Guide

How to start a photography business

Here are the steps you need to realize your dreams and start your own photography business.

Person standing at a desk with a computer and a camera.

Do you have a passion for photography? Is it your dream job? If you love taking pictures, you can potentially make a successful career out of it.

Why start a photography business?

If you want to enjoy your hobby full-time, why not start a photography business? You'll get the benefits and flexibility of working independently, all while earning a living doing something you love. You can choose your own projects, set your own hours, and work with other creatives. Plus, there may be opportunities to travel with your work as well.

A professional photography career can, of course, come with challenges and stresses. The working hours may be unsociable if you need to shoot in the early hours, at night or weekends. It's also a very competitive industry, so you'll need to learn how to market your brand and set yourself apart.

Ways to specialize

You could choose to specialize in one of several niches. You could be a wedding photographer and create treasured memories of a couple's special day. If studio shoots are more for you, business headshots or portrait photography may suit you better.

If you’re passionate about sports, you could hone your talents by capturing the action at live sporting events as a sports photographer. Or if food is more your thing, you could become a food photographer, creating beautiful shots of food for global brands or cookbooks.

If you love to travel, you may want to follow your passion by focusing on travel photography. What could be better than showcasing the sights and wonders of the world as you travel the globe?

Other popular types of photography include:

  • Real estate photography: From shooting homes to commercial real estate
  • Wedding photography: Includes the wedding and reception
  • Engagement photography: Can be for the proposal and/or the announcement of the engagement
  • Baby photography: Can be solo pictures or family portraits with the baby
  • Food photography: From shooting food at restaurants and bakeries to advertisements featuring food
  • Sports photography: Can be amateur or professional sports teams and athletes of all levels
  • Travel photography: Can be for travel companies, advertisements, or for travel posters
  • Headshot photography: Including workplace and dating profile photos and family portraits
  • Event photography: From corporate days and award ceremonies to music festivals
  • Fashion photography: Including catwalk shows and editorial shoots
  • Product and marketing photography: Helping to sell or promote products

Step-by-step guide to starting a successful photography business

This guide to creating a successful photography business includes details about building your brand, creating a marketing strategy, and finding funding for your company.

1. Develop a business plan

Start by creating a business plan for your photography venture. It is an important document to guide you through your journey and to help if you require financial funding at any point.

The plan begins with an executive summary and an overview of your company. Include some industry analysis by assessing market trends and potential opportunities.

Next, outline the details of what you intend to offer. This can sit alongside an analysis of your potential customers and competitors.

Other sections of your business plan include:

  • A marketing plan with your value proposition and how you plan to market your business.
  • An operations plan featuring your location, supplier details, and business systems.
  • Details of your team.
  • A financial plan for the first three years with startup costs and how you plan to grow your business financially.

2. Determine your business structure

Decide on your business structure as it has tax and legal implications for your new business. Most small businesses choose to structure as one of the following:

  • Sole proprietor: A single owner runs the business, although you can hire additional staff.
  • Partnership: This is owned by two or more people, though there are no rules on how it‘s divided between each partner.
  • Limited liability company (LLC): One or more people can run this type of business and it remains legally separate from its owners.
  • S-Corp: Is an LLC, or corporation, taxed as a "pass-through" entity with up to 100 shareholders.
  • C-Corp: This business structure can also have shareholders, although their number is not limited.

3. Apply for a business license

You'll need to register your business entity. Depending on the state you operate in, there are different requirements for permits and licenses.

In some instances, small businesses only need to register their business names with local or state government agencies. The Small Business Administration is a great place to get started; and Xero’s guide on business licensing also helps point you in the right direction.

Here are a few special considerations, depending on your area of operation:

  • In some states, you may need to apply for a sales tax permit.
  • Some cities require an occupation permit.
  • You might need a permit from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.
  • You may want to consider licensing such as trademarks and copyright for your images.

4. Get an EIN

If you plan to open a bank account for your business, it's essential to register first for an employer identification number at the IRS. It can also be helpful when filing taxes. If you've chosen to structure your company as a sole proprietorship, you can use your social security number instead.

5. Choose your photography niche

As photography is a competitive industry, deciding on your niche is vital to set yourself apart from others.

Start by examining your skills and interests: What do you like photographing, and what are you best at? Research the competitors in each area and the potential clients you'd be shooting for. You can also conduct a SWOT analysis to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in a particular niche.

6. Define your target market

Once you've decided on your area of expertise, the next step is researching to find your target market.

If you're a wedding photographer, your main clients are couples planning their special day. You may need to liaise with wedding venues when organizing your shoot and any family members that want to be involved.

If you're a headshot photographer, your audience could be anyone from corporate companies wanting staff photoshoots to business professionals hoping to build their brands.

Understanding your potential clients helps determine who you market to at a later stage.

7. Set up a bank account

You'll need to set up a business bank account to separate your personal spending from your business expenses. This helps if you need to apply for business credit cards and allows you to track your business spending and income. Having a separate bank account is also easier when managing your accounts and taxes. If your bank connects to online accounting software like Xero, you can get automatic feeds of bank transactions into your accounts.

8. Establish startup funding

Starting a photography business can be expensive up front, as you need special equipment. Renting cameras and lenses instead of buying could bring your startup costs down.

To help with the initial investment, you can explore the different types of funding that are available to small businesses. You may have personal savings you wish to use. Perhaps you can borrow from friends or family, or use a credit card.

It may be worth applying for a bank or small business loan. Some small businesses even try crowdfunding to help with additional funding.

This guide from Xero outlines 14 ways to finance your business.

9. Get equipment for your business

It's a good idea to create a list of the photography equipment you'll need and decide whether to buy everything new, purchase it second-hand, or rent it as and when you need it. Consider where you’ll store your equipment too, and whether you have storage options already or need studio space.

As well as your main camera, it's helpful to have a backup camera, just in case. You'll need a variety of lenses to provide different focal lengths, as well as at least one camera flash. Having plenty of memory cards means you won’t run out of storage halfway through a shoot. Having several hard drives for backups gives you more secure storage. Also helpful are a tripod, lighting rings, and a camera bag to carry everything between locations.

You'll need a computer with decent size memory and photo-editing software, such as Photoshop or Lightroom. For additional digital support, you may require accounting software like Xero to track expenses and send invoices to clients.

For your professional development, you may want to join the Professional Photographers of America.

10. Set your prices

Clients value transparency regarding costs, so defining your pricing options up front is a good idea. You can charge by the hour, project, or photo, especially if you want to sell digital prints in an online store or at an event.

For long-term projects, you may prefer a retainer so you receive regular payments.

When setting your prices, consider the following items:

  • Overhead costs, including equipment or studio rental
  • Competitor rates for your niche
  • The duration of a job, and whether travel is involved
  • The time it takes for editing and processing photos, as well as the shoot itself

11. Build your brand

Showcasing who you are and what you can do is essential in this competitive industry. When building your brand, choose a memorable business name and develop a clear and compelling logo and brand identity.

Anyone looking to hire you will want to see a portfolio of work that showcases your photography skills. You'll need to build a website to host your work and use social media to promote it effectively. Wix and WordPress are popular options for creating websites.

12. Understand business insurance requirements

Business insurance is essential to safeguard you against risks, such as legal costs, mistakes, and property damage. If equipment breaks or your work is lost for any reason, you must protect your business against any costs.

The types of insurance you need depends on the niche you’re working in and the structure of your business. They include:

  • General liability insurance: This is important if someone is injured or if property is damaged due to one of your shoots.
  • Equipment breakdown insurance: This protects you if any equipment you own fails and impacts the delivery of your work.
  • Business owner’s insurance policy: This is important to have if you hire any staff members.
  • Professional liability insurance: Mistakes can be made, so protecting against any economic damage is important.

13. Market your business

When it's time to get your photography services in front of people, word of mouth, referrals, and testimonials can help you build a business network. If you want local work, you can advertise in a local newspaper, attend trade shows, and hand out business cards.

You can also use various digital marketing tools to get noticed. Choose a visual social media platform, like Instagram, to connect with potential clients and showcase your work. Create a LinkedIn business profile to start building your network. Ensure your website is optimized for SEO to drive traffic to your brand. You can also set up a free Google business profile.

14. Set up your operating systems

An accounting system like Xero lets you set up online payments, giving your customers more ways to pay, so you can sell stock photos online and receive deposits from clients. Having a mobile payment system is also helpful If you travel to events.

Consider getting a services contract drawn up with your terms and conditions. Having everything in writing can help when dealing with new clients and issues.

If you need help setting up systems, find and hire a bookkeeper or an accountant to ensure everything is set up correctly. They can also help you set up systems for ordering supplies when needed and keeping an inventory of stock.

Disclaimer

Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the content provided.

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