Hey, shutterbug! Thinking about starting your own photo booth business? It can be a great way to earn side cash servicing parties and events, and the audience is definitely there.
The industry is on a growth trajectory, expected to double in size from $336.1 million in 2019 to $730.6 million in 2026. While it may have hit a bump in the road due to the COVID-19 impact on special events, all is not lost. Now is a great time to research how to start a photo booth business so you’re ready to launch when we’re out and about again.
The benefits of opening a photo booth business are numerous. First, at $5,000 or less, it doesn’t require a ton of startup money. In addition, you can start booking gigs quickly to recoup that investment. It’s relatively easy to start as a side hustle, too, until it’s earning enough to let you quit your day job.
Plus, you’re helping to bring laughter and fun to special events! Guests go home with a tangible way of remembering their fun night out, all because of what you provided.
Opening a photo booth company is straightforward and simple. There are no complicated hoops to jump through or higher education required. Just follow these steps.
Checklist for How to Start a Photo Booth Business
- Write a Photo Booth Business Plan
- Choose a Business Structure
- Determine Your Photo Booth Business Costs
- Create a Business Name
- Register Your Photo Booth Business and Open a Bank Account
- Purchase Equipment for Your Photo Booth Business
- Market Your Photo Booth Business
This is time-intensive, but crucial, so don’t skip it. The business plan gets you organized and focused. Writing it will reveal anticipated costs and income, potential problems, specifics about your brand, and more. It’ll guide your decisions as your photo booth business opens and grows.
When writing your new business’s plan, consider these steps:
- Write a short, specific synopsis of your photo booth business idea, the issue it solves, and how you’ll stand out from the competition. Will it be an iPad booth? DSLR?
- Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely)
- Think through problems that could arise, like the equipment breaking during an event, and how you’ll solve them.
- Identify your ideal customer(s). Are they weddings? Birthdays? Corporate events? A few hours long? Days?
- Check for tax breaks and local grants for creative or artistic businesses/entrepreneurs.
- Identify types of insurance you may need.
- A pricing strategy. Will you charge per hour? Per shot? Create photo packages?
- How the business will grow. Maybe franchise to other cities? Add other types of events?
All businesses in the U.S. must register with the IRS, which means you’ll need to settle on a company structure for your photo booth business. Some startups begin as sole proprietorships. It’s quick and easy because you do business under your own name (or a DBA) and just report everything on your personal taxes. But sole proprietorships provide no liability protection, so if something goes wrong and you get sued, everything you own could be impacted.
That’s why many photo booth business owners register as a limited liability company (LLC). This structure shields your personal assets from liability. Another option is to form a corporation, but those can come with double taxation (the money gets taxed in the corporation, and then again on your personal taxes when you get paid by the corporation). An LLC structure avoids this double taxation. Take the time to research and choose the structure with the best legal and tax setup for your situation.
What will it cost to start your photo booth rental business? The short answer is: probably around $5,000 if you don’t already have some equipment. A useful approach can be categorizing costs as one-time or ongoing.
One-time expenses for a photo booth business include the booth itself, a camera, monitor, props and printer. Some modern booths rely on built-in DSLR cameras, while others have a slot for an iPad or other tablet.
You may be able to lower your costs by waiting on some things until the business is bringing in money. For instance, a second booth and backup cameras can wait until the revenue grows.
Ongoing expenses could be your salary, any full-time or part-time worker pay, data storage, taxes, paper, ink, and gas to travel to events. Ongoing expenses can be further divided into fixed and variable. Fixed ongoing expenses are costs that keep happening at the same price no matter how much business you bring in (e.g. attorney). Variable ongoing expenses go up or down depending on how much business you do (e.g. paying more for workers if you do more events).
How do you fund your startup costs?
Keep in mind that photo booth business startup costs are small at $5k or less. How can you cover that?
Could you save up? Maybe open a business credit card? Would family and friends be willing to invest or loan you what’s needed? If so, consider if those relationships are solid enough to be OK if you end up not being able to pay them back as planned.
There are also forms of government assistance for small business owners and loan programs from the SBA that go through banks. Or maybe a small personal loan from your bank could make sense.
Whatever route you go, give due consideration toward how you’ll pay back any borrowed money and what may happen if your payback plan doesn’t work.
When creating your business name, brainstorm a list of at least a dozen possibilities. Maybe get out a notebook or white board and write out words from the industry (photography, memory, capture, photo, shutterbug) and your own life (solo mom, retired, sugar addict). Then stand back and look. Do any of the words, combined, make a good business name? (Shutterbug Sugar!)
Choose a photo booth business name that’s easy to understand, memorable, and not in use by someone else. You can lose sales when customers confuse you with another business, and you definitely don’t want the legal repercussions that could come your way.
Also make sure that the related web address and social media handles are available. When you find a name that ticks all the boxes, register the domain and set up social media presences.
Time to make this official! Using the structure you chose earlier (likely an LLC), register your photo booth business with state and local agencies. Go to the IRS site to obtain an employer identification number (EIN).
You’ll need that EIN and your business registration documents to open a bank account. It can be tempting to just run photo booth business finances through your personal bank account, but mixing accounts “pierces the corporate veil” and can impact your liability protection.
Check with your local municipality to see if there are licensing requirements for a photo booth rental company. And reach out to local insurance agents to learn about the kinds of insurance you may need. For instance, if you have employees, you may need workers’ compensation insurance. Or, because you’re going to be in other people’s spaces operating your photo booth, you may need liability insurance.
Some insurance companies sell specific photo booth business insurance at low rates.
We’ve touched on some of the equipment you’ll need like a booth, camera or tablet, lighting, computer and photo booth software, and green screen. You may also want a printer, paper, and ink to create keepsakes for your customers. Or you can use an online service for your printing needs.
Some photo booth businesses are learning that the data they can get from people is worth more than the fees they earn being present at events. In that case, great contact management software is a necessity.
You may start out with a simple booth or go elaborate. Jon Connolly wrote about his experience with both options and how he got started in the industry.
A search engine optimized (SEO) website is crucial to marketing your business. Photo Booth International shares great tips for what to have on your website in this video.
Create a social media strategy across all your platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.
Register your business on Google My Business, as well as also phonebook and business directories, so people know where to find you and your business starts appearing in more local searches.
Consider how the people coming through your photo booth at events could become word of mouth advertisers for your business. If they share pics taken in your booth on their online presences, could they tag your business? Could you incentivize them to do so by offering a larger print or a takeaway? You could also connect with local event planners so they know to reach out to you during their next big shindig.
Boothmasters has other strategies to keep in mind, such as email marketing and attending networking and exposure events. And if you do make it to in-person events, don’t forget your business cards!
You may decide to focus on weddings, birthday parties, other life events, or corporate events. Maybe you’ll start small and franchise, growing a $4.2 million business like Scott McInnes did with TapSnap. Or you could use it as a side hustle that later becomes your day job. Maybe you’ll run a photo booth business as a data collection company. There are several different ways to make money here.
Starting a new photo booth business is a low-cost, immediate reward endeavor with little education or training required. The industry was growing well before COVID and is set to rebound when special events start up again. Now is a good time to do your homework and prepare to launch your own photo booth business.