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PPA Today: Benchmark Financial Survey Archives

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PPA is dedicated to helping professional photographers be more. From techniques for photographers to better business practices, PPA and PPA's staff are here to help you take your photography business to that next level. 

Having great images is important, but as any photographer would agree, if you aren't managing your business properly, your path to success will most likely become an arduous one. That's why PPA created the Benchmark Survey. 

Periodically, we survey hundreds of photography studios to compile a comprehensive photography business guide that can help you increase your profitability and help you avoid some all-too-common (but also some not-so-evident) business pitfalls. These are the Benchmark Resources. At first that jargon-sounding name might sound a tad corporate, but those who use the Benchmark will tell you: this tool will make a difference in your business! And PPA members can access these Benchmark Resources at no extra cost. This comes with your membership!

To get started and see how the Benchmark can help make a significant difference for your business, let's look at it from square one. PPA recently added a new tool to the Benchmark Resources to help professional photographers plan for a profitable business by beginning with the end in mind. What do we mean by beginning with end? Just what it sounds like: the tool will start by asking you what you want your annual net income to be. Then from there, it will help you work backwards to help you realize how your cost of sales and overhead percentages affect your profitability (all as determined by the Benchmark Survey). You'll see a very clear picture of how many sessions, at what sales average, you'll need to reach the income goal you've set. 
You've been hearing about PPA's Benchmark Survey and how it can help you better manage your business. Now it's time for action! Don't worry, though, we never leave you alone with those scary numbers. In fact, we're holding TWO free webinars (Oct. 25 & Nov. 5) to give you step-by-step guidance in using two of the newest resources.  

This isn't a promo video--it really can show you what you can make of your numbers. Best of all: It's free (if you're a PPA member)!

In fact, the response has been so great to this announcement that we already filled up the Oct. 25 webinar. That's why we added that new date (Nov. 5)--we want to accommodate more of you who want to ask your questions!

For an opportunity to ask your questions about the Benchmark Survey tools in the Q&A, register & save your spot pronto! There's only room for 70 attendees during this live webinar. 
The wait is over! PPA has posted the 2011 Benchmark Survey Analysis and five--count 'em, five!--Summary Reports that break down the latest guidelines to building stronger, healthier photography businesses! Dig in and see what the numbers say about the health of your business--where you are and where you should or could be. Members can access the reports here.'s a tricky thing. But if you're going to go through the trouble of earning it, then you might as well keep it. By following the PPA benchmarks and setting goals, you can enjoy more of the fruits of your photographic labor. And that's why we're posting this article for PPA members only, with some basic strategies for optimizing your bottom line. Get the scoop here
PPA recently finished analyzing the 2011 PPA Benchmark Survey, the latest comprehensive financial review of a broad range of PPA member studios. Compiled from 2010 year-end financial data, the 2011 Benchmark Survey follows two previous surveys, one conducted in 2005 and another in 2008. The surveys have led to a series of benchmarks, or recommended financial targets, that PPA's Studio Management Services (SMS) has put in place to help member studios reach a higher level of success. By adhering to the benchmarks, you can lower costs, improve profitability, and make well-informed business decisions based on real financial evidence.

One of the most useful byproducts of the 2011 Benchmark Survey is the evidence of how the benchmarks could guide studios through a difficult economic period. From 2006 to 2010, the combination of a nationwide recession and a massive influx of new photography studios into the marketplace caused a significant drop in sales for most existing studios. However, the studios that followed the benchmarks performed much better than those that missed the targets. Some even managed to increase their bottom-line profits despite an overall decrease in sales. In our ensuing coverage of the Benchmark Survey's latest results, we'll detail how these studios kept profits high even when sales were low.

In the coming weeks, PPA will roll out a series of member-exclusive articles and financial tools to help members take advantage of the 2011 Benchmark Survey:

  • We'll boil down the exhaustive analysis into easy-to-understand summaries and follow up with clear action items for your studio.
  • We're working on some interactive resources and handy guides so that you can keep your critical numbers in mind without losing your mind.
  • We'll explain why SMS opted to adjust several of the key benchmarks.
  • We'll discuss what you can do to enact positive change at your studio.
This all may sound like heady stuff, and you probably didn't get into photography to play around with accounting, but here's the good news: By following the benchmarks, you will improve your profit margins, you will gain a better idea of how much you need to sell to take home a suitable personal income, and you will understand how your expenses affect your bottom line. At the end of the day, you'll be able to manage your business better, make more money and, hopefully, enjoy a less stressful relationship with your studio.

Now those are some results that we can all applaud.

Want to learn more? PPA members can peek at the key findings and new benchmarks here.

Remember that PPA's Benchmark Survey details are only available for PPA members, so see how to join here: 
With the release of PPA's 2011 Benchmark Survey, PPA members now have an updated set of numbers by which to guide their businesses. After months of exhaustive review and analysis, PPA's Studio Management Services has assembled a list of key findings, as well as some adjustments to the key benchmarks. PPA members can access this article for the latest data on pro photo financial health. (As always, if you get stuck on the money talk, see our glossary of financial terms.)

Simply put, a benchmark is a standard by which something can be measured or judged. What does that have to do with PPA benefits? Well, PPA surveys hundreds of photographers and studios across the country to establish benchmarks specifically for you! It's PPA's Financial Benchmark Survey, Analysis & Toolset.

Where They Come From
To develop these tools, we collect photographers' financial data, analyze it with accountants from our Studio Management Services (SMS) team, and then establish benchmarks (or goalposts) for different financial categories. These benchmarks are designed to help you set sales and expense targets, and then use those targets to develop goals for your business. The end result is a unique set of tools to help you set goals and measure your studio against many others in key financial areas (cost of sales, revenue, expenses, net profit and so on).

So far, PPA has held three surveys--2005, 2008 and 2011--and the latest survey is being analyzed right now!

How They Can Help
In a sense, the Benchmark Surveys provide financial snapshots of the industry, showing what it takes to achieve specific financial results in a photography business. For example, they make the connection between your total sales and your take-home profit, so you can determine how much you need to sell to support your family. They also help you gauge expenses, like how much you're really spending to produce your products and operate your studio.

"The Benchmark Survey has been a good way to measure our costs to an industry standard," says Susan Hoermann, M.Photog., CPP, of Evergreen Studios in Texas. "It gives us an overview of where our industry is headed, what is an acceptable cost of sales and where we are in relation to other businesses."

In fact, with the Benchmark Survey findings, you'll discover not just where you should be, but where you could be profit-wise...and start learning how to get there.

Benchmark Resources
To get a sneak peek at the 2011 Benchmark Survey results, watch "How to Measure Success: Key Findings from PPA's 2011 Benchmark Survey." If you have an Online Learning Pass, you can get this and unlimited access to all live and archived webinars for just $99!

PPA's Studio Management Services team has created a suite of nifty Self-Evaluation Tools to answer some questions that members often ask about their finances and their business plans. A brand-new version is coming soon, but in the meantime, these free tools will guide you step-by-step in calculating how your studio measures up to the Benchmarks:

You can also check out free online articles,  PPA Benchmark Reports and the PPA Business Handbook for more critical insight on what it takes to run a profitable business--and how the PPA benchmarks can help.

Every profession has a dialect of its own. In fact, you could probably sit down and write a glossary of photography terms off the top of your head--terms that every photographic beginner should learn about. After all, when you're setting up shop in a particular industry, it's best to be able to speak the native tongue.

Did you know that your photography glossary should include a few vital accounting terms, too? Of course, if you're a staff photographer, you may never have to translate "charts of accounts" and "costs of goods sold" into something that makes sense to your creative brain. If you're an entrepreneur, though, all bets are off. As an entrepreneur, you need to know your numbers and how to make smart business decisions based on them.

The good news is that PPA members have tools to help: PPA's Benchmark Survey, Analysis & Toolset. With these tools, you can get a handle on your numbers and, by doing so, set key performance metrics and start regularly measuring your business against them.

But to understand the Benchmark--and be able to take advantage of it--you need to speak a little accounting. Read more here.
Russell and Paula Jensen of South Dakota and Babe and Arlene Sarver of Arizona have a few things in common. They own photography studios, are PPA members, believe in the power of the PPA Benchmark Survey resources...and are the 2011 PPA Benchmark Survey's grand prize winners of the all-inclusive trips for two to Imaging USA!

The Benchmark Survey Pays Off
Both the Sarvers and Jensens have used the previous Benchmark Survey resources to help their businesses, and this all-inclusive trip is an added bonus.

For example, the Jensens used the Benchmark resources to build their studio's budget. "These are essential tools for photographers who actually want to make a living doing photography!" says Paula. "They help studios understand how much money should be coming back to the photographer and where they should be budgeting."

"Rather than plan in a vacuum, the Benchmark resources enabled us to compare our status to other PPA home studios. And for the first time, it was easy to identify our strong and weak areas," add the Sarvers, who used the Benchmark as a blueprint for their planning process. "It showed us where we were out of range from the norm and gave guidelines for improvement."

Heading to Imaging USA
The trip the Sarvers and Jensens won will help them continue to push their art and businesses forward--that's one of the purposes of Imaging USA!

"Imaging USA lets us see what is working for other studios and marketplaces and then decide how to implement the best aspects into our own business," says Paula. For example, she's looking forward to the "Business Breakthroughs" pre-convention class, and Russell is eager to "get the nation's pulse in photography" (along with seeing his first Loan Collection image displayed in the International Photographic Exhibit)!

And the Sarvers are doubly excited for Imaging USA. "After attending our first Imaging USA, we decided it was the conference not to be missed," they say. But it wasn't looking like a viable option this coming year...until they won the all-inclusive trip! Now they are looking forward to "taking back to our studio those important elements that will set us apart," from artistic and technical elements to business know-how.

Grab that business know-how yourself--join these winners at Imaging USA and check out these Benchmark resources.

Thumbnail image for Benchmark.pngHave you read the "How We Did It" and "Ask the Experts" columns in Professional Photographer? Heard success stories from PPA's Studio Management Services clients? Many of those photographers' turnarounds happened in part because of information from the Benchmark Survey.

After all, the Benchmark Survey is what SMS bases its financial and business guidelines on. It's helped hundreds of photographers! And we need YOUR help to make it even better this year.

Help others. Help yourself. Participate in the 2011 Benchmark Survey!

  1. Complete the Participant Demographic Questionnaire.
  2. Gather a few financial documents.
  3. Send them to PPA by October 31.

If you have questions, just call Melissa Kriest at 800-339-5451, ext. 227. She'll walk you through it.

Participate by Oct. 31 to Win:

  • Drawing for TWO all-inclusive trips for two to Imaging USA 2012 in New Orleans
  • Personalized financial analysis of your studio compared to the 2011 Benchmark results.
  • Benchmark webinar to guide you through the results
  • Advance copy of the survey report

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