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Calculating Cost of Doing Business for Photographers

Let me preface this that if you want to know EXACTLY how much you’ll need for taxes, speak to a local in state accountant. This form rounds up a bit and follows what my accountant stated we should do which is to take 30% directly off the top—but we will discuss that later..

Cost of doing business also known as CoDB is the only way as a business owner, you know exactly how much to charge your clients. By breaking down exactly what your expenses are for the week, month, and year, you’ll be able to decide how much money you need to make, charge, and set aside in order to successfully run your business without overworking and overwhelming yourself.

I always begin by explaining cost of business by stating how much my expenses are so there is a reference guide. You begin by adding up all of your personal expenses for each month.

Mortgage: $1000

Gas: $80

Electric: $100

Water: $55.00

Trash: $35.00

Car Payments: $510.00 (we have two)

Internet: $70.00

Phone: $95.00

Streaming Services: $40.00

Credit Card Payments:

Student Loans: $250.00

Groceries: $400.00

Insurance: $124.00

Gas for vehicle: $100.00

Other bills:

Total cost of bills monthly: $2859

Yearly cost: $34,308

All of these expenses will vary of course so feel free to add in whatever expenses you have, including the ones that are automatically taken out each month. You have to know the number so that you can add it later. If your utilities fluctuate like mine since I live in Indiana and my gas and electric bill skyrocket in the winter, be sure to average that out or just figure in the most expensive month that way you’ll have a little flex room at the end.

Now that you have all of your bills added up, let’s focus on business expenses. While they are separate, it’s best to think of all of your bills and outgoing money in one pile.

Website & E-mail: $26.00

Online Viewing Gallery: $24.00

Client Management System: $25.00

Business Insurance: $45.00

Adobe Suite: $30.00

Canon Protection Service: $10.00

Antivirus: $5.00

Other fees:

Total Cost monthly for business: $165

Yearly cost of business bills: $1980

Then I add in the cost of new equipment that I might need. Let’s pretend that ideally I already own everything I need and want to photograph weddings, flash, cameras, lenses, etc. But, perhaps something new comes out and I want it, I have a camera break down and need a new one, or just want to add another something to my arsenal. I round up high for that as if I have leftover money at the end of the year I can save it for the following year and either reduce my cost and pay myself more or save up for something bigger.

New Camera: $3500

New Lens: $1200

Computer maintenance: $200

New external hard drive: $200

Total Yearly Savings for Potential Business Spending: $5100

Total yearly money spent including savings: $41,388

Okay–so now we have all of our expenses added up. I live in Indiana so my state taxes may differ from yours. Our federal taxes are going to be the same unless you’re in a much higher tax bracket. Currently, I would owe 17.68% in federal taxes and for state 4.25%. Together that equals 21.94%. Now I am not a tax expert and I will always leave that for my accountant. While saving approximately 22% is a good idea, a better number to save she told me is about 30% of your income for taxes. With the way tax laws change, it’s better to have built in extra money at the end of the year than to have to come up with money for it in the following. So let’s just say that pay 30% of our income into taxes.

In order to pay all of my bills, I need approximately $42,000. This is not what is taxed but rather my net income. I need to find the gross income. Therefore I will take the 42,000 and multiply it by .3. That equals $12,416. Now there are standardized deductions taken and so this is not necessarily a breakdown of how much you’ll actually pay. Again, not a tax expert but I’m saving for the “worst case scenario here.” By knowing that approximately $12,500 needs to be saved if I want to bring home the $42,000 I need, I simply add those two numbers together.

I need to earn $53,804 every year in order to maintain my business, pay my bills, and save 30% for federal, state, and local taxes.

So knowing that–I can create wedding pricing based on the amount of work I want to do.

I live in Indiana and my work is comparable to most local photographers. Regardless of what they are charging, I know that I do not want to work every weekend forever because we like to travel. So here is where the breakdown happens. What is an acceptable amount of weddings you’d want to shoot every year? 20? Maybe less at 15? Whatever that number, let’s say it’s 20 weddings, we need to take our total gross income, $54,000 and divide it by 20 weddings. That equals $2700.

If you want to have a sustainable living and exclusively shoot 20 weddings a year you’ll need to charge $2,700 per wedding. Simple, right? Well, perhaps you photograph other things too. I consistently photograph commercial work locally and also photograph families here and there. Either you can choose to save the extra income that you make on top of your weddings or you can reduce the number of weddings photographed by subtracting the amount of money made from shoots.

For the ease of use and comprehension, let’s say you don’t want to shoot 20 weddings because you’re busy with other things. My average commercial shoot is a few hours and can vary in cost. I’ll average it and say that I bring make about $500 per commercial shoot and $300 from every family I photograph. I don’t sell prints currently or offer tangible sales products so I do not tax anything extra here. If you do sell items, you need to tax them at 7% for sales tax in Indiana and pay that separately. That is a different story all together.

I have 10 businesses interested in my service this year resulting in $5000 in commercial work

I am going to photograph 20 families which results in $6000.

Total cost of business and family photography? $11,000.

Knowing that my weddings cost $2700,  I can reduce the amount of weddings I photograph by dividing the income made from non-weddings 11,000 and dividing it by 2,700. It equals out to 4. So, now I can photograph 16 weddings, 10 businesses, and 20 families per year and still bring the same amount of money in.

If $2700 is higher than what your location will justify for weddings, I recommend learning how to market yourself, reviewing your workflow, and examining how you are treating clients and valuing yourself. All of these things should lead to higher paying clients. But since this isn’t a post on how to market yourself to higher paying clients, let’s adjust our wedding cost to what I am currently charging. My entry level wedding collection is $2300. This is my most popular collection but I do offer albums at a higher price point. Without getting into too much detail, let’s simply state that this is the cost. I have no physical products delivered at this price point and no second shooter to pay. So all income goes directly to me (and the government). If I photographed 20 weddings at this price I’d be $8,000 short of what I need to make. So either I can continue photographing the 20 weddings and supplement with businesses and families resulting in $3000 that is not allotted for anything. Perhaps it could be a small bathroom project or a trip to Hawaii? If that isn’t the case, I can reduce my weddings by 1 and still have some extra income that is not allotted for anything. Therefore, I’d shoot 10 businesses, 20 families, and 19 weddings.

There are a lot of considerations with going full time and understanding your cost of business. While we may have saved a little extra in taxes, most people enjoying getting a tax refund. Personally, I’m not a fan of allowing the government to have more of my money than they need–but I’d rather not owe them.

Talk to a local tax accountant now that tax season is over, specifically identifying someone who works with local small businesses. You’ll have a much closer approximation to the amount of taxes you’ll need to pay. They’ll also help you understand standard deductions given to families as well as business costs.

This blog will lead you a gross number that may be higher than you thought you’d need but like I said, it’s better to know how much money you don’t need than how much money you’re expected to produce when you’re not in that tax year anymore.

In a nutshell–add up all your costs for the year, business and personal. Multiply that number by 30% (.3) and add that number into back into your bills. Then divide that up by how many weddings, family sessions, or whatever you’re photographing. Knowing that you’ll need to shoot x amount of weddings will allow you to market yourself, as available or unavailable. You’ll also be able to stand behind your pricing if others question it. The only person you’re responsible for is yourself (and your family). If someone says your prices are too high, you can tell them that those prices pay the bills. If you’re having a hard time finding clients to pay that price point, either reduce prices accordingly and increase the amount of work, or market to clients that will pay for it by setting yourself apart from the competition with customer service, quality, and professionalism.

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New Adventure Productions is owned by Nate Dale, a Lafayette, Indiana wedding and elopement photographer. We travel nation and worldwide to capture beautiful and intimate weddings and elopements while providing a guidance, love, help along the way. 
He is married to the love of his life, Felicia with their two doggies, Pika and Princess.