Case Study: How Cloud-Based Accounting Software Helped Turn My Passion Into A Career

December 19, 2016


freelance photographyWhen I was younger, I was always the girl with the camera. I got my start in high school taking pictures of local bands, but never thought of it as a “career.” Then in my 20s it dawned on me that maybe I should explore pursuing this passion professionally as a freelance photographer.

I actually started out using film, which is pretty rare these days. I learned the basics the hard way. There was no way to shoot and then immediately check to see if you got the shot. It was more a matter of taking a picture and holding your breath as you waited for the film to be developed in the hopes it would turn out right.

Back then, I had no idea the doors photography would open for me. I’ve been shooting for MuchMusic.com for the last six years at the annual Much Music Video Awards. They’re the website for a big music station in Canada, and considering the influence music has had on my life choices, it feels like I’ve come full circle.  I went from shooting photos where I grew up, which is a tiny town of 600 people, to taking photos of Aerosmith!

Passion Becomes a Profession

This might come as a shock to some, but I’m not an accountant and I’m horrible with numbers. I’m a photographer. I take pictures. So, when I first started my business Sandra-Lee Photography, I took a local course on film photography that included a crash course in accounting. My instructor was old school and he taught us to do everything by hand. But, I’m a technical person and decided to experiment with an accounting program.

It’s fair to say that I struggled to run my business using the popular accounting programs available at the time. I worked on a Mac, but used a PC for my home computer. Back then, most accounting programs were PC based, which prevented me from accessing my bookkeeping on the go.

I knew I needed a better solution and decided to do a little crowdsourcing and asked my Facebook network if anyone knew of a better accounting platform. Someone suggested FreshBooks, so I signed up immediately. It felt like kismet and I was smitten.

While I was a professional making money and had taken an accounting course, FreshBooks helped me kick my professionalism up a notch. I had been a young artist starting out who had no idea how to do the basics. I couldn’t get anything to balance and spent too much time working on my books. Now, I can invite my accountant into FreshBooks and she can take care of my taxes because everything is already organized for her.

freelance photographer

When It Comes to Customer Service, Don’t Forget Accounting

As a photographer, I deal with a lot of people. I shoot weddings, music, portraits—a lot of families, lifestyle stuff. I like capturing people interacting in their daily life, which means I’m frequently traveling. With the FreshBooks mobile app, I’m able to keep track of receipts easily, no matter where I am. Instead of keeping them in a plastic bag—true story—I store them on my phone using the Expenses tab. And, if a client wants to see their balance or a final invoice, I can send that to them anytime, anywhere.

FreshBooks has also helped with client relationships. Weddings are joyous occasions and I’ve always hated having to tell a couple how much it would cost after a productive meeting: “I love that you’re going to get married by Yoda and that tiny puppies will be carrying your ring. I’m really excited to be a part of it. Oh, and here’s the bill.” Just joking, but you get my point.

Does Accounting Give You the Hebbie-Jeebies?

For the most part, my fees are set, but talking about money is always awkward. I want the couple to be excited as opposed to feeling like the cost is going to be prohibitive. With FreshBooks, I can toss together an estimate after the meeting and send it to the couple. Plus, I can then use FreshBooks to create an invoice when everything is complete.

In the past, figuring out deposits was a nightmare. When I shoot weddings I request a non-refundable retainer fee. I used to have to wiggle my way around it where I would create and invoice for the amount of the deposit or retainer fee and send it to the client. From there it would take manual editing on my end.

With FreshBooks, I just create an invoice to include the deposit and send it to the client. It’s super simple, and I have clients tell me all the time how easy the process was for them.

My husband and I run the business together, and this year alone we’ve shot 34 weddings and more than 100 portraits. As you can imagine, we have a large client base to manage, including more than 300 active clients in 2016. FreshBooks truly overhauled our accounting and afforded us the opportunity to grow the business and keep our clients happy. Clients often book a year in advance, they love being able to make hassle-free payments throughout that year.

If you can’t tell, I’m a pretty, pretty big fan of FreshBooks. I’ve referred several people to FreshBooks and they’ve all been amazed by how easy to use and flexible it is.

I would highly recommend FreshBooks for anyone looking to add a level of professionalism to their business. Sure you can try to do it all yourself, but why suffer the aggravation when there’s a flexible, user-friendly cloud-based solution to help ensure your business runs smoothly, allowing you to focus on what’s most important: your rocking business.


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about the author

Owner, Sandra-Lee Photography Sandra-Lee Layden is a Newfoundland-based photographer specializing in everything from major life events to the Much Music Video Awards. Her business, Sandra-Lee Photography, has been a labor of love ever since she picked up a camera as a young girl. Sandra-Lee uses FreshBooks to save time on the accounting side of her business so she can get back to what she’s passionate about.