It’s a very exciting time when a photographer decides to turn their passion into a business. Cheers to entrepreneurs! But, where do you even start when it comes to the business side of things? Sit back, grab your celebratory drink of choice and let’s talk about how to start your photography business the right way.
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How To Start Your Photography Business
As photographers, we are creative people. We love what we do and we’re passionate about delivering the best work. But, when it comes to turning our photography into a business, we can’t just be thinking about our creative process anymore. It’s time to start thinking like a business person – not just a creative person. Easier said than done, believe me, I know… but here are my tips to start the process.
Tip 1: Get An Accountant
Getting an accountant is the very first thing you should do when starting your own business. Tips 2 – 4 will help me prove this. 😉
Accountants are wonderful. They know all the steps involved with naming your business, choosing an LLC or S-Corp, planning for quarterly taxes, what classifies as a “business expense” and anything else you might have questions about as you get started.
Most accountants will do a consultation call with you first. This call gives you a chance to see if the accountant speaks the same language as you. Trust me, not all accountants know how to talk to a photographer in a way that’s understandable.
When I was first starting out, a good friend of mine referred me to his accountant. He was a super nice guy, but I had NO IDEA what he was talking about. He was very good at accounting, but not very good at translating his knowledge to a non-accountant.
Then, one of my food blogger friends referred me to Sweeter CPA (Helena) and wow, it was a breath of fresh air to talk to her. She works with a lot of creative people, so she knows how to explain things in a way that makes sense. I’ve worked with Helena for over five years and highly recommend her if you’re on the prowl for an accountant.
Tip 2: Name Your Business
Figuring out the name of your business is a fun step. I didn’t get too creative with mine, but there was a reason for that. My business name is Regan Baroni Photography, LLC. I wanted my name in my business, because I personally think it’s easier to remember a photographer by their name. I also added “photography” to make it clear that I’m a business. Not to mention, adding “photography” makes it pretty clear what I do.
Tip 3: Sole Proprietor, LLC or S-Corp
As a photographer, you’ll need to decide if you’ll be a sole proprietor or a single-member LLC. S-Corp is also an option, but isn’t common when you’re first starting out.
A sole proprietor is the default business structure for anyone who is earning money on their own. The drawback is that there’s no separation between your personal assets and your business assets.
A single-member LLC means Limited Liability Company and separates you from your business should there ever be any liabilities. It also means that you are the owner and don’t have a partner. I’m assuming as a photographer, you plan to own your business yourself. If you’re thinking about owning the business with a partner, definitely talk to an attorney. LLC’s are regulated by the State, not the federal government, so fees to establish your LLC will vary depending on where you live.
Chat with your accountant about your options.
Tip 4: Register Your Business
Registration varies depending on your business name, if you’re a sole proprietor or an LLC and where you live. You’ll need to get an EIN (employer identification number) for tax purposes. This helps separate your business from your personal social security number.
If you’re a sole proprietor operating under your legal name, you might need to get a business license depending on your local jurisdiction. If you’re a sole proprietor operating under a different business name, you might need a DBA or a “doing business as” license. If you’re an LLC, this is regulated by the State, so the fees will vary by state.
See what I mean? I’m just scratching the surface on these first few tips. Getting started with an accountant is super important to chat through all these things in depth to help you make the best decision for your business.
Tip 5: Get Business Insurance
As a photographer, you’re going to be putting a lot of work into your business to help it grow and thrive. Protecting everything that you are building should be a priority. You never know what could happen to cause potential harm to you and your business.
There are a variety of insurance options, but I think equipment and liability insurance are the most important to look into as a photographer when you first get started. Equipment insurance protects your expensive equipment (hey, you might drop your camera) and liability insurance protects you if someone trips over one of your cables on set and breaks their wrist. If you ever need to rent a studio space, a lot of studios will request proof of insurance too, so that’s something to keep in mind. I currently work with AllState for my small business insurance.
Tip 6: Get A (Legal) Contract
I really don’t like to admit this, but in the beginning, I didn’t have a photography contract for my projects. Yep, I have learned the hard way how important it is to have a contract for all of my photography projects. It’s protection for you and it outlines the expectations before, during and after the project so you and your client are on the same page… legally.
Tip 7: Set Up A Business Checking & Savings Account
I highly recommend setting up a separate checking and savings account for your business finances. This will help you track your business money separately from your personal checking and savings accounts.
I started off with Chase, because it’s a popular bank in Chicago and my personal accounts are with Chase. However, I did not like all the fees involved with their business accounts.
I quickly switched to Capital One Spark Business and have been really happy. There are no fees to get setup and no minimum balance requirements. Capital One is all online, but I don’t mind since I handle everything online anyway. I also got a Spark Business Credit Card to use for my business expenses when needed and the cash back rewards have been pretty awesome.
Tip 8: Get Quickbooks
At first, I was managing and tracking my business finances through a google excel sheet. This was way too time consuming and it was easy to make mistakes.
Quickbooks Online allows you to connect your business checking, savings and credit card account so you can easily track your expenses, send invoices and evaluate how your business is doing. You can upload images of your receipts (less paper to hang on to) and categorize your expenses. Reviewing these numbers often will help you figure out where to make adjustments as your business ebbs and flows. It’s also super easy for me to send my profit and loss report to my accountant for quarterly taxes. There is a monthly fee, but it’s worth it to keep my finances so organized.
Tip 9: Figure Out Your Business Expenses
Think of your business expenses as everything you need and use to run your business. Business expenses are things like equipment, software, internet, cell phone, business insurance, website hosting, bookkeeping, studio space, etc.
Once you’ve made your list and categorized your business expenses, you can track how much your business costs you each month. While monthly costs can vary, you will get a general idea of your recurring monthly business expenses. And, if you’re not sure about what counts as a business expense, definitely chat with your accountant.
Tip 10: Figure Out Your Pricing
This is a very tricky topic for photographers. I remember how tough it was for me in the beginning, because there isn’t a one-price-fits all approach when it comes to food photography. How do you figure out your pricing when all projects and budgets are so different?
Well, I’m happy to share that figuring out your pricing is not as hard as it seems. The reason we make pricing hard is because there’s too much emotion behind it. Remember when I mentioned the importance of thinking like a business person, not just a creative person? Pricing is a big part of it. Take away the emotion and look at your pricing as numbers.
In order to figure out a general pricing model that makes sense for your business, you need to think about the following things:
- Business expenses: What does your business cost you each month?
- Personal expenses: What do you need to pay yourself each month?
- Taxes (subtract 30% from each paycheck to set aside for paying taxes)
- What is your “desired” yearly income?
- How often do you want to be working?
- What should you roughly charge per project to support numbers 1 – 5?
Notice how none of those things have anything to do with emotions? 😉 Be honest with yourself about these numbers. Write them down, because it’s time to get comfortable with them.
You are going to be too expensive for some clients, so don’t worry about trying to please “everyone” with your pricing. And, if you find yourself to be busy all the time, you probably aren’t charging enough. It’s totally ok to negotiate and be flexible per project, but within reason. Knowing your numbers and what your financial goals are will help guide you to your ideal clients and projects.
Tip 11: Launch A “Good” Website
This may seem like a no-brainer, but a lot of photographers make a lot of common mistakes with their website. I definitely didn’t know what I was doing in the beginning, but didn’t realize I needed to do more.
I found a template I liked, added my work and called it a day. The problem was that my website was hardly ever seen because I didn’t take the steps to make my website actually work for me.
Launching a GOOD website isn’t just about adding your beautiful work and your email. You also need to include SEO-friendly keywords and copy to stand out from what everyone else is doing and help Google find you when people are searching.
I currently use Tonic Site Shop for my website and blog and absolutely LOVE working with them. Their templates are unique and beautiful and easy to customize for both mobile and desktop. And, I can easily add SEO-friendly keywords and copy to help my website’s rankings.
Stop by Tonic’s website and see what you think. If you’re ready to make some changes to your website and love their templates as much as I do, use my code: REGANSENTME for 15% off your template purchase.
Related Post: How To Improve Your Photography Website
Tip 12: Figure Out Your Marketing Plan
Getting clients is obviously an important part of being a photographer. How you market yourself is going to help you get them. How do you plan to reach your ideal clients?
No matter what your marketing strategy is, your website is the face of your business online which is where a lot of potential clients start to look for photographers. Most of my client work comes from people searching online and finding my website.
The other tools I use to drive people to my website are Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram and email subscribers. I don’t invest in a lot of printed materials, cold calls or hustle to networking events or portfolio reviews. I like to keep it simple, budget-friendly and less exhausting so I can save my time and energy for the studio.
Related Post: How I Get Photography Clients
This was a lot of information about how to start your photography business. I hope you found it helpful. How did you start your business? Share how you got started in the comments below so we can build on this conversation together. I would love to hear how you got started!