Remember the fable about the grasshopper and the ant? The ant worked hard all summer to prepare for the winter, while the grasshopper played. Eventually, the grasshopper found himself without any food, and struggling to survive through the winter. The ant refused to help him out, telling the grasshopper that he should have prepared better.
The ant was a bit of a jerk, but he had a good point. When you work in seasonal business, like wedding or portrait photography, you need to make sure you’re prepared for the winter!
I know I’m going to be smacked for even suggesting that the summer is going to end. But it will. And right now, things are probably crazy busy, and crazy profitable for you. You’re shooting tons, you’ve had months of weddings to fill up that bank account, and people are clamouring to book you for fall portraits.
It’s all too easy to get a bit lazy at this point about savings. It feels like things are going great, you’ve got lots of money in the bank, and you’re just too busy to start planning months down the road.
But that’s a dangerous mindset, my friend. If you’re in your first year, you might not have experienced the stress that happens as you reach mid-winter. If you’ve been through it before, you know it can be really scary to see your accounts get low with months left to go until the shooting season starts again. And even though you’ve been there, and know it sucks, you can still easily forget to prepare in the summer!
So, now’s the time to get ready. Let’s figure out what you can do right now to make sure that you’re not going to be that grasshopper, freaking out in the middle of winter because you don’t have any food!
Prepare For Taxes
One of the toughest parts of the winter is the fact that taxes are often due right at the end of it. Just when you think you might be ok until the spring, you get hit with a big tax bill that wipes out most of your savings.
So take a moment right now, and think about what your tax bill was like last year, and whether it will be around the same this year. Then set aside money now to pay for that, and don’t touch it. It’s really un-fun to have to set aside so much of your cash for something so boring, but if you do it now you’ll be ridiculously glad you did. You’ll probably even pat yourself on the back for your smart planning. Go ahead and take the credit. I don’t mind.
Look At Your Monthly Expenses
While you’re at it, take some time to figure out what you normally spend each month. Add that up over all the months where you won’t be making as much of an income as you are right now and set aside some money to get you through that too! This is really quite simple in theory, but I know, in practice, it’s a tough pill to swallow. I think it’s what being a “grown-up” is all about.
If you won’t be able to set aside that much money, now is a good time to know about it! You can either try to book some extra work now, or brainstorm ways to continue making some cash over the winter. You’ll have time to prepare if you figure it out now. Otherwise you might find yourself panicking, and offering photo sessions on Craigslist for $20 or a hot meal.
Trim The Fat
When you’re checking out your monthly expenses you’ll be able to see if there are any areas where you can tighten up your spending. That will help out tremendously during the winter months! Pay close attention to monthly subscription services and recurring charges. Those tend to sneak by unnoticed, but really add up. Just how essential are they? Now is a good time to cancel those you aren’t using, so they don’t drain your winter stores.
Create A Business Refresh Budget
One fantastic thing to do over the winter is take the time to refresh your business. You finally have some time to focus on it, and you’ll be able to get yourself ready to have an amazing year ahead. A few things you can do are:
- Learn new skills
- Update your branding
- Plan your marketing promotions for the year and get new materials
- Update your website
- Improve your organization
A lot of these projects will require money, so put aside some cash now so that you can make sure you can afford to refresh!
Upgrade Your Gear
By the end of the shooting season you might be finding that some of your gear is on it’s last legs, and will need to be replaced. You’ll want to create a budget for this, but don’t buy everything now! Chances are it will sit and collect dust over the winter months.
If you can hold off, wait until the spring to make those new gear purchases. A lot of things will go down in price, or newer models will come out. But even though you won’t be making the purchase for a while, set aside the money now so you can afford to upgrade before the next season.
Create An Emergency Fund
It’s really overwhelming to look at all the things you need to save for, but the more you can prepare, the less stress and anxiety you’ll feel. And, should things get rough, you’ll be better able to ride out the tough times, and ensure your business survives!
For that reason, creating an emergency fund is always a great idea. This is a chunk of cash that you don’t touch, and keep for emergency situations. Having that could one day mean the difference between your business succeeding and failing! It’s not always easy to put aside this money right off the bat, when there are clearly lots of other things to be saving for. But even if you can just add to it, bit by bit, you’ll be better off than if you had nothing at all.
Go On Vacation
We always did our travelling in the winter, when we actually had the time to go. It sure was a big expense, since our trips were often a month or longer. But for us, it was completely worth it. A vacation was a time to refresh from the hectic shooting season, and let us spend time shooting for ourselves. Most of our favourite images we’ve ever created were taken during these vacations. You might not be able to do a huge trip, but even a week or two to just get away from work can be enough to re-energize you for the year ahead!
Chat With Your Accountant
If there’s one tip you take from this, it’s to get yourself an accountant as soon as possible. This is something that we held off on, thinking we could do it ourselves, and that was a mistake. Accountants aren’t just good at keeping you organized. They are also great at helping you save money. They know all sorts of ways to help you hold on to more of your cash, and can make sure you’re on the right track to meet your financial goals. So get yourself an accountant (ask other photographers in your area to see if they have any recommendations) and then get them to help you figure out how to do all this saving! That’s their job, after all — to help you keep more of your money!
Finances and saving are not the glamorous parts of running a photography business, but the sooner you get on top of it, and prepare yourself for lean months, the more fun you’ll have. Honestly. There is nothing worse than stressing for months, wondering if you’re going to need a second job just to make it until shooting starts up again. A little preparation means you can spend more time working on improving your business, and making it stronger!