Collette submitted a question to my Q&A post, wondering how I made the decision to not be self-employed. I responded to that part of the question here, but I felt the other part of her question was going to be too long for the Q&A post and I promised I’d continue it in a new post in the next few days. I did encourage her to GO FOR IT!!
To refresh your memory, here is Collette’s question/comments from that post:
C) I was wondering, how you decided that not being self employed/contracting out/freelancing was the right thing for you. I am currently unemployed (my field is telecommunications administrative support) and have been since my layoff in 11/07. It’s been uber hard, but I am also a photographer. I wish I could muster up enough courage to start charging for my work (been taking photos for local bands/my daughter’s high school senior friends who need grad photos, and friends and family) and start freelancing, but can’t get past the “don’t be ridiculous, you’re not made for that, you need to be a nine to fiver and have the stability of the cube they put you in.” Your courage in just writing this blog astounds me. Anyway, just wondering. Thanks for all the really useful advice. Collette
You say that you have been unemployed for nearly 18 months, so I certainly hope you weren’t posting from the library because you live under a bridge somewhere. Hopefully you have some source of income keeping you cozily in a home, and hopefully you have just a little bit of money to get yourself started in your new business!
You mentioned one issue you had was being able to muster up the courage to charge for your photography work. I can feel your pain, sister. Mr. A and I both have a really DIFFICULT time charging people. One of the businesses that I referred to in my Q&A post (that never got off the ground) is our little ranch business. We have dairy goats and chickens. We sell some of the milk, and it’s really hard to charge people the “going” rate for our quality milk. Then there are the eggs. We have dozens of eggs in the fridge and we end up giving most of them away from free! I feel resentful about all the people who know that we have eggs to sell, then go to Whole Foods and buy eggs for more than we charge – and our eggs are fresher! We have given a few away free, and the people rave about how delicious home grown eggs are. But they never think to ask if they could now BUY some from us. They just want them for free! One lady was bringing me a brand new egg carton each week. Well, obviously she was buying them from some expensive place, so one week I said, “Would you like me to fill that up for you?” And her response was, “If you have too many and want to give them away for free, sure!” Then she explained that she loved home grown eggs and used to have a neighbor that would get too many and gave them to her for free. I was a little insulted. We ended up resolving the issue in the next couple weeks (we go to church together) and she even said she would be happy to buy our eggs if we had extra. Sheesh. Do these people think layer feed is free? I know it’s because people just don’t think. I suppose it was rude for me to spring what I said on her.
One more personal anecdote: Mr. A has had a really hard time charging people for the work he does. He finally had to settle on a charge for the first hour, then a price for the hours after that. Basically he charges double the first hour. This is because in order to stay busy he has to take jobs that are as far as 100 miles away. Our little community and the ones nearest to us (within 30 miles) would not bring in enough income. So the double charge for the first hour pays for the drive there (time/gas). Sometimes a new customer is having especially hard times, and he’ll have a difficult time charging them the full price. With others it’s easier. And still others pay readily, but fuss and whine about the cost.
So I can tell you from my own personal experience, you aren’t the only one who has this kind of a problem.
My suggestion is to PREEMPT the problem from your old customers. When you get everything ready to start your business (which in the state of Arizona is to basically say “I’m in business!”) send out a letter to everyone you’ve taken pictures for in the past and announce your new business! Thank them for their business when you were doing this as a hobby, and let them know that you appreciate them trusting in you when you were brand new. Explain that you are now branching out on your own and as a special thank you, you will give them a 10% discount on their next photo session (or you might want to give them a 25% discount or whatever you choose). Then list the prices. Maybe you are good at using Word to put this letter together, and then maybe include a coupon with the letter.
The part where you can’t get past what other people tell you, or maybe what you hear in your own head, “don’t be ridiculous, you’re not made for that, you need to be a nine to fiver and have the stability of the cube they put you in.”
I am curious where this comes from. Is this from within your own head? Or is it from outside? It sounds like something a really mean parent or spouse would say to keep you under their thumb. It could be coming from within your own head because your parents would have said something like this, but they are no longer in control of your life. You are an adult now! You need to learn to protect Collette who is a grown up with a life of her own.
Sit down and write down a timeline. I envision it to look something like this:
TIMELINE : START BUSINESS BY JULY 1, 2009
- Week 1: If you don’t already, begin saving all receipts for items purchased related to your business. Choose if you’re going to officially name your business. Select name for business. Check out June Walker’s Self-employed Tax Solutions book from the library, or order online.
- Week 2: June Walker says you don’t have to have a business name, but I think it would help you get into your own head that this is a business and you need to view it as an official business. I think this might also speak volumes on your seriousness to any naysayers. BTW, spend no time with naysayers. Avoid talking to anyone you know who will discourage you from taking this leap of faith. Register name officially with the state in which you live. In Arizona we check the Arizona Corporation Commission to see if anyone else has the name already, and then we submit our request for our business name at the Arizona Secretary of State. In Arizona we don’t have to register a business name by law to be in business, but it is accepted practice to do so. Besides, you don’t want to use a name someone else is already using, nor do you want someone else to take your business name! You could even choose to call your company Collette Smith’s Photography. That’s if your last name is Smith. Put your own last name there, Collette. 🙂
- Week 3: Order business cards on Monday. You can get some really nice nearly free ones at Vistaprint – that’s where I’ve always ordered mine. Pay the extra couple of dollars to have the back side blank; otherwise, Vistaprint puts their own advertising which doesn’t look so professional. I always have them ship the slowest way and they have never taken more than 10 days to get back. On Tuesday check with your state to see if you are liable for state, county or city taxes. In Arizona, photographers are liable to pay Transaction Privilege Tax for charging for photographs. I would suggest looking for some photographers in your area, maybe a club, and see if they know anything about rules and regulations to charge tax. In Arizona this Transaction “Privilege” Tax is a tax to businesses, for the PRIVILEGE of doing business in the state of Arizona. Not *ALL* businesses are liable for the TPT. It is accepted standard practice to pass the taxes on to your customers. The taxes you collect, you them pass them on to the state, county or city. Now don’t get overwhelmed! Your state might not even require you to participate in these taxes, but if they do, you want to know so you don’t get in trouble. BTW, these taxes having nothing to do with income taxes.
- Week 4 and 5: Put together an album with photos that you’ve taken. You might need to get permission from your past customers, so you might want to hold off on putting in photos from anyone you can’t get permission from up front.
- Week 6: Put together that letter to your past customers.
- Week 7: Buy envelopes, stamps and get the letters ready to mail. Mail out the letter.
- Week 8: Buy an appointment book, or get something set up on your computer or IPod. Start advertising – you can start out with your local paper, which hopefully won’t be too much. Also, plan to advertise on your vehicle with lettering big enough to see from a few car length’s away.
Open your business!
You might notice I didn’t include “write a business plan”. You can go onto the Internet and find lots of help with that, and you don’t HAVE to have one to start your business. I think it is important to have one, so you have your goals laid out and can focus on them, but as I understand it, business plans are mostly necessary if you are looking to apply for grants or small business loans. Anyone out there know why they should be considered a “requirement” before starting a business should feel free to pipe up and share in the comments. Also, look to see if there is a SCORE chapter in your area, they can be a lot of help for small business owners. Eventually you will want to get a website so that should be part of your future plans for your business, as that will help bring in business.
I hope I have helped to inspire you, Collette. Once you get going there are a lot more things to be done, so maybe one of these days I’ll post again with thoughts of what to do after you get started. The important thing is to work up the momentum to get STARTED. Don’t sit around waiting and planning forever, just go for it!
I’d love to hear if you decide to take the leap and do it and how you make out.