Are you interested in learning how to start a photography business? You’re not alone. There are an estimated 201,000 photography businesses in the U.S. The industry may have suffered a setback due to COVID-19, but it’s expected to recover completely, with revenue hitting about $11 billion between 2015-2020, according to IBISWorld.
If you’re wondering how to start a photography business of your own, we can help. In this guide, we’ll explore the benefits of launching this type of creative business, with step-by-step instructions entrepreneurs can use to get their photography company off the ground.
For hobbyists looking to frame their photography skills as a job, there are benefits to launching this kind of company. The advantages of a career as a photographer are:
Photographers can make a good living. Research shows photographers with home studios tend to fare the best as they keep more of their profits than those renting a space. Photographers with a home business can make upwards of $129,000 a year, according to research presented by Chron.
2. Low Startup Costs
The startup cost for a photography business is fairly low. You need high-quality gear, a website, and a little marketing know-how. Some photographers start without a studio and work on location only as a way to save on the initial costs. On the low end, you can start a photography business with just $2,000.
3. Sustainable Career
Part of learning how to start a photography business is creating a base of repeat customers. Many photographers expand their client lists through word of mouth and referrals. Even in a digital world, referrals are the most trusted form of advertising.
Starting a photography business in the digital age can be a challenge. As equipment gets more user-friendly and affordable, it’s harder to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Since this is a competitive field, getting organized is the first step to starting a business with a clear path.
To start a photography business, we’ll go over these steps:
Checklist for How to Start a Photography business
- Write a Photography Business Plan
- Choose a Business Structure
- Determine Your Business Costs
- Create a Business Name
- Register Your Business and Open a Bank Account
- Purchase Equipment for Your Photgraphy Business
- Market Your Photography Business
When you’re starting a business, you need a business plan. Why? A business plan provides direction and helps the company grow. But it’s also required for bank loans or other financial assistance.
A solid business plan explains how you’ll make your company succeed. Here’s a look at different pieces that should be included in a working plan, along with a quick description of each. You can reference this when you’re writing a business plan.
- Executive summary: Introduction and summary of business plan
- Company overview: Company history, mission statement, important aspects of the business
- Description of product or services: Explain what the company does
- Marketing plan: Explain how you will attract and retain customers
- SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based goals
- Management team overview: A look at who makes decisions
- Financial plan: Current financials and projected growth
As a small business owner, one of the first decisions you must make is determining which kind of business to set up. Most choose between a sole proprietorship and a limited liability company, or LLC.
What’s the difference? As a sole proprietor, all your profits and losses are reported on your personal taxes. That works best for part-time businesses or small businesses with no employees. There’s no cost to set up this kind of company.
An LLC offers small businesses some tax advantages, but it primarily provides liability protection. Put simply, if the business gets into debt, liability protection defends your personal assets. A sole proprietorship doesn’t do that.
To start an LLC, typically you need to name the company, select a registered agent, create an operating agreement, and obtain an employer identification number from the IRS. As an entrepreneur, you can take care of the filing and fees associated with these steps yourself or you can reach out to a business formation company to help.
If you do it yourself, here are some resources to work through each step of the process:
- How to name an LLC
- How to select a registered agent
- How to create an operating agreement
- How to obtain an EIN
Unlike a sole proprietorship, there’s a cost for applying for LLC status. It varies in each state but ranges from $50–$500.
Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. What will this business cost to start? As mentioned earlier, you can start a business for as little as ,000. However, on average, photography businesses cost anywhere from $8,000-$16,000 to launch. This price includes gear, the cost to set up the business, business insurance, a website, and a computer to manage the post work.
The type of business you decide to start will impact cost too. A wedding photographer, for example, has higher startup costs than a portrait photographer.
As a photographer, you may already have some of these costs taken care of, which will get you in the picture faster. Here’s a great resource to help you calculate your business startup costs.
How do you fund your startup costs?
Wondering where you’ll get the money needed to start an LLC? Here are a few funding options:
- Personally save money to cover the startup costs
- Ask friends and family to become investors
- Apply for federal grants. Here’s a handy guide.
- Finance startup costs on business cards (business credit cards)
- Apply for a small business loan
Of course, there are pros and cons to each of these funding options. Saving the startup costs yourself takes time, but doesn’t put you in debt. Asking friends and family to help might be a little embarrassing, but it gives you a chance to get started sooner. Federal grants are ideal, but your business must meet certain criteria and work through a lengthy application process.
Business cards let you start a business almost instantly, but interest rates can be high. A small business loan can help too, but to get one, you’ll need an ironclad business plan.
What will you name your company? This may seem fairly straightforward, but we’re here to help you figure out how to name an LLC. Make sure the name is:
- Easy to understand: Choose something that’s easy to say and recognizable.
- Available in your state: Most states won’t let two businesses have the same name. Check the name’s availability on your state’s secretary of state website.
- Also available as a domain name: Ideally, the company website will match the company name. To do so, look into and purchase your domain name.
At this point, it’s time to do some administration work to get your photography business up and running. Here’s a list of items to work through:
- Register the business structure: Once you’ve settled on a business structure, register it. Conduct a search for LLC formation documents in your state, fill them out, and pay the filing fee. You can also use a business formation service.
- Get an Employer Identification Number: You need an EIN from the IRS. Visit the IRS website, answer a few questions, and you’ll get an ID at the end of the session.
- Check on licenses or zoning permit requirements: Your business may need business licenses or permits to operate. Check with city officials to get more information on this topic.
- Look into general liability insurance: Liability insurance protects against calamities like property damage or physical injury as a result of normal business.
- Open business bank accounts: As a business owner, keep your finances separate. Run all transactions for the business through a business account, and personal transactions through personal accounts. You can transfer money from your business to your personal accounts to pay yourself, which is helpful for tax purposes.
Pro tip: You may be wondering how to obtain an LLC license, but that phrase isn’t quite accurate. There is no LLC license per se, but there are city, county, and state licenses and permits that could pertain to your company. Check out our list of possible licenses and permits to look into.
Ready to buy some gear? Here’s a quick list of the equipment you’ll need to get started:
- Memory cards
- Camera bag
- Lights, reflectors, flash triggers
- Photography contracts
- Editing software
Want a nice list for inspiration? Look into ExpertPhotography.com’s photography business equipment guide.
To attract and retain customers, you need to market your business. Rather than randomly posting on social media, it’s best to create a marketing plan. Photography Spark has a good resource for this.
Then, set up a Google My Business account, add your business name and location to several local business directories. Google search queries for “near me” businesses have gone up dramatically, and local directories will get you free impressions with prospective, local customers in those search results.
Remember, if you start a social page, you have to maintain it. As a business owner, time management skills are important, so don’t overcommit. Since Instagram is a visual channel, you should definitely prioritize it, and the others are up to you.
A photographer may also use advertising methods like Google Ads or direct mail. Whatever path you choose, when business heats up, look into hiring a personal or virtual assistant to lighten the load.
When starting a new photography business, it’s often better to declare a niche. That’s because it’s easier to generate income and clients from a single area of expertise than as a jack of all trades.
When it comes to photography companies, you may only think of wedding or portrait photography, but there are many, many choices:
- Stock photography: Sell your photographs to a marketplace or platform like Shutterstock or Unsplash.
- Pet photography: Pet owners love having their furry family members photographed.
- Portrait photography: Take pictures of families in a studio or on location.
- Real estate photo service: Preserve images of homes for sale or rent.
- Wedding photographer: Photograph couples on their special day.
- Photography classes: Teach people to take pictures for a fee.
A photography business can be both creative and profitable. But like any company, it comes with challenges and competition. By reading about how to start a photography business, you’ve learned that there are several administrative steps to take before setting up your first photo shoot. However, once you work through the process, you’ll have a business of your own that can start generating revenue in a flash.