a constant vigil over things like unpaid invoices, otherwise you’ll be out of business before you know it.

Other Posts in "Basic Business Studies for Photographers": Intro, Break Even and Your Money, Tax, Accountants and registering as Self Employed, Good Business Habits, Equipment and Insurance, Credit Control and Invoicing.

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Basic Business Studies for Photographers: Tax, Accountants, and Registering as Self Employed.

REPEATED DISCLAIMER: I am not an accountant or tax specialist! Tax laws change from country to country and year by year. In this post I'm talking about general principles rather than the letter of the law. I'm based in the UK, and although I run my own business, I have an accountant who does all the complicated stuff for me.

The Basics of Getting Taxed.

At a very basic level your annual accounts can be divided into three things, your turnover (or total sales), expenses (sometimes called "cost of sales"), and profit (or loss, in a bad year!). Turnover should be the largest of these figures, and it represents the total amount of all invoices issued within that accounting period (usually a year). From this figure you then deduct all the expenses that you are allowed as a business, such as film and processing, most travel, office costs, any advertising etc. You should then be left with your profit, or if your expenses have exceeded your turnover, a loss. It is this amount that you are taxed on.

For example let’s imagine you have a turnover in one year of £20,000, and expenses of £8000

Turnover: £20 000

Expenses: £8000

Profit: (turnover less expenses) £12 000

Within this profit you are allotted a personal allowance which varies from year to year (currently around £4000) this is the amount of profit you are allowed to make before you start getting taxed. So if we remove this from the profit we come to £8000. This will be taxed at approximately 20%, although rates can vary from year to year. So from that turnover of £20 000 with £8000 expenses you can expect to be paying £1600 tax.

Under the current system you pay tax at the end of January and the end of July, but you also pay tax on account for the year to come. The Inland Revenue assume that you will trade at least as well next year as you did this year, and so they demand payment on account based on this years figures. Using the above example you would receive a bill in January for £1600 for the year in question, plus you would be expected to pay half of next year’s tax on account, (£800) so your total bill for January would be £2400. At the end of July you would then pay the remaining half of next year’s tax so your bill would be £800. Where this system assists the self-employed is when you have a less profitable year, as it is not uncommon for the Inland Revenue to owe you money on tax you have overpaid.

Get an Accountant.

This is a very simplified version of what happens, there are different types of expenses, as well as different types of profit, but essentially the principle is as outlined above. It is well worth finding a good accountant, who will fill in your tax return for you and prepare your end of year accounts. A full set of accounts are not always legally required for sole traders, but they not only help in completing the tax return accurately and hopefully in your favour, but they also function as useful milestones for the business, and can be very handy if you need to borrow money from a bank or similar. All accountants will work slightly differently, but as a rule the fee you pay them should be more than made up for in the tax they save you. For a sole trader with a turnover of between 10 and 40 thousand, expect to pay somewhere between £350 and £450 a year in accounting fees. You can help to keep this figure down by keeping your end of things organised, as the more work your accountant has to do to unravel the mess of invoices and receipts, the more you’ll be charged for their work.

Get Registered.

If you are serious about being self-employed, then the first thing you need to do is get form CWF1 from your tax office or online at the Inland Revenue and fill it in. This is a very simple form that states what sort of work you will be doing, and once it is processed you will be given a "schedule D" number, and it’s this that other businesses need to identify you as self-employed so that they can pay you. You will also now be liable for Class 2 National Insurance contributions, which usually amount to a few pounds a month. The gap between applying for and receiving a Schedule D no is about 6 weeks, and you may find that some photographers (if you're assisting), and certainly most large companies won’t pay an invoice unless this number accompanies it. As a rule, businesses can’t just hand out money to random members of the public; all payments have to be related to an invoice, and usually payable to another business entity of sorts.

The main reasons for registering are long term ones, as although it is actually possible to trade without a number indefinitely, I would not recommend it for a number of reasons. Registration brings extra administration and obviously a tax return at the end of the year, but as already discussed you may find you can’t be paid for some of the work you have done until you have the necessary number. You’ll also find that if you apply for a loan or overdraft from the bank in the future, a nice neat set of accounts with everything transparent and above board will get a better response than a handful of scribbled invoices, and a trading history that seems to have large gaps in.

The real reason to get registered is that sooner or later you'll have to, as it'll become impossible to trade without being legitimate and above board. If you wait for ages to register, and then in future years you're unlucky enough to attract the attention of the taxman for whatever reason, he's going to wonder what you were doing for the years when you were neither in full time employment and paying him tax that way, nor were you in business for yourself and paying him through your earnings from that source. Call me cynical, but he might even be suspicious, and a suspicious tax man is always a bad thing.

VAT. Another good idea we can thank the French for.

Cor, now stuff get's really exciting. VAT is just about the most rip-roaring, buttock clenchingly fun thing about being self-employed. Or not. Your mileage may vary.

Most countries now have some form of VAT, since Maurice Laure kindly thought it up for us. As a consumer you'll rightfully hate it, but if you're in business it can actually be your friend, albeit not one you'd take down the pub. God, what a night that would be.

If you're in business, and trading with other businesses, being VAT registered is pretty much win/win. Your clients don't care if the invoices you give them have got VAT slapped on them, as they'll claim it back, and if you're VAT registered you can claim back the VAT on stuff you buy. It's almost as simple as that. I would class any editorial/commercial/advertising photographers in the above group, as the only photographers who regularly invoice people who aren't VAT registered are wedding/social photographers, and even if such people were it would be very tricky trying to explain why they'd tried to claim their wedding photos as a "work expense".

Right, enough attempts at humour, here's how it works. If your turnover exceeds £49,000 in a year (subject to change obviously), you must register for VAT. You can voluntarily register at any time as well, and it may be in your interest to, as it could save you money. Once registered, every invoice you issue must have VAT added onto it. Every 3 months you will be sent a VAT return, and here's where the fun begins. You now need to add up your total turnover, then the amount of VAT you've charged, and finally (the good bit) all the VAT you've been charged by other people. Usually, unless you've been out and bought a new car or something, you'll have charged more VAT than you were charged, and you simply pay the taxman the difference. Thereby becoming a taxman in your own right. Bugger.

Of course, it can work the other way, and sometimes the VAT man will pay you back if you've been spending money like water, but not invoicing very much. Adding all this up can take a while, even with a well-organised accounting system, as even computerised ones that can spit the answers out quickly still have to have all the data stuffed into them first. As a nice bonus, when you first register you're allowed to "back date" your VAT payments, and I recall I got about a grand from the taxman by claiming back the VAT on stuff I'd bought for the business in the past few years.

Flat rate vs Old-Fashioned.

This bit's pretty much UK only, but anyway. A few years ago the Customs and Excise (VAT) lot came up with a new idea: flat-rate VAT. What this meant was that rather than paying the VAT man 17.5% on top of all your invoices, and claiming back from him all the VAT you'd paid, you simply paid him a fixed percentage of your turnover. This percentage was arrived at from years of study and investigation (I presume), and is different for each type of business. Currently the percentage for photographer's is 9.5%.

You can use the flat rate scheme if you ask to, as long as your turnover is less than about £150 000 p.a. (as always, this figure might change.) From my experience it's bloody brilliant. Looking back at my accounts, I'm paying less (no, I'm not saying how much), but more importantly, what used to take me a half day per month, then another half day per quarter, now takes me about 20 minutes every quarter. If you factor in my day rate, it's pretty clear that this is a good idea, as I can spend more time earning money, and less time fannying about with taxes.

So, a quick VAT summary:
  1. If you're trading with other businesses, don't worry about the 17.5% added to your invoices - they'll almost certainly be VAT registered, and so effectively won't pay it. In fact, since the compulsory tunrover threshold is £49 000, if they see you're not VAT registered, they might think you're not playing with the big boys.
  2. Being VAT registered means you don't pay VAT on business purchases, and you may even get a golden handshake in the form of a big payback when you start.
  3. Flat rate is really, really simple to do, and will save you loads of time - if you're able to take this option, I heartily recommend it.
  4. If, however you deal directly with the general public, I'd avoid it as long as you legally can, since it'll add a healthy chunk to your prices. Plus whichever version you pick, there's the extra admin.
And as a last word, heed this warning. Once upon a time, in the UK there were 2 different tax agencies - the Inland Revenue, who dealt with Income Tax, and Customs and Excise, who dealt with VAT. Inland Revenue were usually fairly harmless, and if you crossed them you'd get a fine, and only end up in prison if you'd done something really heinous. Customs and Excise however, were a different bunch of bananas. They had the power to move in with very little warning, and close you down, seize assets, send you to Guantanamo Bay, the whole kit and kaboodle. A couple of years ago these 2 agencies merged. And you can bet your bum they kept the best bits from each agency, at least as far as they're concerned. All I'm saying is, don't muck about with these people. Check your details before you do anything, and don't think you can pull the wool over their eyes. This post is obviously only a rough guide - go and read stuff in depth before you jump in, and if at all possible, speak to an accountant. And possibly a priest. Or a psychologist.

Other Posts in "Basic Business Studies for Photographers": Intro, Break Even and Your Money, Tax, Accountants and registering as Self Employed, Good Business Habits, Equipment and Insurance, Credit Control and Invoicing.

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Basic Business Studies for Photographers: Break Even/Your Money

Break Even.

One of the most useful things you can do before you start your own business is get a feel for finance. The first exercise you should do is to keep a record of how much you spend over a couple of weeks/months (include everything possible – regular costs such as food and rent, plus irregularities such as someone’s birthday piss-up). From this you should be able to work out with a degree of accuracy how much money you spend every month, this figure (plus at least 10% contingency) is your basic “break even”, that is the amount of money that needs to come in to prevent you sliding into debt.

Although this seems very basic, it’s staggering how many people are ignorant of how much they need to live on, and is one of the key causes of bankruptcy. This figure will of course change over time, and it’s important to keep an eye on creeping costs, and changes in the cost of living. It’s stating the obvious that your living costs will escalate dramatically if you move from a small town in the UK to London, or even Manchester, and you need to reflect this in your break even. For example, the average rent of a flat, or room in a shared house in Blackpool (where I studied) is currently around £50 per week. Contrast this with London, where it’s more like £100, and you’ll see that in one easy move you can double one of your largest costs of living.

Your break even is a purely personal figure, and no bank or accountant are going to be particularly interested in it, however, as an aid to keeping you afloat, its importance is paramount. If you have no idea how much money you need to make to stay alive, pay the rent etc, the first indication that you’re in trouble will usually be a red bill through the door, or the phone being cut off (or worse). If you have a notion of how much should be coming in, you can be better prepared when things go quiet, as they inevitably will from time to time.

Once you’ve arrived at this magical figure, your next job is to forget it, or at least, put it at the back of your mind. I shan’t wax lyrical about the “power of positive thinking” and suchlike, but I can speak from experience when I say that getting fixated on your break even can reduce your potential income quite dramatically. What I’m getting at is that if you become stuck on a figure which is the bare minimum you need to survive, it’s highly likely that’s all you’ll make each month. I can’t provide scientific evidence of this other than my own experience, but a far better option is to consider your break even, then add a healthy percentage on top, as keeping this in mind will almost certainly bring in a higher revenue.

Your Money and the Business' Money.

It is important at this stage to recognise the difference between what is classed as “turnover” in a business, and the money that you are actually able to pay yourself to stay alive. Put simply, turnover (sometimes referred to as “sales”) is the total amount of any invoices you issue over any given period, be it weekly, monthly or annually. This amount will include a certain amount of expenses, which are obviously owed to other people. Turnover is significantly different to your “owner’s drawings” which are monies that you pay yourself out of surplus business funds, after all your business costs have been met. It's these owner's drawings which you can then use to pay your rent, buy sweets (but only if you've been good), and feed and clothe yourself with.

Another vital principle to understand about turnover is the portion of which will be expenses, and is therefore owed to someone else. Allow me to give you an example (kept deliberately simple for the purposes of this piece - no VAT or anything like that!):

Early on in your career you're given a small editorial commission for which you will receive £300 fees, plus the "allowed" expenses. You have to travel from London to Glasgow by train for it, with an assistant, and stay overnight. So let's say that the client allows you to invoice them for 2 days worth of fees (£600), plus 2 days of assisting fees (£160), the 2 train tickets come to another £160, the hotel is £110 for the 2 of you, and food consumed on your little trip came to £55. So, The total invoice comes to £1085. For a couple of day’s work that looks like a very healthy figure. It is vital that you realise 2 things at this stage; firstly that even if you invoice the client straight away you probably won’t see the money for a month, sometimes two, therefore don’t go out and start spending it before it has arrived. Secondly out of that £1085, nearly £485 is expenses that you will have to pay for, and you'll almost certainly have to pay for them before the cheque for the invoice turns up.

Some of those expenses can be on credit; labs and hire companies for example will usually give you a month, some can be put on a credit card, and some will have to be paid on the spot (usually any petty cash purchases, or deposits for things you make whilst on the shoot). If your business is to last more than 10 minutes it is vital that you settle your expenses before you start paying yourself an exorbitant wage. The £1085 is not yours to spend exactly how you choose, and whilst a new pair of jeans is very tempting, not buying them only means you will be unfashionable for another couple of months, whereas not paying your suppliers usually entails ending up in court, or facing bankruptcy proceedings.

And therein lies one of the simplest and most fundamental rules of being self-employed:

Don't spend the money until you've got it and then paid everyone else!

It’s also vital to get clear in your mind the difference between the figure of turnover, and the amount of money you have available to yourself as a person or to invest in the business. As a guide, in my first year in business as an assistant/photographer in London my turnover was £8169. How I lived on that is still a mystery. Of this £3333 was expenses, leaving me with £4836 to either pay myself or invest in future business activities. By comparison in my second year turnover was £14,751, with £6525 expenses leaving me £8226. In percentage terms turnover has increased by 80%, expenses by a whopping 95% but profit by only 70%, so don’t be distracted by a large turnover figure, as it will rarely match the money in your pocket.

At various times of the year the financial picture can look very rosy indeed, with lots of invoices on the books and a very healthy turnover figure. However, a significant amount of this will be expenses, and even more importantly, a large portion may be outstanding and not due to be paid for another month or six weeks. And don’t forget to allow for tax, as well as expenses that often crop up annually such as insurance! As a guide, at this precise moment in time (28/11/7) I’m owed over £6000, down from 8 a couple of weeks ago. Most of this is from jobs in the past 2 months.

Other Posts in "Basic Business Studies for Photographers": Intro, Break Even and Your Money, Tax, Accountants and registering as Self Employed, Good Business Habits, Equipment and Insurance, Credit Control and Invoicing.

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Basic Business Studies for Photographers: Intro

I'm still in the process of editing down and posting all the content from my old site, so here comes the latest batch - business studies.

None of this is terribly exciting I'm afraid. You can look forward to topics such as "break even" (ooooh), "Invoicing" (aaaaaah), "Insurance" (erm, eeeeeek?) and so on. However, I'm not exaggerating here when I say that without a basic business knowledge you'll last about 10 minutes as a self-employed freelance photographer.

Some of it comes under the heading of "common bleedin' sense", and some is stuff that you will only really find out after you've been in business for a while.

LARGE DISCLAIMER - PLEASE TAKE NOTE:

I'm going to touch on areas of tax, and other intricate accounting matters, and I am not an accountant. I will make as few specific references as possible for the following reasons:
  1. Tax laws vary enormously from country to country.
  2. They also change over time.
  3. They often carry stiff penalties for breaking them, and I don't want anyone saying "photosmudger told me so!" when they're dragged off in chains.
What I'm aiming to do is talk about broad principles that can be applied irrespective of the precise laws that are in force. The 2 things you should do if you're in business for yourself as a photographer is firstly, and above all else, get an accountant, and secondly read one of the 2 following books:
  1. If you're in the UK, you need "Financial management for the small business".
  2. And if you're in the US, you need "Best Business Practices for Photographers".
If you're somewhere in the rest of the world, then to be honest with you, I haven't a clue. Sorry about that. At least I'm honest.

I won't touch upon the more esoteric/psychological aspects of being self-employed, as whilst I feel they're absolutely essential, I'm saving them for later. Like a nice pudding.

Other Posts in "Basic Business Studies for Photographers": Intro, Break Even and Your Money, Tax, Accountants and registering as Self Employed, Good Business Habits, Equipment and Insurance, Credit Control and Invoicing.

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12/10/07

Some thoughts on fees.

The other day I was having "debate" with a client of mine about my fee. He was moaning that a few hundred quid seemed like quite a lot of money for what was effectively a half day shoot. At the time I argued my case with all the old, well-rehearsed arguments, but not long afterwards it set me thinking about what my "fee" as opposed to any expenses I bill for, represents, and I came up with this shortlist:
  1. The time I spend taking the photographs, during which I am exclusively at their disposal, and obviously can't earn money from anyone else. Time taken can be a bit of a circular argument, as clients will often hit you with the line "it'll only take you half an hour". This may well be true, but on many occasions the ability to shoot something in half an hour is a considerable skill in itself, and should be reflected in the fee. I've had countless portrait shoots where I've had only 20 minutes with someone, but still managed to get everything the client wanted - cover, inside features shots, informal shots etc. If the client's got what they wanted, why should they care if it took me 20 minutes or 4 hours? This time factor also includes an unspecified amount of pre and post production work, not to mention digital workflow.
  2. All my years of experience - for me this is normally manifested as confidence in my abilities and the fact that I don't panic when things go tits up, but it spreads into a host of other areas.
  3. My technical expertise, the fact that I can solve a wide range of technical problems and thereby present a wide range of possible options and approaches to a shoot rather than being a one trick pony.
  4. All my professional camera/lighting and computer equipment. Currently I think this adds up to about 18 grand, and the money for it has got to come from somewhere. Plus there's the fact that if you charge professional fees you're expected to be using professional equipment. I also include in this section all the annual costs associated with this, such as Insurance and depreciation.
  5. My travelling time. It's very rare for me to bill for travelling time as an extension of my fee, and I've even been known to allow an overnight stay to be swallowed by my normal day rate.
  6. My creativity, imagination and all the ideas I can bring to a shoot - all that stuff that makes me "me" and not the same as the next photographer.
  7. The final usage the images are put to. The area of usage is a whole vast article in it's own right, but not enough people on the client side seem to understand that if they want to use an image for "all uses" it's going to cost them accordingly.
  8. My professionalism - by which I mean everything from taking the first phone call to delivering the final job. Business stationary, office equipment, internet services etc, all cost money and have to be paid for. Likewise my backup/archiving infrastructure needs to be paid for - clients take it for granted that if they lose their own disks I will have backups, but building such a system takes time and money.
  9. Running my car. I got into another "debate" recently about billing for "mileage" rather than just handing in receipts for petrol. I shouldn't even need to explain that cars don't just consume petrol, but need taxing, insuring, servicing, MOT-ing, and paying for in the first place. Plus I've got a set of very expensive furry dice.
Now, many of you will have spotted that at no point do I mention my fee being used to pay my mortgage, buy food, go out on the piss, pay for my mistress/drug habit/thai bride and so on. The list is by no means exhaustive, but next time a client is squeezing you, feel free to pull anyone of these from the list and throw it gently in their face. Gently, mind you.

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