Photography Business Takes Its Accounting to Go

Thursday Feb 9th 2006 by Dan Muse
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Whether it's traveling to one of the country's finest golf courses or sailing on magnificent yachts, Imagic Digital is never far away from its financial data thanks to QuickBooks Online.

The husband-wife team that makes up Imagic Digital does business by a simple rule. The products and technology that Danya and Mark Henninger use have to be mature and stable — and they have to be digital.

By living within those guidelines, the company — which specializes in shooting digital photography and video of resorts, golf courses and yachts — has streamlined its operations to the point where it now has no storefront and no employees. The Henningers are more than mobile workers. Imagic Digital is a mobile business right down to how it handles its accounting.

In fact, the couple credits its move to QuickBooks Online in January 2003 with helping it to achieve the level of mobility it now enjoys. And by implementing the Web-based version of QuickBooks, for which it pays $19.95 per month, the company takes its accounting and estimating system wherever the job demands.

“We're enjoying where our jobs take us. Going to places like Pebble Beach with a camera might just be fun to some people.”

While the photographers now travel the country photographing places many of us can only hope to see in person, it wasn't long ago that they were tethered to a physical shop with workers on the payroll. The couple's original business focused on digital scanning and retouching and large-format printing (i.e., posters and banners) for advertising agencies, Danya said. The company, like many small businesses, was using QuickBooks, though it was far from efficient in how it used the best-selling small-business accounting package.


Pinehurst Country Club
Imagic Digital's impressive roster of clients includes the Pinehurst Country Club.
© Pinehurst, Inc. All rights reserved. © 2004 Mark Henninger / Imagic

Once a week, a bookkeeper would enter payables and update the checkbook. Because the computer that Danya and Mark used for QuickBooks was also a computer they needed for other applications during the day, the bookkeeper would back up the files and take them to a second computer to reconcile the finances. Then she would return with the disk and restore the backup to the computer Danya used.

Even though they were using QuickBooks, the bookkeeper was writing checks by hand. Not only was the process not efficient, but the Henningers weren't in touch with their own finances. "We didn't have a good handle on things," said Danya.


Millennium Super Yachts
Advances in digital photography technology allow Imagic Digital to capture brilliant images.
© Millennium Super Yachts — 80' Flybridge © 2001 Mark Henninger / Imagic

They also ran the business on an older version of QuickBooks (QuickBooks 2001). "We kept saying 'we should upgrade, we should upgrade,' but we kept putting it off," said Danya. Meanwhile, Mark was thinking along different lines. While they were still committed to QuickBooks, he said he knew that there must be a way to have the accounting software hosted on the Web, so they could access it from any computer, any time. "I imagined that it had to exist."

That was two years ago, and while it did exist, Intuit was hardly going out of its way to push its Web-based version. Danya said they began searching and found QuickBooks Online. "I said, 'Why not try this?' and Mark said, "that's perfect for us."

In three months, the transition was complete. Bringing over the account information and other financial details was the "easiest and quickest thing possible," Danya said of the move. "Actually, too much came over — there was all that legacy data." She added that the interface was a little unfamiliar at first, but was easy to get used to.

Even though she has no financial background, using QuickBooks Online has put her in position to better understand how the business is doing. "I was a bio-chemistry major — and not good in accounting. But now, having everything right there, I have a better picture. Our accounting always lagged behind. Now we know what's going on all the time," Danya said. And, of course, the company eliminated the expense of a bookkeeper.

Taking the Business on the Road
Using QuickBooks Online, Imagic Digital was better able to make the transition to be a being a mobile business. The company has clients around the country and now whether it's something as mundane as entering travel expenses the same day they are incurred or something as business-critical as giving estimates to the client on the spot, having QuickBooks always just an Internet connection away has paid off. "At a client's site, we are able to give a quote. We have been able to get the actual job with a deposit right there," Danya said. Without Web-based applications, Danya would have had to return to the office to prepare an estimate.

Just as Mark and Danya were able to recognize the benefits of Web-based accounting software, they have a similar knack for photography technology. In fact, the driving force behind the company's new business was digital photography technology. Mark said that in December 2001, he was doing retouching and printing for a yacht company. "At that point, the Nikon D1X came out — it was first six megapixel camera available for five figures." There was an opportunity to shoot the photography for a brochure, and "I made a pitch for them to hire us; we were competing against established yacht photographers." But they got the job and have been shooting yachts, golf courses, hotels and more ever since.

"Film was limiting," Mark said. Now the company is expanding its repertoire to include video and it just added a Sony HDR-FX1 digital video camera. Without the overhead of a building lease or employee payroll, the company can afford to add hardware and software as needed. "I think about the cost of paying and training employees versus spending on new equipment. New applications and equipment are easy to work into the cost of a job," he said.


Danya and Mark Henninger
The husband-and-wife photography team of Danya and Mark Henninger say one of the best things about their mobile business is that they get to travel the country together.
© Mark Henninger / Imagic

Digital Is to Web-Based As ...
Mark likens the move from film to digital photography and video to the changes in software technology that allowed Imagic Digital to move to Web-based QuickBooks. "The transition from disk to ASP has been fantastically successful," he said. Other Web-based services the company use includes Iomega's iStorage, Citrix' GoToMyPC.com, and Playstream.com for providing video on the Internet.

Danya agrees that the ASP model has been a key to its office-less business. While some small businesses may balk at having their data offsite in a data center far away, she prefers it that way. "Our data is precious. I don't want my business here [at home]."

Danya admits, however, there was a brief period of uncertainty thanks to some fatherly advice. "I thought I had everything under control. Then one day my father said, 'Where's your data? You don't know who's looking at it.' He was a '60s radical. I got worried." I ordered the new disk-based QuickBooks and planned to switch. But I just couldn't do it. It [QuickBooks Online] was just too much a part of our workflow."

Together Wherever They Go
IMagic Digital is always on the go, which means Danya and Mark are almost always together, which is fine with them. "We went into this for that reason," Mark said. The couple has been together for 10 years, and the relationship — as well their business — is "getting better and better," he said.

"We're enjoying where our jobs take us. Going to places like Pebble Beach with a camera might just be fun to some people," Mark said. "We discovered that if you shoot a nice hotel, they put you up in a nice hotel."

With their physical shop and employees now just a memory, do they ever miss having a physical location to go to everyday and people to which they can delegate tasks? Not even close. "The thought of having to have a store and employees," Mark said, "is nightmarish."

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com's Small Business Channel and EarthWeb's Networking & Communications Channel.

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