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How and Why the Business Challenge started.
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In 2015, PPA had an idea for a case study. A group of five photography mentors and I took on the challenge of working with two studio owners to help them transform their businesses. We not only wanted to help these two entrepreneurs, we also wanted to learn from them by documenting the challenges they faced, the changes they underwent and how both they and their businesses thrived. The "Studio Makeover" was initiated and our goal was to take all the information we were using to help our makeover participants and bring it to PPA members to learn from as well. 

We did this through the entire year of 2015 with live webinars, blog posts and even personal video updates. Then, at Imaging USA 2016, all eight of us took the stage and revealed each studio's final numbers, shared their biggest "a-ha" moments and discussed their transformation from both a business and personal perspective.  

Leading up to Imaging USA, as I was putting together the program for the rest of the team, I had my own "a-ha" moment. We were about to share some extraordinary moments and information as both studios made amazing leaps forward...but we didn't have anything in place for the attendees who might want to do their own "studio makeover." 

Well, I shouldn't say we didn't have anything because PPA has a plethora of educational tools available to members: the Benchmark Study, PPAedu's online education platform with more than 350 video classes, PhotoVision with over 800 episodes, Square One, downloads, Professional Photographer magazine, specialty courses for CPP and IPC, etc. As you can see, we have quite a lot of knowledge to offer and perhaps that works against us a bit. It can be a little overwhelming. Which brings me to my point...we didn't have anything/anyone tying it all together, giving it to photographers in an order that could easily be digested, and helping you as you needed it. 

So the idea for the Business Challenge was born.

Literally, right before Imaging USA, at our busiest time of the year, I was asking other departments to help me implement a brand new concept. And everyone here jumped in to help make it a reality, so that by Imaging USA itself we were able to let people know they could sign up for their very own studio makeover through PPA's Business Challenge. (Huge thank you's to our Marketing, Membership and I.T. teams for all of their hard work.)

I had an idea. I had the recently completed PPA Business Guide to use as an outline. I had the Square One tool to share. I had amazing friends and mentors who were willing to be part of this project. I had (and have) a strong desire to help photographers as entrepreneurs learn how to build profitable and sustainable businesses so they can live their dream. That was it. 

I didn't have a long syllabus. I didn't have a very exact plan for how to execute all of it. I was still learning how best to use theLoop platform as our means of communication. But I knew that if I waited to put it all together first, things would be missing anyway. You would be missing. All that I've learned from you, each and every group, would not have happened. And your questions and ideas and support are the actions that propel the Business Challenge forward.

PPA's Business Challenge is, by design, a living thing. 

No two groups are alike. The February 2016 group is very different from the June 2016 group. The curriculum, while similar, is not identical because conversations sway the topics and move them in a variety of directions. Questions are asked and answered. Friendships are born. Mentors are invited who generously share their experience and knowledge. While the foundation of knowledge of the Business Challenge is all the same, and it is scalable to a large group, the unique experience of each group is shaped by those who are involved.

I've written in a few different places that it's important to show up and be present in the conversations that take place in this 12-month program. It was not intended to simply be a place where information and assignments are posted. It can be, if that's what you want, but I want to give you so much more. I want you to feel part of something bigger; I want to give you accountability; I want you to meet and be inspired by some of the smartest people out there; I want to give you the opportunity to share your knowledge; I want you to remember why YOU are doing all this hard work in the first place; and I want you to build a body of knowledge that will propel you so much further.

I'm so glad you're here,

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Angela Kurkian is PPA's Director of Education

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by James Yates
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It's now been six months since the inaugural class of PPA's Business Challenge started on theLoop. Since then a new group has started each month and those participating are making changes that will affect their businesses and their lives as they continue their entrepreneurial journey.  

One of the first things Challenge participants are tasked to do is define their personal idea of success and then create a sales and session projection using the online tool, Square One. It helps point every small business owner in the right direction and kicks off your Challenge-year with a firm understanding of what you need to accomplish in the upcoming months. Here are just a few comments pulled from the Discussion Threads on how things are going for our current participants:

"I did the square one projections for my business.  Wow.  I had to go thru it a few times and it was eye opening.  Not charging enough!!!  This was so helpful... "
Kim B. 

"Just realized I misunderstood net income.  This changes things...  YIKES.  Now I'm getting that crazy scared feeling in the pit of my stomach... This is such a huge kick in the rear.  I did a few breakdowns - with and without (a physical) studio.  (End goal is to have a studio space of my very own, so I wanted to see what needed to be done.)"
"Happy to report that I finished my projections yesterday.  I did one for a home based studio and one for a retail space.  I figured that my goal would be to aim for the retail space numbers since I want to end up with a studio.  If I fall short and hit my home based numbers, that's ok - just means I landed among the stars, right?  I'd be happy with either number right now, as long as eventually I get to the retail numbers!  :)...And now that I've done my a la carte pricing, I'm seeing clearly how that will help me reach the projection numbers.  It's all starting to come together in my brain." 
Karen C.

"I just used the square one tool, and it really gives me a starting goal for what I need to do.  So far I am working well towards my goals and getting the sales per session mark.  I just need to do more sessions. More sessions will come from more marketing and better time management." 
Jennifer J.

By John Owens

With PPA's Studio Makeovers (overview below if you need a refresher) well underway, it's time for an update on our recipients' progress. I chatted with Wes Roberts on Skype for a recap on where his business was when the process started, what he's learned and how he is implementing changes.

It's a great video for anyone looking to make similar modifications to the way they run their business. Wes gives great insight on how to best implement changes in a way that works for you! You can view our conversation below; the whole video is less than 10 minutes.

About PPA's Studio Makeovers:

This year PPA is working with Krista Newbill of Murfeesboro, Tennessee, and Wes Roberts of Smith Station, Alabama, in all areas of their businesses to give their studios a total "makeover." Every facet of their businesses will be scrutinized to help them Be More Profitable. The makeover will touch on and improve their business model, branding, pricing, marketing, sales strategy, workflow efficiency and overall profitability--all based on the tools, information and resources set by PPA's Benchmark! Take a look at the project overview to learn more about the project.

All are encouraged to follow along with Krista and Wes's progress, challenges and changes right here on the blog and watch monthly webinar updates to track this year-long process. It's a series worth paying attention to, as there will be strategies and business tactics you can apply to your business too!

An update on Krista's progress is coming up in a couple weeks!


John Owens is PPA's resident wordsmith. Know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? That's where he comes in. The Connecticut transplant and (still) avid Hartford Whalers fan is an aspiring adventurist/novelist/racer on a lifelong quest to find the best trails, brews and burger. 





By Sarah Ackerman

If you've heard us say it once, you've heard us say it a thousand times: the Benchmark Survey is a great tool to help your business. Still leery of the results? Take a few minutes and watch fellow pros like you discuss what parts of the Benchmark helped them increase their profit margins up to 40%! 

Motivated to make the change? Explore all of the Benchmark resources available to you as a PPA photographer. Check out Square One to set annual goals for sales per sessions to make your marks. And remember to read the detailed analysis of the Benchmark Business Guide to explore the path you need to take to boost your take home income and grow your business to where you want it to be. All these resources are here to help you Be More Profitable. 

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Sarah Ackerman is known around PPA as #Sarah in part because she handles all things social media and in order to differentiate herself from the other Sarahs in the office. Sarah loves improv comedy (think "Whose Line") and routinely performs around Atlanta. When she's not tweeting/facebooking/instagramming all of the action at PPA, she can be found gallivanting around the world or wandering around the woods with her pup, but more than likely she's on stage making people giggle.


By John Owens


It's already been a few weeks since our last update from Krista Newbill and her adventure with PPA's Studio Makeover. This time Wes Roberts checks in with a quick, not even 2-minute update on his progress.


In this video blog (or Vlog for you web lingo-savvy readers), Wes shares what he learned from working with PPA mentor and Adobe Certified Expert, David Doeppel. From their conversation, Wes says he will be making some changes to his workflow! See if any of the strategies apply to you--it will only take a minute!


About PPA's Studio Makeovers:

This year PPA is working with two lucky studios in all areas of their business, to give them a total "makeover". Every facet of their businesses will be scrutinized to help them be more profitable. The makeover will touch on and improve their business model, branding, pricing, marketing, sales strategy, workflow efficiency and overall profitability--all based on the tools, information and resources set by PPA's Benchmark!

Follow these two studios' progress, challenges and changes. Updates will be posted right here on the blog and you will be able to watch monthly webinar updates to track this year-long process. It's a series worth paying attention to, as there will be strategies and business tactics you can apply to your business too.


You can get a refresher with the project overview and take a look at the most recent update on Krista's makeover. Some of the advice they're receiving may very well apply to your business! Another update on Krista's progress is coming soon as well as more from Wes Roberts. This adventure is supposed to make both Krista's and Wes's studios Be More Profitable. So stay tuned for the next update on PPA's two Studio Makeovers!



John Owens is PPA's resident wordsmith. Know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? That's where he comes in. The Connecticut transplant and (still) avid Hartford Whalers fan is an aspiring adventurist/novelist/racer on a lifelong quest to find the best trails, brews and burger.

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We're back with an update on Krista Newbill's Studio Makeover. Check out the previous post on the project overview if you need a refresher, and take a look at Wes Roberts' first update from last month.

Below is an update on what Krista has been doing with her team of PPA mentors, the early progress she's made along with some of the obstacles she's facing. Some of it surely applies to some of you and your business... maybe you can consider applying similar changes to Be More Profitable too?

The Financials

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Krista first came to PPA for help with her business back in 2012. At that time her studio's gross sales were down 21% from 2011 and what was more telling, expenses were up and her bottom line suffered, going down 52% during that time.

In 2013 Krista focused on cutting costs. Her sales that year increased and her bottom line recovered. Then in 2014 the stress of running and paying for a retail location caused Krista to rethink her location. She opted to co-lease a space with another photographer. With sales up 14% and her expenses once again down, Krista was keeping almost 61% of every dollar she grossed. According to PPA's Benchmark, top-preforming retail studios keep about 39% of each dollar, proving that Krista was doing a great job keeping her expenses in check.

As she started planning for 2015, Krista was feeling that she was working too hard, too many hours, and not spending enough quality time with her family. "How long can I keep up this pace?" is a question most business owners ask themselves at some point during their careers. That's why the concept of sustainability is one of the most important things to consider when you're planning each year.

What affects your business sustainability? The number of hours worked, stress levels, income, family life balance, and pretty much anything else that affects you as the business owner. Simply ask yourself, can your business continue on the same track it's currently on with you, as the business owner, doing everything as-is? Sometimes it simply comes down to time (or lack thereof). In the long run, can you realistically continue to put in the hours/week that you are currently spending and be achieving your life goals?

Krista realized that she's too busy and is now looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. Her main product lines include weddings, portraits and headshots. She lives near Nashville and has a very large clientele. Up until 2014, Krista created albums and sold prints to her wedding clients, but she only sold digital files to her portrait clients.

By: Lauren Walters

If you're looking to make a bigger profit, PPA's Benchmark Resources are here to help revise your budget. A small change can make a huge difference in your business. In fact, a 1% decrease in your cost of sales and overhead expenses can save you as much as $50,000 by the end of the year.

For a retail studio, overhead expenses should estimate to about 40% and cost of sales at about 25%. Keep in mind that your profit depends upon the amount of sales for that fiscal year. For example, you need about $143,000 in sales to earn a $50,000 profit. Make sure to use PPA's Square One tool to see the change 1% makes to your bottom line.

The video below stresses the importance of creating a strategic budget and sticking to it! Watch and learn more about how to keep your sales and expenses in line with your new 1% budget.

For more information, visit Be More Profitable.

In the previous post 2 Studios Are Getting a Full Business Makeover This Year! you met PPA Studio Makeover recipients, Wes Roberts and Krista Newbill and read the overview of the makeover process.

Now that the makeovers are underway, you can follow along with their progress! First up is Wes as he and the PPA mentor team dove into the financials of his business.

Wes's Story

The Financials

Wes was super excited to get started. He's been working with PPA's Business Consultant and CPA, Bridget Jackson, to get a handle on where he is currently and the best way to move forward.

First, we always did a complete financial analysis of the studio. It's important to know what's working and what's not. We did this by comparing Wes' studio's numbers to PPA's Benchmark Survey. By comparing his cost of sales, overhead and net profit we started to get a good picture of the pitfalls that are causing monetary loss. We also uncovered potential opportunities for savings.

Wes' numbers looked better than the average benchmark studios in 2013 and 2014. However, his 20% cost of sales percentage doubled between 2013 and 2014. While, in general, 20% is a great number to achieve (below the recommended 25%), we had to figure out what has changed to cause such a drastic uptick and put everything in place to ensure that trend would not continue in 2015.

Second, PPA mentors helped Wes develop a photography business plan for 2015 that included three goals:

  1. the number of sessions he wants to photograph (broken down by month)
  2. the sales average of each session
  3. his net profit

Congratulations to PPA's Benchmark Grand Prize winner Emily Engelhardt, CPP! Emily won an all expense paid trip to Imaging USA this year in Nashville - including roundtrip airfare, accommodations and all access passes to the show for her and a guest. Emily has participated in the Benchmark Survey twice over the past few years, so she's not a newbie when it comes to the benefits this photography business guide can offer. Emily has officially been in business for the past 7 years. And after attending PPA's 3-day Business Breakthroughs workshop in Texas, she became inspired to seek financial advice to take her photography business to the next level. 

"I knew if I wanted to make this a career I needed to be smart about how I ran my studio, and knowing how to appropriately price myself and not getting into debt were both big wins for me," said Emily.

PPA's Benchmark also helped Emily see when to cut back on her expenses, hire a new employee, and look into purchasing the current studio she was renting. Emily explained that being able to see where she stood in relation to other studios in the country gave her a much needed confidence boost. 

When Emily utilized the Benchmark, it opened her eyes to possible investment opportunities. "My quarterly meetings with Bridget [Jackson, CPA] and my mentor, Julia [Woods], also helped me see that I could invest a lot more into my advertising budget, so this year I was able to invest in a large display in a mall in my target area and still gross a 42% net profit. Being able to see that I was right in line with some of the top grossing studios in the country, even if my sales totals weren't as high, my percentages were just as good, if not better,  gave me such a confidence boost, and reassurance that I really was doing well, not just hoping I was."

Before, Emily felt she was winging it with her business. After going through this process, not only is she reassured about the wellness of her business, but now she can analyze her financial budget and plan her next steps, using tangible data that make sense for her and her business.

"Even if you're not a 'numbers' person, it's so helpful to have some kind of standard to look to, not just hearsay," Emily stated.

If you participated in the Benchmark Survey, you can follow in Emily's example later this spring when your side-by-side comparison comes out! Let us know how PPA's Benchmark Survey helped you Be More! Oh, and be on the lookout for this year's new data... coming out soon! 

Can you believe it's already December? We're winding down the clock as the year comes to a close here at PPA, and that means it's your last chance to take advantage of the Benchmark Survey! Help your business be more by maximizing your profit potential in just a few simple steps with this photography business guide. And don't forget that it's also your last chance to win the grand prize of an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Imaging USA 2015 in Nashville! That means airfare for two, a hotel for four nights, and two all-access passes to the big show. Not a bad way to start the New Year, is it? Just be sure to submit your information for the Benchmark Survey by December 15th to be eligible! 

We're happy to announce that for the month of November we have two Benchmark prize winners--Kimball Nelson and Sheila Rutledge!

Kimball is an experienced landscape photographer and has had the privilege of photographing the Rocky Mountains for much of her life. She also never stops learning as a photographer, routinely attending the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. This yearning to better herself as a photographer led her to PPA and ultimately the Benchmark.

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