This weekend I swapped messages with 2 people who are about to start their photography businesses. They are both confident with camera and client skills, but starting a business is the great unknown. I started to make a list of business things to consider. In most cases, these things are not hard, they are just new. Keep in mind I’m not an adviser, a lawyer, or an accountant – I’m a photographer. I have done each of these things in setting up and running my own business. Here are 10 things to consider as you start your photography business.
1. How Your Business Will Operate? There are a variety of ways a business can operate (this varies depending on what country you are in). Will you operate as a sole trader? Will you establish a company? Here is Australia the simplest way to start operating is as a sole trader. This is how I first set up my business operations. As the business grew I changed to a company structure which is how I operate today. If you want expert advice, an accountant will be able to give you the pros and cons of different business structures.
2. Register Your Business. Once you have decided how your business will operate you need to register your business. Again, this process is different in different countries. Here in Australia you need to get an ABN number. This can be done online at www.abr.gov.au. If you want help an accountant will be able to assist in understanding and completing this process.
3. Insurance. Now that you are in business you will need to get appropriate insurance to protect your business in the event of something going wrong. Your photography equipment may have previously been covered under your contents policy. Now that you are using it for commercial purposes it is unlikely to be covered by your domestic policy. Insuring it under a commercial policy is the answer. And very importantly, you will need Public Liability Insurance. Here in Australia it is available for just a few hundred dollars per year from any of the major insurance companies or through an insurance broker.
4. Bank Account. You will need a separate bank account for your business. This keeps the businesses banking needs separate to your personal ones. Here in Australia it is very straightforward to set up a business bank account. I have mine with the same bank I do my personal banking with. They offer a fee-free business account which is nice.
5. Online Presence. Having an online presence is a key business tool. I see some beginners setting up pages on Facebook as their only online presence. This makes me cringe. You are going to need your own website if you want to control how your information is laid out and presented. Social media channels like Facebook and Google+ can be used to drive traffic to your website, but you will need a functioning website as your foundation.
6. Marketing Materials. I am avoiding going into the topic of generating clients here. Let’s just say that when you are starting out it is handy to have some simple marketing materials – like business cards, letterhead, envelopes, note paper etc. It adds to your credibility and can present you much more professionally than an enthusiast who just has a camera and a smile. Choose what you like and fits into your budget.
7. Contracts. Contracts are critical in photography business. They outline the agreement between you and your client. Make sure your contract covers what services will be provided, who owns copyright, and issues around model releases. I have never had a disagreement with a client about services or price, but its nice to know that if I did, I have a written contract to revert to. Some sample contracts are available online, but talking to a lawyer will give you peace of mind.
8. Invoicing System. Starting in business means you are planning to get paid for your work. To do this you need an invoicing system in place. That is a fancy way of saying, you need to know how you will get a bill to your client. Don’t be intimidated by this – when I started my system was to hand write all my invoices! I bought an invoice book at the local stationery store and literally hand wrote invoices to my clients. Low tech but effective.
9. Understand Expenses. When you set up in business, understanding the revenue side of your business is straightforward – it is the amount of money your clients are paying your business. Understanding expenses is slightly more complex, only because some of your personal expenses will be tax deductible expenses to your business. For example, if you are driving your personal vehicle to shoot weddings, the mileage you are doing in your vehicle can be claimed as a company expense. It is worthwhile talking to an accountant about business expenses.
10. Learn from those Who’ve Been There Before. There is now a good range of business photography books available with some outstanding advice. Three that I really like are:
- The Photographers MBA by Sal Cincotta
- Visionmongers by David Du Chemin
- Fast Track Photographer by Dane Sanders
Keep in mind that getting started in business is not complex and you shouldn’t feel over whelmed. I hope these ’10 things to consider as you start your photography business’ have been useful. Have you set up in business? What was the most challenging aspect? If you haven’t set up yet and would like some more help, please add a comment to this post.