(The following is excerpted from Best Business Practices for Photographers, Second Edition, by Black Star photographer John Harrington.)
Ignoring facts cannot change them. Far too many photographers and aspiring photographers simply ignore the facts before them, believing that the laws of physics and economics just don’t apply to them.
I see these photographers arrive on the scene and then depart in short order. Many not only leave my city, they leave the profession altogether. The sad fact, too, is they also leave the state of the profession they tried to succeed in just a little worse off as a result of poor business practices.
Here are a few facts for your consideration:
Fact #1. If every time you produce images, the copyright to them is not yours, you will not earn money—any money—from them in the future. You’re a day laborer with some creativity.
Fact #2. According to the IRS, if 1) you are required to comply with the employer’s instructions; 2) the services are to be performed in a particular method or manner; 3) the success or continuation of a business depends on the performance of certain services; 4) the worker personally performs the services; 5) the worker has a continuing relationship with the employer; 6) the worker has to follow a work sequence set by the employer; 7) the worker can’t work for more than one employer at a time, and if you’re a freelancer and these sound familiar to you, then perhaps you’re entitled to be an employee of the employer, including benefits and their payment of the standard part of your taxes that an employer pays.
Fact #3. Taking standard manufacturers’ statistics for the lifespan of equipment (camera and computer), coupled with the amortization tables for deductibility, will give you how much you can reasonably expect to pay over each year. Combine this with other expenses (data lines, software, rent, and so forth), and this is what it costs each year to make pictures. When divided by 52, if you don’t earn that much each week, you will most decidedly not be making pictures professionally very long unless your sustaining income comes from other sources.
Fact #4. If your time is not your own, and thus you are doing something at the behest of a client (travel, post-production, planning, and so on), and you are not charging your client for those efforts, you are short-changing yourself and taking a loss on that time.
Fact #5. If you charge for your time at an hourly rate, the better you get at completing an assignment, the less you are being paid for your talents. Although an hourly rate may work when you are covering a luncheon or an all-day conference, it doesn’t work on most other assignments. Banish “day rate” from your vocabulary before it costs you.
Fact #6. Just because a client says they won’t pay for something, that doesn’t mean you must accept and work under those terms. You have the power to say no.
Fact #7. When you are working for just one or two clients, the loss of their work would have catastrophic effects on your revenue stream. You are overly beholden to them and their whims. Diversify your client base for long-term stability.
Fact #8. If a client signs your contract and then demands after the fact that you sign theirs to be paid, you do not have to agree to sign or actually sign their contract. Simply point out that you already have a contractual relationship for the assignment. They must pay, pursuant to your contract, or be in breach of contract (or copyright, depending upon the language in your contract).
Fact #9. Operating your business without insurance is akin to gambling every day with the likelihood of being able to continue to do the job you love the most. A stolen camera bag or an accident on assignment could easily put you out of business.
These facts may be inconvenient, but that doesn’t make them any less real.