Diversifying Your Photography Business Part 2: Payment and Cash Flow

You get paid for photography in very different ways for different parts of this business and there can sometimes be a big investment upfront depending on the job.  This leads to some crazy cash flow scenarios and I’ve found it to be very helpful diversifying into different market segments to balance out the cash flow.

Weddings

I would rate weddings as “great” for business cash flow…we get 50% of the total package price at the booking time which is 6-12 months before the wedding, and the balance the week before.  There are just no bad debt issues and chasing invoices.  All the products are delivered after the wedding and therefore have already been paid for.  Even if someone adds an album after the wedding, we get them to pay in full before the album is ordered.  These are expensive, custom products so we cannot risk not getting paid for them.

Pitfall Alert!

  • The one thing photographers have to be careful of with getting several thousand dollars upfront, is that when it comes time to make those products like albums, that they still have the money.  We have two business accounts at our bank…one is a business checking where everything gets deposited into and paid out of.  The second is a money market (a kind of savings account) where we deposit the portion that is earmarked for products.  This money is not touched until it’s time to pay for that clients’ products.
  • We’ve all heard stories of photographers spending that money to live.  If you see that you don’t have enough money to live/run your business without that allocated money, just realize (calmly) that that’s a signal that you need to get more business, get a part-time job, do some promotions to bring in money, etc…whatever you need to do to avoid touching that, because if you get a hole, it’s a nightmare to get out of.
  • Also realize that you will owe taxes on a portion of that…if you are not at the stage of being on your own payroll, you need to have another account where you are pulling your expected taxes out of that money too…it could be 30-40%…check with your accountant and make sure you take out the amount for sales tax too.

Portraits

I’d classify portrait photography as “good” for cash flow – your clients pay for the session before the session happens and pay for the products at the in-person “ordering meeting” 15-30 days after the shoot.  I will write a post at sometime on our experience going from just showing an online gallery to clients for their order vs. in-person ordering meetings, but cash-flow-wise, the ordering meeting is so much better.  Back in my days of only doing online galleries (not very long ago – 2 years ago), the typical scenario was for clients to not be able to make a decision and ask me to repost the gallery for months…sometimes years!  …which meant we did not get paid for a very long time.

Commercial

I consider commercial photography as “bad” for cashflow…in the best case scenario, I’m invoicing to be paid 30 days after the selects are provided.  If I’m working with a Fortune 100 company, I have to get set-up in their system as a supplier and I’m agreeing to their terms or they aren’t allowed to hire me.  For a recent client it’s 120 days and if they pay sooner they get a discount!  I find that that first job with a new company can sometimes take months to get sorted out in their system too…paperwork gets lost, etc…a tip is to always supply a W9 upfront and ask if there’s anything one can do to help get set-up in the system.  For bigger jobs we ask for an advance and for very small businesses we require payment up front.

 

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