Let’s talk about mistakes. We all make them and running a business can oftentimes feel like a lifetime of learning lessons. We recently tapped into Magi Fisher, luxury wedding photographer and licensed attorney for small businesses and entrepreneurs to give us the rundown on the top 7 mistakes she sees creatives use while running their businesses!
1. NOT USING LAWYER-COMPOSED CONTRACTS
When you run a business in the service industry, contracts aren’t just a good idea – they’re essential. Not only do they protect you, but a thoughtfully composed contract makes expectations, services, and deliverables clear from the get-go. This means your client knows exactly what they’re signing up for and can communicate any questions, concerns, or priorities before officially enlisting your services.
But hiring an attorney to create a custom set of contracts for your business can be extremely cost-prohibitive for a small business owner. But there is a solution – contract templates. Whether you need an NDA to an independent contractor agreement, a full-service contract, or something in between… a quick Google search will instantly populate a plethora of template options to purchase and download.
When choosing a legal template to purchase for your business, make sure it is written in easy to understand language and presented in an organized fashion. Remember, these contracts aren’t just fail-safes for your business – your client needs to be able to understand the terms so they can enter into the agreement with confidence. Additionally, make sure it is comprehensive for your industry. For example, a contract to enlist the services of a wedding photographer should include detailed policies that cover location limitations, cancellations, rescheduling, weather, harassment, safety, force majeure, and other emergencies.
Also, consider the source. You shouldn’t purchase contracts from anyone other than a licensed attorney; bonus points if their expertise is with creative, small businesses. Why? Laws and regulations are ever-changing and require a professional to stay up to date on them, and contracts require specific language and meticulous composition.
I decided to fill the gap and create some myself for creatives which are available at theartistslawyer.com. But whether you use mine or someone else's, make sure you review any customizations, additions, or alterations with an attorney practicing in your state for local compliance, and revisit them yearly to make sure they stay up to date with current legal best practices.
2. FORGETTING TO MAKE IT OFFICIAL
There are a few different ways to create a legal business entity – a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company (LLC), or a corporation, to name a few. For most creative, small business owners – especially those in service industries – forming an LLC typically makes the most sense. Essentially, an LLC keeps your personal assets protected (for example, if your business gets sued, they can’t come after your home to satisfy the lawsuit when you have an LLC but they can in a sole proprietorship).
Creating an LLC is super easy, and is one of the first steps you should take when forming your business. Search for “register a business” on your state’s website, and you should be directed to an online application. They might require rules, bylaws, or operating agreements and you will have to pay a filing fee, but the process is straightforward and can easily be completed in an afternoon. If you need any help with the filing process, feel free to reach out and we will guide you through the steps.
3. SPENDING TOO MUCH ON YOUR EDUCATION
Now don’t get me wrong; I am a firm believer that we should always be learning more, whether through going back to school, identifying a mentor, listening to industry-specific podcasts, reading books, attending workshops, or enrolling in online courses from industry professionals. These can all be invaluable tools in growing yourself and your business.
However, I want you to keep these two very important tips in mind:
First, do not use continuing education as a distraction. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling productive and having all of your time, money, and energy consumed by these learning ventures leaving you with nothing left to actually invest in your business. So find that balance of learning as you go, prioritizing the education that will add the most immediate value to your business and enhance the parts that only you can do.
Second, choose reputable sources. Do the research before clicking that signup button to make sure you’re taking a course from someone who has actual, proven experience in their field and positive reviews from former students. Your time, energy, and money are valuable, so ensure that each educational opportunity brings you a return on your investment.
4. FORGETTING ABOUT TAXES
I know – taxes are confusing and scary, but pretending they don’t exist won’t make them actually disappear. So let’s make them as simple and straightforward as possible. Set aside about ⅓ of your profits (your net income minus your business expenses) in a separate bank account for federal and state taxes. If you have a solid projection of your annual income, you can set up regular, automatic transfers from your business checking account to your business savings account for this purpose.
You need to pay your taxes 4 times a year – typically on the 15th of April, June, September, and January – and it’s important to be on time with payments. Taxes can be complex with many deduction opportunities for small business owners, I highly recommend working with a CPA who can guide you through your business finances and taxes.
5. BEING UNDERINSURED
There are 3 types of insurance your business needs (especially if you’re a service provider) – liability, professional liability, and equipment. Here’s a quick breakdown of what these mean:
- General liability insurance covers bodily injury and property damage (i.e. a client sues you because they slipped on the step of your studio and broke their ankle during your consultation session)
- Professional liability insurance covers against financial loss (i.e. a client sues you because they’re unhappy with the services you rendered)
- Equipment insurance protects the gear essential to doing your job (i.e. you’re a wedding photographer, and your camera lens gets scratched by a rogue branch during an event)
Many venues require professionals to carry a certain threshold insurance policy to work at their property, as well. Try reaching out to the company that provides your personal homeowner’s, renter’s, or auto insurance as a first quote, or reach out to a trusted insurance agent who can help point you in the direction of a company that specializes in policies for small business owners.
6. TRYING TO DO IT ALL
I’ll keep singing this from the rooftops: Outsourcing is one of the best investments you can make in your business. Not only does it free up your time and energy – because let’s face it, what will take you 1 hour to figure out, will take a professional bookkeeper 10 minutes – so you can focus on what you do best, but it’ll also actually protect you in the long run because it will be done correctly the first time.
I recommend every business owner budget to work with a CPA, a lawyer, and a trustworthy insurance agent from day one. Look for people who specialize in small businesses and offer flexibility in packages or an hourly rate rather than a retainer fee. And as you scale your business and your team, outsourcing payroll, human resources, and benefits is a smart move.
7. MIXING BUSINESS & PLEASURE
This one is pretty straightforward – and it’s actually really easy to do! Keep your business bank accounts separate from your personal, even if you don’t have a single employee. Why? Mixing your expenses is not only a bookkeeping nightmare, but it also puts you at risk of losing the liability protection of your LLC. And I’m talking ALL your accounts – checking, savings, credit cards, Paypal, Square, etc.
All you need is an EIN (employer identification number), which you’ll receive when you create your official legal entity with your state. You’ll want to make sure you’re keeping track of all business income as well as any business-related expenses for tax purposes. I like Bench Accounting, which takes care of categorizing and tracking all of my income and expenses, and then delivering that information to my accountant at the end of the year!
The bottom line is always to keep your business and personal accounts and funds separate and keep track of it all for tax purposes.
Still need a bit of clarification and some help? Check out my offerings here!
MAGI FISHER BIO
Magi is a lawyer, educator, photographer, storyteller, traveler, and entrepreneur. Her journey has taken her from photographing professional surfers while swimming in some of the world's most epic waves to receiving a Juris Doctorate from Rutgers Law. If she's not photographing a wedding with her husband, Scott, in a remote locale, managing her team of Associate Photographers, or providing legal counsel to creative business owners, she's probably eating an acai bowl, chasing her pup, Arti, around the beach, or watching SVU reruns in her bungalow. See more of her work here.
This information is made available for educational and general informational purposes only; it is not legal advice for an individual case nor does it guarantee any future result. This material may be improved upon or updated without notice, and Magi Fisher will not be held responsible for any outcomes as a result of this education. Do not act upon this information without seeking individual advice from a lawyer licensed in your state. You understand that viewing this information does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and Magi Fisher.