Welcome photographer to your how-to guide to starting a photography business! If you’re reading this, chances are you’re standing on the precipice of your photography journey, wondering how and what to even do to launch yourself forward. You’ve most likely come a across a camera somehow, whether you saved your pretty pennies and finally jumped in, or someone you love gifted it to you, either way, you now stand with a pretty piece of (probably pretty expensive) equipment in your hands.
Which often leads to the question; how do I make money from this thing? Lucky for you, I’ve been a business coach for photographers for a little over a decade now and I’ve walked photographer after photographer through the steps they need to take to set-up and launch their portrait, newborn, wedding, engagement, adventure, (you get the gist) businesses.
Enter… Starting a Photography Business: The Complete Guide.
One: Pick Your Photography Niche(s)
Many how-to start a photography business guides often start with writing your business plan, here’s the problem, it’s difficult to write a business plan if you don’t know what you’re doing and haven’t defined the people you’re serving.
So step one, figure out what you want to do. What type of niche interests you? What do you enjoy? Where do you find satisfaction and fulfillment? What are you actually good at? This is going to take some time, and at the beginning of your journey you’re most likely going to start by shooting multiple niches, that is okay, in fact, it’s completely reasonable and should be done this way! Shooting multiple niches gives you experience and exposure that you otherwise would have missed out on.
Right now, pick what interests you, and run with it. I am including a list of niches below to make it straight and simple for you.
- Newborn – Lifestyle
- Newborn – In-Studio
- Adventure Wedding
- Micro Wedding
- Destination Wedding
Two: Define Your Photography “Ideal Client”
Let me begin by stating that when you’re at the beginning of your photography journey, your ideal client is really going to be anyone willing to pay you money for your services. End of story. Every coach and advisor out there telling you anything different is unfortunately leading you and your business down a rocky and frustrating start. When you’re just starting you have bills to pay, equipment to purchase, and subscriptions to maintain. Unless you are independently wealthy and thus funding your launch by other means, you have to make money to get your business up and going. Therefore, you will end up shooting clients at times that are possibly less than ideal. Remember, this is short-lived. You are doing this to build and grow your business and eventually you will get to a point where you can become more discerning in the clients that you take-on.
Right now, having a general understanding of the niche you’re wanting to explore (as stated in step one) will generally determine the type of people you will be shooting/marketing to.
This step requires you to really define where those people exist in the world, what their interests are, their pain points with booking a session, and how you can masterfully go about solving those pain points and becoming an expert in the field – so much so that they trust you and then book you.
Three: Photographer Business Plan
Starting a photography business requires a solid business plan. A business plan is a “sexy” way to outline all the nitty gritty details of your business. You will want to begin by outlining:
- Services you will offer.
- Products you will sell.
- General description of your business. For example, why you exist and the purpose of your business.
- Elevator pitch: This is a 3-5-minute description of who you are, what you do and why your business is important. This is a fantastic way to really bring all of the important elements of your business together and create a focused roadmap.
- Market research: Who are your competitors? What services are they offering their clients? What strategies are they using for marketing? Etc.
- Short and Long-Term Goals: Where do you want your business to be in 3 weeks, 3 months, and 3 years?
- Financial Goals: How are you going to pay for your business? Are you going to be self-supporting? Do you have capital from another source (maybe a full-time job, or a spouse)?
Four: Photography Business Name
What you decide as your business name will eventually become your brand image, story, and voice. At the beginning, the easiest choice is to use your name. You own your name, it’s descriptive enough (meaning it’s not Red Rose Boudoir…and eventually you want to pivot to Newborns…no good) and you don’t have to stress to much about Trademark issues. On the other hand, if you choose a name that is not First Name – Last Name – Photography, you should do a search with an attorney or the USPTO office to make sure you’re not stepping on someone else’s shoes. The last thing you want to do is pick a name, not check if someone else owns it, build a brand about five years down the line receive a letter from an attorney telling you that you must rebrand and re-name because someone else owns it. Do your due diligence and do the research.
Five: Business Structure
Are you going to be a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) or a Sole Proprietor?
A sole proprietorship is one of the most common forms of business formations, it’s simple to set-up and inexpensive. It means it’s just you, and you are the sole owner of your business. You are the person in charge of your business, and you do not split it with anyone else.
An LLC is also an extremely common business formation and is beneficial as it allows you to separate your personal assets from your business assets. As an owner of an LLC you are not responsible for debts or liabilities. The LLC holds the liability protection so that if sued your personal assets and that of your spouse are protected.
Six: Establish Your Business
Once you decide on the type of business entity you will need to register your new business with the state department. The process is generally simple and straight-forward, however if you get stuck contact a local attorney as they will be able to walk you through the process.
Seven: Social Tags
Make sure you create accounts for all social media platforms that are in existence today. Who knows what platforms will be around in a few years time and it is better to be safe than sorry.
Another additional benefit if you’ve gone with applying for an LLC is that type of entity will allow you apply for your business banking accounts, enter into contracts, and hire employees if you needed. That probably isn’t a space you’re in right now, but you could get yourself to a point where you’d be looking to hire an associate photographer full-time, an editor, or even a business manager to run your business.
You will want to keep all of your personal and business finances separately. This means setting up a business bank account. You will only charge business related expenses from this account, so no haircuts, clothes, or latte’s unfortunately.
Nine: File for Your EIN
An EIN is an Employer Identification Number and is the number that you will use in place of your social security number when filing taxes for your business, opening a bank account, etc. In simplest form it is the identification number for your business. You submit an online application for this number through the IRS.
According to the IRS, all businesses must submit an annual income tax return. According to freshbooks if you are a business owner who earns less than $400 you can skip paying self-employment tax, but that’s the only avoidable tax.
Usually the IRS isn’t going to care about you if you’re not turning a profit each year, however in order to keep legal, take advantages of deductions, and keep record, I highly recommend filing your taxes annually even if you’re sustaining a loss.
Since you’re new to small business it’s recommended that you set aside around 30 percent every time you’re paid. With the trajectory that you’ll eventually want to bump that up to 40% to cover your state and federal taxes.
Eleven: Launching Your Photography Website
This will kind of go hand in hand with your previous steps as when you’re deciding the name of your business you may want to perform some domain research to make sure you can get your business name. But as soon as you decide to make sure you purchase your website domain. From there, you will want to start building a very solid website, with a blog (seriously, don’t forget the blog!). Here is a list of some great platforms for you to launch your photography business (not an affiliate of any of these companies):
- ShowIt (my personal favorite and the platform I build all of my client’s photography websites)
Twelve: Client Contracts for Photographers
Once you’ve decided to start your photography business and start charging people for your services you absolutely need to obtain an attorney-drafted contract. A legal contract is a document that will protect both you and your clients during the entirety of the relationship. It will outline what the consequences are if you or the client do not do what you say you will do.
For example, if you require a 50% deposit with 48 hours of booking and that deposit is not made by the client then the session date is not reserved and someone else can book that date until the deposit is retained. If someone comes along and books the date after the deposit deadline has expired, you have the option to move forward with the second booking. If the first client were to come back a week later and try and book that date, you can now rely on your contract and state that because the deposit was not received the date was not held and therefore another party has booked it.
Do not operate your business without a contract. If you don’t have one, you can find attorney drafted contracts here.
Thirteen: Photography Insurance
Insurance is generally purchased by small business owners to help and protect them in the event of an emergency. It works just like your home or renters’ insurance, you pay a little bit every month so that when a problem arises you can file a claim and be reimbursed.
There are two types of insurance that you will need to consider purchasing: property insurance and liability insurance.
Property Insurances protects your gear and your equipment against accidents or theft. On occasion your gear can be covered under your homeowner’s insurance but check with your policy to confirm.
Liability Insurance is covers you in the event that something bad happens in dealing with your clients and/or other people. Every time you leave your house to photography an event, person, or group of people you are putting yourself and your business at risk. If you accidently trip someone or they get hurt on your property liability insurance will keep you protected.
Fourteen: Marketing Your Photography Business
Now that you’ve completed the steps to starting your photography business, it’s time to start marketing! Through social media channels, word-of-mouth, blogging, Pinterest, paid ads – there are a multitude of avenues to spread the word about your newly formed business.
Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you are most likely not going to see massive amounts of growth overnight.
Building a successful brand and business takes massive amounts of time, energy, and perseverance but at the end of the day you are the one who built it and will have something to be oh so proud of.