The following advice is specific to Australia. Most Western countries have similar structures and the broad principles are similar. However, you should consult your own advisers for specific information.
All businesses are run on stationery, even those that consider themselves to be fully computerised. However, not only is stationery essential for running a business, some stationery must be prepared to meet minimum legal requirements.
A letterhead is a page with your business or company name. Your business or company name must be correctly spelt (exactly as it is registered) and be large enough for people to read (generally larger than 8 point type).
Most people will also need to include their ABN (Australian Business Number).
Other usual information is your address, telephone numbers, email and internet addresses. You can also add in a business logo, business mantras and slogans or include a list of recent awards.
A letterhead can be offset printed or created as a template within a word-processing or page design program so it prints onto plain or coloured paper. For photographers starting out, it makes sense to create a template as you avoid the cost of printing a large number of letterheads you might not get to use.
However, it is very important to consider the design of your letterhead and business logo. Design is a form of marketing and its presentation says a lot about you, your business and the way you wish to be perceived in the market.
The design of your letterhead should also follow through to the rest of your stationery. Consider hiring a graphic designer to help you. Many photographers offer graphic designers a contra arrangement as designers often need photography services too.
A letterhead can be used for writing proposals or price lists, and with a few adjustments it can be turned into an invoice or tax invoice.
Most of the information on the letterhead will be required for your invoice. In addition, you need to include the words ‘Tax Invoice' if you are registered for GST.
The income tax law is quite specific about the minimum information requirements on a tax invoice. While there are no hard and fast rules for invoices under $55 (including GST), for invoices over this amount the following is required:
• your Australian Business Number;
• the price for the supply;
• the words ‘Tax Invoice' prominently printed;
• the date of issue of the tax invoice;
• your business name;
• your customer or client's name;
• the address or ABN of your customer or client (this is only required on invoices over $1000, but it may be easier to make it a habit for all invoices);
• a brief description of each thing supplied and for each description, the quantity of goods or the extent of the services; and
• if the GST payable is exactly 1/11th, the invoice must contain a statement to the effect that the total amount payable includes GST or must set out the total amount of GST payable; or
• if the GST payable is less than 1/11th (some of the contract might be exported overseas, for instance), the invoice must set out the amount, excluding GST payable, for the supply or supplies and separately show the amount of GST payable on the taxable supply or supplies.
It's a good idea to ask your accountant to check your layout if you're in doubt.
Most of the information required on a Tax Invoice can be added to your letterhead, so instead of getting both letterhead and invoices printed, just print letterheads and have your accounting package (such as MYOB) or wordprocessor add in the additional information for the invoice.
A With Compliments slip is a small piece of paper with most of your contact details that can be included in a variety of situations where a more formal letterhead isn't required. For instance, when you're delivering your work, include a With Compliments slip.
Some photographers use their business cards as With Compliments slips. Business cards are still important in business today. Many photographers include photographs on their cards; some produce their cards as a concertina design that folds out with several of their images to view (a mini portfolio).
Ensure your design and logo follow through from your letterhead.
A well organised business will include many other forms to make the day-to-day running that much easier. For instance, some wedding studios have an interview form next to the telephone so when prospective brides call, they have a quick checklist of essential information to ask.
Wedding and portrait photographers will also have a price list for their customers and this in itself can double as a marketing tool. Ensure it is easy to read and understand - some price lists can be offputting if they are too complicated.
Of course, with a computerised studio, the need for paper is changing and many photographers are choosing to using on-line or database forms to capture and distribute their business information. It's not always necessary to create a papertrail, but then again, a papertrail will never crash.
Perhaps the most important piece of stationery or paper in a well run studio is the ‘to do list'. Each day, you should create a list of things you wish to achieve. Some items will need doing today, others this week, and there will be longer term plans as well.
One approach is to keep a small, pocket-sized notebook and pencil with you at all times so you can jot down ideas and tasks. The notebook needs to be regularly revised and updated.
Another way to handle a ‘to do' list is to use your email Inbox. Most of us view our email everyday, so the Inbox is a logical place to list all the things we need to do. You can send yourself emails which remain in your Inbox until you have completed the task, at which time you delete it.
For the gadget conscious, an electronic diary or personal information manager might be the solution. These can also double as mobile phones and/or retrieve email and browse the internet. Add in a diary, address book and a bunch of useful utilities and a PIM becomes an essential part of a photographer's working life. Take a look at models from O2, HP and Palm.
The information in this article is general in nature and should not replace personal advice given by your own legal and financial advisers.