Before you start your photography business, there are a few essential things you need to have in place. Utilize this as a checklist to tell yourself that you’re ready to launch.
#1. Website, Portfolio, and Email Address
Think of this trio as the alternative to a storefront. For a brick-and-mortar business, you need a location for your customers to go and a way for them to purchase your goods or services. There’s an expectation with most modern businesses that you’re going to have a website to share with potential clients and a way for them to contact you through that website.
Plus, as a photographer, you should have some sort of portfolio. Your portfolio doesn’t have to be perfect when you’re starting out, but the quality of your portfolio may reflect the quality of work that you’re able to book. Similarly, the type of work you show might impact the type of work you attract.
Don’t get hung up on having the perfect portfolio or website as you’ll refind them repeatedly over time anyway. However, you can always plan some portfolio-building photoshoots so that you have work to showcase. If all your work is portraiture and you’re building a real estate business, for example, you’ll want to create some sample images to showcase at least enough to get that first gig.
#2. Insurance, Business License, and Permits
This second trio consists of the official things you’ll need to put in place to be legit. Some small-time friends/clients might not care if you’re a licensed and insured photographer but when you’re ready to start your business you’ll need to take care of business. The other thing that might apply is permits, specifically if you’re shooting at locations that require a permit to conduct business.
A quick internet search for your state will provide you with the simple steps to get a business license. Luckily photography permits are becoming easier to understand, track down, and acquire for various locations. Your local regulations will indicate if you need a license for your city, county, or state and how often you have to renew. When it comes to insurance, there’s equipment coverage and liability.
As you grow you might consider becoming an LLC to limit your liability, but that comes with its own limitations and may not be a factor if you’re just starting out. As we move into the next section on finance it will help you determine where you stand. If you’re a freelancer there will be different considerations than if you’re building a business and plan to hire other photographers.
#3. Contract, Licensing Agreement, Pricing
Next up you’ll want to have a contract, licensing agreement, and price sheet in place. Your pricing might depend on your market, experience, and budget which we’ll talk about more in the next section. Your contract and licensing agreement is what will protect you on the legal front.
The best thing to do is to get advice from a lawyer and ideally one who specializes in the photography industry. There are also templates and best practices that you can use as a starting point. Your contract might evolve as your business grows and you learn what is important to communicate clearly with your clients.
Image licensing is a whole other topic that you’ll want to understand as it ensures to your specific specialty. Your pricing is another thing that will change over time but it’s important to have a starting point for when potential clients reach out. Start by researching the market value for your work and what your competitors are charging but then also take a look at your budget.
#4. Budgets, Business Bank Accounts
The next step, as I mentioned above, is to think about money. You need to create a budget and open a bank account. It’ll be important to have a separate bank account and keep your business expenses separate from your personal not only for tax reasons but to ensure you’re running a profitable business.
When creating your budget you’ll want to determine the cost of running your business including how much you want or need to make. This is yet another thing that might change and it’s important to revisit your budget quarterly or monthly. You may decide you need to spend more on marketing or you might have unexpected expenses come up.
Having a budget is crucial to knowing where you stand and what you need to do next. You can use your budget to determine your pricing or the quantity of work you need to book. Eventually, you’ll get even more advanced and track your marketing costs to make sure you’re getting a return on your investment.
#5. Marketing Plan
Speaking of ROI (return on investment) let’s talk about marketing. Marketing is all about finding clients. Your marketing plan will vary depending on your photography specialty but some elements are the same.
You need to determine who your target market is, how to reach them, and how to get them to hire you. Sometimes it’s a long game of cultivating clients while other times you just need to be there when someone is actively looking. Usually there’s a bit of both, actively generating new leads and continuing to cultivate the ones you have.
There are numerous marketing techniques and photographers that swear by particular ones. You probably won’t have the time or budget to do them all so start with the ones that seem the most effective in your target market. Track everything and evaluate the effectiveness of your plan.
Kicking Off Your Photography Business
Once you’ve checked these 5 essentials off of your to-do list, it’s time to kick off your photography business. Some people start before they’re ready and it makes it harder for them to gain traction. Other people are more inclined to wait until everything is perfect and they never actually get started.
One of the best ways to learn is to get started. Get your essentials in place and then get to work. Track your progress, evaluate what’s working, and adapt as needed. Starting a business can feel risky but if you do it thoughtfully failure is just a learning experience.
About the author: Brenda Bergreen is a Colorado wedding photographer, videographer, yoga teacher, and writer who works alongside her husband at Bergreen Photography. With their mission and mantra “love. adventurously.” they are dedicated to telling adventurous stories in beautiful places.
Image credits: Header illustration line drawings from 123RF