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Archive for April, 2015

Business Planning

April 29th, 2015 at 09:58 am

When I first started my photography business, it came about as a "maybe I could do this for money" experiment. Now it's something a bit more, but I've noticed that the important elements of my business - brand, client management, administration and accounting, and marketing - have all kind of evolved ad hoc.

Now, I'm trying to do the work of formalizing everything and planning to go from where I am to where I really want to be. Income for the most part is steady, but I'd like to focus more on transitioning to a boutique model - taking on less clients, but focusing on giving them an amazing experience.

So for the last week I've been really trying to nail down who my ideal client is, what sorts of products I'd really like to be focusing on, and how I should be shaping those important elements of the business.

Needless to say, it's been a busy week! Throw in a wedding this past weekend, and one coming up... I'm going to be out of steam before long!

Nonetheless, it's got me really excited about where things can go, and I feel a lot more secure about transitioning the brand (and my physical location!) with a plan in place. I have a hard time narrowing my focus - I tend to want to do everything, and be everything to everyone. But I'm comfortable with where I'm headed, and right now I'm feeling a lot of momentum. I just have to figure out the details of how the transition will take place, what timing makes sense, and how I can lessen the blow of a rebranding effort. Thankfully, I'm not several years in - so I think it'll be pretty easy. Restructuring my website and building out a customer database that's optimal will be the real work of it. Oh, and hiring an accountant. That needs to happen soon.

So that's that.

***

As for spending, things have been pretty good. I paid all of the May bills I could. No real spending on things I don't need.

I transferred $1,000 to A to start my repayment of my tax money, so that's some progress.

Also collected some client payments this week, and got another booking for 2016! So I'll have a deposit coming in on top of that.

I have to say I'm ready to be leaving April. This was a pretty crazy month for me financially, with taxes due and my ill preparedness. But things are looking up! I'm feeling ready for the fresh start of the spring - and ready for it to start actually feeling like spring. Bring on the warm weather!

Playing Catchup

April 21st, 2015 at 05:09 am

Now that things have settled down on the tax front, and business has started picking up... it's time to play catchup! Time to start tackling those goals:

[ ] Pay A back for taxes ($4,800)
[ ] Save for EF ($2,000)
[ ] Pay down CCs (approx. $5,000)
[ ] Pay down Sallie Mae Loan (It's at $10,300ish right now. A constant battle...)

I also need to set up my estimated tax payments. So I don't end up with this problem next year.

That being said, I got a $1,400 payment in the mail yesterday (woo!) and have another about the same before the end of the week (woo again!). Right now I have about $2,645 to work with, and that second payment will bring me up to almost $4,000.

So now comes the matter of allocating money.

I'll pay my bills first, of course. Then I'll set aside the $1,656 I'll need for my Q1 estimated tax payment, and anything left goes to A. Next month I should be able to pay off the remainder of the tax money I owe - as I'll be *hopefully* finishing up a project that has a $7,000 value. My plan is also to put money into my savings next month. I don't have enough booked out for June and July to cover my expenses yet.

***

In other news, I got an email from the readiness NCO at my former unit - my army contract ended back in November, and we're still trying to get my student loan payments in order. She sent me forms to fill out and I was confused, as I had just filled them out last year and hadn't seen a payment posted yet.

She said the new forms are for my final payment. So I'm going in there next week to finish up the final steps and get some timeframe for when the payments will be made. My contract included $18k in student loan repayment, which will eliminate about 30% of my debt. Not bad. Unfortunately, it will likely only cover my non-private loans (which are the ones without astronomical interest rates). But I'm certainly not going to complain. That's $18k I wouldn't have had otherwise! I just hope we finally get it in motion. I was in the military for 6 years, and that paperwork is such craziness that it hasn't been until now that we're starting to get it right. ugh.

***

I think that's it for me now. I hope you all have a wonderful day!

Back to Normal

April 20th, 2015 at 05:33 am

This has been a rather crazy month - my business has been picking up, which is phenomenal, but comes with an adjustment period. We had 2 big birthdays the first week, and celebrated my fiance's just this past weekend. And, of course, taxes were due.

We had A's surprise hotel 30th Birthday party Saturday. It went absolutely well, and I would count it a huge success. I spent $279 on the room, but friends covered our meals and drinks at dinner (very nice of them) and a couple of other friends provided drinks and snacks for the room. We decked out the hotel room in silly decorations, and probably over 100 photos of A as a kid. It was pretty funny. After our little celebration, we hit the casino - where A quickly made $800 at the roulette table! We decided to stop there, and bought everyone a round of drinks, then headed back to the room. It seemed that everyone enjoyed themselves - and A loved the surprise. Which was all that mattered, of course Smile Such fun, but I'm so glad that we're done with celebrations for the month. I'm not sure my body could handle more crazy party nights.

***

Taxes have been deducted from my account, so I'm feeling more comfortable and solid about my bank account again. Whereas I know roughly what is *in* the account after deducting the big sums, I like it just being gone so I don't have to do any mental math. Which I'm generally awful at. haha.

***

Update on A's job situation: After a few more days of thinking it over and discussing it with a couple close friends, he decided to take his old job back. He feels it would give him time to explore what he really wants to do while having a steady paycheck. This is, of course, what I wanted him to do - and I looked him in the eye a few different times and made sure that's really what he wants and he isn't just doing it because it's what I want him to do. I'd hate for him to live in regret or feel resentful because he felt pressured to make a decision. Even if I believe it was the right one.

He swears up and down it's how he feels, so I'm very proud of him and grateful that he's willing to sacrifice exploring something new now to put in the time and research necessary to find a real path and plan.

He let his old boss know last week, and now they're sending it up the chain to make sure the people above him are on board. So it's still not set in stone, but he'll be meeting with them in the next couple of weeks to discuss and sort out details if it's a go.

Assuming everything will work out, we're going to for sure move in a year, as we planned before this crisis of identity came to pass. So I think we're both feeling more secure in that certainty. Hopefully everything will gel quickly - as I need to start doing my own leg work transitioning my business to another city, without any real network or connection to that market.

***

Speaking of networks, I went with a friend this last week to a networking group called BNI. Apparently it's a worldwide referral-based networking franchise. The group in our city is just getting off the ground and is in the formation stages, but it seems like it could be a good place to start getting more B2B clients. The membership fees are a bit pricey - it's a little over $100 to apply (I'm sure I would get in) and it's about $400/year after that. Steep, but if it actually brought me business I'm obviously happy putting the money there. If I got one referral it would likely pay for itself. So I'm 97% certain I'll be joining.

I just feel that traditional advertising in the photography business is a bit of a waste - with the market being so saturated, I rely a lot on word of mouth and my network. And the nice thing about this group is that I have exclusivity in my category - so I would be the only photographer on board. I paid $300 for a table at a bridal show, so shelling out $500 for a group that meets weekly seems like a worthwhile investment.

***

So that's that. Things are calming down just in time for my business to really start ramping up! That being said, I should get to work - I really have to focus on staying on top of everything!

I hope everyone has a fantastic Monday!

Taxes Finished and a Whole New Kink

April 15th, 2015 at 07:11 am

So I filed my federal and state tax returns on Monday, and got my local forms handed in yesterday - just under the wire! I'm not one of those people that tends to complain about the "government taking my money." I completely understand the value of giving back for the greater good, and though our system is defective at best, it's important.

That being said... ouch. Better planning for 2015 is in order. And I really need to get an accountant for next year.

***

Today has already been a bit stressful. My fiance can't stand his job, and he's been back and forth on what he wants to do about it. He really has 3 general options - he can stay working his current job (which is really not an option, he's miserable). He could take back his previous job at the same place - an offer that was made to him by his old boss. The only catch here is that he would be expected to stay on for at least 2 years (understandable). We're planning to move a year from now, and he was told that he could work his second year remotely. To me, this is a no-brainer decision. He wasn't terribly excited by his last job, but it paid well, he had reasonable hours, and he wasn't stressed all the time. Beyond that, having reliable income lined up while we're getting adjusted in the new city brings an incredible amount of security to that situation. But he's not excited by what he's doing and doesn't really care for the industry he's in. Part of me just wants to tell him to get over it... because honestly, he's got it so good there. Most people I know aren't working their dream jobs. They're working a job that allows them to live the lifestyle they want. And his job would more than do that. But then again, I want to be supportive and of course want him to work a job that he loves and is excited over.

But that brings us to option 3 - leaving the bank he works for, and the financial industry, altogether. I'm all for that, but he's got no plan. He hasn't even begun looking at other jobs, and wants to tell his boss he's leaving in 2 months. Because for whatever reason he needs there to be a definitive end date to "light a fire" under him to start looking. What?!

I get that he wants out of his job, but he's got to think a little longer term than that. I feel like he should at least have an idea of what he might apply to... sigh.

He says he wants to find a job in academia. But without having a PhD or being a student, it's difficult to find research positions (what he would want). Last night he said he definitely wanted to go back to school to get his PhD (likely disrupting our moving plans, which is fine). This morning he says he definitely wants to move instead... it's just very clear that he's not terribly committed one way or another. And all the while he's depressed and feels doom and gloom that he has to stay at his company. Which is not true. He just refuses for whatever reason to start doing any research into what he wants to do.

Thankfully he's got enough put away to cover living expenses for even the rest of the year if need be - I'm not so much worried about that as I am him finding himself in another job that he's not passionate about because he haphazardly just found something that isn't what he's doing now. I don't think he's going to find peace being reactionary. And I also think he's got wildly unrealistic ideas about the kinds of jobs available out there (particularly because he hasn't actually looked for any).

So the next year is pretty uncertain at this point. haha. That being said, I know we'll figure it out. He just has to figure out what it is that he wants to do. Then we can start laying out how to get there and what makes sense in the short term.

It's just so painful to see him stressed and overwhelmed. So I hope we figure it out sooner than later. In the end, his happiness is what is important. Everything else is just details.

Sunday Funday

April 12th, 2015 at 07:32 am

And by that I mean, I'm cleaning and working out. haha. The fiance's parents and sister are coming up to have dinner for his birthday, which was earlier in the week. It'll be a nice day Smile

Spending this week was a little more than expected with his B-day. I got him an e-cigarette as a gift, as he's quitting smoking. We also had a really nice steak dinner that was almost $100. I have a separate budget for his birthday stuff this month, so I'm still not exceeding anything on my usual budgets.

Next weekend we'll be doing our "big" celebration, and I'll be spending quite a bit. Thankfully, I've taken on a couple more projects this week, and I'm getting paid for a big one soon. I'd feel guilty for the spending, but honestly he's helped me so much financially in the past few years. His 30th deserves to be big.

Speaking of his helping me, we transferred $4,800 to my account yesterday so I can finish filing my taxes. The payback period will begin as soon as I have this month all figured out.

The only other expense I had this week were the save the dates for the wedding - I designed them myself and the printing was pretty cheap. We spent under $50. Now it's time to collect those addresses!

Coming up this week, I need to make my car payment, take care of the cable bill, and grab some more groceries (though that should be no more than $30).

It's going to be a fairly busy week - I've got a prospective client meeting tomorrow morning. Thursday I'm going to this BNI networking meeting - to check it out, and evaluate whether or not the dues are worth the referrals I would get. I don't mind paying a few hundred dollars if it actually pays off. And I feel like the corporate side of my business is something that is expanding quickly, and really well suited to my background in marketing. Saturday I've got a baby session in the morning and then I'm photographing an event in the evening - then going directly to dinner with friends, and then to the hotel room to party for the fiance's party.

It'll go quickly, but I've still got so much planning to do!

Hope you all enjoy the rest of your Sunday Smile

Mid-Week Update

April 8th, 2015 at 05:30 am

It's been a low-spend week so far - and a productive one! So things are looking good right now. I'll be heading to the grocery store to pick up a couple of things, but it shouldn't be more than $15 worth of items.

I do need to drop off my car payment, but beyond that my bills are current.

I spent some time the other day going through my monthly budget and making things a bit more realistic based on my actual spending. I mapped it out for the rest of the year, so I had an accurate number for each month, particularly for expenses that happen a limited number of times per year. It also gave me a better understanding of some of my recurring monthly expenses that have gotten away from my estimates (particularly business expenses). I decided to cancel a couple of them because I'm probably not using them enough to warrant the expense.

Also need to send back a pair of shoes I purchased on Zappos. They don't fit, and in all honesty I don't really *need* them, so back they go. More money in my account.

***

It's my fiance's 30th Birthday tomorrow, and it's really going to be a couple of weeks' worth of celebrating. Tomorrow I'm taking the day off work to hang out with him. I'm going to make breakfast, and we'll probably go out to dinner.

Next weekend I'm throwing him a surprise party, and getting a hotel room downtown for the night. So from a financial standpoint, that should be it - but of course I want to get him a gift as well. I'm going to keep it as simple as possible. Mostly because I just don't have the cash to do anything crazy. But the guy is letting me borrow over $5k for my taxes. And he only turns 30 once! I'm going to get him an e-cig starter set, as he's quitting smoking after his birthday (hooray!). If I can come up with anything else cool in the next 24 hours, I'll do that as well, but I feel like that will be enough.

So that's it - Things are moving along, and business is picking up. Just have to keep swimming Smile

Well, that was rough.

April 4th, 2015 at 06:31 am

I have this bad habit - one I'm sure I share with many people in this country and around the world, but a bad one nonetheless. If you ignore something, it isn't real. You don't have to deal with it. If something is ailing my body, I don't go to the doctor. A diagnosis acknowledges its existence. Kind of like once you name that stray dog you took in, you know that dog is yours forever.

This time, it was taxes. It's April, and the deadline is quickly approaching. I hadn't actually started filing until this past week. I knew it was going to be bad, but I didn't have to acknowledge just how bad until I actually saw a number. So I lived my merry, blissful life spending what I wanted ignorant of the actual damage.

Now that I've seen the number, it's a pretty big blow, and the comfort of that ignorance is pretty much shattered. More so because I underestimated what I would owe by about $2,000. And my savings have dwindled in the last few months while business has been painfully, painfully slow. This is my first year living solely on my business income (without a rather large contracted, part-time job to cover me in the winter months). I didn't realize just how much I was going to need to save prior to the winter to really get me through. Or what my tax burden really is.

Make no mistake, this was all my responsibility and poor planning. But in some ways, this was a good learning experience for me.

All I can say is that I'm thankful I have a fiance that is able and willing to lend me the money until business picks up. Because if I didn't, I'm not sure what I would do. I really am so very lucky. I feel terrible regardless asking him to front me $4,500 - but I'm confident I'll be able to pay him back in the next few months, so it will all be fine.

I just need to start paying estimated taxes during the course of the year and saving for next winter. Really, I should have been paying estimated taxes all of 2014 - but in honesty, never really learned how to go about doing that (I'm sure it's not difficult). I do for my local taxes, but not federal.

I think the biggest learning experience is understanding just how much of my income I'm going to be able to realistically use. I need to do a better job of budgeting my income in an after-taxes capacity.

Again, these are all things that I should have been doing this year. But nothing I can do about it now but move forward a smarter, more responsible person. And next year not be silly and ignore the problem until it solidifies into a tangible emergency. I've really let things go in the financial department, and it's time to start picking up the pieces.

Sheesh. Being a grown up is hard.

***

In other (better) news, we took our trip to Nashville last week to scope out neighborhoods and get a feel for whether we'd like to move there. I'm happy to say we loved it, and it showed the positive side of things feeling more "real" by actually naming and experiencing them.

We're both definitely ready for a change, and it seems like it's got a lot to offer at a rather affordable cost of living (at least compared to some of the other cities we were considering). It's got a great night life, a few neighborhoods that we really enjoyed, full of creative people doing what they love. And, of course, the (much) warmer weather is a huge plus. So as of right now, I'm 98% certain we'll be moving there next May when our lease expires.

So yay for that!

***

And an update re: work - things are starting to pick up, and it feels good to be busy again (and, of course, having a stream of money coming in).

So that's my life right now. Time to get to work!