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When Your Partner Isn’t A Photographer: Three Things To Know About Money

It’s Saturday afternoon, and a discussion about money isn’t exactly….going as planned.

Maybe your spouse is wondering why you can’t wait to register a domain name for a few months, since you just bought a camera, a lens, a logo, and a set of newborn props.

Maybe you dream of photographing fast-action sports, but your spouse says you should stick to weddings since “that’s where the money is.”

Or maybe you’ve spent hours researching an educational seminar that you know will help you grow your business, but your spouse plants their feet and says until you start making money with this “hobby” of yours, you can’t spend any more on photography.

Being a photographer is hard in and of itself.

But the highs and lows of this profession are often hardest on those we love.  Not only must they support us through financial and emotional difficulty, they often do it without really understanding the profession, or why on earth we’d want to put ourselves through such craziness.

I wanted to write a post with solid advice for keeping the love alive when your spouse or significant other isn’t a photographer.  I sent out an email requesting your thoughts and experiences – and dozens of you replied.  I had dreamed of summing it all up in one tidy post.  But of course, you all are such insightful geniuses that there were more gems than can be covered in a single sitting.

So we’ll start with one subject – the big hot button issue that the most people brought up.

Money.

Namely, how to handle it, discuss it, and keep it from causing more problems than its worth.

Of course, every relationship is different, and will require different solutions.  Maybe there are suggestions here that won’t work for you.

But there are three things your fellow photographers and I think you should know when approaching money, your spouse, and your business.

Deep breaths:

#1:  Be honest – with yourself and your spouse – about WHY you are doing photography.

If your husband wanted to start a business building birdhouses out of popsicle sticks, you’d probably hear him out.  If he convinced you there was a huge market for popsicle stick birdhouses and he thought he could make some money working from home, you might even agree to fund the startup costs.

But if after six months of constant work he hadn’t sold a single birdhouse, you’d probably start to get antsy.  Especially if he came to you wanting to spend more money on extra glue guns.

“Honey,” you’d say, “wasn’t this supposed to be an easy way to make money?  I love you, but no one seems to be buying your birdhouses.  I don’t see why spending more money on more glue guns is going to make any difference.”

This doesn’t necessarily make you an unsupportive spouse – you’re just wisely pointing out that this business venture isn’t going like he thought it would.

But what if, instead, your husband had come to you and said: “Honey, this is going to sound crazy, but I’ve always dreamed of selling birdhouses made from popsicle sticks.  It brings me so much joy to work with the wood, to find creative new designs, and to see the glowing faces of people who buy them and get to watch happy birds out their window.  I want to start a business selling them, and it’s going to take awhile, but it brings me enough joy that it’s worth the work.”

You might still be frustrated if, at six months, he hadn’t sold a single birdhouse.  But you’d understand that he wasn’t in this just to make money.  It brings him joy. 

And something that brings your spouse joy has merit in and of itself.

As you’re starting your photography business, it’s probably inadvisable to rely on the promise of more income to drum up spousal support.  That might be the quickest way to get someone excited, but it can also backfire in a big way:

If you use money alone to justify what you’re doing, then expect your spouse to point to a lack of money as a reason to quit.

It’s going to take awhile to build a flourishing business.  And the costs of time and money will always be larger than you think.   So be honest from the beginning about all the reasons why you want to do this.  If they have a realistic idea about the time frame it will take to start turning a profit, and they know that the journey is also helping you feel happy and fulfilled in the meantime, it will help them weather the lean times with you.

That being said:

#2  Your business is a business.  Mutually agree to treat it as such from the beginning.

To do otherwise sets you up for constant frustration:

“My husband has always expressed his support for my ‘talent’ but he has been less than willing to acknowledge my photography as a real business as opposed to a hobby. Thus, investing in new equipment, a proper website, education etc. has been a struggle and, frankly, not happened. I do everything on a shoe string budget which can be very frustrating.”

Be clear with each other:  Running any profitable business is going to cost money.  Probably more than you think, and much more than your spouse is imagining.

If you’re going to run a photography business, then you BOTH need to acknowledge the investment it will require.

That means you should write down a plan for your business, and schedule a time to sit down together and go through it.

If you wanted to start a restaurant, you wouldn’t randomly call your investors to ask for more money every time something came up. 

You’d set a budget, discuss what you needed, set a timeline for acquiring each thing.  You’d have an honest conversation about how long you’d all be willing to wait until you make up the initial investment and turn a profit.  (For many business, including photography, don’t be surprised if it takes many months to do).  You would make compromises about what was and was not essential.  You’d also set up future meetings to keep everyone on the same page as the situation evolved.

Treat your significant other with the same respect you would any investor.  They are, indeed, investing – emotionally and financially – in this adventure with you.  So be organized, do your homework, and write a business plan.

Don’t let the supposed formality of a ‘business plan’ intimidate you – call it a “Cash Machine Super Plan” if you have to.

A business plan (*cough,* Cash Machine Super Plan, *cough*) simply outlines what you want to provide, who you want to provide it to, how you’re going to market yourself, how you’re going to stand apart from everyone else, and a budget of estimated expenses.

All of these things are CRITICAL to understand before you start spending money.  If you can’t articulate what you’re going to sell or who you’re going to sell it to, you don’t have a business. 

Don’t skip this step, don’t moan about how long it’s going to take (not as long as digging yourself out of a misguided business hole, I promise), and definitely don’t worry about making it perfect.  You probably have most of the ideas in your head already – this step is simply about articulating them.  I wrote out my business plan (using the helpful guide found here) while waiting for my tires and oil to be changed.  Get it on paper, and refine as you go.

Once the business/happy plan is finished (or at least outlined), sit down with your spouse and have an investment meeting. 

Carve out space in your schedules to walk through your business plan.  Explain what you want to achieve with this business, and how it will fit into your lives.  Go through the expense list line by line, and explain to them what each purchase will achieve.

Give them a chance to ask questions, and spend as much time listening as you do talking.  After all, YOU spend all day reading about photography, not them.  They may not know why business insurance or a backup lens might be justifiable expenses.  Be patient.

(And by the way – if you can’t clearly articulate how each purchase is absolutely essential to helping you carry out your business plan, scratch it off the list!)

For everyone’s sanity, we strongly recommend that you discuss both HOW and HOW MUCH you, as a family, are going to invest in your new business. 

It makes for crabby significant others if you buy a camera, then come back with an ever-increasing stream of business requests:  Web hosting, domain names, business licensing and insurance, education, a lawyer to draw up a contract, sample prints, etc.  Far better to overview these expenses up front, and set a sum (or a schedule) for funding them.

Discuss how you’re going to invest – you might decide to set aside one lump sum of “seed capital” in a separate business account to get you going.  Or you might deposit a set amount into a separate business account monthly, allowing you to save for the needed expenses.

Also discuss how much Will it be just enough to buy a few bare-bones essentials, with you getting by afterwards on “bootstrapping” (meaning that a certain percentage from every sale you make goes right back into the business)?  Or will you set follow-up “investment meetings” to discuss purchases as they arise?  Talk about the potential implications that either method will have on how fast you’ll be able to grow.

It doesn’t really matter what you end up deciding.  The important part is that you treat it like you would treat any business.

#3:  Even if you completely ignore #2…

Whatever you do, virtually everyone who wrote in agreed:

Keep business money separate from personal money.

“I keep the finances separate, so I’m not cutting into the grocery bill when I buy a piece of equipment.”

Not only is paying for a business out of a personal checking account an accounting/taxes nightmare, it also sets you up for cash-on-hand issues.

You also might need to renew your web hosting now, but – whoops! – Johnnie broke his glasses yesterday and you have to empty the checking account at Lenscrafters instead.  You get the picture.  Keep business cash separate.

Final note about money:

It’s just money.  Printed paper, numbers on a computer screen.  Yes, it matters a lot.  But it is far less valuable than a loving relationship.

I appreciated what one photographer wrote in:

“Money causes so many issues in many families, and you don’t want your passion, your business, to cause more of those issues. I went three months this year without a shoot – so I went three months this year without purchasing anything for my business. It’s just not worth the emotional strain you could be putting on yourself, your marriage, and your family, by purchasing something you can’t afford.”

Amen.

And remember that money fights are more often about priorities than actual money.  If you find yourself in the middle of a fight, step back from the dollar signs and look at the priorities.

If both of you make each other your first priority, then everything else will go a lot more smoothly.

~  

Carey Anne - As always, solid advice!
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bessieakuba - Very solid! Forwarding this to my husband to read and then we’ll both discuss and work on it together ;)
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Eric T. Beck - Passion for the craft sometimes blinds artists to the realities of the business world, so your advice not only helps the significant people in an artist’s life to know what to expect, it more importantly obliges the artist to understand their own business – at least well enough to explain it to someone who loves them. If you cannot present your plan to someone who loves you, and who will give you the benefit of the doubt in all cases, then you probably don’t have a plan that will work, anyway. If you don’t know who your ideal client is, how you will market to that client, and how you will distinguish yourself to that client, how will you, much less the love of your life, know how to proceed – or even if you are succeeding?

If you are exquisitely acquainted with your dream client, then you are exquisitely prepared to show your loving investor what needs to be done and what you will do to reach and exquisitely satisfy that client.

Just the promotional material and sneak peeks into your e-book “From Portfolio to Profit Engine: How to Build an Irresistible Photography Website” alone contain the invaluable keys to not only irresistible websites, but to the core of business planning as well.

I once worked with a fellow, named Jim, who with his wife ran an Asian foods store. I often spoke with him about it. In addition to his regular job, he spent evenings and weekends working at the store. It was back-breaking labor which was only marginally profitable. I asked him why he did it. His response: because I love my wife. Awwww.

His wife is Vietnamese. In her culture, being a shopkeeper brings with it a high social status which, to her, is important. Not enough reason for me to work 120 hours per week. But it was to Jim. Why? Because Jim’s wife took the time to explain who her ideal customer was, and the true value she sought to obtain from the store. Money was only part of it. More important to her, and ultimately to Jim, was the side benefit (which was really the core reason for the business in the first place): the store was the meeting place and cultural center for the city’s Vietnamese emigrants and their extended families – and Jim’s wife was able to hold court from a position of honor and esteem. Because she shared with him her business plan and goals, Jim was able to not only love her, and support her, but to enjoy the real fruits of their labor as well – which in their case had little to do with money.

Your advice is great. Keep up the good work.

Allison - I love your real-world example here. Wonderful!
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Allison - I’m thrilled I could contribute a small part to such a wonderful article. :)
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Matt - Good article and good advice.
Business is business.

Ana W - Already shared with my husband: told him that pretty much everything I have been wanting to say to say to him is there…..ALL THERE! And then thanked him for his support.

Thank you, WE appreciate it.
Ana

Simon Wedding Snapper - Some great advice there. I just wish I had read it 4 years ago!
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Tina Lum - Recently, I got into photography as a hobby and started browsing through sites for photography tips. I was amazed to come across this emotional post. Being a serial entrepreneur (founded two companies..on my third business), I couldn’t help but see the similarities that all women entrepreneurs share across different industry. It’s tough starting your own company… it not only takes a mental toll on yourself, but also your family members. And you’re bang on about being passionate about your work. It’s the vision that keeps you going when times are tough. Thanks for the solid tips on communicating with your partner.

Ali Peterson - My husband has always been supportive of me owning my own photography business. In fact, it was HIS idea for me to start it. Being a business owner himself, he told me to give it 5 years, and if its not working by then, then I can give up if I want. Well, it’s been 4 1/2 years and although I am more confident in my work and valuing myself as a pro, I still hardly book sessions & almost never pay myself. It’s become very frustrating and disappointing to feel like I don’t contribute to our income (especially when i was making $25/hr at my last job). Currently, we’re on the tightest budget we’ve ever been on, and having just moved to another state, I’ve had to take a few steps back in my biz and get re-established. I try my hardest and implement everything I learn to grow my business, but it’s come to the point where I question whether I should call it quits. I just don’t know what to do now :(

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