Jason Aten is a Michigan-based photographer who has documented weddings since 2001.
With a background in sales and marketing (he was previously in management at FedEx), Aten’s
interests naturally veer toward the business side of photography. He has since become a passionate educator and speaker about these topics (both for WPPI and CreativeLIVE)—helping
other photographers understand what it takes to successfully master their books. Visit his blog,
startingoutright.net, as well as the company website, ninetyninebeans.com, for tips on tax
preparation, plans and pricing, white papers, free guides and more.
| THE MONEY ISSUE |
Where Do I Start?
It may seem basic, but for photographers who are evolving their
businesses from a part-time hobby to a full-time career, it can be
an overwhelming idea. Aten’s advice? “Start by tracking your
income and expenses by line of service.”
In practice, when shooting different genres—weddings, families,
senior portraits, commercial—think of everything as a separate
service and track your income to see how much you made from
For expenses, break it down by cost of goods sold (expenses that
you pay for—for instance lab printing, retouching, album design)
and fixed expenses (insurance, gear, annual subscriptions and an
accountant/attorney). “The bottom line is if you track everything,
at least [an accountant or tax professional] can come along later
and help you make sense of it,” Aten says.
Why Should I Bother to Bookkeep?
This is a general question related to more detailed bookkeeping
questions photographers often ask, but Aten advises organized
bookkeeping as one of the most important factors in making money.
“Most photographers enter accounting with the frame-of-mind ‘in
April I have to do my taxes,’” Aten says. “We want to help photogra-
phers see that creating an accounting system can help you grow your
business and make money, not just avoid being audited.” You can
stick with the old faithful QuickBooks, but Aten recommends
the cloud-based bookkeeping software, Kashoo ( kashoo.com):
“It helps you run reports, make decisions about where to cut
expenses and focus on where your business is profitable.”
What About Taxes?
Arguably the most complicated question because it all depends on
your state’s interpretation of services, tax laws, and can be nuanced
depending on how you deliver your product or service.
Bottom line? “Stop thinking about tax as something you ‘charge,’”
Aten advises. “That implies you have control over it. Instead,
recognize that your job is to collect sales tax on behalf of
the state. Every state has different laws, but your obligation is
to collect sales tax, and it’s illegal not to. If you’re ever in doubt
of a particular situation, it’s better to be safe and collect the
sales tax. If you don’t, it’s not the customer that will be penalized, it’s your business. If they didn’t owe sales tax, the client
can always get a refund.” (Turn to p. 66 for more detailed
sales tax information.)
Overall, Aten advises cultivating a relationship with an accountant who is familiar with small business. On the following pages,
we tap into NinetyNine Beans’ best pieces of advice, with specific
tips on how to organize your “beans” for success this year.
as told to Jessica Gordon
NinetyNine Beans is a full-service accounting and bookkeeping company for photographers.
Below, NinetyNine Beans co-owner and consultant, Jason Aten, shares the three most-asked
questions he receives from photographers, and gives his most simple answers.