Photographers – Liar Liar Pants on Fire?

Almost every day, a specific photographer’s paid advertisements show up in my newsfeed.  He touts himself as a million $ photographer who has made millions and you can to, for a fee of course, or if you read the articles, it will eventually bait you for buying something.

Some of his business articles are well done – I will give him that – but just because it’s a good general business article doesn’t mean it applies to the CURRENT state of the industry…..and frankly, we really need to look at reality….

Liar, Liar, pants on fire.

Well, there’s this little tool at www.beenverified.com – I highly encourage you all to look into it if curiosity gets the best of you when reading the latest secret-to-photography-success article or webinar or whatever by a photographer.  For less than $30, you can have 30 days to look up public records at your leisure and figure out who is real and who is lying – and by lying I mean, A FALSE PORTRAYAL OF ONE’S CURRENT SUCCESS with real photography clients, not with the revenue picked up from selling to other photographers.

Reading public records, I was floored to see 25+ back tax liens on this photographer (and hooooo boy…. you should see the many others I looked up as well….the ones that sell all kinds of marketing tools to photographers claiming to give you the secrets to success).

dream photographyIt seems that photographers are keeping quiet about these things because many are afraid they will be “found out.”  Well guess what folks, I’m not afraid of it.  I’m tired of the hypocrisy.  Look me up too!  I have nothing to hide (My story below).

I don’t doubt that he and others that are selling this “dream” once had success.  I don’t doubt that at all.  Many of us did.  My business brought in hundreds of thousands every year.  I know that type of success.  It was a wonderful time…..

BUT THAT PARTICULAR SITUATION DOESN’T EXIST ANYMORE

The Truth About Tax Liens

Are you a small business?  You are f#&k#d!

Many successful small businesses have dealt with back taxes because small businesses are, for lack of a better term, completely screwed by the U.S. Government in many many ways.  A CEO or partner in a large corporation can make one million in a year and may only have to pay 15% in taxes.   This is not the same for small businesses.  A small business owner who brings in $200,000 (or has that equivalent in their household) has to pay 50% or more in taxes.  Unfair?  Yes it is.  Go study Federal Taxation for a semester, and your eyes will be opened.  ……and take that to the voting booths with you (although I doubt it will help – our system was specifically designed to keep giving boosts to the top corporate business execs).

Tax liens are actually quite common especially among photographers.

It is not unusual for a small business, when experiencing unusual growth, to acquire back taxes which may lead to a tax lien or two.  In fact, you would be shocked how many big-name photographers are in that same boat (or worse).  However, 20+ is rather excessive and indicates a major problem especially if said photographer continues to “sell the dream” to other photographers and prey upon that little piece of hope that some have that they will fulfill their dreams if they just had that magic button.

That Hope

Hope?  Did you say hope?  You know that tiny piece of hope you have that the photography industry is going to turn around?  We all have it.  I have it too.  There’s a tiny piece of me that although I have “moved on” and do photography very part time now as I have a substantial day job and finishing my degrees…. that tiny piece of me still holds out hope that the 20 or so inquiries I receive per week will result in steady full-time bookings again.

It saddens me that there are people out there ready to exploit that tiny piece of hope and make money off of it.

The Old Dream

Myself, and many other photographers had the old dream years ago…

  • We used to be sought out for our work.  We were artists.  Our work spoke for itself.
  • There was more demand than supply.   We did not have to market very often, and our prices reflected the exclusive nature of what we did.
  • We made hundreds of thousands per year.  Don’t get me wrong, we worked long hours, but we had tangible success.  We were successful business people and felt valued and appreciated for our talents.
  • We had so many clients that we had to turn many away.  Full-priced, full-length portrait sessions just poured into our studios.

The New Dream

Realistically….

  • If you dream of just being able to make your bills with a couple photography sessions here and there or just want a little something to supplement household income – great, you can still have THAT dream.
  • If you want the bigger money (but not the money that once was because that’s gone) – be prepared to work excessive hours (photography and your business constantly on your mind – don’t fool yourself – you will be unable to leave your work at work) and 85% of that time needs to be devoted to marketing.  Think you are marketing enough?  Think again.  You can never market enough.  You are not the “artist”, you must be primarily a marketing genius.
  • For most who are still declaring their success, photography clients are not enough… many have to supplement their photography client income by selling to other photographers BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO (although they tell you or imply that their income comes from photography clients only – omission or misleading is a form of lying).

million dollar photographerMy Truth – and the Truth of Many

Yes, I said the truth of many…. the amount of photographers who have opened up to me or I have seen their public records – I’m not alone…. you would be shocked.

So if you look ME up, what will you find?  I told you, I have nothing to hide.  I will never try to sell you the dream.  THAT particular dream is GONE.

At the end of 2009 (I had brought in between $300,000 and $400,000 in sales revenue), my tax preparer (not a CPA – my bad – should have done more research on her as she kept insisting that I file my LLC as a pass-through entity as a sole proprietor not as an S-corp because she was not “qualified” to submit that paperwork), told me I owed $60,000 in taxes at the end of the year.  I thought – okay, this is a lot, but I can handle this, business is booming… I will buckle down and pay that back.  The entire year of 2010, I chipped away at that bill.  I paid back approximately $40,000 of that.  At the end of 2010, I was proud of what I was able to pay back, but I had a big payout from a commercial shoot at the wrong time, and my tax preparer informed me that I owed $70,000 in addition which put me $90,000 in back taxes.

So did you gasp at $60,000, $70,000 or $90,000?  Oh wait, there’s more….

In 2012, my sales revenue dropped by about $150,000 (and don’t start with me, sellers-of-the-dream, I evolved… I evolved my rear end off – don’t even feed me the passive aggressive terms – I have real business education behind me and a successful business track record prior to the photography industry sinking).  By the end of that year, I owed another $20,000.  With that, my total federal tax burden became $110,000.  Add penalties and interest, and welcome to the ‘ol hamster wheel of back taxes that becomes absolutely impossible to pay back.   Unless……………………..

How do you live with yourself?

………………Unless I was willing to go out there and start selling the dream to the wide-eyed newbies who don’t know any better…. but then…. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I did so.  

Let’s weigh…………..  deceit and money? …………… or truth.

I get it.  You are desperate.  You are in a bind.  You lived your life high up there with the cash flow that was amazing and then it disappeared (no fault of yours, it’s as simple as supply and demand).  So you had a few back taxes?  The industry will get better, right?  No… it hasn’t… so you are desperate to make money…. but….. here’s my personal question….

So tell me – how do you photographers, who pretend to be incredibly successful in the current market (and who are obviously hoping no one looks up their public records) live with yourselves by falsely portraying (by misleading or omitting details of) your current state of “success” or falsely portraying that big dream out there in order to make money off of those (newbies or otherwise) who believe you?

I guess I should stop worrying about the victims out there, huh?  I should simply just feel “well, if they pay for it, they are suckers, that’s their problem…”  Can’t help it – there’s a part of me that does care about others and hope they can start to see through this icky mess.

Should we be taking a stand as photographers, as ethical human beings, and put an end to this false dream-selling that other photographers are doing?