How to Set up Your Photography Business From Scratch

How to Set up Your Photography Business From Scratch

If you love photography and have gotten some experience over the years, perhaps you’re thinking about making a living with your passion. When people get married, welcome new additions to their families, or celebrate milestones like retirement and anniversaries, they want pictures that capture the spirit of those occasions forever. As a photographer, your skills can provide clients with treasured memories of the events in their lives that matter most.

However, getting well-equipped to have a successful business requires taking care of some foundational necessities. Getting those things in place before becoming too involved with operations should help things run smoothly. Cover photo by: Candace McDaniel

Write and Finalize Your Business Plan

Many people initially think that making it as a photography business owner is mostly about taking great shots and ensuring that your shutter clicks at just the right time to capture the magic. Those things help, of course, but you have to possess a strong business sense, too.  Build a clear business plan that describes your objectives and what you intend to achieve within the next several years. Most include numerous aspects, such as:

  • The scope of your services
  • Your target market
  • Estimated fixed and variable costs
  • A detailed market analysis
  • Your marketing priorities
  • Why your offerings stand out from competitors 

writing business plan

Photo: Kelly Sikkema

The idea is to nail all those things down from the start to give your business-related actions purpose and prevent inefficiency. Don’t expect to write one draft of the business plan and be satisfied with its contents.  Give yourself plenty of time to include all the necessary parts, then edit them once you mull over each section. After finalizing your plan, commit to sticking to it and refer to the document as often as required.  You can also make formatting the plan easier by using one of the many available templates online. Most are free and provide excellent reference points to steer your efforts.

Make Realistic Purchases When Buying Things for Your Business

People often say that hindsight is 20/20, and that’s especially true when starting a business. Wouldn’t it be great to have an experienced photography entrepreneur tap on your shoulder and whisper advice to aid your decision-making? Unfortunately, that’s not feasible.

The next best thing is to take the advice of people who have been in your position and want to share their wisdom.  They often say to avoid buying photography gear or other products that seem great at first but are ultimately unhelpful. For example, you might buy a new bag that makes it easier to tote all your necessities to events. However, it’s probably not necessary to invest in expensive lenses you haven’t used extensively before until you know that doing so makes sense for what clients want.

Think carefully before ordering printed items like business cards and brochures in bulk, too. Many companies highlight how doing that will save you money. That’s true if you end up using them all. However, purchasing three years’ worth of marketing materials doesn’t pay off if you move or get a new phone number and still have a ton left over. Aim to adopt an approach where you only buy things after real-world experience shows you’ll need them. Otherwise, it’ll be too easy to go over budget and create preventable challenges for your business.

Research the Logistics of Launching Your Business

Setting up your business also requires following all applicable national and state laws and processes. For example, you’ll need to choose your company type, register its name and get a federal tax identification number.  Each state has slight variations in the necessary paperwork associated with establishing a business. In general, though, you’ll register for tax purposes at the state level, plus apply for any required licenses or permits.

If you’re concerned about making a mistake when tax time rolls around, consider making room in your budget for an accountant’s services. Make sure to keep accurate records, including those that show business expenses. Doing that will save a lot of trouble when you file tax returns.  Perhaps you have a friend who lives in the same state and owns a business, too.

Ask for any tips they have for navigating the sometimes dull but always necessary logistical parts of getting your business up and running.  Maybe they contacted a statewide nonprofit agency to get questions answered or found some beneficial websites. Even if your friend has a non-photography-related venture, the general business setup steps are the same regardless of the enterprise’s specialty.

Design Your Home Office

A photographer’s work does not only occur in the field. You’ll also spend a substantial amount of time at your desk, whether tweaking contracts for new clients, editing images with specialized software or adding new content to your social media pages.  That’s why your business setup process should include creating a home office that helps you feel inspired, motivated and comfortable. For example, investing in the right chair can prevent muscle strain and back issues by providing excellent support. If your home office features lots of natural light, it could boost your mood while improving visibility.

Your home office might double as a place where you meet prospective or current clients. In that case, consider how furniture such as a couch and a coffee table could make the environment more welcoming. Think about customers’ needs as they look at samples of your work or choose which photos they want to buy.  Consider how choices related to colors and patterns could help you maintain a cohesive look throughout the space. Making your home office stylish will ensure you love spending time in it.

Look for ways to facilitate organizing your office, too. Whether that means using under-desk bins or floating shelves above your primary work area, keeping things well organized makes your office more visually appealing and supports getting more done.

Set a Budget for Your Gear

As mentioned earlier, starting a photography business does not necessarily provide an excuse to splurge on equipment that you might never or rarely use while working for clients. On the other hand, not having the right items could make it clear you need to buy more gear to uphold a professional and well-prepared image.  If you’re in the market for a new camera, the two main things to consider before buying are your subject matter and the purpose of the captured photos. Beyond that, make a list of most-used features on your current camera or the capabilities you’d like to have. Set aside time to research what you need. Then, create a budget based on the relevant determinations.

Don’t overlook software in your calculations — you might use tools for photo editing or storage. Find out if you’ll save money by signing up for a year of services rather than paying for a month at a time.  As you work out budget details, try to connect every planned expenditure to expected profits for your business. For example, maybe people who are about to get married comprise a large segment of your target market. Experience you gained before starting the photography company may have told you that many of them have outdoor gatherings at night. In that case, it’s wise to buy lenses that help you get optimal outcomes in such conditions.

photographer taking photos in busy environment

Photo: Clem Onojeghuo

Consider Methods for Attracting Potential Clients 

Becoming profitable with a new photography business can sometimes feel like an elusive goal. Having the talent and skills to meet clients’ needs is crucial, but you also have to show people that you exist and are available.  Creating a website with samples of your work is a fantastic start, and you can supplement that action by getting established on all major social media profiles.

Think about using a tool that lets you simultaneously post to many platforms at once. It also helps to get feedback from people who’ve used your services — even before you officially started a business. Maybe you volunteered to photograph your co-worker’s wedding last year or took part in a community enrichment campaign involving snapping pictures of some of the area’s natural beauty hot spots.

fitness beauty model photoshoot

Photo: Matt Moloney

Hearing perspectives from people who know you and your work could help others become interested.  Once you have at least a few happy clients, think about starting a referral program. For example, you might offer 30% discounts to the referrer and referee so everyone benefits.  Ponder ways to increase your body of work even before getting paying clients, too. You might offer free portraits to the first 10 veterans or frontline workers who comment on and share a Facebook post and can prove their eligibility. Then, you’re giving back to deserving people and naturally creating more awareness for your business.

Keep a Realistic Perspective

Considering you’re building a photography business from the ground up, there will undoubtedly be some challenges to overcome. Similarly, certain parts of running a company may seem more difficult than expected. Set achievable goals as you implement these tips and others.

Rather than hoping to become your town’s most in-demand photographer in a year, try to increase your client roster by a percentage that’s in reach if you work hard.  The ideal outcome is that you keep moving forward. The suggestions here will make it easier to do that because you’ll have the groundwork in place.

Related: How to Start a Photography Business With No Money

Author Bio

Lexie Lu is a designer and writer. She constantly researches trends in the web and graphic design industry. She writes weekly on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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– Inspiring Drone Photography: 28 Amazing Aerial Shots

– How to Write a Compelling Photography Proposal that Lands Clients

– 9 of The Best Sites to Buy Photography Backdrops

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