Putting together your corporate team

Now don’t let the term “corporate” scare you. I understand that most of us don’t want to live in the corporate world, myself included. I have no desire to work in a cubicle, make decisions by committee or wear a suit every day. But a big part of our business is reminding our clients and customers that we are expert at what we do. I know lighting. I know optics and lenses. I know composition. I do not know double entry bookkeeping. I do not know actuarial tables or depreciation schedules. But that’s ok because I have a team for all of that. How can I credibly say to my clients, “Hire me because I’m an expert” and then turn around and try and do everything else myself?

Part of being successful in the photography business is to remember it’s a business. It seems like a no brainer but I’m continually amazed at how many “photographers” forget to run the business. The list below represents my basic team of business associates that help me run the business stuff so I don’t have to worry too much about it.

Accountant
This time of year we’re all in the throes of 1099s and w2’s. And nothing makes me want to emigrate to Canada like filling out IRS forms, so I don’t. I’ve had the same accountant now for quite some time. And every year he saves me money. Say again SAVES ME MONEY. That in a nutshell is the incentive. After a couple of years of writing big checks to the IRS in April, I decided to get help and seek a professional to do things for me. My CPA sat me down in June, looked things over and made some recommendations. At the end of the year we had another meeting, he looked at my books and said that I would have to pay again this April, but not nearly as much. His fees ended up being about $500 for the year, but he easily saved me $1500 in taxes through his knowledge and planning. That’s money well spent. Also, since I’m still using the accounting system he advised me on, I’m able to prepare my end of year balance sheet for him in a couple of hours, not a few weeks.

Attorney
Many people think that they’ll never need to engage an attorney unless something goes wrong, (ie you have to sue someone or get sued.) My thinking is that working with an attorney helps prevent things from going wrong. Think of it at the legal equivalent of fixing a bad shadow with lighting vs. photoshop. I had my attorney look over the boilerplate contracts I use (he made some minor changes.) I’ve had him read over my property and model releases as well as send the occasional cease and desist letter to copyright infringers. I have a nice trade arrangement with my attorney. I’m their corporate photographer, they’re my corporate attorneys. (Please note that this trade is really just an informal agreement. I still charge them for work and they still charge me but at the end of the year it’s usually about the same, to do otherwise would be illegal.)

Insurance Agent
Insurance is one of those things that we really don’t want to think about but really need. I’ve never had to make a claim against my corporate insurance so I guess technically it’s an expense, but at least the thought of losing my gear doesn’t keep me up at nights (the bad economy takes care of that for me.) In addition to covering me against theft and loss, it covers me against liability. I shoot on location a lot. I’ve been on shoots where a member of the general public tripped over an extension cord that wasn’t fully taped down (not mine.) I don’t know where that went (she was ok) but it could have been very very bad for the video guy. If that every happens to me, I know I’m pretty well covered. Also, if you want to rent equipment, or locations it makes life a lot easier to have an insurance rider to cover the rental gear/location. My agent also handles all of my personal needs as well (home, auto etc) so I’m a good customer for him. We occasionally play golf or go shooting clays together (hey, I’m on the Eastern Shore after all.) And when I need that rider or declaration to send to the rental house, he’s right there for me and doesn’t nickel and dime me on the little things.

You’ve spent the time and found your make up artist, your assistant, your digital retoucher and the rest of your photographic team. Spend the time to find your corporate team as well. Ask other pros in the area who they use and if they’re happy with them. It’s time and money well spent and it will allow you to concentrate on being a better photographer.

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