Photography Pricing: What is your cost of doing business?

Whether you’re a hobbyist photographer getting your first paying clients, or a seasoned veteran, deciding how much to charge for your services can be exhausting and overwhelming. In order to properly price your photography, you need to know your cost of doing business, or CODB.  It sounds pretty simple, but in this article, we’re going to dive deep into the basics to ensure you have all the information you need to properly calculate your cost of doing business.

Are you currently charging people for your photography services?  If so, how did you arrive at your current pricing structure?  Did you just take a look around at what other photographers in your area were charging and pick a number out of the air that felt good, or did you do some research first?  If you’re like most of us, you took a look at what others in your area were charging, and based your prices on theirs. All too often, I hear people talking about how they are trying to build their photography business up to the point of being able to quit their day job, but then I see them charging ridiculously low prices for their services.  While their cost of doing business may be less than mine, it's quite likely they haven't done the work needed to set their business up to cover all of their business costs, take enough home to cover their personal budget, and plan for future equipment purchases, repairs, education, etc.  Whether you’re trying to take your business full time, or earn some extra money to take your family on nice vacations, taking the time to calculate your cost of doing business is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your business is profitable.

So, what is your cost of doing business?  It's just your time, right?  If you're currently earning $15 per hour at your day job, and think that you can charge $100 for a portrait session and make more money than you are currently earning at your day job, you’ll want to listen up. That one hour portrait session will cost you 1 hour of your time for the session itself, most likely a minimum of 30 minutes of travel time, to and from the location, 1 hour for culling and proofing, 30 minutes for a pre-session consultation, at least one hour for the ordering session, plus prep time to get your gear ready and loaded.  That's already four hours plus into a one hour session, and that doesn't even include any other costs associated with providing the service. You might be tempted to think that you're still making $40 more than you'd make at your day job, but what about fuel, software, your website, camera gear, education, supplies, and oh yeah, taxes!  If you haven’t done the work to figure out your true cost of doing business, you’re just playing a guessing game and HOPING you’re profitable.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to base whether my family gets to eat or not on hopes and guesses.

Our Cost of Doing Business is the amount of money you spend, whether you have any photography jobs or not

Step 1:  IDENTIFY THE AMOUNT OF MONEY YOU SPEND IN YOUR BUSINESS

Ok, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty and identify the components of your Cost of Doing Business.  Below is a comprehensive list of some of the items you spend money on annually, whether you have paying photography clients or not.

Office/Studio

Whether you have an office and studio in your home, or rent a separate space, you will need to factor in all of the costs associated with operating that space.  Rent, mortgage, property taxes, homeowner association fees, insurance, security fees, home maintenance, etc.  If you're using part of your home for your business space, calculate the percentage of square footage that is used for business to determine the costs.

Photo Gear

Without your camera gear, you won’t have a business, so you need to plan for the gear you will need to acquire or replace within the next year.  I would also recommend setting up an accrual for gear that will need to be replaced further down the road.  If you set aside a little money each month and put it in a savings account, you will have the money in hand to replace your gear when the time comes. Things like light stands, modifiers, backdrops and stands, strobes, and gear bags also fall into this category.

Computer Equipment

We all need at least one computer to run our photography businesses, and many of us have more than one.  Factor in the costs of all of this computer equipment – desktop, laptop, monitors, printers, scanners, docking stations, mouse, wacom tablet, keyboard, hard drives, network storage devices, monitor calibration tools, etc.  While you may not need to purchase these items every month or even every year, it is wise to set aside money each month for the eventual replacement, so you are prepared.

Phones

Include the cost of all cell phones and landlines – if you use your personal phones for your business, determine the percentage of use and include that.  Make sure you also include the cost of the phone itself in this calculation, or set aside money for the next one you’ll have to buy.

Equipment Maintenance and Repairs

Include your costs for annual camera maintenance and potential computer repairs.  You’ll want to have insurance, but it's also a good idea to budget for the deductible and small repairs either way.

Internet service

High speed internet service is a necessity, so make sure you include the cost in your totals.  If you share your home internet service, allocate a percentage to your business costs.

Website and Hosting Fees

Be sure to include the cost of your domain names, website builders, tools, fees, plug ins, gallery hosting, shopping carts, and web portal services.  If you pay someone to update or refresh your site regularly, make sure you include those costs as well.

Vehicle Expenses

Car payments, insurance,  maintenance, repair, license fees, and fuel should all be factored in to your business costs.  It is important that you keep mileage records for the IRS.  Mileage records will also help you determine the percentage that is business related so you can include those numbers here.

Office Supplies & Equipment

Pens, paper, scissors, labels, office chair, desk, file cabinet – you need all of these items to conduct your business.  Don’t forget these when calculating your cost of doing business.

Postage & Shipping

Non-billable postage and shipping – sending equipment in for repair, promotional mailings, holiday cards, etc.

Continuing Education/Training

Include the cost of workshops, retreats, conferences, books, courses, and other educational activities, whether online or in person.  To stay current, you must keep learning, and the cost of that education is all a part of your cost of doing business.

Advertising & Promotion

Business cards, brochures, marketing materials, social media ads, marketing services like Constant Contact, MailChimp, and AskMimi, Video Marketing services like Animoto, and other marketing options like Sticky Folios.

Subscriptions & Dues

Fees and dues paid for professional publications, association memberships, chamber of commerce, service organizations, photography clubs, etc.

Insurance

Equipment and business liability insurance, disability insurance in case you can't work, health insurance, life insurance.

Accounting and Legal Services

Attorney fees for reviewing contracts and procedures, amounts paid to tax preparers and bookkeepers.

Taxes and Licenses

Self employment taxes, annual filing fees for your business entity, business licenses.  Don’t overlook these items; doing so can create a serious financial hardship.

Utilities

Heat, lights, water, electricity.  If your studio is in your home, determine the amount of square footage used for your business to calculate the percentage to be allocated to it.

Outsourcing

Administrative assistant, photo editors, receptionist, studio assistant, cleaning staff.  Anyone you pay whether you have photo jobs or not should be included here.

Software Services

Services like Fundy, Animoto, Sticky, Videoblocks, Audioblocks, PASS, 17 hats, and social media schedulers are all services you pay for, whether you have one client or hundreds, so the associated costs need to be covered as part of your fixed costs.

Travel

Hotels, airfare, rental cars, etc related to educational training, other travel costs related to photo trips that aren't being paid for by clients.  Any travel you do that isn’t specifically related to a client-specific job should be included here.

Salary

This should be the amount of income you need each month to pay your personal living expenses.  This includes your mortgage or rent payment, vehicles, food, insurance, toiletries, haircuts, tuition, activity fees, daycare, utilities, phones, clothing, etc.  If you don’t currently have a personal budget and know these numbers already, now would be a good time to figure out your personal cost of living, too.

If you have a job in addition to your photography business like we discussed earlier, it is still wise to include a salary amount that would represent what you would have to pay yourself or someone else who would be working full time in the business.  Being realistic about the costs associated with running your business will help you develop a pricing model that will work for you now and into the future.

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Ok, this was a lot of information and probably a little overwhelming for you. I bet you had no idea, huh? Let's pause here for a moment before we move onto the next section. If you're ready to move forward, click this link here" Part 2 of Photography Pricing.