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Listening to grown ups will improve your photography business and help you to not pee your pants.

As I sit at my computer filling out the financial aid forms for my youngest son to go to UW Madison in the fall, my almost 14 year old dog wanders upstairs on shaky legs.  Her grizzled gray snout looks over at me, and I can see the lumps and bumps on the side of her ribcage, the fatty tumors that have popped up more and more in the last few years.  She had a scare a few months ago, and I paid more than I every thought I would to save her at this age.  She wags her little stumpy Springer Spaniel nub of a tail at me, and squats and pees on the carpet next to me.  She does it with no remorse  and without asking to go out as she has done since she was trained as a pup soon after we got her.  When she is done, she goes to lay in her dog bed near me.   I sit silently not reproaching her and go and get the carpet cleaner that’s been used almost daily lately.  Despite the noise, she sleeps through me cleaning up the mess.

Suddenly I know that by fall not only will I have an empty nest with no kids, I will have one less dog.   How did this go so fast?  How did my life go from lunchboxes and field trips and dog park runs and exhausting midnight to 3AM editing sessions (because that’s when the house was quiet) to grown men going off to college and the end days of my freckled-faced pup?

“You’ve gotten so big!   They really do grow up so fast, don’t they?”

Remember when grown ups said that when you were young and how eye-rolling  STUPID it was?

Turns out, they were right.  Now I have to use reading glasses more often than not, and I am constantly asking my son if he doesn’t need a light on to read his book in the living room.   At 47 I’m starting to seriously think about retirement because if those damn kids grew up THAT fast,  then I bet my AARP card and Depends are right around the corner.

TMI Public Service Announcement: You know who else was right?  Doctors.  Do your Kegels, ladies.  Just trust me on this one.

This isn’t meant to be depressing. My dog has had a long life and has been well loved, and that’s the best gift we can give to an animal.  My boys are smart and handsome and independent and will go on to do great things with their lives.  And if I pee a little when I sneeze now, my friends still love me.

In examining the last 18 years that seemingly has gone by in minutes, the same holds true with my business.  If I had listened, had really listened to the “grown ups” when it came to my business, I would have done a lot of things sooner.  I talked about my great tax debacle here so let’s start with that:

Taxes:  The minute you start taking pay for your photography services is the minute that you need to start considering that some of that money does not belong to you. While this will vary by your state, country, etc, you need to get it right sooner rather than later.  Pay someone who knows what they are doing to tell you what you should be doing. Set up a  separate account and get into the habit of automatically funneling money into that account so that when the taxman cometh you have money set aside for it.

An Accountant: Seriously, just get one.  I know your husband usually does the taxes, but unless he is a CPA convince him  not to. For less than $500/year you can get a good one and the benefits and write offs you are probably missing are worth it.

Roth IRA: I cringe when I think how late I started mine.  Part of it was that I got divorced, and I had counted on the retirement fund of my now ex husband. So yeah, I’m gonna say it… some things just don’t last forever and it wouldn’t hurt to have something of your own in case.  You  need to talk to a licensed tax adviser to find out the ramifications for you and your business.

HSA: Sometimes it feels to me that my head will explode if I have to tackle one.more.thing. that I don’t understand like something that is so outside my comfort zone like insurance and health care.  It boggles me like a 9th grade calculus exam.  But after I started my HSA (Health Savings Account) I was boggled that it was that easy.  Basically a health savings account is a place where you put money to pay medical expenses and that money is not taxed.  It didn’t seem to me that it would make a big difference, but I was shocked last year at how much it did save me with co-pays and medical expenses, glasses prescriptions and prescription drugs. There are some limitations to some, so you have to read over what is included and not included.  But it’s as easy as a checkbook and debit card that you use to pay expenses.  And there are also certain write-offs on it you can take as a business owner, ask your accountant about that.

Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University:  This is a bit of a weird plug.  (And no, it’s not an affiliate link but one can dream) I took this class a few years ago and it changed the way I looked at money and how I ran my business. Not being a numbers nerd by nature, I have to be hit over the head to understand.  It took me years to understand that some of that money was not mine for taxes, and apparently another few years to understand that just because I had 5K in my checking account didn’t mean I could go for a week in Key West.  I will warn you that it is a Christian-based class, but the church-y parts didn’t really bother me as someone who is non-practicing.  The classes are inexpensive (around $100 per couple) offered at many different places (usually churches) and consist of watching Dave Ramsey’s videos (and he’s a funny, dynamic speaker) and then breakout groups.  While I don’t abide by every principal he teaches, the simplicity of it is amazing once you apply it to your life.  And right now my Key West envelope has over $800 in it!

Stop Being a Gear Whore: Just stop.  Stop buying lenses and lighting that a commercial studio would not invest in and more bags and bigger and better bodies. Make do with what you have unless what you have is so dismal that you cannot make photos.  And if you can’t, borrow or rent.   As time has gone on I’ve found myself using less and less and being a happier photographer.  Dave Ramsey says I can’t have that 5D Mark III until spring of next year and numbers don’t lie.  For now, what I have will work.
What have you learned over the years?  What do you wish you had done differently? Leave them in the comments, we’d love to learn from you.

Stay Sane, Happy and Profitable,

P.S. Here’s some great management tools for your buisness that you might want to check out:  Modern Tog’s Easy Client and Money Manager, Joy Vertz’s How to Price Photos Video Series,  The Free Book Find the Right Price for your Business and Zack Prez’s Business Planning Cookbook (available for $20 off only a few more days!  Ends May 20)





  1. Just love every article you sent to my email. It is always the piece of wisdom that I need. Thank you!

  2. Really cool matter! Very informative and important tips.
    I think that these simple and few tips can make the choice of a successful photographer a lot easier and simpler. I will surely use them as a guideline while doing photography.

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