Managing your money is the most fundamental aspect of business. It is also the aspect that many photographers struggle with. Many of you may have only clicked on this page out of duress and as you start to read you may find your eyes glazing over. Yet you must, must get this right, otherwise nothing else will work! And it is not that difficult. It really is simple and you can do it.
A business friend of mine says there are only three things in your business that you really need to keep your eye on:
- How much you owe
- How much you are owed and
- How much cash you have available (which is called your cashflow)
In terms of this you have two key goals:
- make sure that at all times what you are owed by others is more than what you owe others and
- that payments to you are happening faster, or at least at the same rate, as payments from you to others
If you can manage to get those two goals right, you will be building wealth rather than losing it. So let us look at some key elements of making sure you attain those two goals consistently.
Quoting is where it all starts. Quoting is the point at which you decide whether you are going to make money on the job you are quoting on, or the project you are undertaking, or you are going to lose money. The amazing thing is that you get to decide. You are not a slave. No one forces you to do the work. You chose to do the work. And you can chose to do it so that it makes you money and therefore wealthier, or you can chose to do it so that it loses you money and therefore poorer. It is your choice.
The strength of associations
As a young photographer entering the game, quoting is one of the hardest aspects to get right about running a photography business. This is because you are so desperate to get work that you will do it for almost anything. The problem is that it not only harms you, but it also harms the industry. This is where professional photography associations are so helpful. They help to maintain standards and they help to maintain prices. Under the guidance of more senior photographers, you can learn what are the expected rates in the marketplace and what buyers are prepared to pay.
If you are in a country or city where there is no local photographic association, you may find that rates are so low that professional photography is hardly worth doing. This is not the buyers fault, this is because photographers are all undercutting each other to get work. The only way you can increase payments is to form a professional association, together understand the fundamentals of quoting, and educate the market about the value that professional photographers can bring. It is possible to educate buyers that the price they pay is well worth the added value you bring.
Figure 1 Associations like the South African Freelancers Association provide a vital community particularly for photographers just entering the market
If you are asked to quote for work for foreign publications or organizations, again other photographers in your local association may be able to give you some clear guidance. If they cannot, however, there is always the internet. Look for suggested pricing on the web sites of professional photographers associations in the country of origin of the organization asking you for a quote. If the organization is in London, for instance, you might want to visit the Freelance Fees Guide: Photography produced by the National Union of Journalists in the UK. Again associations become an important ally. This time it is a foreign association and not your own.
How to quote
Standard rates available from your professional photographic association should only be a guide to the rate you should be charging. You should, however, understand how to work out for yourself exactly what you should be charging. This involves a three step process.
Step 1: Calculation of equipment costs
The first step is to work out the cost of your equipment that you currently own, if you were to replace it now. Once you have made this calculation, you are only really going to revisit it when you purchase new or updated equipment. What you are doing here is working out how much money you need to be setting aside from your earnings just to update. You need to include this because your equipment is going to wear out and you need to have the cash on hand to be able to replace it at some point. This is known as depreciation. In other words your current equipment is depreciating in value every day as it wears out. You need to be able to put a value to the wearing out so that you can make provision for replacing it in time. In Figure 1. below I have created a fictitious example of equipment you might own and how to work out its depreciation, based on how quickly you expect to replace it. In this example I expect to replace my cameras, lenses, tripod and flash every three years (which is the usual period for fully depreciating such equipment). I want to make provision for replacing my external hard drive every six months, however.
FIGURE 1 A fictitious calculation of the costs of equipment you might own
This example assumes you borrowed the USD13,940 from the bank to purchase the equipment (marked in orange) and it also calculates the cost per month of depreciating the equipment (marked in yellow).
Step 2: Calculation of monthly expenses
The next step would be to calculate your monthly expenses to get an idea of how much it costs you in real terms to keep your business running every month. Figure 2. shows a fictitious example of what your photography business might cost you every month if you were an established photographer who has one office assistant and a studio you rent from which you do both editorial and commercial assignments. These calculations are best done on the basis of the average expenditure for each line item over the period of a year. That will give you a good idea of what it costs you to run your business every month.
FIGURE 2 A fictitious example of the monthly expenses in running an established photo business with one office assistant and a rented studio
You will see the monthly depreciation expense we calculated in step 1 above is carried through here (marked in yellow) because you need to be able to set aside money every month for replacing your equipment. So that becomes a monthly expense. You will also see that the interest amount on your load to purchase your equipment (marked in orange) is carried through here because that too becomes a monthly expense.
After adding all the monthly expenses I divided the total by 21 because that is the average number of working days in a month, and that gave me a figure of USD338.94 (marked in blue) as the amount my business has to make every day in order simply to break even. In other words this business has to make that amount every day, not to make any money, but simply not to lose any money.
Step 3: Quoting on a job
Many photographers I know quote on the basis of feel, hoping that the client will give them the work if their quote is inexpensive enough. They often do not have any real idea of what it costs them to run their photography business every month, and then they wonder why more often than not there is too much month at the end of their money! It is only when you have done steps 1 and 2 that you will be aware of the real costs. When you have got there, then you are ready to quote, not before.
Figure 3 below is an example of quoting for an assignment. The same principle works, however, for estimating what you should charge for decor prints or for providing photographic training or any other product or service you might provide for that matter. It does not really work for stock sales, however, primarily because stock sales are based on large volumes and are not designed to sustain a photographer making an occasional sale.
FIGURE 3 A fictitious example of quoting on a three day assignment
Now that I know the real cost of running my business I can carry that through into my quote (marked in blue). In this case I am spending 3 days in the field so I have multiplied my daily running cost by 3 and I have put in 1 day of post production. This is an editorial assignment where most of the post production work is being done by the client so the time allocated to post-production is minimal. Normally one would expect to spend 1.5 days on post-production for every day in the field. So if that was the case I would have put in 4.5 days for post production at the business daily rate.
You will also see that I have added a 10% contingency for unforeseen expenses. There are often these and you do not want to end up forking out of you own pocket for them. Finally, I have included a markup of 10%. I am not in business just to get by. I need to be able to grow my business. That growth is what will allow me to not just replace my equipment, but purchase updated equipment. It will also allow me to pay back the loan I made to purchase the equipment in the first place. This is why I have marked this block in orange, because it is this 10% profit that will enable me to pay back the capital amount of my bank loan (not the interest, that was dealt with under expenses).
One final point to make regarding quoting is that if you go through this whole process and you discover that what you are going to quote based on the calculation, is significantly more than what you know the industry pays or other photographers in your association are charging, then to survive you need to either shift into a photography market that can accommodate your lifestyle (such as advertising) or you can decrease your costs such that your quotes are at a similar level to others from your photographic association who are working in the same genre. This may mean you need to cut costs on each of the line items (something you should always be doing anyway) or you could pay yourself a salary that is more in keeping with the realities of your market. You can only expect to shift what the market is prepared to pay if you have made a significant name for yourself, and even then, you cannot push it too much as an individual. As a professional association, however, you have more power if you act together to alter what the market expects to pay for your services.
Invoicing is vital for creating a record of what is owed to you. Remember, one of your key goals is to make sure that what is owed to you is more than what you owe.
The ability to invoice correctly is part of what sets you, as a professional, apart from amateurs who are entering your market. Invoicing is not only good practice in terms of the perception your clients will have of you, it is also good practice in terms of providing you with an accurate record of what you have billed your clients. That provides the legal basis for you to be able to ensure that they actually pay. Of course the ideal is that you get them to pay up front for work, or at least 50% up front. Whether you are able to do that or not depends on what is common practice in your region and industry.
Invoices also provide a record of what you are earning during any given month. If by half way through the month you are not half way through meeting your monthly expenses, that should be cause for some alarm and it should galvanize you to action. Taking that you will be invoicing your clients as a given, here are some essential practices in invoicing:
Include your client's details
Since an invoice is a legal document, make sure that the details of the client are accurately recorded on the invoice. This ensures that your client is liable for payment of the invoice.
Include your own details
It is amazing how often we receive invoices from photographers at Africa Media Online and they have not included their own contact details. This simply means that if there is a problem, it is more difficult for accounts staff to contact the photographer, so it goes to the bottom of the pile and the photographer does not get paid as promptly as they should. Including your details is vital if you want to be paid on time every time. This should include all your contact details in as many ways as you are contactable. It should also include your tax of VAT number if that is required in your country.
Include your bank account details
Again it is amazing how often these are left off invoices. This is another barrier to payment as the accounts staff have to hunt around for bank account details if they do not already have them loaded on their accounting system. Always include your banking details and to be sure, make sure you include all the necessary details including Account Name, Account Type, Account Number, Bank Name, Bank Code and SWIFT Code for foreign payments.
Finally, make sure you state your terms on your invoice. Mostly you want your terms to be 'Cash on Delivery (COD)' but if you have regular clients you may want to extend this to '30 days from invoice', not '30 days from statement' unless you intend to send a statement. Again stating the terms is essential to allow you legal grounds to collect the debt. This brings us to the final major point to do with managing your money, debt collecting!
Figure 2 Above is an invoicing template we send out to contributing photographers to Africa Media Online. You are welcome to use the template
Where quoting and invoicing help you with your first money goal, to ensure that what you are owed is more than what you owe, debt collecting helps you to fulfil the second major money goal, that payments to you are happening faster or at least at the same rate as payments from you to others.
Unless your client is super efficient, and I have come across them on occasion, debt collecting works on the basis of 'the squeakiest wheel gets oil first', in other words, those who highlight the fact that their payment date is coming up and when it passes that their date has passed, are the ones who get paid first. So debt collecting is primarily about being organized enough to send reminders at the right time. To do this, you need to have a debt collections process in place that you operate once a week. It might look something like this:
- 1 day overdue – Email client accounts department sent with reference to all invoices overdue
- 7 days overdue – Email client accounts department sent with reference to all invoices overdue
- 14 days overdue – Call client accounts department and email a polite letter requesting payment
- 21 days overdue – Call client accounts department and email a firm letter requesting payment
- 28 days overdue – Call your contact at the client informing them and email a collection notice to client accounts department
- 45 days overdue – Send the account to a collections agency
This is manageable if you set aside a couple of hours once a week, perhaps first thing on the first working day of the week. If you are regular about this, you should shortly find that you are achieving your second major money goal, that payments to you are happening faster or at least at the same rate as payments from you to others.