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Business Basics for The Photographer

I was having one of those days. You know which ones I’m talking about: the kind where you get out of bed and every.single.thing. seems to go wrong.


A child was home sick.


I had company in town.


A friend dropped by with a minor crisis and needed an ear.


I was missing two ingredients for dinner.


Nothing was working in my favor. By late afternoon, I decided to just go take a shower and hide. Maybe pizza would magically appear on my doorstep or something.


For most of us, we are either working another job, have kids at home, or some combination of both. The truth is that there will never be a shortage of tasks that need our attention. (Not to mention 50,000 distractions on social media, Pinterest, email, etc.) It’s no wonder that the “less fun” parts of running a business, like bookkeeping and organizing can get pushed to the back-burner – often indefinitely.  Can I confess something to you? Even with an accounting degree, I often find myself catching up my books less often than I’d like to.


Time management is a skill that some of us may spend our entire lives working on mastering, but I can share some of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen business owners make in their accounting habits, how you can avoid making these yourselves, AND maybe even enjoy (gasp!) doing your own bookkeeping!



While you don’t need a business degree, or 100% comprehension of how your tax return is actually calculated, it is important to know some business basics. For example, do you know the answer to some of these simple accounting questions?

What kind of records do I need to have and how long do I have to keep them?

What counts as a business deduction?

If I drive my car to a session or have a home office space can I deduct that?

Do I need a tax ID number?

How did you do? Come find me in the forum if you can’t answer any of those questions, and I’ll be happy to share the answers! ;-)

The good news is that if you are clueless, it isn’t as difficult as you might think to get answers. Many areas offer inexpensive adult-ed classes that you can take over a couple of weeks. Or, you can check your local department of revenue to see if your state sponsors a free workshop. If you like to read, check out an E-book or hit up the Entrepreneur section at Barnes & Noble. You didn’t learn how to be a newborn photographer by magic, and it’s going to take a little learning to be a business owner as well.



No, it’s not likely that the IRS is going to knock on your door to check and see if your records are up to date. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to put off entering your revenue and expenses until April 14th. There is no “magic bookkeeping wand” or system that just does everything for you. The truth is, just like many things in life, you need a little discipline. If you have to withhold and pay in sales tax, make a goal to get all your bookkeeping done the week before your tax payments are due. SCHEDULE IT ON YOUR CALENDAR. DO IT. Then, go get a pedicure, drink a beer, have some chocolate, take a nap or whatever little reward will help motivate you to accomplish your goals. I actually think it’s fun to see how much revenue I’ve brought in each month. That in itself motivates me to get it done! You can measure your progress and growth!


Find an accounting system that works for you. Yes, QuickBooks is fantastic, but you really need to have a basic understanding of how accounting works and probably even take a class before you try to use it. If that sounds like a fun challenge to you, GO FOR IT! If you need something simple, use an excel spreadsheet. (I’m a little biased, but I designed one for photographers and you can grab it over at Photo Deal Café for only $19 right now.) All you need at the end of the year is your total revenue (money people paid you) minus your expenses, broken up into categories. It doesn’t matter how you keep track, so find something that is simple and works for you.


Want to get better at your bookkeeping this year? Include it in your goals, and just like every other goal, make it specific. For example:

“I am going to spend 15 minutes on the 5th day of every month to enter receipts into {specific software} and file my receipts into an accordion folder after they are entered.”



You started your own business. It isn’t an easy task! Take some pride in your accomplishment and do it well!

Need more help? Don’t hesitate to find me in the forum, shoot me a message on Facebook, or drop me an email. I always love to help fellow photogs. 

Shannan Painter left the accounting world in early 2013 to pursue a lifelong dream of being a professional photographer. She and her husband, a handsome TV meteorologist, live in Missoula, Montana where college football is huge, and winters are long. They have three boys, a dog name Growler (who is also male) and are expecting another addition to their family in May of 2015 (We are all wondering if this will finally be a girl!). Their house is full of cars, super heroes, nerf guns and sports equipment, and they enjoy the joyful chaos together. 

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