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Your Go-To Checklist for Starting a Photography Business

Paige Newberry

Jun 10, 2020
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Photography has become a part of our everyday lives. We have pocket-sized cameras at our fingertips at all times with the advancement of smartphone technology. With more accessible photography training, the lower cost of DSLR cameras and equipment, and free and affordable marketing through social media, starting a photography business has become much easier.

While you may have your exposure and composition expertise, there are important steps you must take to ensure your photography business is a success. We’re here to help you kick it off with our 16-step photography business checklist.

Step 1: Create a business plan

Start with your “why.” Why do you want to start a photography business and what does the success of that business look like to you? Write down what your short- and long-term goals are. Outline what it will take to achieve those goals. Know your direction and goals to stay motivated, and use them to tell your story.

In your business plan, outline what tools you will need to get started. Do you need new equipment? What type of photos and subjects do you want to focus on? What lenses will you need? Explore how much it may cost you to start your photography business and what a realistic budget is for you. In general, startup costs range from $5,000 to $10,000.

Step 2: Get your business registration/license

Oftentimes, this is where new photographers begin to get overwhelmed or intimated, but don’t let it stop you.

Acquiring a business registration or license can be as simple as doing a Google search of how to get one in your city or country. In order to make your business official, you’ll need to get a business number, register in your state and/or city, and get an EIN number for tax purposes.

Step 3: Set up your business structure

Next, you’ll want to figure out how you want your business to be structured. Look into the differences between an LLC and a sole proprietorship. Depending on your personal situation, one may work better for you and your business plan than the other.

As an individual, you’re automatically seen as a sole proprietorship. However, if it fits your situation, creating an LLC can protect your personal assets and separate them from your business responsibilities and assets if your business is ever involved in a lawsuit.

Step 4: Set up a business account

Open up a business checking account. Start with the bank that you have your personal account with first, and see what business banking benefits they can offer you.

It should be a simple setup once you have all your business registration information ready. They may even have an incentive when you open a new account.

Step 5: Get insurance

Regardless of what you think will or won’t happen, insurance is a must-have when starting your photography business.

This insurance can cover you AND your equipment, so be sure to look into public liability and professional indemnity. You never know what could happen at a session. For example, someone could fall and hurt themselves, or your equipment may get stolen or lost when you travel.

Step 6: Set aside money for taxes

Because you’re the owner of this photography business, it’s time to keep track of income and expenses. Be sure to set aside money for taxes at the end of the year.

Keep all your receipts for any business-related expenses, such as new equipment, travel, software, and even utilities if you work from home while editing. All of this will factor into how much you’ll owe in taxes when the year ends.

Step 7: Get an accountant

If you’re worried about keeping track of all financials by yourself, hire an accountant. They will be a significant help when starting your photography business.

They’ll also help you:

  • Sort out what your profits are at the end of the year
  • Assist with tax documents
  • Outline what business expenses you can account for

While financials can be overwhelming, there are some great cloud accounting software applications to help new photography business owners. These include Wave Financial, ShootQ, or the better known QuickBooks.

Step 8: Decide on a business name and logo

Your photography business name and logo will likely be the first interaction a potential client will have with your brand. It truly can be the make-or-break-it in the success of your business. Is your photography business name easy to remember by everyone, not just meaningful to you? Is it already taken or trademarked? Is the name available to use on all social media platforms? Does it reflect the type of photography you focus on? Will it grow with you as your photography business grows? It’s important to have a clear answer to all of these before settling on a name.

This is a great time to use friends and family. Write down 5-10 names you have in mind and get the opinions of others. See how the names resonate with them. Use that information to secure a name that fits you and your photography business, but also has the appeal to fit your audience.

Step 9: Decide on your photography niche

To hone in on your skills and market your business successfully, understanding your niche is crucial. You could be a wedding photographer and only shoot weddings and engagements. When first starting out, this could limit your growth and audience potential quite a bit. If you’re just starting a photography business, you may want to focus more on your photographic style and explore what that looks like throughout a wide variety of subjects.

You’ll want to consider what niche may be more profitable than the others and what your potential growth is for your photography business in that niche. Look at your competitors in the area. Explore what opportunities or needs there are that you could satisfy for your audience. Success depends on demand just as much as it does on your skills.

Today’s most profitable niches are:

  • Event photography
  • Product photography
  • Social media photography

Step 10: Set up a website

This is a major step in your marketing strategy for a photography business. You can easily build your own website with platforms like WordPress and Wix nowadays and don’t necessarily have to hire a web developer for it. Be sure to include your photography portfolio and icons on your social media channels.

To rank high in Google search results, you’ll want to learn the ins and outs of local SEO and the importance of starting a blog on your website. Strategies like this will have your photography business showing up on the first page of Google search results for your area eventually.

Step 11: Decide what gear and vendors to use

We discussed this earlier, but it’s important to research what gear you’ll need to use. This can depend on the type of photography you’re looking to get into.

Landscape photography could require quite a different lens and shooting style than fast-action sports photography would. Remember to understand your budget first and work from there. Used equipment can be just as good as brand new equipment when first starting your photography business.

Step 12: Learn Photoshop and Lightroom

One reason starting your photography business is so doable now is the availability of some great Lightroom and Photoshop classes… for free! Take time to learn the uses of each program and how they can be a big advantage to your editing process.

Invest in yourself and your knowledge to grow through the use of these tools, just as you did with the physical hardware of a camera and lens.

Step 13: Get contracts and templates in place for clients

This is another stopping point for a lot of new photographers, but you’d be surprised how easy it can be to set up a contract for your clients. Along with free software training online, you can also find some great free contract templates online, too.

When starting a photography business, you’ll want to begin by at least looking at a portrait photography contract, model release, copyright, print release, and retainer policy.

Step 14: Decide how to deliver and store images

For your sake (and from the experiences of those photographers who came before you), store your photos in more than one place.

This could mean two different external hard drives or, better yet, one hard drive and one cloud storage. This will ensure that your photos will always be safe and organized. In addition, you can use your cloud storage as an easy way to share images with your clients.

Step 15: Have a social media presence

As mentioned above, have a social media presence. Social media can be used as free marketing for your new photography business.

Show your audience some behind-the-scenes shots, maybe of setting up a shoot or even how you edit your photos. Potential clients love to see and relate to who’s behind the camera too!

Step 16: Generate leads and market yourself

Start your marketing strategy by outlining who your ideal client would be and what the best way is to reach them, whether through a website, social media, email, etc.

When building your email marketing strategy, ensure that you are talking to the correct audience for your photography business. Building an email list takes time and dedication but is a great marketing tactic in making sure your business is successful. Agency Access’ email list builder can help set up your perfect audience when looking for other creatives or vendors to work with and expand your network.

Starting any new business is both scary and exciting, but, when taken one step at a time, you’re more likely to succeed. Photography is a great way to explore your creative talents while also living a unique life filled with new people and experiences. By following this photography business checklist, you can turn your passion into a full-time business in no time.