Real Talk // Amy Kuretsky

All photos courtesy of Amy Kuretsky

All photos courtesy of Amy Kuretsky



Amy is one person I am SO grateful to have met. She is my acupuncturist, but she is also an entrepreneur and health coach who is focused on bringing balance to the crazy lives of creatives. Read on to see how she balances (and brings balance) to her own hustle. 

You just started a new venture of Heath Coaching, in addition to your acupuncture practice. How did this come about?

I was noticing a trend with a lot of my patients: those coming in with open minds, ready and willing to make long-lasting change in their thoughts, feelings, and actions, were ones that were seeing the greatest improvement in their health. Whereas the patients coming in wanting quick fixes were falling back into old habits and health issues time and time again.

In Chinese medicine, we be believe that our emotions can have as much of an impact on our health as what we eat or how we move. So I really wanted to start diving deeper with as many patients as possible and help discover the underlying thought patterns that were causing these physical manifestations of disease.

As for my current expertise of working specifically with creative entrepreneurs, that came about from my self-study on how to run a business. In three plus years of education learning to become an acupuncturist and health coach, I barely got any worthwhile business or marketing education. So I set out to teach myself through blogs, podcasts, and chats with other business owners. When I started immersing myself in that culture more, I noticed a huge trend of creatives prioritizing their hustle in lieu of their health - a total romanticization of the hustle.

Why does this matter in our industry?

Because you can't have one or the other! Choosing hustle or health? It doesn't work that way. You can't put all your time and energy into your business without having a significant negative impact on the health of your body and mind. And vice versa is true too! You can't spend all day trying to attain perfect health without your business falling apart.

The most successful people in our industry are the ones that understand this, and use it to bring both their health and their business to new levels on a regular basis.

Obviously, our health matters. What is the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs doing in regards to their health?

That's easy. Skipping meals. How often have you found yourself nose-to-the-computer screen for hours at a time, completely losing track of time, and forgetting to eat lunch.

One of the most common questions I get asked from entrepreneurs is "How do you pull yourself away from the computer to eat lunch when there's so much to do?"

And honestly, the answer to that question is simple: There will aways be more to do. When has your to-do list honestly ever ended? As soon as one thing gets crossed off, two, or three more ideas pop into your head or emails show up in your inbox with new tasks to add to the list. The list is never ending, so it's time to face that reality and treat ourselves like the number one employee we are.

We'd never want our employees to work through their lunch hour so why would we do it ourselves? That old adage our mothers taught us? Treat everyone like you'd want to be treated? The opposite is true too. Treat yourself like you'd want to treat others. (Meaning nicely!!)

Your tagline is: Our Heath Fuels our Hustle. How have you seen this impact most?

Well, this really came about because I was sick of hearing people say that they had to learn to balance their hustle with their health

Because in reality there isn't much balance. Some days i'm lucky if I get in an hour of exercise between walking to and from bus stops and chores around the house while other days I go for leisurely walks in the park, take a class at Solcana Crossfit, and even get some yoga/meditation time in at night before bed.

But everyday there is a blend of all the things: eating foods that nourish my body, being mindful of my thoughts and feelings, moving my body, and hustling out some work. And I know the more I'm able to incorporate the parts that make my body feel healthy, the more I'm able to be present with my patients/clients and produce content that I'm proud of. 

Have you seen a correlation with your clients who have created balance and their creativity?

Absolutely. Think about the last time you came up with a really big idea. I would bet that it didn't happen during your scheduled work hours, eyes glued to the screen. Your idea probably struck you while going for a walk, or taking a shower, or after a nice long nap. Our brains don't like to feel like caged animals - they are the most vibrant when we let them play!

My clients that have shifted their mindset from hustle all day to blending hustle and play are the ones that are making the greatest strides in their businesses as well.

How do you balance your own life between being a health practitioner and an entrepreneur?

I probably sound like a broken record by now, but the truth is all in my mindset. I truly believe that stepping aside from my computer to go for a walk during my lunch hour on a beautiful day is going to have greater benefits for me both personally and professionally, than taking that hour to catch up on my emails.

No two days are alike, but I'm totally ok with that. Like I said before - there's not much balance in my day, more of a blend.  My favorite thing to do when I'm feeling stuck creatively, is to go for a walk. That physical movement helps that stagnation release and I always come back with an overabundance of ideas.

As for the practical things I do on a regular basis? I try to get close to 8 hours of sleep nightly, spend 10 minutes a day being mindful (not necessarily through traditional meditation though), move my body daily (some days crossfit, some days walking), and eating foods my body likes. (I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2005 and learning what foods my body didn't like was life alerting!)

What has been the best thing about your freelance journey?

Getting comfortable in my own skin. In the beginning, as a business owner, I was afraid to specialize too much. I was coming from a mindset of lack. Fear that there wouldn't be enough clients and that I had to be everything to everyone.

But as I've grown and learned, I've realized that my unique experiences, perspectives, and ideas are what my clients love about me. The more I've started to specialize, the more people are coming out of the woodwork wanting to work with me.

Now that I'm at this point where I can easily stand here and say " I work with creative entrepreneurs who need help dealing with digestive and emotional diseases." That's crazy specific! But it's also totally true. those are the people I love working with, so why would I lie and say anything else?

What has been the hardest thing about your freelance journey?

Prioritizing. There that book, Essentialism, that talks about how the word priority was never meant to be pluralized. The whole idea of a priority is that you're choosing that one thing over all the others. How can you choose multiple things at once? I've though a lot about the concept and although I mentally understand it, emotionally I can't agree with it. I suppose that goes with my rebel tendencies of wanting to push back and create my own rules.

How do you actively stay inspired?

By hanging out with likeminded people! No, really. Forging connections with entrepreneurs has been my creative lifeline. I've cultivated a creative pack and they help keep me inspired daily.

I wish I knew this when I first started...

Just be you. Don't try to fit into someone else's mold. It won't work and you'll look pretty fake along the way. If you let your freak flag high in the sky, you'll naturally attract your dreamiest client ever - without having to look for them.

Managing the Time


Last fall, I wrote a blog post about Handling It All and some tips that help me keep everything together. After that post, many of you have asked more in depth about how I structure my work days. I kind of struggled on how to approach this, because as many of you freelancers know, absolutely every day is different. Self-discipline and flexibility are the two biggest pillars in how I manage my time, while also learning to protect that precious time. And lets be real - managing our time better is something we can all be better at.

I try to balance as much personal time as I can with the full work days. I am slowly becoming a morning person and I try to clock out around 6 pm and leave work alone for the night (when I work, I am focused and when I'm done for the day it's all about my personal life). If I have weekends off - well those are entirely sacred. I also give myself a break. I am lucky enough to do what I love every single day, but that also means I could always be working. Sometimes I feel like I should be working all the time, which is something I am learning to let go of more and more. 

The most valuable thing we have is time. So no matter how you work your schedule, make sure the following things fit in:

Time with those you love.

Time spent doing what you love.

Time for yourself.

And time to enjoy it all. Otherwise, what is this hustle for? 

Below is an example of what a busy day looks like for me. On this particular day, we didn't have a photo shoot, but it was filled with many of the other things that go into our business. Hopefully it is a helpful example of how we structure our time. 

No matter how crazy or quiet your schedule may seem, keep focus and remind yourself why you do what you do. Try not to be consumed by the busy work - It is the quality, not the quantity of time that matters. 

9:00 a.m. - The meetings begin for the day. Meet Lucy. She's going to be one of our new assistants for 2017! Together with our Studio Manager, we met to go over the details and what to expect in joining our crew. 

11:00 a.m. - Melissa is an amazing part of our team and helps manage all of our Rivets and Roses photographers + clients, along with the studio. We just received some new look books for the Photogen Inc. weddings, so she's working on marketing those!

2:00 p.m. - Meeting at Spoon & Stable with Chef Gavin Kaysen for his upcoming cook book. I'm super excited to be a part of this project and it's great to be involved with such a collaborative team. The book is due out in 2018, and our meetings are filled with creative visions and planning out our shoots. 

4:00 p.m. - Had to swing by Young Joni, because I am a total professional and left my camera battery charging - derp. 

6:30 p.m. - One last meeting for the day, which is a consultation with a couple who is getting married in 2017! Lots of people just got engaged over the holidays, so these later meetings will be more common. 

5:30 a.m. - My days start early. This is a new thing for me - maybe a few months old. Nick and I realized that really the only time for us to workout is right away in the morning. So far, so great. We're not perfect at it, but it definitely feels amazing to get up and move early in the day. I do find I am more focused and productive with work right away in the morning, too!

10:00 a.m. - Precious studio time. It's amazing what we can get done in just a few hours. I usually sit down to go over payroll, e-mails, concepting, and backingup files from the previous day's shoots. 

1:45 p.m. - We love visitors to the studio, especially dogs! Today's visits are from Tulsi and Frankie. Jess, one of our Rivets photographers, dropped by to go over some edits and back up files! 

3:15 p.m. - Off to HAUS Salon to meet the crew for a shoot this weekend. We needed to scout the space, since we're bringing in a full studio set up. This should be an especially fun one! 

4:15 p.m. - Back to the studio to put in some editing hours. I'm super excited about our recent shoot with Young Joni and I love seeing the entire edit come to life. 

7:45 p.m. - Clocking out for the day! Today was jam-packed, but with all really good things. I also spent time on each of our brands, which is always a victory! Now it's time to go home and spend time with my favorite people. I'll also be asleep by 10 pm, guaranteed. 

Thank You!

Card courtesy of   Paper | Rock | Scissor

Card courtesy of  Paper | Rock | Scissor

Thanksgiving is here and I am currently at the studio, wrapping up last minute deadlines and deliveries before heading out of town to join the family for the weekend - just like many of you. It's quiet in the studio today, as our team is already headed to their own festivities and when I arrived to work, there was a special little delivery from the amazing people of Paper | Rock | Scissor

The message on the card struck me and I had to take a moment to say Thank You. Each and every day, I wake up and am able to live my dream. I am surrounded by THE MOST AMAZING artists and people on our team that give so much of their time and talent to our companies. I am grateful that they believe in our work and also our clients.

To my team - thank you. You are all wildly talented and I am constantly humbled by your work. It is a joy and honor to work with you on a daily basis and create photographs along side you. 

To our clients - thank you for trusting us. You also believe in our vision and allow us to give the best gift we can possibly give, which is our talent. Thank you for letting us serve you and tell your stories. 

To our industry - thank you for your support. Collaborating, learning and teaching with you this year has been a great pleasure. I can't wait to see what comes next. 



Growth + New Brand Identity!


Identity work by dschwen

I am super excited to share the new identities of all of our companies! This is our eleventh year of business and as our work and businesses grow and become more refined, so do our brands. Last year, we took on the big project of updating all of our websites and this year brought along the next phase of that project, which was to unify all of the brands. We worked with the brilliant mind of David Schwen of Dschwen to bring the new identity all together and I am SO happy with how it turned out! Each company still has it's own individual presence, while still feeling cohesive with all we do here in the studio.  Lets break it down. 


The logos for ELIESA JOHNSON and ELIESA CONSULTS are very much the same. A lot of my consulting work comes from freelancers who are mostly connecting with these brands. The old logo use to feature my full signature, but we simplified it to how I actually sign my prints, which is with an 'e'. The new font is still simple, clean, professional and compliments the vibe of our imagery. We have a lot of ideas on how we are going to incorporate these logos in various design elements, printed materials and portfolios, so stay tuned!

New social icon for


The next brand I would love to share is Photogen Inc. This company is focused on luxury wedding photography and our clients have taken us around the world. Creating a logo that feels high end and still maintains a little bit of an edge was important to me. Our wedding clients are people who take risks, travel often and live a big life. I think this new logo is the perfect fit!

New social icon for Photogen Inc. 

New social icon for Photogen Inc. 


Last, but not least, is our Rivets and Roses brand. Rivets is the sister company to Photogen Inc. and is a wedding photography studio that features the work of 6 talented artists. The new branding for this company is probably the biggest change of all the brands! We entirely changed the look with a bolder, clean and more approachable font. It's friendlier and great for everything this brand stands for. It's also super strong and inviting. I am so very excited about this update!

New social icon for Rivets and Roses

I want to give a HUGE thank you to David and Jess and Dschwen for all of their hard work on this! We are in love with our new look and hope you are, too!


Handling it All


I get asked all of the time, "How do you keep up with it all? Especially in the busy season of summer." While I often feel like my head is spinning with the endless to-do list, I do feel like we have set up a great structure for all four of our businesses to run. 

Whether you are a freelancer with one brand or a few under your belt, here are some tips on how to keep it all together:

1// Self Discipline - Absolutely none of the other words in this blog matter without self discipline. When you run your own business, you simply have to be self-motivated. I laugh when people say "it must be nice to write my own schedule." It is nice and sometimes has its perks, but it also means that I have to be real with myself when it is time to rest and when it is time to continue the hustle. 

2// Work Smart - Creating an efficient structure around the studio has greatly helped with our workflow and the production time that it takes after a shoot is complete. Time management is essential (along with self discipline as noted above) and structure (yes, and all those google docs) really help our studio go-round. We try and stay focused, yet flexible with our work days. Lets break this down a bit:

  • Focus - Our production deadlines and turnarounds are quick. When I am working on a job, I definitely focus on the edit immediately afterwards. I like to turn around complete editorial projects in 1-2 weeks and wedding edits in 4-6 weeks. A strict timeline like this helps us to stay on top of the work and our clients' deadlines, but it also allows us to not get buried in production. I like to work in the present and not feel like I'm behind. This is challenging sometimes, because the various distractions in our lives (the internet, social media and phones) are just waiting to pull us away from the hustle. We're not perfect, but we do try and stay focused. 

  • Flexibility - Every day around here is truly different. We stay very flexible within our structure, so should a meeting, new job, or urgent deadline happen, we can accommodate accordingly with our clients. It is a WIN when we leave the studio feeling entirely accomplished. But we also know how those days go when you come into the studio, your internet is down and you need to re-think ALL the things you were going to get done that day. 

3// Build Your Team - Whether it's bringing help into your business through an intern, hiring your first employee, or simply outsourcing certain areas, building your team is essential to your sanity and your growth. Here is some of the roles we have to make our business happily function: 

  • Editor: Outsource editing, both weddings, editorial and commercial work 

  • Studio Manager: Social media support, behind the scene work and special projects. 

  • Bookkeeper: We meet once a month to reconcile our books and pay taxes.

  • Photographers: All independent contractors full of talent to help assist and to lead our Rivets team. 

  • Producer + Agent : Our agent is pounding the pavement every day to show our latest work, while our producer helps write estimates and produce commercial shoots.

  • CPA: For help with all those taxes and corporate filings every year, while also assisting with financial planning. 

  • Lawyer: I am going to say this once, if you have a business, please, please, please invest in a good business lawyer. It matters to protect yourself and your business. Creating strong contracts and having someone to bounce legal advice off of when needed, is essential. 

4// Communication - Our team is in constant communication with each other. During our busy season, we are all very clear in communicating about how everything is going. Whether it is one of my own shoots that I need assistance for, or a Rivets shoot where I need to give support to our team, it is incredibly important for me that all of our team feels supported. If our team is happy, our clients are definitely happy, so that is a major priority for me. We have a monthly email that goes out to our crew as well, keeping everyone up to date! 

5// Know When To Take A Break - Work hard, play hard. Some work days for us are 15 hours. others are 2 hours. We know when we need to push it and we also know when we need a break. As the owner of this operation, I need to often remind myself that a break is necessary. When we rest, we refuel, and are ready to go for all of our clients! 

6// Give Yourself A Boost - Seriously, everyone deserves more high fives in life. Yoga is a luxury for me, so I make the effort to get there when I can. Earlier this year, I also set aside two whole weeks for myself in Tulum, Mexico -- just to relax. This was the first time in 10 years that I had done such a thing and now I am a believer. 

7// Look Ahead - I keep a quote on my phone as a reminder that says, "Be Proactive, not Reactive." I love this quote; it reminds me to always look ahead and think about what is next. A lot of our job is reacting to others' requests. We could spend ALL day taking care of others, and though that is an important part of our job, we also have to look at the big picture of the work we are doing and make sure we are happy. We need to make sure we are pushing into areas that are inspiring to us and helping us grow. 

8// Have Fun -  My work is my life, but I also have a life outside of work. I feel so very grateful to wake up every morning and be SO excited about going to work. I am surrounded by THE most amazing artists, clients, and freelancers who I am lucky enough to collaborate with on a daily basis. The longer I do this, I am slowly but surely finding a balance between my work life and personal life - both of which are amazing. It's so important to let loose and have some fun. For me, there is nothing better than booking a plane ticket and seeing the world! 


I know a lot of these tips might be common sense; however, as I kept getting asked this question about "how I manage it all?", I realized this: 

The secret to 'doing it all' is that there is no secret. You just actually have. to. do. it. You have to wake up every morning with that self discipline, determination, and desire to pursue the dream. 

It also takes way more than just yourself. It take the support from those around you to help realize the dream every single day. 

So, find your people. They will be your greatest asset. 

And then figure it out.

Little by little.

And then one day you wake up and realize you are 'doing it all' and absolutely living the dream.



Oh, Hey! I'm Proud of You!

I am currently sitting here editing and my mind was wandering thinking about all of the really RAD things that the people around me are doing. At the same time, I was texting my editor, who is currently kicking ass on another project we have going on, and I was thinking about how hard the behind-the-scene people in our industry work so hard, too, for little recognition. In fact, we all could use a high-five now and again from one another. 

This all really got me thinking that I should give a shoutout to those people who I think are making some great work and doing some great things right now! So, here's a little shoutout to the people who I currently think are doing some rad shit:

Image from @nateryanphoto on Instagram

Image from @nateryanphoto on Instagram

Nate Ryan // Staff Photographer for 89.3 The Current

If you haven't seen Nate's portrait work as of recent, it is really hitting it's stride. Nate is the staff photographer for our local favorite radio station, The Current. This guy hustles REAL hard - and beyond the in-studio portraits and live shows, he also keeps up with his own personal work.

Check him out: @nateryanphoto @thecurrent

Image from @caitabrams on Instagram

Image from @caitabrams on Instagram

Caitlin Abrams // Staff Photographer for Mpls / St. Paul Magazine

I remember when Caitlin was an intern at Mpls / St. Paul Magazine and in the last couple years, not only has she risen to Staff Photographer for this publication, but her work has also elevated and she is making some really great photos. I'm always happy when our paths cross and we get to both have images alongside one another in their feature stories. Again, this girl is out and around the city on the daily capturing photos for various stories - and that hustle is REAL. It's looking fantastic though, you go girl.

Check her out: @caitabrams


Image from

Image from

Liz Hardt // Retoucher and Photographer

It takes a lot to run this ship. Day in and day out, Liz is working to help myself and all of her clients to stay on top of our editing, production and workflow. I can't say enough of how efficient and amazing she is at her job and I always feel SO lucky to work with her. She is also an incredible film photographer who's work should be seen. 

Check her out:,, @lizhardt


Image from

Image from

Amy Kuretsky // Acupuncturist and Holistic Health Coach

I came home today to a reminder e-mail from Amy, saying, "Hey girl! Remember to book your next appointment - it's going to be great for you to stay on top of this during your busy season." It wasn't a pushy reminder at all, in fact, she clearly knows me. My point is that Amy is so in-tune with her clients and so thoughtful with her practice. She recently shifted her business into not only acupuncture, but also as a Holistic Health Coach for those of us who NEED that in our hustle. 

Learn more about her here:, @amykuretsky


Image from

Image from

Wynne Reece // The Creatives Council 

Wynne is not only the most bad ass lawyer in town, but she also had the foresight to start the Creatives Counsel, which is a branch off of her practice at Reece Law. The Creatives Counsel is made to give affordable legal advice to creatives and entrepreneurs. I attended her Legal Seminar last weekend and it was *quite* impressive and informative. 

Check her out here:, @wynnecatherine


Image from by Matt Lien

Image from by Matt Lien

Jon Wipfli // The Minnesota Spoon

My friend and amazing chef Jon Wipfli is literally killing it these days while writing his first cookbook. It's going to be built upon his Slay to Gourmet article that he regularly writes for the Growler and between being a full time chef, catering events, hunting and cooking - his hustle is strong right now. I'm so excited to see this book! 

Check him out:, @theminnesotaspoon

Real Talk // with Martha McQuade

The gorgeous MAD studio in NE Minneapolis.

The gorgeous MAD studio in NE Minneapolis.




Martha McQuade is one half of the design house MAD. Along with her creative partner, Dan Clark, these two create everything from architectural spaces to textiles and clothing. Martha is also an Architecture Professor at the U of M.


You are an artist + business woman who has a lot of different projects going on. Why does this work for you?

The way I think about everything I do is related - from the projects I am working on at MAD, to the classes I teach at the U of M and to raising my kids. There isn't a lot of separation in terms of the process. 

I encourage both my students, my children and myself to explore our ideas and be flexible in our expectations and embrace what happens in a curious and open way. This approach leads to happiness and surprise, rather than disappointment.  Learning to look for the surprises and then explore these unexpected findings in a rigorous way can lead to new directions in our work. 

At MAD, I move back and forth between design projects without worrying what 'category' they fall into. Having multiple projects across many different disciplines going on at the same time is beneficial as they all inform each other. 


You are a woman who seems to be 'doing it all'. How do you manage your time? 

I have a lot of help! I have an incredibly supportive husband and a great work partner, Dan Clark, and our interns at MAD. 


I wish I had this advice when I first started: 

To trust my intuition more. I am not a naturally confident person, so I would often seek out advice from others and then assume they knew best - even if I felt their advice wasn't the best for me. Especially when it came to things like marketing and business, which I knew nothing about. 


What has been a game changer for you?

Moving into a studio space outside of my house. Having a beautiful, light filled environment to work in every day. It is big enough to have all the work visible, which has been really motivating!


How do you actively seek inspiration?

I am so inspired all the time by my surroundings. The things I see as I drive through the city, instagram and online magazines, art shows, podcasts, my kids and my students! It can all be a bit overwhelming at times, so I don't think I ever actively seek inspiration, but I often seek the opposite of it. 

The photographer Andrew Zuckerman gave a talk for 99u titled "On Curiosity, Rigor and Learning as you Go." In it, he talks about inspiration overload and how too much can actually shut you down. 

Sometimes when I feel like I'm not sure which direction my work is going in, I will look back through my process work. I have two hashtags, #MWMProcess & #MADProcess and I find looking back at these incredibly inspiring. It is quite motivating to see all of the previous work - it pushes me to work harder and make better work. 


The best part about being a freelancer is:

The ability and freedom to do what I think is best in every situation and not try and guess what my boss would want. 


The most annoying part about being a freelancer is:

Nothing is 'annoying'. It IS scary not having a regular paycheck to rely on though. 

Lets talk about social media. Do you love it or hate it? More so, what value do you think it beings to the world these days?

There is so much discussion around social media currently. Is it good or bad? Are we using it too much? I think it is different for everyone and you have to use it in a way that works for you, your business and life in general. 

My first social media experience was on Flickr, which is image based. It was a way of communicating with people online through how I saw the world. It also quickly became a way to record the process of what I was making and designing. I also connected with a lot of designers, photographers and artists. I am an introvert and it was a great way to meet people and break the ice with artists and brands I am interested in. 

I currently use instagram a lot, because that was an easy transition for me onto this platform that I could use similarly to Flickr. 

I think the number one value social media brings is that it allows us to show our process and work to allow the public to engage with that process. It lets art be accessible to everyone. when people engage and follow along in the creation through social media, you build a relationship with them  and the work you make has more meaning. 

This engagement is valuable to us as artists, both on the creative and financial ends, as it allows us to be visible and in turn, be able to make a living. I really like that social media is interactive, unlike traditional marketing of the past which was costly and not really appropriate for individuals or small business. 

You are also an educator at the U of M. What do you think prepares students most for being a full time artist?

Working for someone else. I encourage all of my students to go out and get experience working with and for others. Even if the work isn't exactly what you would do, if you are working with good people, you are going to learn so many valuable things. You will also make connections with people that might lead to opportunities in the future. 


What makes you happy with your work?

When I am surprised by something that happens that I haven't intended. 


What does success mean to you?

Seeing people enjoy the things and spaces we have made. 


To stay in touch with Martha and Dan, follow all of their work @MAD__Work and @mwmmpls 


Thoughts on Creative Process //

Ramen Kazama

Ramen Kazama

I came across the image above on my desktop and it got me thinking about my creative process - and the weird, but helpful 'systems' I've created over the years to make our work. When I'm editing a shoot for a client, I have to see the overall scope of the shoot and how the images flow together. Have I told a story? Have I done it well? Is there an energy to the work that fits the client? Is there moment and beauty and expression? Are all of the colors on? 

Putting together a little random screen shot is super helpful to me, because I'm a visual person. Part of what I love about consulting is tapping into what makes each person successful and what their creative process is! I think it is both fascinating and brilliant how we each develop such a personal approach for making the things we do. Most of all, that process shifts, changes and grows over the years so our work gets stronger.  

I found this quote below that I love and speaks to the creative process:

"The creative process is not like a situation where you get struck by a single lightning bolt. You have ongoing discoveries, and there's ongoing creative revelations. Yes, it's really helpful to be marching toward a specific destination, but, along the way, you must allow yourself room for your ideas to blossom, take root and grow."

- Carlton Cuse, screenwriter

What is they key to your creative process?

Group Consults // March 2016

During the months of March, April and May, we are offering Group Consults in our studio. (You can find details here + sign up for future dates.) March marked the first round of these full-day workshops and it was a great success! 

This month, we came together with three freelancers - one graphic designer, one ghostwriter and one wedding photographer. Collectively we went over some hot topics that effect all of our industries, then we broke off into individual sessions for more in-depth critique and goals. 

I am personally very excited to see the idea of Group Consultations work out. There are so many of the same struggles and victories that we share as freelancers, no matter what industry we are in. It is also very cool to see different perspectives and approaches to each industry and the possibilities of crossing over. 

Some of the common ideas that we talked through were: 

  • Social Media Marketing + Strategy

  • Having a Healthy Relationship with Social Media

  • Business Structure (specifically with time management and taxes)

  • When to say No and When to say Yes to projects

  • Strategy to go 100% Freelance

  • Creating for your Dream Client

  • Branding

We are currently offering two more Group Consults this Spring - on April 22nd and May 20th. Each day is limited to three freelancers, so make sure and reserve your spot quickly!

The investment for a Group Consult is $650/day (a $1200 value). These days begin at 9am and wrap at 4:30pm, so you get a full day of inspiration! 


Real Talk // with Ashley Mary Art + Design



Ashley is an artist that I have always admired. I have had the pleasure of working with her and her collaborative and positive spirit is contagious. Last fall Ashley launched her first line with Target, introducing her designs to a line of cosmetic bags. 


Ashley Mary Art + Design






You have been inspiring those around you with your paintings, collage, and mixed media art. Last fall you launched a line of cosmetic bags with Target! How long did you work to actually become a freelance artist?

Once I switched careers in 2012, I would say the process to doing freelance overall wasn't super long. I eased into it within one year. I am a freelancer at KNOCK inc where I spend on average about 25 - 30 hours of my week. The means all of my other freelance work happens outside of this. I designate time in the mornings, nights, and weekends to my art. Many-a-hats I do wear. 


You have had a formal design education. Do you think that prepared you for being a full time artist?

I don't know if I ever feel super prepared! I was a religion major coming out of my undergrad where I studied a variety of theologies, so going into making / selling art was a slow and snow-balled process. Later in life I did go back to MCAD for a post-bachelor certificate in graphic design. 

School expanded my understanding and access to the world of design and gave me language and tools around the things I already enjoyed doing. It opened a lot of doors and the freelance work has been a learn-as-you-go experience. 

I ask a lot of questions and try to connect with folks who can answer them. I am still learning and enjoying the process. 

I wish I knew this advice when I first started:

There are so many things! I have learned a lot through trying and screwing up. Here are a few chicken nuggets I have learned:

1// How to say no. To the things I don't like doing, but also the things I am not good at doing. It won't be the best work for either the client or myself. I understand that sometimes you need to pay the bills and suck it up. However, I have found that the older I get, the more I sign up for things that will allow creativity to come from a good place inside of me. The outcome is better overall. 

How to say no (kindly) to someone's creative direction, when you know it's going to turn out less-than-ideal, is also a valuable skill. When you are confident enough, then sell what WILL work and show how it can be done right. 

2// Don't show work that you don't want to be considered as an option. (This kind of goes back to my first answer). If you don't like the work and aren't proud of it, make sure no one else sees it - hide that shit! You can control what the client sees.

I've made so many logos that I didn't actually like in the beginning and I was eager to show the client a lot of options - too many options. I ultimately made something in the end that I was not personally happy with. Sometimes too many options can tell the client that you don't know what looks good. You know what looks good. 

3// Track those miles. 


How do you actively seek inspiration?

This is a hard question for me, because I'm not the best at thinking proactively about seeking inspiration. I can't say I'm delegating specific space to it, but rather it works itself into my daily habits naturally. There are the usual digital suspects like Instagram, blogs and Pinterest. I tent to focus on looking at other painters, illustrators, stylists and interior designers, because that is where my work revolves around and where I tend to drool the most. 

It is important to drool when being inspired. 

I started listening to more podcasts this year. I wanted to have space to actively learn while I am sitting in front of a computer screen for most of the day. I can usually find some juicy take-aways. I also shop a lot at vintage and resale shops where I always find lots of goodies that I draw inspiration from. 

Visual inspiration is at my fingertips with the internet, so I try and pay attention. 


Lets talk about social media. Do you love it or hate it? What value do you think it brings to our world-of-art these days?

Love + hate! I love the inspiration it connects with others. I know SO many more artists and designers because of social media that I would never have discovered otherwise. I have also been able to raise awareness of my own brand to people who would never have seen it or gotten to know me. The flip side is that sharing your work requires vulnerability and that can feel scary or have negative side effects, such as your work being copied or whatnot. 

Anytime you are showing your work a lot, there is a higher risk of insecurity to rear its ugly head and to juxtapose that with the fact that it is a necessary business tool. I have stopped trying to figure out why people don't like one thing and like another, so I am just going to keep trying to make work that I am proud of. Ultimately social media makes art, design and creatives more accessible to the world. I think that is a win!


What makes you happy with your work? 

Trying new things and learning new techniques. I will often paint over my paintings as my style changes. Some of my favorite pieces are the third draft of an original painting. 

I love being open to change and saying yes to the new. 

My favorite days of work are when I am super busy, running around and using my best set of skills. It all feels exhausting in an energized way. 

What has been a game changer for you? 

I've been a painter since 2008 but it wasn't until 2014 that I started to imagine my work outside of a flat surface. Once I started to play with my artwork as a surface pattern, it brought so many more opportunities to share my art with a larger audience. It was an ah-ha moment that turned into fun projects, like my cosmetic bag line for Target. But that world is fucking hard, too. It's very saturated. 

I've also had a few folks reach out to work with me on jobs that I may be newer at or have less experience with. These always end up being marking moments for me. I work hard to show what I can bring to the table and I think that contributes to someone trusting my eye. When anyone is willing to see your potential, without you necessarily having 10 years of experience or a giant portfolio, that can become a turning point in your career. I feel like I've had a few of those opportunities in my life. 

Probably most creatives have, right? Where you say "yes" and then work your ass off and make it happen! 


The best part about being a freelancer is:

Doing a lot of different jobs and owning my own time + schedule. No one job could satisfy me as much as the variety I get to do being a freelancer. The mix of people, places and projects is really fulfilling and keeps me on my toes. 


The most annoying part about being a freelancer is: 

Keeping track of expenses :\

Not having clear boundaries with work. You can technically work every waking minute if you want Even if you don't have client work, you are asking yourself, "What could I do to expand my work? Start a new project? Update my portfolio?" The list literally. never. ends. 


What does success mean to you? 

It depends on a few factors. today, in this moment, success is when I have a full day of doing what I am best at and what fills me up. (Preferably laughing while tackling the above). I think a lot about feeling "whole" in what I do and I think that is success for me.  


Check out more work at and follow Ashley @ashleymaryart

The Day Job vs The Dream Job

There is a moment in every freelancer's career when they have to make the shift from clocking in at their day job, to jumping off the cliff into their dream job. (It might sound dramatic, but that is what it feels like for everyone.)

In today's world of social media, it seems like everyone is pushing forward - doing big, creative things - while you are still sitting at your cubicle from 9-5 and then clocking in at your dream job from 5-9. You know what? GOOD. FOR. YOU. 

You're actually doing everything right, because there is an in-between moment when you are actively working towards #livingthedream that seems redundant, but it is oh-so-important. This time is actually a luxury - you probably have a 2 week paycheck and are able to pay your rent - heck, maybe even be provided health insurance. This all creates a safe space and foundation for you to build your business, save some cash, and set yourself up for future success. 

I worked at IKEA for 3 1/2 years during the start of my business, so I could pay my bills and start investing in good equipment. If we are being real, it was more than that, because I was also investing in both my dream job and in myself. Those days are long, but it's also a special time. If you are really making it all happen, the hustle is exhilarating and fun. 

Now, one day, I do encourage you to take that leap and pursue your passion. If anything, just to try it out, push yourself, and see what the possibilities can be! If being a freelancer isn't for you, but your creativity is something you need, simply make that a part of your life. 

"He didn't quit his day job to follow his dream; he just folded his dream into his everyday life."

- Elizabeth Gilbert

Group Consults // Info + Registration


Winter is the perfect time of year for many of us to focus on our business and begin ticking away at the "Slow-Season-To-Do-List". But beyond checking things off, these months are a great opportunity to really move our businesses forward.

Often times, the best inspiration comes from areas outside of our expertise. I personally get a lot out of having conversations with other artists and entrepreneurs, learning how their processes and businesses work. Everyone’s creative and business approach is different - and so unique - and I think there is so much value in that to share.

It's with great pleasure that I will be offering three Group Consults in March, April and May.


Sign up for one full day of group consulting at our studio in NE Minneapolis. The groups will be limited, with 3 available spots per date. We will begin at 9am and wrap around 4:30pm. 

The available dates are:

Friday, March 18th

Friday, April 22nd

Friday, May 20th

Together, we will focus on several business topics, including structuring your business, pricing, marketing, and social media. There will also be an opportunity to suggest specific topics you would like to cover in our consult. I will bring a specialized list of topics that will benefit everyone’s businesses. A portion of the day will be devoted to one-on-one time with Eliesa to have a critique and go over any personal questions you have.

Offering group consultations allows us to work together for a rate of $650 vs. the one-on-one day rate of $1,200. One of the many benefits of these group consultations is the unique opportunity to collaborate with other artists and entrepreneurs and learn from one another's experiences.

Group consults will be $650 ($1,200 value) and will include a fabulous lunch. A $200 deposit is required to hold your seat and the balance will be due 1 week before your consult.

These spots will be first-come-first-serve. Reserve yours below:

Name *
Date You Wish to Attend *

Real Talk // with Raoul Benavides

Yes, Raoul and I like to share a few glasses of champagne while working. Thats how the best work gets done, right?

Yes, Raoul and I like to share a few glasses of champagne while working. Thats how the best work gets done, right?

YEARS as a BUSINESS Owner: 23

Raoul is a linchpin of our photo industry and his company Flashlight Photo Rental supports us for many of our shoots throughout the year. More than that, Raoul is an entrepreneur, always chasing new ideas. He's about to open his next venture - a record shop called Flashlight Vinyl. 


You've been around the photo industry for a long time. What's the most common mistake you see freelancers making? 

The beauty of being a freelancer is that you can use your resources (money) now to set up the business life that you want to have in five years. 

If you have a vision of what you want your life to be, you can invest in it and lower your tax bill at the same time. The mistake is in the shortsightedness that comes with youth. 


How long did you work before you became a business owner? 

I did not actually work to become a freelancer. I did my first photo internship when I was fourteen and learned quickly that I did not want to be a staffer. 


I wish I knew this advice when I first started:

Invest in yourself and use every financial loophole that you legally can as a freelancer / entrepreneur. 


You're about to open a record shop, which is a complete departure from running Flashlight Photo Rental. What is the importance of this new venture for you and why you chose to do it?

I love music and I have been trying to find a new business that was ultra tactile and stress reducing. Photography, Food and Music are my passion centers. I use to DJ as a teenager and a  record shop is the perfect fit for my life right now. 


What makes you happy with your Work?

My work now is a product of my creative needs and a personal vision. I wake up to work in an environment that I created or better yet - that I want to create. It's very satisfying. 


How do you view your competition?

I wish my competition thought more nationally. It seems like a lot of photo companies are use to thinking small and not investing into their businesses emotionally or completely. 


After all of this time, what is your definition of success?

My thoughts on what is successful has changed a lot over the years. I thought we all wanted the same thing. I think that success is a way of life that is authentic to your creativity and your heart. 



Creating Goals + Doing the Work

As we look into 2016, a lot of us will be looking back upon the last year - everything we accomplished to everything we didn't and we will also make a list of dreams we still want to achieve. I think goals are great. Many times in my life, I have written out lofty ideas that have somehow manifested themselves far sooner than I could have ever imagined (You can check out a recap of this year on the Photogen Inc. blog).


I wanted to touch on a topic that is often missed at this time of the year: Doing the Work. 

I've had countless conversations this year about 'What it Takes' to be successful in a world where it seems like every where you look, everyone else is having BIG things happen. It could be their epic breakfast or celebrating they got their laundry done - let alone all of the creatives boasting about their projects and ALL the work they have (guilty). My point is that it can be overwhelming - to see everyone else posting these big, exciting things and you might feel - how do I get all of that? Why isn't my success happening faster? It seems like it is instant for everyone else. The truth is that instant success is actually a myth.

Yes, some people are lucky and I am very happy for those who have the actual 'instant' success. But behind every successful person who is building something for the long haul, I would like to argue that before all of those sweet gigs, behind all of the social media attention, and before they truly made money in their business - they did the work. 

They worked two jobs. They put in the late nights and early mornings. They networked. They fostered relationships. They made phone calls. They were praised and they were called not good enough. They were challenged and they learned how to thrive in that. They showed up every day to create. They made the work - no matter what other people might think of it. They learned to listen to people's opinions, but they didn't put their self worth in that. They asked the hard questions. They took the risks. They were tired. They had to take a break. They chose to still do the work after rest. They discovered themselves a little more each day and they began to understand the purpose of their passion. 

They put in their 10,000 hours. 

They did the work. 

It is such a simple idea, but one that many freelancers, creatives, and small business owners forget all too easily. A lot of the big success comes from the tiny victories. It comes from actually sitting down, being focused, and doing the work. It comes from the dedication of practicing your craft and knowing why you are doing what you love. 

So, this year, as you make your goals for 2016, I encourage you to definitely list out your goals - and dream big. But also spend some time thinking and planning how you will work towards these goals. What are the small steps you will do to make sure you are making progress? 

Who are the people you will surround yourself with? How can you plan out your days to be more efficient? What do you need to cut to create more space and allow yourself to grow? What little thing will you do for yourself to make you happy?

I would also like to acknowledge that your daily to-do-list is very different from setting your goals. Your Goals should be the big picture and your to-do-list is a daily list of attainable actions that drive productivity towards your current projects and those big picture ideas. 

I'm a big list person and last year, I started using the Momentum App as my google homepage. It allows you to set your intention for the day, manage your to-do-list, and even gives you an inspiring quote and a pretty picture. I can't tell you how many times I have gone to open Facebook and am reminded of what I actually HAVE to do. It keeps me on track and has been a lovely tool. 


Hell, buy yourself a fresh new notebook, clean your office and post those goals on your wall. Look at them often and I bet you will be pleasantly surprised in just how far you have come in a few months! 

Here is to the New Year and all of the exciting things to come! 

Welcome to ELIESA Consults!


Woo hoo!

I am so excited to finally launch ELIESA Consults! Business consulting for artists has been a part of my business for the past 7 years, but I never had a space for this to live until now. One of my business goals for 2015 was to unify all of our brands and create a home for our consulting clients + workshops. This new site offers information about both hourly and full day consultations, as well as speaking engagements

When I started mentoring  photographers in 2009 it seemed like a great idea for me to have this branded as a fluffy-feel-good company. Running your own business isn't all pretty, but it's also not all fear based. I grew out of this old branding quite quickly and realized that I had a lot more to offer and wanted to bring a real-life-perspective to those I mentored. I wanted to take it to the next level and create a serious consulting company. Over time, I started giving more speeches + talks to colleges and private organizations, contributing to magazine articles and having more hourly consultations - both in our studio and over skype. The last couple of years has brought along another shift. Our consulting clients have expanded from photographers to freelancers and small business owners alike in the creative world.  

Consulting has become one of my greatest passions. I feel that it is an honor to guide, mentor and teach our clients and these people equally empower and inspire me. If you are interested in a consultation, send me a note and we can get you all set up

Along with this new site, I will be starting to offer more workshops + learning opportunities. As we gather our ideas for these moving forward, I would love to hear what you are interested in learning about

Back in 2008, I was at a Brother Ali concert and he happened to say this quote that I have always drawn inspiration from. It was in that moment that I knew I had to teach others around me:

This Industry should not be a competition, but rather a collaboration. 

So here's to creating a positive community, filled with empowering one another to create successful businesses!

Why I started a wedding studio vs hiring associate photographers

I want to preface this post by noting that if you are not a photographer, this can also apply to you! Whether you are a designer, writer, or any type of freelance artist, I encourage you to think about the following points as is fitting for your business!

At a certain point in any photographer’s career, we start to think about hiring others to help us. Whether this means outsourcing editing, adding on assistants or signing up an intern – when business expands, so does our team around us. Today I want to talk about hiring on other photographers as Lead photographers…otherwise known as Associates versus creating a wedding studio. For the record, I really loathe the word ‘Associate’. Personally, I think it sounds like ‘second best’ and if I am going to hire anyone to be a lead photographer, they are not just going to be good-enough, they are going to be the best. However, for lack-of-a-better-term, I’ll use that phrase throughout.

Six years ago, my prices started reaching a more luxe price point for the Minneapolis market and I found myself turning away a ton of work. At the same time, I had a couple of assistants who were really starting to grow exponentially and were clearly on a trajectory to be amazing wedding photographers on their own. I decided to start another wedding studio, called Rivets and Roses, instead of having ‘Associates’ under Photogen Inc. I did this for several reasons, which I will get into later, but I first started the brand with one photographer and three years ago, we officially hired on five more artists to make Rivets and Roses an official wedding photography studio. I have to say, having a second brand, or really our sister company, has been nothing but a positive experience and I wanted to give some advice to those of you considering bringing on other photographers as Leads. Here are 5 things to consider when starting a wedding studio or hiring associate photographers:

 NUMBER ONE // Structure Your Business Right from the Beginning:

If you are going to hire on photographers to work for you, it’s important to think about how you want your business to be structured in the long run. If you take a long, hard look at this at the beginning of this journey, it will totally benefit you in the end, rather than having to restructure your business twice. Many photographers have associate shooters under the same company name and this works for them! However, when it came time for me to make this decision, I chose to start a completely different brand. Why? There are a few reasons:

  • What if it failed? I was a little nervous about the idea of having other photographers and it not going so well. What if it was too much? What if they did a bad job? I didn’t want that coming down on a company that I had worked so hard to build, so separating the two brands made sense to me.


  • I didn’t want our photographers to feel like they were second best. I felt like if they were shooting under Photogen Inc., clients might think of our artists as ‘the discount photographer’ or even ‘second best’ to myself. I wanted to give them more freedoms to be their own individual artists and thrive under a studio name, rather than my name.


  • I wanted to start a studio that was different from a general photography studio. I really do believe that brides and grooms should be able to find their perfect photographer, no matter their price point. I also feel like it is important that they get the top-of-the-line experience. Money is always a factor in clients decision making but when it comes to a wedding day, everyone deserves an amazing experience. The goal with Rivets and Roses is to provide an experience for both our artists and clients. For our couples, we want them to come to the website, browse thru our photographer’s portfolios and really choose the person that they connect with – both thru their images and personality – the most. Once their wedding has taken place, our studio continues to take care of all of the post processing, album design, etc. I have the highest of standards, and everything meets those requirements before it leaves the door! For our photographers, they are able to strengthen and grow their talents while being supported by our studio. It’s literally a win-win for everyone!

Now, with this said, there are many photographers who choose to have photographers under their name and it works perfectly for them! This has just been my experience. If this is something you are looking to doing, simply look at your business from all angles to see which model is right for you!

Image by  Ryan Stadler

Image by Ryan Stadler

NUMBER TWO // Build it Slow:

When I first started Rivets and Roses, I had only one photographer at a time. I am SO happy this is the way I chose to start this brand, because I learned SO much. Growing our sister company slowly has helped us build a fantastic reputation with the local Minneapolis market. Building this over a couple of years has also helped me solidify my visions for the brand and where I wanted to take it. There was a little ‘gut feeling’ I had a few years ago where I KNEW that it was time to take Rivets to the next level. I decided to ‘put it out there’ to hire on more photographers and make it an official wedding photography studio - and it was a little scary. I didn’t know what kind of people might apply or what people might think of me doing this, but I was blown away. We had SO many talented photographers apply to be a part of Rivets and Roses and I felt so humbled. This is also when I realized that this was going to be a big success. I am SO impressed with the quality of our team and just how amazingly they have come together to build up our brand and also create amazing work for their clients!

Image by  Maggie Witter

Image by Maggie Witter

NUMBER THREE // Empower Your Photographers:

This is so so so important. I am a pretty hands-off boss lady when it comes to our photographers. I’m here to structure things, guide them, critique their work and give advice…but I also want to empower them to be their own artists. I want them to have their own ideas and handle their clients in their own way. This approach is one of the key reasons why I think we have such an amazing crew. Each of our artists feel like they ‘own’ a part of this brand and every individual has so much to offer and bring to the table. Our photographers are in charge of answering their inquiries, setting up client meetings and being the leader on the day-of.  In other studio situations, clients are simply ‘placed’ with photographers and compensated on a per-hour basis. When I started Rivets and Roses, I wanted to make sure it was worth everyone’s while. Our photographers are compensated very well for their work and we sat down with each individual artist to make sure their rates made sense and also that their editing style can be processed by our editor, so their unique processing is true to each individual artist. If everyone feels like they have ownership in a dream, it’s going to soar. As the leader, I don’t want to overly-control too much. Passion is a strong, beautiful force that can take an idea and make it brilliant.

Image by  Jackson Faith

Image by Jackson Faith

NUMBER FOUR // Set Expectations:

Obviously, there needs to be structure in a business with 6 photographers under it. When we launched Rivets and Roses with more artists, we sat down and really nailed down our workflows to make sure that there were ‘routines’ in places. Every one of our artists follows the same workflow from start to finish. Of course, this also takes time to train in and get everyone on the same page. Some things to consider are:

  • Who books the clients?
  • How do you organize your inquiries? (I highly recommend Shoot Q!)
  • Who books your assistant for a wedding?
  • How much does the photographer get paid and when do they get paid?
  • How are the files managed?
  • What are the expectations in dealing with clients? (Literally– how do you answer the phone?)
  • After the photographer’s contract is done, do they get any of the images for their portfolios?
  • Who makes the contracts? Who’s in charge of the money?
  • What is the goal for both the artist and the studio?
  •  What are the specific roles of the artist and the studio?

Know that if you are starting a studio, you need to take the time to invest in your photographers, setting expectations for them and making everything clear. If you are clear in the beginning about everything – even the uncomfortable things like money, photo rights, terms of contracts, etc. this will save you a potential headache and heartache later on. Invest in a lawyer and make sure you have a solid contract. All of our photographers are contract for a minimum of 3 full wedding seasons and after that they are welcome to stay or some are ready to take the leap and go on their own…which leads me to….

Image by  Thea Volk

Image by Thea Volk

NUMBER FIVE// Be OK With Change:

Whenever you decide to hire people, whether that be a studio manager, editor, and assistant or another lead photographer, know this: people are always going to eventually leave. In my opinion, if I am doing my job right, eventually every one of my photographers will eventually be strong enough and prepared enough to be amazing on their own. With that said, there are certain personalities who are perfect for working for a studio and others who thrive to be on their own. Honor this. Honor the needs of your staff and understand that they need to go where their heart leads them. Artists always want more and we always strive to be better. Change in inevitable in business and as entrepreneurs, we need to be accepting, ready and able to deal with change in a positive way. Change moves us forward and helps us gain momentum for bigger and better things.

Image by  Melissa Hesse

Image by Melissa Hesse

To learn more about Rivets and Roses and our team of photographers, visit our website and blog!  If you are considering hiring more photographers under your brand, there is a lot to think about. My goal with this post is to encourage you and give some helpful tips on the ‘big’ things to think about! Hopefully this helped; however, if you have additional questions on running a studio, you can always reach out or schedule an official consultation to discuss the specifics of your business! Email me at:

You can also check out Rivets and Roses on Facebook.




8 tips for surviving a Sales and Use Tax Audit

In 2013, I received the daunting letter in the mail that I was being audited. I learned a lot during this process and thought I would impart some advice and tips to all of you other photographers in Minnesota who this could potentially happen to someday! If you are not a photographer, this can also apply to you, so think of it in terms of your business. Now, for those of you out of state, some of this advice could apply to you as well, but make sure that you look into the specific guidelines for where you live.

So, the first thing that comes out of people’s mouth’s when I say I went through a tax audit is first a ‘gasp!‘, followed by the question, “Why are YOU getting audited? How did that happen?” The answer is, there is no real reason. For me, it was kind of like being called up for Jury Duty. I hadn’t done anything wrong, ever, and I was simply just chosen by the state to have a Sales and Use Tax Audit. Photographers, if you are ever audited, it is probably going to be for Sales and Use Tax. My audit went back from January of 2009 to June of 2012. That’s a giant chunk of time and I have never been so happy to have ALWAYS, like from the beginning of time, been incredibly organized when it came to receipts and paying in my sales tax on time. During the audit, the government takes ‘samples’ from random months within this time period and you have to look up receipts and prove the payment of sales and use tax. Because I have always been so organized, this was the easy part. Many times people see audits as a very scary thing and it’s mostly due to the disorganization far before the audit. Here are some words of advice to either put into practice and/or keep in mind, should your photography business every get called up for an audit:

1 // Know When you File:

Over the course of our business growing, we have gone from filing our sales tax from yearly, to quarterly to now monthly. I. LOVE. FILING. MONTHLY. For us, paying in each month simply works best with the cash flow of our business. Every month, we have our bookkeeper to come in and reconcile. At that time, we also pay in any sales tax that was due. On the slower months, we owe less and when we’re busy, the proper amount of money is in the bank to pay. I’m not saying this is the perfect way, but it has really worked for us and makes paying in taxes as stress-free as it’s ever been. No matter how you pay in your Sales and Use Tax, make sure you know when things are due – those penalties on filing late are quite steep! Check your states Department of Revenue for their filing and payment schedules.

2 // Have Patience, Communicate Clearly and Assemble your Dream Team:

From the get-go of my business, it was important for me to have the best CPA/EA that I could find. I go to Fox Tax, which is a tax firm that is geared specifically towards working artists! As time went on, I realized that I couldn’t handle QuickBooks all myself, so I hired my (amazing) bookkeeper thru Fox Tax. Hiring my bookkeeper was honestly life-changing and worth every penny. When it came to being audited, my auditors didn’t really understand my photography business. It took a lot of patience to explain what certain things were and determine with them whether or not a certain program, piece of equipment, print sale, or wedding booking was taxable or not. The reality is, these auditors might be working with a construction company, a photography business, and a mechanic all at the same time. You want to make sure that they understand your business, so you don’t get charged for something unnecessary. Your CPA/EA and bookkeeper will also be a giant help in explaining your filings and financial reports as well.

3 // Double Check the Work:

It is VERY important to look over the documents that the auditors present you with. Remember that part about not knowing your business, specifically? We caught a giant amount of areas where our auditors accidentally doubled-up on things, which was ultimately asking us to pay in more money than necessary. Double checking could save you lots of money!

4 // Know Your Exemptions:

For us photographers, if we are every selling prints or products for re-sale, we should not be paying sales tax to our labs. During our audit, I realized that our album vendor was not charging us sales tax, but our print lab was. This is because I hadn’t filed a Tax Exemption form with my lab. This will save us TONS of money. Basically, since our clients are purchasing prints, they are paying us tax, which we will pay in for Sales Tax. However, when we go to fulfill that order with the lab, since the prints are being made for re-sale, make sure you aren’t paying that tax twice! You can download the MN Tax Exemption form HERE!

5 // Pay in Use Tax:

What the hell is Use Tax? This is also referred to as the ‘hidden’ tax, and for a reason, because no one really teaches you to file it. However, if you get audited for Sales and Use tax and have never paid it, this is more than likely what you will end up paying in. Use Tax applies mostly to those purchases made on the internet. For example, lets say you purchased your new camera online. You’re probably not charged sales tax when purchasing it online. Use Tax is paying in the tax that would-have-been-charged, had you purchased your camera at the local camera shop. Technically, we should all be keeping track of our online purchases and paying in Use Tax at the same time we pay in Sales Tax. The Use Tax should be the same percentage that you pay in for Sales Tax. Here’s the catchy part… you might be able to get that tax back…

6 // File a Capital Equipment Refund:

Photographers may claim a refund of Sales and Use Tax on equipment purchased to make the photograph. That means that whether you purchased your camera at the local shop (and paid sales tax there) or ordered the camera online (and paid in your Use Tax), you can fill out a form to get ALL of that tax money back! WOO HOO! The kicker is that it takes a little time to fill out the form, but can ultimately refund you a hell-of-a-lot of money. The other kicker is that your refund will be considered Income and will be taxed, but more money is more money. Some examples of equipment that may qualify are:

  • Cameras
  • Props
  • Posing Equipment
  • Bulbs
  • Tripods
  • Production Computers and Software
  • Lighting Equipment
  • Printing Equipment
  • Backdrops
  • Accessories and Attachments


7 // Ask Questions:

It’s entirely okay to feel like you have no idea what’s going on. However, not matter how stupid you feel, it’s important to ask questions so you can understand – even if this means asking them over and over until it clicks. This is your business and it’s important to understand the process! Overall, being audited isn’t a scary thing, but it is time consuming, so if anything, prepare yourself for that! Cheers to owning a small business and living the dream!

8 // Above All, Stay Organized:

It’s taken years, but we finally have a really awesome system. I hang onto ALL of my business receipts,and have a special ‘inbox’ where I put everything for the month. Before our bookkeeper comes in, I set aside about 10 minutes to organize all of those receipts in my ‘in box’ and other important documentation into a binder, which is categorized by month. It’s pretty easy and we know exactly where to find everything, so reconciling and filing is easy breezy!

Here are some documents, from the State of Minnesota, that I highly recommend reading. It’s not the most exciting thing you’ll ever read, but it does state the rules and might help better answer some further questions you have about Sales and Use Tax:

Minnesota Sales and Use Tax Instruction Booklet

Photography and Video Production – Sales Tax Fact Sheet 169

Use Tax for Business – Fact Sheet 146

Capital Equipment Refund Claim – ST11 Form

Sales and Use Tax Filing and Payment Schedules

Certificate of Exemption – ST3 Form


Fox Tax Service

Pitzl and Pitzl