Good morning and Happy Friday!!
So, you have a professional camera, you want to make a few extra bucks to help your family and you think, I could do that! You, yes you want to start your own photography business and you 110% absolutely can! I am a dreamer and Entrepeneur and I want to help others out to pursue their dreams. You think that's all good and all, but heck where do I even start? I am going to share some tips that may help you along the way and ultimately assist you in your decision to become or not become a photographer. I am 100% a believer in community over competition and I hope everyone reading this feels the same. I mean shoot, competition is healthy.
Step 1: Evaluate your goals. Truly sit down and figure out what you want and how you are going to achieve it. Do you want this to be a side gig, or do you want this to be a career? Are you hoping to specialize in a certain area? My number one mistake when starting out was not sitting down and figuring out my goals for my business. I am a balls to the wall kind of personality and wanted to run before I could walk. I promise you, if you sit down and figure out your goals before you accept your first paying client, it will help lead you in the right direction.
Step 2: What will I call myself?!?! The easiest way to start is to go by your given name. This does not require any special paperwork. Want a fun name? You should absolutely go for it! (I have tossed the idea around, but I like simplicity) To run a business under a fictitious name you will need to fill out what is called a DBA (Doing Business As). You can still be a sole proprietor going this route, there will just be an additional step. My biggest advice if you decide to go the DBA route is DO YOUR RESEARCH! Check to see if anyone else goes by this name. IF so, it doesn't mean you can't use this name as long as it is not trademarked, where you may come into trouble though is when you go to build your own website and need a domain name. Using your own name tends to be easier and less expensive when it comes to finding a domain name. This is why you see a lot of photographers using their own names :)
Step 3: Decide if you want to operate as a sole proprietor or as an LLC (limited liability company). If you anticipate a high volume of clients and money, I will always recommend going the LLC route. This prevents a client from suing and taking your personal assets. I personally have not obtained an LLC yet, as I do not feel I am at a point in my journey where it is necessarily needed. There's more paperwork and you must be meticulous with your books. You should always be meticulous with your earnings of course, there's just more involved with an LLC and it is public information.
Step 4: Taxes... we all love them; we all have to pay them. The moment you accept your first payment, you owe the government for that transaction. If you are operating as a sole proprietor, it's as simple as filing alongside your personal taxes. Check your state taxes! YOU SHOULD NEVER SKIRT AROUND PAYING THE TAX MAN. I don't know about you, but I'm allergic to jail and paying back taxes. No thanks! Every state has different tax laws. If your state does not have clear tax laws for photography, I highly recommend contacting the state or professional accountant to ask these very important questions. Keep in mind these rules can and do change, so be sure to stay up to date. Do yourself a favor and register with the state for taxes and also register with the Tax man for an EIN (employee identification number) # this makes it easier to separate yourself from your business come tax time.
Step 5: Okay so you have your business name, your taxes figured out and now you are excited to get started! Great! Where are you going to store those images for downloads? I highly recommend a photo friendly web hosting service. There are tons to pick from and some are even free to start. IF you plan to provide a USB stick that is taxable because it is a physical item (something to keep in mind), files will most likely be too large for email transmission and dropbox in my opinion is just annoying. If you plan to start a website, you will now need to find a domain name to start that website. This is a relatively inexpensive way to differentiate yourself from others.
Step 6: Evaluate your equipment. Are you shooting crop frame or full frame? Both are just fine to be clear. IF you are planning to invest, I highly recommend sticking to the same brand as once you start purchasing lenses and back up/new camera body's it gets very, very expensive! A single good lens with a low aperture can run you into the thousands. Your equipment is not going to make you a better photographer, but practice will. Lenses and a good body however will help take you to where you want to be.
Step 7: LEARN YOUR CAMERA!! I cannot emphasize this enough. Do not take your first paid client until you have practiced and practiced. Learning manual is going to give you those beautiful images you are looking for. I do not recommend photographing professionally in Auto mode. The human touch is the best touch.
Step 8: Okay, so you've done the practice you are happy with your results YAY!! Now it's time to figure out your pricing. This my friend is going to be the hardest part. I struggle with pricing myself. My best advice, figure out your cost of doing business. What does it cost to run your business and what will it cost to make a profit? I won't lie pricing your own business is freaking hard! You don't want to be too low because hello you've spent a ton of time and money getting here, but you also want to build your portfolio. Trust me I get it, I've been there. Please do us all a favor and don't be the $50 photographer. You will not make money, you will be overworked, and it will give the perception to clients that hey see, it doesn't cost that much, and others charge way too much. It is already a super undervalued business, and we are all struggling here.
Step 9: yay you took the pictures, you feel amazing about it as you should, and you are ready to start editing. The Adobe platform is going to be your friend. There is a monthly membership, and this will be your best bet and least expensive option. Editing is a huge learning curve. So again practice, practice, practice!
Step 10: Insurance! Regardless of whether you file an LLC or not, you should obtain liability insurance. Most venues and parks do not allow photographers without holding liability insurance.
Okay, I think I covered a huge chunk of starting a photography business. There is more, but my brain is tired and it's Friday lol Please never hesitate to reach out and ask questions. I was in your shoes once and it was an amazing thing to have others there to help. I will leave you with this and not as a negative. Photography is a very saturated market, there are so many photographers, but they all also have their own styles and there are a lot of people, and we all have our favorites. Don't let this deter you from starting your journey, find your niche.
All in all, get out there and have fun! The best part of this job is meeting new people, digging into my creative side and just enjoying the journey.