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Say hello to your newest guest column! It comes to you from none other than Bridget Jackson, resident guru for all things numbers and profitability. Bridget is the manager of PPA Business and also a CPA. She's helped hundreds of photography studios be more profitable and will address some common questions each month. Heed her advice folks--this lady knows her stuff!

What do all entrepreneurs need to know?

By Bridget Jackson, CPA

This is a question I receive frequently, and see it all over the place on other sources of photography advice. Some of it is good, but some, well, you know...

I've read through multiple columns on what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and here I present you an abbreviated list of often-overlooked qualifications. It's not a be-all-end-all list by any means, but these are some takeaways that seem relative in light of the fact that I am a numbers person and a consumer.

1). If you don't know your numbers and how to read them, you've got one foot in the proverbial grave of a failed business.

That might seem harsh, but did you know that according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), only 2/3 of small businesses survive two years? The reason they flop is poor accounting.

Let me take that one step further and say that it's not enough to have your tax return prepared once a year. You have to understand what your numbers mean.

PPA is here to help you understand the principles of sound financial management, and it starts with managerial accounting. PPA provides resources to members to help you implement, understand and manage your business based on these principles. If you are not practicing, I encourage you to follow in the footsteps of what many successful studios have done before you and embrace managerial accounting today.

An added benefit of visiting the Benchmark Resources is participating in the current survey. Not only will you feel an overwhelming sense of community knowing that you contributed to the only industry-wide financial survey, but that you helped shape the results of the survey. PPA will release preliminary numbers at Imaging USA 2015.

2). Company culture drives a successful business

As the boss it is your job to define, provide the resources and participate in the implementation of your company's culture. Businesses that succeed in this area have an increase in overall employee satisfaction and retention.

For those of you who don't have employees; don't feel left out. I have one for you too!

2A). As the sole employee of your studio, you need to be prepared to "take out the trash."

That's right, although you won't have a boss to answer to, you will be left with the potentially unwanted tasks of answering the phones, cleaning, etc. So prepare yourself mentally for these roles. It's up to you to take care of the dirty work too!

3). Know your competition and treat them with respect.

Just because someone is a photographer doesn't mean they are your competition. Continue to evolve yourself as an artist by entering print competitions and by continuing to update your product offerings. Cultivate a professional relationship and level of respect among your peers. Their opinion of you and your business often outweighs others.  As a consumer, negative comments by one entrepreneur about another actually have detrimental effects on the business owner making the comments. One way to rise above is to become an industry expert in your market and lead by example.

Of course, it takes much more than this to create a successful business. But taking these small steps can make a huge difference along the way!

 

 

with Bridget Jackson, CPA and PPA Business manager

 

Say hello to your newest guest column! It comes to you from none other than Bridget Jackson, resident guru for all things numbers and profitability. Bridget is the manager of PPA Business and also a CPA. She's helped hundreds of photography studios be more profitable and will address some common questions each month. Heed her advice folks--this lady knows her stuff!

Hopefully you've filled out your taxes for 2013 by now, but if not, Bridget's got your back! She's got some advice on how to get the most out of your 2013 tax return. Here are some last minute tips for you slackers.

 

There's plenty to be on the lookout for in these last couple weeks of tax season!

1) The first tip is a big one for you photographers! Are you familiar with Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code? It allows a taxpayer to elect to deduct the cost of certain types of property on their income taxes as an expense, rather than requiring the cost of the property to be capitalized and depreciated. This property is generally limited to new or used tangible, depreciable, personal property which is acquired by purchase for use in the active conduct of a trade or business. This means you might be in line for some tax breaks on your photography purchases as long as they were done for your business. The deduction is limited to the taxable income of the business.

2) How about even more money coming your way? Bonus Depreciation means you can take an additional 50% special allowance for new qualified property placed in service in 2013. The allowance is an additional deduction you can take after any Section 179 deduction and before you figure regular depreciation under MACRS for the year you place the property in service. There is no taxable income limitation. If your 2013 business income is low, opt to depreciate equipment purchases over time rather than all at once.

NOTE: You can't depreciate more than you purchased! For instance if you buy a computer for $3,000 and you take section 179, you only get $3,000. You would not get any additional depreciation under bonus deprecation. Talk to your accountant to ensure you file these purchases correctly!

3) Think ahead! Effective for tax years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2014, the De Minimus Safe Harbor Election can elect to treat amounts paid to acquire, produce or improve tangible property costing $500 or less as an expense, rather than capital. The election is made annually by including a statement with the taxpayer's timely filed original tax return for the year elected.

4) Do you have a home studio? Home Office Deduction is for the 100% business use of a portion of your home. Determine whether you can use the simplified home office deduction, which allows you to write off $5 per square foot of home office space, and up to $1,500 for 300 square feet. There is no home depreciation deduction or later recapture of depreciation for the years the simplified option is used.  However, due to the maximum deduction of $1,500 for the simplified method, it might be more tax advantageous to use the regular method.

5) The business use of your automobile is based either on the standard mileage method or actual expense method. Keep in mind, once you elect to use the actual expense method you cannot switch back to standard mileage method. The standard mileage rate for 2013 and 2014 is 56.5¢ and 56¢, respectively.

6) Pay estimated taxes. If you're self-employed, don't forget your first 2014 estimated tax payment is due April 15. One way to avoid penalties is to take your 2013 tax liability and pay 100 percent of it (110 percent for high-income earners), split into four installments.

7) Fund your retirement. Yes, it's 2014, but you can still contribute to an IRA for the 2013 tax year through April 15. For tax year 2013, you may deduct a maximum contribution of $5,500 to a traditional IRA if you are less than 50 years old. Those 50 or older may deduct up to $6,500. Contributions to a SEP or 401(k) are required to be made by the due date (including extensions) for filing your federal income tax return for the year.

8) Avoid penalties. Failing to file your tax returns on time or failing to pay taxes you owe will cost you. The corporate tax filing date was March 17, so if your company is organized as an S corporation, every shareholder will be charged $195 a month, for a maximum of 12 months, until your return is filed, if an extension was not requested.

9) Healthcare! In 2014, the Affordable Health Care Act requires that you will either need to keep your current insurance plan, purchase coverage, face a penalty tax or get an exemption. The requirement to have insurance is known as the Individual Mandate. The March 31 deadline has been extended two weeks. The penalty for failing to obtain coverage will be inputted on your 2014 tax return due April 15, 2015. The penalties for 2014 are 1% of taxable income or $95 per adult and $47.50 per child for a maximum penalty of $285. However, the maximum penalty for 2015 increases to $975, and $2,085 in 2016. Beyond 2016, the penalties are adjusted annually for cost of living increases.

 

 

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Hello faithful readers! Welcome to part two of our latest blog series, What's a Pro? with Johnny O (that's me!).

If you recall, back in May Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer ruffled a few feathers when she said: 

"...there's no such thing as Flickr Pro, because today, with cameras as pervasive as they are, there is no such thing really as professional photographers, when there's everything is professional photographers [sic]. Certainly there is varying levels of skills, but we didn't want to have a Flickr Pro anymore, we wanted everyone to have professional quality photos, space, and sharing."

Oops! Her goof caused quite the backlash in the photography community, but it also got us to thinking... What is a professional photographer? Just someone who gets paid to take pictures? Or is it something more?

In this series, we'll chat about what exactly makes a professional photographer... professional. It's a pretty easy job for me, because for the most part, I'm going to let you pros do the talking.

If you participated in our Faces of PPA campaign (and MANY of you have), you saw we asked, "What's a Professional Photographer to you?" And we're going to share some of your responses here. 

Have some thoughts on the topic? Want to be a part of the series? Place your thoughts in the comment section below or contact me, John Owens, communications specialist, at jowens@ppa.com. 

So what's a pro? The answer--we hope to find--is you. 

Three-time former PPA Photographer of the Year, Mark McCall, M.Photog.Cr., CPP,  first had the desire to take photos at the ripe old age of eight. As someone who has dedicated nearly his entire life to photography, his view of a professional may differ from popular opinion. 

"A professional photographer can be a technician, but for me, it's being an artist. I don't want to just capture an image; I want to tell a story. I seek out interesting characters, incorporate them into my works, and help tell their story. 

"I once asked the greeter at WalMart to pose for a character study-type shot at my studio. I told his story of being a new groom at the age of 82. That's why professional photographers exist--to tell the stories of others."

For contrast, Pennsylvania photographer, Jennifer Oswald, started her business less than a year ago. 

"I still struggle to label myself as a professional photographer when someone asks me what I do. In my mind I'm a professional, but it means different things to different people. 

"I would say a professional photographer is someone who has a strong understanding of photography from cameras, to lenses, to composition and so on. They are someone who earns something from their photography, whether it be money or awards and someone who classifies themselves as a professional photographer. I think if someone does all three of these things, they're a professional."

Pet-photographer extraordinaire, Margaret Bryant, M.Photog.Cr. (catch her at Imaging USA!) , agrees with Oswald, but thinks they must also push themselves to be more.

"Technically, a professional photographer is someone who receives money for the work they produce. But I think it's more than that. A professional is a person who is constantly learning both about photography and the photography business. 

"They are someone who continually strives to better their work, someone who is serious about being in business and someone who is ethical and fair in their dealings with clients, employees and others they meet in their business life; and so much more."

So as you can see, there are some strong feelings on the topic! Now, do your clients need any help to See The Difference? We've got marketing resources just for that.

So what's a professional photographer to you? Let us know in the comments. 

See you in a couple weeks!

-Johnny O
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Want to get to know the people who make up the staff of PPA? Check out this fun infographic below. You'll gain intimate knowledge of the people that are helping you to BE MORE!

Don't bother squinting! Click the image to view a full-size version.
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Hello faithful readers! Welcome to our latest blog series, What's a Pro? with Johnny O (that's me!).

If you recall, back in May Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer ruffled a few feathers when she said: 

"...there's no such thing as Flickr Pro, because today, with cameras as pervasive as they are, there is no such thing really as professional photographers, when there's everything is professional photographers [sic]. Certainly there is varying levels of skills, but we didn't want to have a Flickr Pro anymore, we wanted everyone to have professional quality photos, space, and sharing."

Oops! Her goof caused quite the backlash in the photography community, but it also got us to thinking... What is a professional photographer? Just someone who gets paid to take pictures? Or is it something more?

In this series, we'll chat about what exactly makes a professional photographer... professional. It's a pretty easy job for me, because for the most part, I'm going to let you pros do the talking.

If you participated in our Faces of PPA campaign (and MANY of you have), you saw we asked, "What's a Professional Photographer to you?" And we're going to share some of your responses here. 

Have some thoughts on the topic? Want to be a part of the series? Place your thoughts in the comment section below or contact me, John Owens, communications specialist, at jowens@ppa.com. 

So what's a pro? The answer--we hope to find--is you. 

Heather Chinn, M.Photog.Cr., owns and operates her portrait studio, Heather the Painter, in Fort Mill, S.C. Heather is THE name to know in the world of painting (and she'll be speaking at Imaging USA!), and works for clients all over the world. As a Corel Training Partner and Corel Painter Master as well as a PPA Master Artist photographer, Heather pulls from years of well-rounded experience to form her opinion.

"To me, a professional photographer is an artist that can see a unique story in a split second in everyday life. They can then capture that moment with all of the creative elements (composition, lighting, exposure, color harmony, balance, design, etc.) in place as if it were second nature."

Eva Creel, hailing from Kaiserslautern, Germany, is a self-proclaimed photography addict. Her eponymous studio offers photography "underwater, above and somewhere in between." Eva considers herself an artist first and professional second, and offered an example on why a mix of both is important. 

"Want to light the fire under a photo group's proverbial bottoms? Ask them what a professional photographer is and stand back as the thread explodes! To me, ya gotta make money honey if you want to be considered a professional. However money does not mean quality. 

"For example many people can charge you to fix your car but that doesn't mean they are going to do a good job. You will most likely get what you pay for. If the mechanic does a bad job does that mean he's not a professional? Does he/she have a license and a registered business? Can they tell the difference between a carburetor and an alternator? We have a good idea of who a professional is when it comes to taking care of our car needs, so why don't we have a clear understanding of who a professional is when it comes to taking our portrait?"

Michigan photographer Jennifer Praniewicz, CPP, owner of Jenuine Creations, LLC, breathes creating a slice in time for history and placement. Her work has been featured in international magazines, yet she gets a greater sense of satisfaction from clients who have fun on a shoot with her and then love their images.

"A professional photographer is one that respects the foundation, heritage and lineage of those who made the industry in days gone by. In so doing, they are continually honing their skills and craft, reaching for the next level of excellence. 

"They strike a delicate balance between reaching their clients' goals, dreams and desires while growing and maintaining a business. They run a business and do not denigrate the industry by giving their time or product away unless for a legitimate charity. They utilize all the components of great photography, including lighting, posing, composition, etc. and don't settle for trendy, over-exposed and characterless photography."

So as you can see, there are some strong feelings on the topic! Now, do your clients need any help to See The Difference? We've got marketing resources just for that.

So what's a professional photographer to you? Let us know in the comments. 

See you in a couple weeks!

-Johnny O
hillenga_jennifer_blog.jpgJen Hillenga, M. Photog. Cr., was kind enough to join us in the PPA Studio to film some upcoming PPAedu segments. While not wowing us with her endless creativity and knowledge, Jen took the time to answer your questions submitted to us @OurPPA (Twitter) or /OurPPA (Facebook). From practical advice on photography to the best sno-cones in the world, we learned all about the oh-so-creative Jen Hillenga.

Mary Lou Guinn asked: Studio management software - any recommendations?

Keep it simple. We use a combination of Quick Books and Google calendar. It has color coordination and a quick glance feature that makes our lives so much easier. It's also really great for marketing plans and counting out from deadlines. We haven't had a need for a big system, but use additional things like PhotoBiz to see who viewed images and incorporate that into the sales process. Pro Select is also great for sales. We're kind of old fashioned with client traveler, but it works for us. There's no "one stop shop" for what we do, so we put together our own system with a variety of software.

Denise Hasty asked: Having trouble with lighting, especially with darker subjects. What is the best setting for my camera when shooting in the studio and how do I avoid grainy and shadowy photos? / I have a Canon XSI450d

To create the best image, it usually works best to use a low ISO to minimize the grain and make sure you're using enough light. It helps to utilize the best equipment and tools to capture the best image. If you're in an indoor setting with limited light, investing in a camera that can go to a low ISO setting will greatly reduce the granularity in the image. In the outdoors with plenty of light, it's not as important, but you definitely need it in darker situations.

OurPPA asked: What are your thoughts on digital backgrounds?

I think there's a great place for digital backgrounds! I use them more for composite images. For example, we will photograph individuals on white, create the composition and drop in the digital background when working with a group setting. They can be nice with the right situation, but it's not a fix-all. It can be easy to get carried away and the digital can be overdone, not as natural.

OurPPA asked: Favorite color?

Black! It's the absence of color with light, and all of the colors with pigment.

OurPPA asked: Chocolate, vanilla or strawberry?

Mint chip.

OurPPA asked: Early bird or a night owl?

Night owl.

OurPPA asked: Favorite food:

Sushi!

OurPPA asked: Favorite (clean) word:

Clean? Oh man. Probably "Yes."

OurPPA asked: Where did you attend college? What did you major in?

I graduated from Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. I double-majored in Fine Art and Graphic Design, with a double-minor in Art History and English.

OurPPA asked: What was the worst job you've ever had?


I worked concessions at a stock car track one summer. I did the sno-cones and nachos and it was a mess. It was the worst combination of salty and sweet--just the worst.

OurPPA asked: You love to travel - What's your favorite place to visit?

I spoke to the Photography Association in Denmark a few years ago, and that was wonderful. I also enjoy going to Hawaii--they have the best shaved ice! I also did the first trip down to Ecuador with Travis Gugelman and Lori Nordstrom with Dando Amor, photographing orphans.

Jen Hillenga, M. Photog. Cr. is the co-founder of Jen's Fabulous Stuff and a PPAedu contributor. You can find her educational videos, along with many industry greats on PPAedu. PPA members can easily access PPAedu by logging-in and watching the 150+ online videos. Not a PPA member? You can create your own personalized educational program by completing the Self-Assessment tool and subscribing to PPAedu!

Monteith_Ann_140.jpgOne of PPA's most important goals is helping photographers excel at managing their businesses. We often get questions about finances, taxes and business management, so we're taking a page from Professional Photographer magazine and will include an Ask the Experts business question in the PPA Today weekly newsletter from time to time. This week, Ann Monteith, one of our most widely recognized Studio Management Services (SMS) consultants, addresses a question about getting off on the right foot as a professional photographer.

Q: We just started a photography business. We're pretty clueless. What do we need to do to become legitimate?

A: "I can't stress enough how important it is to learn as much as you can about the business of photography before you get in too deep. Photography can be a great career when you go into it with your eyes wide open and the business skills required to be successful. The very best thing you can do is to learn the fundamentals."

"Until a couple of years ago, there were no courses on business management and marketing specifically designed for professional photographers--a lot of us tried to find one. That's why PPA's Studio Management Services (SMS) developed the 2-Day "Business Basics Workshop" for professional photographers at any stage in their careers.

"As one of several instructors who teach this course, I can attest that the curriculum it provides could have cut two years off the learning curve I experienced when I started my own photography business."



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