9 Important Steps to Starting a Photography Business with Vanessa Joy
Photography is fun, so you’ve decided to take it to the next step. Starting a photography business can be a rewarding project—and if you’re serious about it, it can even become your livelihood! Like any big project, though, it takes some planning to succeed. Let’s talk about nine key steps you need to take in order to start your photography business from scratch.
1. Determine Your Brand
The first important step in starting up a photography business is to determine what your brand is all about. A big part of branding in photography is the styleyou’re known for. Granted, most of us creatives like to mix it up now and again; one day we may want to shoot with bright colors and vibrant contrasts, while the next day we’re really into noir-style sepia tones. And that’s totally okay!
However, we all have our individual strengths as photographers, and your go-to style should be the one that you can deliver to customers on a consistent basis—in other words, the one you’re most comfortable with. When you become known for a particular style, that will help your brand exposure to grow.
2. Understand Your Pricing
This is a big one. After all, no matter how much you love photography, you’re running a business, not a non-profit! You need to do some market research before you set your initial prices. Find out what other photographers who offer similar services are charging. If you’re not comfortable with your skill set yet, charge a little bit lower than your competitors. But—and this is the key—don’t stay at that price level! Raise your prices as your brand, business, and confidence grow.
3. Determine Your Payment Calendar
You want to determine a suitable payment calendar or schedule for your business. That way you don’t have to worry about when (or if!) you’ll get paid, and your clients will have clear expectations as to when your fees are due.
I personally have the following payment calendar in place for weddings:
- An initial deposit several months (possibly years) in advance
- Another small payment six months ahead of the wedding
- The final balance paid in full 14 days before the wedding
That may seem a little over the top, but it’s actually standard in the wedding photography business. The reality is, relationship problems happen and unexpected events occur, but that shouldn’t mean that you don’t get to put food on your table! The bottom line is, work out a payment calendar so that you don’t have to go chasing down clients to get your hard-earned money.
4. Use Contracts
This is absolutely huge: always have contracts for your business arrangements. It really is a protection for you, your clients, and any freelancers you work with. The internet is full of standard contracts for photography businesses, so you have plenty from which to choose.
Plus, I would really recommend that you consider forming a limited liability company (LLC) for your business. An LLC is a legal mechanism that separates you (the individual) from your business (the company). It’s called “limited liability” because in the event that your business gets sued by a disgruntled client, they can’t legally go after your personal assets, like your house, your car, etc.
5. Be Organized
You absolutely must organize your photos and files in a logical way and keep them stored in a safe (digital) place. In fact, you need to have a system in place by day one if you really want to succeed in this business.
Why is this such a big deal? For at least three key reasons:
- It helps your overall workflow. You don’t have to guess what your next task is. You already know, because you have a system in place. That will save you a lot of time.
- When you get really busy, you’ll already have a system in place. That’s why I said you need to be organized from day one. After you’re slammed with business is the worst possible time to figure out how to get your act together.
- You’ll have backup files to prevent you from losing your clients’ pictures. Trust me, you don’t ever want to lose a client’s picture. It is not a pretty scene.
6. Find Clients by Talking Up Your Business
There are a ton of different ways to find new clients for your business: social media, your website, networking, etc. For the purpose of this discussion, I would recommend one key method to acquire new clients: announce your new business everywhere.
Talk about it all the time. Chat up your friends and family members, post pics on your social media accounts, talk about the struggles you’re facing—just talk it up! It doesn’t cost you a cent, but it can be effective.
7. Offer Exceptional Consultations
Here are the three big things you want to master when it comes to initial consultations with a potential client:
- Be convenient
- Be quick
- Be relatable
To be 100% honest, those three things will mean more to your clients than anything you can show them from your portfolio. The average client won’t be able to tell the difference between good and great photography; what they can figure out is how easy or difficult you’ll make the process for them, how quickly (or slowly) you follow up with their questions, and how pleasant (or dreary) your personality is. In the final analysis, those things could mean the difference between landing a client and losing one.
8. Pay Your Taxes
Oh yeah, you’ll have to pay taxes. For one thing, you’ll probably have to register for a sales tax ID, and then make sure that you’re charging your clients the proper amount for sales tax.
However, the biggest tax you’ll need to worry about is income tax. As a self-employed entrepreneur, you don’t get the luxury of someone else taking out taxes from your paycheck—you have to do that on your own. That means you’ll only get to spend a portion of that big paycheck you just received from a client. As a rule of thumb, make sure you set aside at least 30% of every check you get in a separate account for taxes. The last thing you need is a huge tax bill at the end of the year without any money to pay it!
9. Develop and Stick to a Budget
Basically, you can’t throw money around blindly. When you’re just starting out, you’ll probably to work with the equipment that you have, instead of buying the latest and greatest gear that may put you into debt. Plus, you’ll need to set aside part of your overall budget to create your marketing budget. Here’s what you can do: besides the 30% that you take out of your check for taxes, put another 10% back into your marketing budget. Your marketing budget could go toward posting ads on social media, paying for dinner with a wedding planner, or whatever you need to do to advertise and grow your business.
And, in addition to that 40% for taxes and marketing, don’t forget to take out money from each check for other operating costs, like equipment rentals, business insurance, wages for your employees or contractors… the list could go on and on!
I could share a lot of other tips with you on starting a photography business, but here’s the key takeaway: start with a good foundation, and it will be so much easier to grow your brand, get new clients, and turn a profit. If you build on that good foundation and follow the nine steps outlined above, you’ll be sure to enjoy your photography business (and make money out of it) for years to come!