Go For It, Collette!

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 🙂
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Week 6: Put together that letter to your past customers.
  6. Week 7: Buy envelopes, stamps and get the letters ready to mail. Mail out the letter.
  7. 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.

Mrs. Accountability

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6 thoughts on “Go For It, Collette!

  1. This is a great outline! In Texas, we have an added layer of complexity of sales taxes and franchise taxes.

    I would also say you need an EIN (free, online at IRS) and then open a business checking account so that the money stays separate from personal funds. This is really important at tax time when you can write off equipment and such.

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    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    Thanks, dogatemyfinances. Arizona also has taxes, but we are considered a “transaction privilege tax” state. Most people assume the TPT is “sales tax”.

    I haven’t looked into the EIN for Mr. A’s business, because he is a sole proprietor and has not hired any employees yet. The IRS has a checklist to determine if you need an Employer Identification Number.

    In June Walker’s article here: Feature No. 8 I Am A Business she states that you don’t need a business checking account in order to be a business. In her book (the original, I haven’t read the revised version as that is not the one she mails when you order through her site) she actually seems to discourage self-proprietor’s from getting a business checking account, instead showing you how to keep good records. We used a separate but “personal” account for Mr. A’s businesses until just recently.

    I do think it is a good idea to open a business account, but I think to just get started up, it is not something you have to do right away. Maybe after a few months when you are actually earning money. Just keep good records in the meantime. Ms. Walker cited examples such as what happens when you don’t have any money to even open the account in the first place? The money you start the account with in that case is not going to be earned by your business.

    Thanks again for visiting and commenting! 🙂

    [Reply]

  2. Interesting post!

    About working up the courage to charge what you deserve to earn, here’s a trick from a friend of mine, a very successful corporate communications consultant:

    Usually when you’re doing a job for someone, you perform a few small tasks that either make the job easier to do or seem to come naturally as you’re working through the job. They actually are part of the job, but you haven’t said in your proposal that you would do them. When you write up your statement, list these lagniappes and, under the “charge” column, enter “gratis” or “free of charge.”

    This makes the client feel she’s getting something for nothing. It also reminds you that you did a fair share of work for the client and that you’re well justified in charging your rate.

    Just ignore the grousing and whining about the cost of your work. I grouse and whine all the time, myself, by way of getting various contractors to come down on their price. Sometimes they do. Truth is, I’d have hired them anyway. Assuming their rate is competitive, which most of the time it is.

    Once you have your EIN and your articles of incorporation (assuming you do incorporate), most credit unions will let you open a business checking account. The Arizona State Credit Union’s is free of charge. This allows you to keep the business’s finances separate from yours, which is useful should the IRS ever decide to audit you. And more immediately, it makes your bookkeeping an awful lot simpler. Of course, you can use an ordinary personal bank account for this purpose, too. No law says you have to have an account that some bank calls “a business account.” The only thing is that you can’t deposit a check made out to your business’s name unless the business name is on the account.

    Hmmmm…. Have you ever thought of selling the milk and eggs to upscale restaurants and grocery stores? Somewhere I got the idea that AJ’s buys from local growers, and that some fancy restaurants will buy herbs and fresh lettuce from people who grow them in their backyards. There are chefs who’d be thrilled to get organic eggs fresh off the farm. At ASU, there’s a nifty new restaurant on the 2nd floor of the student union whose management does its level best to serve only locally grown produce. You’re not all that far from the university, especially if you drive to work on the Maricopa or Red Mountain freeway.

    [Reply]

    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    Hi Funny! Thank you for such a reflective response. I really like the suggestion about putting in the “por nada” extras. I had to look up the word lagniappes, what an interesting word! I didn’t know Arizona State Credit Union had free business accounts. I used to bank with them back when I worked downtown. The credit union we chose charges $8/month unless your account is over $1500.

    Regarding the milk, actually we only sell to a few people, mostly friends and family. We can’t sell the milk to stores or restaurants since it’s illegal to do so in the state of Arizona, unless you are certified as a Grade A dairy, which costs a lot of money and nearly impossible hoops in order to get certified. Yeesh… the eggs, it’s like feast or famine with our chickens. Right now we’ve got 8 dozen in the fridge, but they are already slowing down due to the heat. We’d probably have to get a lot more hens, and new ones on a regular basis in order to keep up a steady supply for restaurants. But thanks for the suggestions. If we’re ever in a position to do something like that, I will definitely check out the leads you mentioned.

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  3. Wow, took it all in and thank you so much for the detailed answer and plan. I am working toward being nicer to myself when it comes to my thought processes (it wasn’t a mean parent – it was a mean me.) I just wanted you to know I appreciate all the comments and the “kick in the can” that will quite possibly help change my life dramatically. So I thank you again. Collette

    [Reply]

    Mrs. Accountability Reply:

    Hi Collette! Thanks for visiting and commenting, and I hope you are able to work up your nerve and start your own business! Have a great day! Mrs. A

    [Reply]

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