Starting your own photography business means you can make good money doing a creative hobby you love - a rare opportunity that not many people get.
Still, there’s lots of competition within the photography industry, so it’s important to set your business up correctly from the start. By creating a strong foundation, you can spend your energy serving your clients and setting yourself apart.
If you’re creatively minded, you might find it overwhelming to set up the business, especially when it comes to legalities. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be difficult or even expensive, as startup costs for photography businesses are relatively low. In fact, you can set up your photography business in just 8 simple steps.
8 Steps to Start a Photography Business
1. Find a Niche
What kind of photographer are you? You might offer event, wedding, portrait, or commercial photography. You may also opt to become a photojournalist and cover news stories.
Although it might be tempting to offer all kinds of photography, niching down actually allows you to become known as the expert in one field. This can boost your business and earn you loyal customers. Plus, you can charge more as a specialist.
2. Create a Portfolio
With your niche down, it’s time to create your portfolio. You can include photos from previous jobs. You may also take photos specifically for the portfolio. Either way, be sure that the photos showcase your best work and are relevant to your niche. If you don’t already have a ton of experience, you might spend lots of time on this step, practicing your hand with the camera.
It’s generally best to keep your portfolio short. It should showcase your skills in the most concise way - each photo should be unique and eye-catching. Remove duplicates or less-than-interesting photos to keep the portfolio minimal.
Although you can create a physical copy, most people have a website for their portfolio. This is the easiest way to display your work and share it with potential clients. You can also create multiple galleries. For example, if you do both weddings and events, you can separate those portfolios on your website. Website builders like Squarespace and Zenfolio are popular, but do your research on the best option for you.
If you already have a portfolio started, spend some time reviewing it. Does every photo relate to your niche? Does each photo pop? Is there any overlap in the subject matter? What can you remove or edit to improve the overall appearance?
3. Write Your Business Plan
Every business needs a business plan. This is where you map out your vision, processes, services, prices, and more. To prepare for this step, you’ll need to decide on your packages and pricing. This will vary depending on your experience level, niche, and location. It’s generally a good idea to have three packages with a low, medium, and high price point.
To determine your pricing, you can look at what photographers with similar experience charge. You can also reach out to your ideal clients and do market research, asking them what their price range is for photography services.
With packaging done, you can write your business plan, which you’ll use to guide your future business decisions. If you apply for a business loan, your lender will also ask to see your business plan, so make it look official.
A business plan should include:
- Business name
- Executive summary
- Company overview
- Packages and pricing
- Competitive analysis
- Target market
- Startup costs and projections of earnings
- Marketing strategy
4. Take Care of Legalities
There are local, state, and federal regulations you’ll need to adhere to. The state you live in may require that you register your business. To do so, you’ll need to choose a business structure. The most common options for a one-person photography business are.
- Sole Proprietorship: This is the easiest and cheapest way to start, as most states don’t require you to register unless you have employees. However, your business and personal assets are not separated, which puts more risk on your shoulders.
- LLC (Limited Liability Company): An LLC is fairly easy to form and usually costs about $125. This structure separates your business from your personal assets, which provides you with more protection in the event of a lawsuit.
You may also need licenses and permits from your state and local governments. You can check with your state licensing board and county clerk’s office to get location-specific information.
You should also get a federal EIN (Employer Identification Number). This acts as your business Social Security number and will be useful when you do your taxes or get a bank account.
Lastly, consider getting business insurance. A general liability policy can cover legal costs in the event that someone sues your business. Although it might seem unlikely, it can be a huge money saver if an unreasonable customer or disgruntled passerby decides to file a lawsuit.
5. Create Financial Accounts
Separating your business finances from your personal ones can be helpful for both legal protection and taxes. You can deposit cash payments or send payments from invoices to your business bank account, then pay yourself from there to your personal accounts.
You can easily open a business bank account online. The process is very similar to opening a personal account, just make sure you have your business name and EIN.
While you’re at it, you might also open a business credit card to cover smaller expenses. This will boost your business credit score, which is separate from your personal credit score. Doing so can help improve your chances of getting a loan, should you need more capital in the future.
Finally, you’ll need some accounting software to send invoices, track expenses, and manage your income. Quickbooks Self-Employed and Honeybook are popular options, but it’s important to do your own research and choose the software that you’re most comfortable with.
6. Get Funding
You likely already have the equipment and tech to produce great photos. However, as a professional, you might want to upgrade your equipment or get missing items to improve your photos.
Some of the equipment you might consider getting includes:
- Camera lens
- Memory cards
- External hard drives
- Editing software
- Camera bag
- Website hosting
- Accounting software
Pick out what you need and shop around to create an estimate of startup costs. With that secured, you can decide on what type of funding you need. You may be able to pay for all costs out of pocket, using your savings or current income. You can also ask your friends and family for an informal loan.
You may also apply for a small business loan via your bank or an online lender. You will need to pay the money back with interest. Be sure to shop around for the lowest APR rate so you can save on interest.
7. Choose a Payment System
Your payment system is critical for your business. It needs to be easy to use and secure so that your customers feel safe and comfortable paying you. That’s why Pay.com has Level 1 PCI DSS compliance - the highest security level possible.
Security aside, Pay.com is also super user-friendly. You can set up your payment system in a matter of clicks without any coding knowledge. It includes a full payment infrastructure, including your payment gateway, payment processing services, and merchant account.
Using Pay.com, you can add payment methods to your website or request payments by using Pay Checkout. If you don’t have a website, you can send direct Pay Links to your clients via email or text message. You can even take a payment in person or over the phone by manually entering your client’s information.
Plus, the Pay Dashboard provides additional tools for you as a business owner. There, you can review reports and analytics and track payment status. Update customer details, issue refunds, and update your website’s payment methods - all in one convenient dashboard.
8. Sell Your Service
With your business fully set up, all that’s left is to sell your packages to your dream clients. Your network of family and friends is a great place to get started. Chances are, your contacts know people who need photography services for an event or project.
Once you have a few jobs done, you can ask your previous clients for referrals. Sweeten the deal by offering a small discount or incentive. You can also post your photographs on social media, which doubles as free advertising.
Additionally, you can sell your photography online. Freelancing sites like Fiverr and Upwork are a good way to gain experience, though you often have to start at low prices and give a cut of your sales to the hosting website. You can also sell on photo marketplaces, like Unsplash and Adobe Stock. This is one way to earn cash while you build up your client base.
The Pros and Cons of Starting Your Own Photography Business
- Make money by being creative.
- Enjoy meaningful work, taking photos of big life events and noteworthy moments.
- Choose when and how much you work.
- Take time off when you want and enjoy flexibility in your schedule.
- Travel for work.
- Need to update equipment often, which can be expensive.
- Determine hours based on other people’s events, often on nights and weekends.
- Deal with occasionally rude or picky clients.
- Doing creative work may degrade your passion for photography over time.
- Fluctuating income can make budgeting difficult.
The Bottom Line: Is Starting a Photography Business Right for You?
Starting your own photography business is an exciting venture. You get to follow your passion and get paid for it – all while capturing meaningful moments. Whether you photograph elopements, animals, or headshots, you’re doing work that will inspire others. As long as you spend time creating a solid portfolio and get your legal foundations in order, there’s no limit to your potential.
Of course, you’ll need to make sure your clients have an easy way to pay you. Pay.com makes payments convenient and fast. Your clients won’t hesitate to pay your invoice and you can move on to what you love – taking amazing photos. Click here to create your account now!