So you’re ready to start a photography business.
Yes. Let’s do it. There’s nobody else (that I know of) that is cheering you on harder and louder than myself!
As a photography business mentor, I love to see sprouting young photographers ready to take the next step and start charging and making a profit with their photography services.
And as much as it’s so easy to get caught up in the daydreaming of what a photography business would be like, I feel compelled to share some of the not so glamorous aspects of owning a business.
Because having a photography business is a lot of work.
It’s more than just getting paid to take pretty pictures.
It’s more than doing what you love and making a profit from it.
It’s more than just deciding that you’re going to quit your job and start a photography business.
And it’s definitely more than just starting an Instagram account and Facebook page and slapping an “open” sign up online.
There’s a whole realm of nitty gritty business things that need more attention if you want to start a photography business and actually make it successful.
And while starting a photography business might seem daunting, it truly doesn’t have to be!
It can actually be fun & exciting!
Being in business for a whole decade, I have concluded that in order to start a photography business, you only need a handful of affairs in order to get you off on the right foot.
But, ignoring these essential business items might leave you in a rut. Or worse: it could completely wreck your business.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
Here’s the list of 11 essentials that you absolutely must have in order to start a photography business.
A photography portfolio
This should go without saying, but you will need a full portfolio before you start handing out business cards for a few reasons.
First of all, clients need to know what kind of work you do.
Are you a family photographer? Do you only take on newborns? Or perhaps you just want to go all out and shoot weddings. Whatever your niche is (or would like it to be), make sure you have a solid portfolio to showcase that.
If you don’t have a well-round portfolio, then it’s time to come up with a plan to create one!
My favorite way of adding new photos to my portfolio is by announcing a model call.
It’s a fun, easy, and profitable way to add more photos under my belt and it can certainly help establish yourself as a professional. See how I made $2,800 from 2 model calls here.
Another reason you want to show a vast array of work in your portfolio is so potential clients know your style – including your editing style.
Do you love the moody look? Are your photos bright & airy? Are you drawn to candid moments? Showing your work as best as you can is everything when it comes to booking clients!
Read next: 5 Lightroom styles your can easily replicate
In order to show off your portfolio, you will need a place to showcase it.
And no, a Facebook page doesn’t cut it for a few reasons.
First of all, it looks unprofessional. A photography without a place to show your work is a little unrefined and you won’t be able to charge fully what you’re worth until you have one.
While you might be able to get by for awhile with only showing your work on social media, at some point you’ll need a legit website if you are serious about starting a business.
Having a website serves various purposes, but only a few are absolutely essential.
First of all, it makes a business look more legit.
I cannot tell you how many times I have looked for a service provider, no matter what industry, and couldn’t find a website. That makes me wonder if this business is really in business or “all in.”
Another reason, it’s a way to market your business to get more clients.
By blogging and using SEO to your advantage, you can gain new organic clients and more eyes on your site – making it easier to book more jobs and make more money!
I personally LOVE using Showit for my website.
It’s an all-in-one hosting and website building platform where you don’t need to know any design skills to create your dream site. I use Showit here at Two Blooms and for my photography business site.
I could go on and on about how amazing their platform is, but why don’t you just see for yourself instead.
When you start a business, you are ultimately starting a brand, and that brand needs to look cohesive.
From your logo to your website, your graphics and even your ad copy, having a brand that meshes well across the board will scream professional and legit.
And while hiring a professional branding designer might be out of your budget in the beginning, you can still conjure up a solid and fluid brand with a small investment.
My favorite place to look at for ads, logos, website flare, and even social media templates, is Etsy.
You can snatch up an entire branding kit for less than what you charge for a photo session – so there’s no excuse why you can’t have great branding from the get-go.
Obvious, I know, but an essential part of running a photography business.
You’ll absolutely need a reliable machine to edit your photos, answer emails, type up blog posts, and update your social media accounts.
Don’t skimp on this one – having to upload, store, and edit photos needs to be done on a solid-built system with no chance of pooping out on you.
Along with having a working computer, you’ll also need a solid camera and the gear required for the jobs you take on (duh, right!?).
Besides just a camera and a few lenses, you’ll also need to think about additional lighting, backdrops, props, and other gadgets you might need along the way.
Personally, I am a minimal photographer and choose not to work with a lot of extras, but if you are serious about opening a studio or taking posed portraits, then considering adding more to your inventory is a must.
You can absolutely get by in the beginning with the bare bones, so don’t feel like you need to spend gobs of money right off the bat.
Gather as you go and soon enough, you’ll have a hefty stash of gear and gizmos to get you through any job out there!
As if having one set of cameras, lenses, and gear wasn’t enough, it’s a good rule of thumb to also have essential backup gear in place as well.
What happens if your camera dies during a gig? Or worse, a wedding?
Having a backup body in place (even if it’s a basic model) will help you in a pinch if something goes wrong. You also won’t have a super embarrassing moment on your hands if for some reason you battery dies or if you forget to put in a SD card before leaving the house.
Having at least 2 of everything essential for your work should be a must and something to not take lightly – unless you want to run the risk of a potential bad situation.
Especially important if you plan on selling products in person, having samples will give your clients an idea of what their photos will look like when turned into a finished piece.
Your samples don’t have to be tremendous and you don’t need everything that you sell, but having a variety of items that your clients can touch and feel can level up your brand and lead to higher sales.
And who doesn’t want to make more money, right?!
Now we are getting to the nitty gritty side of starting a business – you know, the side no one wants to talk about, but is absolutely essential.
Having contracts set it place before you start taking on paying clients is an absolute must and could be a matter of life and death to your business.
Making it crystal clear to your clients about your services, studio policies, and exactly what to expect from each other, having a contact that you both (client and yourself) look over and sign together will only command a higher level of communication.
And let’s face it – communication should be the #1 aspect of your services. Just think of all the potential problems you could face and how a solid communication can avoid that problem.
If you plan on doing multiple types of photography work, this might call for multiple types of contracts.
For instance, I have a contract for my mini sessions, my family/senior sessions, weddings, and commercial/model sessions.
I also require a model release to be signed for all participants who agree to have their photos shared by me – either on social media, my websites, or any additional publication.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with this contract business, check out these carefully crafted contracts for photographers from The Lawtog.
Purchasing a pre-made contract (then having your attorney sign off on it) will save you time, stress, and a potentially bad situation in business. This is something that is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL!
Keeping your financial records, spending, and earning should be done separately from your personal money.
Opening up an additional bank account just for business will help you stay more organized with your business finances and will also make tax season a lot more bearable.
Let’s not fail to mention that if you were ever to be audited by the IRS, it will be much easier to comb through your information if it’s separated from your personal money and spending.
Having a business account has made it so easy to record my photography expenses and earnings into my business spreadsheet that I keep up to date weekly.
The business/legal stuff
If you live in the US, you will need to get a Tax ID # (or EIN) in order to file your taxes at the end of the year.
No matter your location, you will need to investigate the proper way to start a new business.
DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.
Not paying taxes or having your business set up properly could land you into a heap of trouble!!! Make sure you meet with your accountant to help you get started with the exact process you should be taking to take your business seriously.
Now this could seem like an optional essential, but every time you work with a client on a job, you are liable if something were to go wrong.
Say you’re on-location and your client trips and rolls an ankle – or worse, gets seriously injured.
While we might hope that our clients love us dearly enough not to point the finger in our direction, human nature shows that when something unexpected happens, you never know how someone will truly react.
Not only will insurance help keep your camera-clicking booty covered, it can also help with gear expenses if something devastating were to happen and idemnification (if a client ever tried to bad mouth your business).
You can get a good insurance plan for less than a dollar a day – so why wouldn’t you sign up!?
PPA makes it easy to attain insurance for your gear, liability, and idemnification all in in place – plus they have your back if you were to ever land yourself into a sticky situation.
Get yourself covered today – before you take on any clients.
A marketing plan
As a business mentor, I could go on and on about why having a marketing plan is so essential to your success, but I will leave you with just 5.
Having a marketing plan will help you:
- Book more clients
- Reach your financial goals
- Keeps your business organized
- Grows your business faster
- Saves you time marketing because you already know what to focus on next
It’s easy to get caught up in the fun things of having a business, but here’s my honest-to goodness truth: If you don’t have a marketing plan, then you will have a hard time trying to book sessions and grow your business.
And creating a marketing plan doesn’t have to be hard either. It can actually be really fun & fulfilling!
How to create a marketing plan
Creating a marketing plan is pretty straight forward once you know who your ideal client is, how much you want to earn, and how many sessions you need to book.
The next step to creating a marketing plan is blocking out certain times of the year to dedicate to a promotion or event, and then fill in the gaps with ways to market that.
When you know what your focus is in your business, you can start creating a plan ahead of time so that you can book more sessions.