I’ve been a wedding photographer close to 9 years now, but those first few years, it was more of a hobby than a real business. I just kind of did it here and there without any real thought to what I was doing. My pricing was random, I didn’t have a website, I had no marketing plan, and overall I didn’t know what I was doing. Things were ok at that point because I wasn’t really expecting anything. I got a few weddings here and there, and truthfully, I was happy to just make any money from photography. Now that I look back at it, I cringe at all the mistakes I was making. Most beginning photographers are this way. Wedding photography is a business, so you need to run it like one.
Wedding Photography is a Business: Pt 1
I know that sounds kind of harsh and many of you will say, “Photography is something I love and enjoy. Running it like a business will make it no fun.” Yes, that is true. When you start to act like a business, you won’t have the freedom to do whatever you want, but you’ll end up making more money, and isn’t that fun? I’ll also say that if you are just doing portraits, then it’s ok to do things however you want. Weddings are way different, though. It’s a super important day, so you really need to treat it with the highest respect, and to do that, you need to run it like a real business.
Ok, blah blah blah, be a business. So what does that actually mean? The easiest way to think about this is to think about other big businesses like Coca-Cola or Walmart. You can ask yourself, How would Walmart do this or would Coca-Cola do that? Once you start thinking this way, you’ll realize that you were probably making a lot of bad choices.
Create a Business Entity
When you become serious about wedding photography, the very first thing you need to do is become a real business. This means you have to create a business entity. Now, I’m not going to get into all of the different forms, and I can’t legally tell you what to do. I will say that I did go through the whole process myself, but many people will want to hire someone to legally create the business. Having a real business in place protects you, but it also shows your clients that you are serious about what you do.
Pay Your Taxes
Now that you are a real business, there are some non-fun things you have to do, like pay taxes. So many photographers don’t do this, and it’s super dangerous. If the IRS finds out, they can come after you and basically shut down your business. There are a few different taxes you will need to deal with.
The most common one that photographers skip is sales tax. Yes, you are supposed to collect sales tax. Think about it. You pay sales tax on everything you buy, so your customers are expected to as well. As a business, you need to collect the sales tax (which is different for each city) and pay it monthly.
When you’re reporting your sales tax, there’s also another tax you need to report called Use Tax. If you buy a product from another state, that business will not collect sales tax. This happens a lot in photography because we can buy gear online. Technically, you are supposed to report these purchases and pay your own state’s sales tax on it. Again, very few photographers do this.
The last tax is Income Tax. If you make any money from photography, then you have to pay a tax on it. The good news is that as a business you can now do deductions for purchases and business expenses.
Keeping up with taxes can be very tricky. You’ll get paid in full from a person, and it looks like you have a lot of money, but really a chunk of it goes to sales tax and a good chunk goes to income tax. It’s a good habit to create a document that keeps up with what you owe for sales tax and what you owe for income, so you know how much money you actually have. Another option is to create different bank accounts for each thing and put money into that account. This way you pay sales tax with one account and income tax with another and then you have another account that shows what you have left.
Consistent Pricing That Makes a Profit
The first big mistake I see a lot and I still have issues with is pricing. Either their pricing is inconsistent, so they charge this amount one day and this amount another day or they are way too cheap, or both! Let’s look at both of these situations.
There are lots of different types of photography sessions and so many options for products. It makes figuring out a price really difficult, and this is something I still struggle with. I’ve got my wedding collections down solid, but sometimes I have no idea what to charge for other things. This is something that most photographers struggle with at first. We aren’t sure what to charge. Could you imagine what shopping would be like if other businesses did this? You might pay $1 for a Coke one time and then $2 the next. The best way to fix this is to create a set of prices or guidelines. If I do this or sell this product or spend this amount of time, it costs this. When you have that set, there’s nothing to think about. Look at your guidelines and tell them the cost.
Most photographers are way, way too cheap! I see photographers advertising full day wedding coverage with two photographers, an engagement session, and an album for $800. Yes, $800 is a good amount of money, but when you break this down, you’ll see it’s way too low.
First of all, it’s not clear how many hours you will be working. You might work 2 hours on the engagement, 12 hours on the wedding day, so with two people, that’s 24 hours. Right there you’re looking at 26 hours of work for $800, so that’s roughly $31 an hour. Then when you edit, that might be another 5 hours, bringing the total hours up to 31. Then, you also have to create an album, another 2 hours, and that album might cost you $100. Ok, so we are sitting at 33 hours for $700. That’s $21 an hour, which is still good, but we’re not done. There are still other business expenses to think about like the gas to drive to both shoots, insurance, camera equipment, and that’s just a few of them. Then, there’s all the time you spent doing things to get the wedding like emailing, web design, and marketing. When you look at all of that, that $21 an hour, really turns into something like $5-10 an hour. That’s not worth it to me.
There are several ways you can figure out your pricing. One is to decide how much you want to get paid per hour. Then for each thing you do, figure out how many hours you have to work to accomplish that. That gives you a base price. From there, if there are products involved, you need to add any time it takes to do those and also the cost of the product. Most people will multiply the cost of a product by 4 to make sure they are making money. If all of this is too complicated, Ben Hartley has a calculator for wedding photographers, or if you are a PPA member, they have a calculator for all types of photography.
That’s it for this day 5 and this week, but that’s not the end of this subject. Monday I’ll be back to tell you more business tips. If you’ve got a session this weekend or if you’re free, you can start implementing some of these ideas now. Remember, wedding photography is a business, and the sooner you start treating it that way, the faster the results and cash will come in!