As photographers, we’ve officially entered the funky time of year between holiday fun and the start of busy season where we actually have a little break to get our house in order. Yes, I mean the piles of laundry that have been building up and the messy pantry that needs reorganizing, but I’m also referring to our house of business!
While new inquiries and bookings are still coming through, we tend to have a little more down time in winter than the summer and fall months. But the great news is that this slow season just so happens to offer up the perfect amount of time to take care of the things in your business that you’ve likely put off (or that maybe you didn’t even know you should be doing)!
You know, the things that keep your business running smoothly and efficiently? Those things!
Now, I know these aren’t the most exciting things (don’t everyone jump up and down at once!). Location scouting, photoshoots, and community building are all the fun and creative parts of running a photography business. But the paperwork, accounting and backend systems? Noooot so much.
But don’t worry, friends, I’m here for you! I’ve tallied up 10 things you can do during the off season to keep your photography business running smoothly (aka, the unsexy but important stuff). Read them all below and see which ones you’ve already taken care of and which ones need a little love.
I’ve also included a cute little download of this list so you can keep it on your phone or computer! Click here to grab yours for free 📸📝
Let’s start with the basics…
I told you we were starting with the basics, didn’t I? Are you one of those business owners that kinda sorta skipped this part? No shame! I get it…you thought it was just a hobby, but now you’re making money…well…this is the time to get ‘er done! Check with Google to see if a license is required where you work (most business in California are required to obtain a business license at the city or county level for tax purposes). These slow seasons are the perfect time to dedicate a few hours (or sometimes even a day) to getting the paperwork and filing done to make sure your business remains legit.
Now that we know you’re a legit business (see above), you’re going to need insurance. Not just for your gear, but also for liability purposes. Sorry, it’s non-negotiable! It’s required by lots of venues, event spaces, and studios, plus it’s just a good idea to protect your gear and yourself (have you read about all the photography theft and crime lately?). It can actually be surprisingly quick and painless to sign up for a policy, and it honestly isn’t even all that expensive for what it provides! I use State Farm because that’s what we personally use for all of our insurance and it’s easier for me to have everything in one place. Look into your current auto, rental, or homeowner’s insurance provider to find out if you can bundle in your business insurance for a better rate!
Let’s say you have a bad day and your equipment gets lost, stolen, or damaged (did you hear what I said about business insurance?). Not only would you feel completely heartbroken, but you’d also have to go and document all of that lost equipment for your insurance provider. Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if you had everything listed and itemized ahead of time?! Yes! Yes, it would be!
I recommend opening a Google spreadsheet and creating a list of all of your photography gear, with a cost and serial number for each item (you’ll need the serial number in case of theft). This’ll be a quick and easy way for you to show proof to your insurance company in case an emergency does happen, but it’s also a great practice to keep to help you make sure that A) You have enough insurance coverage for your equipment and B) You know what you own (because we’ve all been there).
If you’ve already created an itemized list of your photography gear, then spend a bit of time auditing and updating it!
Did you start your business as a sole proprietor but haven’t thought about it since? Did you acquired more personal assets during the previous year? Did you expand your business, take on employees, or change your offerings? This might be a good time to think about changing your business entity. It might also be helpful to think about filing paperwork at year end so you can make the numbers and next year’s filing easier by starting your new business entity on January 1st. Not sure what I’m talking about? Check out this article about when to change business entities!
If you don’t have a contract yet, you need to get on that! And if you already have one (or many), you should take a look once a year and see if there’s anything you need to update. I keep a list throughout the year and update as I go if I come across something important that’s missing, or take a look at the list at the end of the year and make updates for the new year (because sometimes life just get’s too busy, am I right?).
You need a system for storing all of your files and backing them up in at least three places (yes, you read that right. Three!). If you don’t have a system, now is the time to create one. If you do have a system, take a look and see if you’ve forgotten to back up any files or if it’s time for a new storage solution. For my primary storage, I use 2TB solid state drives from G-drive. I love that they have less moving parts (read: less things to break), are more compact for transport, and that they store a ton of photos!
I take my portable G-drive to photoshoots (commercial, lifestyle/branding, and product shoots) and record directly to 2 memory cards as well as the drive when I’m shooting tethered. I then upload all files to an 8TB external hard drive (currently using a version of this one that’s no longer available) that lives in my office. I’ll likely be switching to a larger solid state drive like this one for my backup this year. I also keep the SD card from the photoshoot and label it with the photoshoot name and store it away until I’ve delivered all files to the client.
I also consider the final Pixieset online gallery delivery as another saved copy that’s stored online. Long story short, more is better when it comes to saving and backing up your work! Trust me! Hard drives die and you’ll miss those files when they’re gone!
Please tell me that you’re using separate accounts for your business! How can you appropriately track your business expenses and income if it’s all lumped together with your personal accounts? With certain business entities you HAVE to keep it all separate, but sole proprietors should do so as well! It’s important to know your business numbers and this is a great way to start.
You can easily open an additional checking account or credit card for your business with your current bank, which will make your end of year expense and income tracking so much easier! Just be sure to use the right account and credit card for business expenses vs personal expenses. Oh, and if you’ve changed your business entity (see #4), you’re going to need to open new accounts under the new business entity.
Once you have your separate accounts, you’re going to want a system to keep track of it all (you know, for tax purposes, but also so you can understand the health of your business and how you’re growing!). I use Quickbooks to categorize my expenses and upload receipts – it’s quite easy, really! You can give your accountant access so she/he can pull any tax information that she/he needs come tax time. The Quickbooks app also has a mileage tracking feature, so that you can track your mileage as business or personal. Which brings me to my next point…
If you don’t have Quickbooks, you can also use MileIQ! If you weren’t super on top of keeping track of your mileage from shoot to shoot, feel free to tally things up retroactively for this past year. Moving forward, I highly recommend using a tracker from here on out! It’ll save you time (and likely money and sanity) in the end if you just take a minute at the end of every day or week to categorize your drives.
Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on a good write off 📝
Gone are the days of spreadsheets, my friends! A client management system is a must these days. Not only will a good client management system save you SO much time, but it’ll allow you to save email templates, integrate your website contact form so new inquiries automatically populate, and send beautiful brochures and questionnaires! Oh, and most importantly: a good client management system will keep your payments and invoices in order. Very important, right? So if you’re stuck with where to start or are still using spreadsheets or Google docs to run your business, now is the time to invest in your business (and sanity) and get started with a client management system!
I use and love Honeybook, myself. I signed up right when I started my business and it’s been essential to keeping me organized and saving time! Click here to sign up through my referral link and get 40% off!
And if you don’t have a website… build your website! In the age of online businesses, a memorable and professional website is paramount to ensuring you’re attracting (and booking) those dream clients of yours. Also, how long has it been since you’ve updated your portfolio? Likely longer than you realize! How are your potential clients going to see that amazing shoot you did a few months ago if you don’t put it in your portfolio?
An often forgot about detail that can make a difference in how your camera performs. It’s easy to find YouTube videos for how to do this if you’ve never done it or didn’t even know that it was a thing. Spend a few minutes today to update your firmware and get your gear in top working order! On that note…have a lens that needs recalibration or need to buy new SD cards? Now’s the time!
While you actually have the bandwidth and brain power, now’s the time to invest in yourself! Whether that’s through education, mentorship, self care, health care, exercise, or outsourcing a few tasks so you actually have more free time this year, these are the months to put habits and practices in place so that you can approach the busiest months with a sense of calm and control. I’ll cheers to that!
Well, there you go! I’m pretty sure I left you with enough to-dos to get you through January and most of February too! Don’t forget to download your free list before you go!