6 Steps to Follow Before Starting a Photography Business

December 2, 2010

in Rachel Durik

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Before I begin anything in this series, it is imperative that you know and understand that business is very difficult for me. I don’t really get it. I struggle through it and hate it in the process. I understand things to do with the business and legal side to the best of my ability and then check with professionals that know what they’re doing to make sure everything I think is right. It is possible that something in this article might not be accurate in your state as state laws vary. Please don’t take this as legal advice, but as a starting point for your own research.

If you know anything about me, you know that I jumped into business hastily. It was not thought out. I had swirling ideas of pro-status photographer grandeur in my head already from the handful of people who offered to pay me for photographing their family. And then I had a professional photographer ask me for advice one day on something that was very simple and basic. And that was the thing that sealed the deal. If they could do it, certainly I could do it. And that was the day I determined in my head I would go into business.

Please, please, for the love of photography (literally – business can steal the joy!) do not go into business on a whim or even just because people have told you they would pay you!

In my opinion, business is about 80-90% of a photography business. Yes, you need to take pretty pictures. But in order to get that business, you have to be a business man or woman first. Business will always come first. Have you ever seen a mediocre photographer up to their ears in business? Or a phenomenal photographer who doesn’t make a lot of bookings? It’s not the quality of their photography. It’s probably their business skills and management.

So back to my story. The next few days, I’d say maybe 3-4 days, I started a business. Looking back at myself, I’m horrified by my process. I’m the kind of girl with a lot of confidence and the ability to jump in headfirst, which is just what I did, foolishly. I came up with a business name in just a few hours. And then I secured a website under that name, Savor Photography, another hour later. I found a photography website hosting service and bought the template after a few hours of looking.

Do you see the craziness of it all? I didn’t let things sink in. I was gung-ho and ready to do this. NOW! What if I didn’t like my business name a week later? What if the template website didn’t have good service? I should have slowed down, sought advice and let it swirl around in my head longer. Nearly everything I did then I’ve had to redo later.

After buying the website, I got my website up the next day using sample photographs I already had. I put ads on Craigslist for free portfolio building shoots. (Another thing I learned early on – avoid Craigslist! Even for free shoots! People who are out to get free photography will not value you or your time  or appreciate what they’re getting for the most part.) I went straight to Legal Zoom and paid them to get me legit as a business, without understanding the process whatsoever. I made contracts as needed, basically using stuff I could find out online. I decided on my pricing without fully considering what it would cost me. I put together a logo in Photoshop, which was awful.

Seriously, I did all of this in just days and I was officially open as a business. I did it half thinking it might fail, not considering the future. And even to this day, I’m still paying for my mistakes. Yes, several years later, I am still paying for poor planning in the past.

So if you’re considering starting up a business, please learn from my mistakes. Here’s what I wish I had thought about before jumping in.

1. Consider your business skills. Are you a natural businessperson? Are you a good salesman? Are you outgoing and willing to put yourself out there? Do you know what your marketing strategies are? Do you easily understand your income tax paperwork? Because business paperwork is just as bad, and there’s more of it.

2. Come up with a plan for your business. A lot of people out there suggest you need a proper business plan. I don’t really believe that (but then again, I’m not good at business). But I do think you need to have your goals laid out. You need to consider how big you want to be, how many shoots you want to do per month, and what your income goals will be. Do this before you officially open.

3. Before you act on anything that will be permanent, let your ideas sit for a while. Things like a logo and a business name are, or should be, permanent. If I could do it over again, I’d put money into this and hire someone to help me.

4. Research how to start up a small business in your state. Laws vary by state, and there a different organizations for business you can choose, like LLCs and self-proprietorship. I’ll address this next time. Again, you need to have all this figured out before you open up.

5. Re-evaluate why you want to go into business. What are your motivations? Do you have the time and money it takes to start a business? Do you want to go into debt? Can you afford to fail? Home businesses can become consuming. If you have a family, it can take a huge chunk of your time from them. It’s not as easy as having photography as a hobby. It’s possible that you will not love your photography business as much as you love your photography hobby.

6. And lastly, don’t do business under the table. Even when you’re starting out, have integrity and get legit.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t start a business. I’m just saying you should think it through first. If you’ve given a lot of thought into all this and still want to go ahead with it – great! I’ll go into more specifics next time.

Rachel Durik is a photographer located in Southwest Florida. You can learn more by visiting her photography site, Savor Photography, Naples Wedding Photographer, the Savor facebook page, and her personal blog. Rachel offers photography workshops and online photography classes. Learn more here.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

IndioBailBonds October 26, 2015

Thank you for the great series To have a business license and getting set up to collect and pay taxes is what really makes us legit and difficult thing.


Ashley Z. September 13, 2014

I just started my business and these are some great tips. Thanks for sharing!!


paul downing September 24, 2011

How to Start a Photography Business: The 6 Steps http://ow.ly/6C1Xz #photobiz #togs


Laura April 27, 2011

Wanted to add, thanks for writing this! Lots to sit and think about!


Laura April 27, 2011

Its articles like this, that have kept me from charging people the last two years. I am terrified of starting, delving in too deep, doing it all wrong, and plus I hear the joy of photography goes out the window a lot of times in the process. What if my business “model” in my brain is only a handful of shoots a month, charging a relatively reasonable set price. I have a career and this at the moment remains my “hobby”. However, it is an expensive hobby and so many people would be more than happy to pay for my services. Whats a photographer to do in this situation?


Gisselle March 17, 2011

Thanks so much for all these tips! they are great!


Amber March 17, 2011

Lyn, I think this is a great question too! I hope you don’t mind, but I posted it in the Forum in I Heart Faces community because I want a few answers to this too. Go check it out in the Photography Business Questions and Advice of the forum if you’d like. I hope to hear from others who have dealt with this specific issue. :)


Lyn March 5, 2011

When do you get to the point of saying I HAVE to make this into a business or just quit all together? I made $850 last year doing family portraits on the side. Its my way of making extra mommy money. Its not alot and I really don’t want to start this as a business yet. However, I contacted the IRS and they said that any money made over $450 makes you a business whether or not you are set up as a business. Can’t claim it as a hobby because I obviously made more than that. I really want to keep doing this on the side and not delve into the stress of making this a business but I’m not sure where the fine line is.. I really don’t want to quit doing this but I’m wondering if I’m going to HAVE to turn this into a business just to deal with taxes. I want to keep this legit and not take $$ under the table. Any help would be greatly appreciated!


Pam D January 25, 2011

Perfect timing for me, as I try to decide the direction in which I want to take this “hobby” that consumes me. Thanks, Rachel…


Cindy Knull December 10, 2010

Thumbs WAY up, Rachel!! WAY UP.


Lyndsey Fagerlund December 4, 2010

Had to laugh at your post, because I did the same thing too! Thank goodness failures can lead to great success.


Amy Locurto December 3, 2010

RT @iHeartFaces: 6 Steps to Follow Before Starting a Photography Business: Before I begin anything in this… http://goo.gl/fb/bl3aY


Dusti December 2, 2010

As someone who just recently started her “side” business during the weekend and is a full-time art teacher during the week, this will be invaluable. I so appreciate your wisdom of experience.


Lisa of Gladwynn Photography December 2, 2010

My concern is that the first year (several months) I was putting more out than bringing in and while i’ve kept records, from what I’m reading on the IRS, I think I might be better off starting keeping the records even better this next year to pay all my taxes next year on the business side of things.

The tax stuff has me so nervous, but I know I’ll figure it out.

I really did mostly free stuff this past year to build my portfolio. But, taxes are filed in April, so I still have time to double check and see what I’ll be reporting. I definitely won’t be claiming anything on taxes for my business as far as expenses.

I did find out this week that I have to file for a fictitious name and what stinks is that if I had kept my last name in the business name I wouldn’t have to do this and pay the state $70 to file the form. Argh! But I already have a domain name, brochures, etc. and do not want to change my business name. :-)


Life with Kaishon December 2, 2010

This is such a great post filled with VERY wise advice : ) Thanks for sharing Rachel : )


Amy @ Marvelous Mommy December 2, 2010

Great tips! Thanks for posting!


Helen December 2, 2010

Thank you for this post! For the last 6 months or so I’ve been rolling the idea in my head of going into business. Recently I’ve decided I’m about 80% sure I want to do it, but I’m going to give myself more time to think about and research it and really look into it after I have a baby in 2 months.

I look forward to reading the other posts in this series!


Nicole Inskip December 2, 2010

Love the advise about name. Branding is so important. I started out as Graphic design AND photography, now I am mostly just photography and the name no longer makes sense but the brand is already out there. It’s a complicated transition to make it work for me.


Cherie December 2, 2010

I really appreciate that you shared your business truths so to speak. I went to bed last night praying about my bad business decisions. In the end, shutting down one…restarting another with the proper planning and a product nearer and dearer to my heart. I think the biggest mistake we as business women make is letting someone else talk us into starting a business. It really doesnt work like that at all. Not even close. Suddenly business comes rolling in the door and we’ve got the business growing pains which as you say takes the joy out of it. It really should be enjoyable believe it or not. Alrighty then….feeling the desire to quit surfing blogs and get back to work. I do appreciate your post and hope to see much more on this topic.


Suzanne Barber December 2, 2010

Thank you for sharing your experience. I am slowly plodding through the process of starting a business (mostly due to pros who have shared similar sentiments on taking it slowly.) I will be following your posts on this one. One question:

What if I am heading to the other extreme? Becoming so cautious and careful that I can’t make a decision (on a name/website/etc…) How do you know when you are ready, and just need to push ahead? Are there any other signs to look for, other than desire and praises of family and friends?
LOL that is more than one question! Can’t wait to read more on this topic. Thanks!


Lauren December 2, 2010

TAXES! AH! I’m with Jen on this one.

Seriously… the taxes are such a huge headache if you don’t research everything you owe right away. Because photography product can’t be procured without the creation of the image, or the “service,” in California, you have to pay sales tax on service as well as product… making a nice little extra chunk of taxes you have to pay. Really research and knowing all the idiosyncrasies of business responsibility is so huge.


Miz booshay December 2, 2010

Great advice!!!

Do not believe the teachers out there that say it is all word of mouth. It’s not true! You really have to work it!!

Ask me how I know?

Miz Boo


the Blah Blah Blahger December 2, 2010

Great article! I like how straightforward you are in #6 and think it should be expanded to say PAY YOUR TAXES. Having a business license and getting set up to collect and pay taxes is what really makes us legit. I’d much rather pay my taxes now than have Uncle Sam come track me down later. : )


Amy Locurto December 2, 2010

RT @iheartfaces: 6 Steps to Follow Before Starting a Photography Business http://bit.ly/hLOtVe


Katie Campbell December 2, 2010

This is a great article! I really appreciated your honesty and boldness :) Thanks for sharing!


Jenny December 2, 2010

Why do you want to do free pictures for your friend? Does she ask you to do them for her, or do you just want to do them because you think she should want them? If you just want to do it so that you feel appreciated, I would skip it. Feel appreciated somewhere else!


Tori Gillit December 2, 2010

Hey Rachel, this was great! I really needed all of the advice to really think about things before throwing myself headlong into it all. I do have a question though…what about friends, close friends that you do free things for, and they NEVER SEEM APPRECIATIVE. I don’t think she appreciates my style (she’s more the Sear’s portrait type, I know right?!) And therefore doesn’t say much after I give her the images that I slaved over to edit. I know I’ll still want to do things for her in the future, any advice on how to keep this friendship without getting my feelings hurt?


Victoria December 2, 2010

Amen! Couldn’t have said it better myself! Research, Plan, and Research some more. I’ve learned about business on a fast-track but I think about how much more fun it could’ve/would’ve been had I taken my time to get my “business” ducks in a row rather than jump in head first. I did have enough sense though to get legit from the get-go. But I think about how much of my life was wasted because I just flat out didn’t know what I was doing. A year after being an official business, I’m way more confident and more determined then ever to succeed. I’ve invested too much in blood, sweat, and tears, and not to mention money to just give up. Even though a person may “enjoy” taking pictures, you really need to have a backbone and have the business sense going into it in the first place.


Snowflake December 2, 2010

An excellent and informative blog to reference back to, I will be bookmarking this!


Briana December 2, 2010

Thank you for starting this series :) After a year or so of entertaining the idea, I’m finally going legit and starting my business. And I am calling in some pros to help my business unsaavvy mind.


Dana December 2, 2010

The business side of photography is probably the hardest of all! I am NOT business-minded, I am CREATIVE-minded, and that has hurt me as well.

I still struggle with professional vs hobby because it is a struggle for me! I can take pretty pictures all day long, but to know about taxes and legal stuff and branding and marketing, I’m lost.

Thanks Rachel for the honest look at the business side of things!

Just because people are willing to pay us doesn’t mean we need to go into business, and being mature enough to know that is sometimes difficult!


Emily M. December 2, 2010

Thanks for the great article. This is something I’ve been considering, and one of the things I’m most worried about is me as a business person. I’m pretty sure I’m not–and I’m also very shy. Not a good combo. Are those things I can overcome or not? It’s possibility, if I set my mind to it, but I just don’t know for certain.


tamsen December 2, 2010

thanks- great article! i did the exact same thing and I’ve been trying to dig myself outta that hole since.


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