I often see where photographers put up a website, Facebook page, or Instagram telling the world they are in business. Sadly, that is about as far as they get in running a business. From a business perspective, one can expect to see little if any success. Why? Business is much more than just taking pictures and putting them on a website. Let’s look at 12 action steps to starting your photography business.
1. Act like a business person. Even before you start your business, start acting like a professional. Start implementing tools that you need in your business. Talk like you are in business. Start working on getting your business started and start educating yourself as to how to run a business.
2. Visit your local Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Administration. Both of these organizations are there to help you succeed in your business. The CoC has a lot of information about your community. Demographics that relate to your market, competition, household income, etc. The SBA has a lot of information regarding starting a business. Developing a business plan, business loans, strategies, and a mentorship program. Go gather information from the resources, they are designed to help you succeed.
3. Use the SBA mentor program. Chances are you will not get a mentor who was in the photography business. But a mentor who has experience starting and running a business. I found the SBA mentorship program very valuable and sure you will also. Throughout your business, there will be times when having a mentor will be the thing that gets you out of a rut or helps you when you’re lost or overwhelmed.
4. Check your local zoning laws. The Chamber of Commerce is a good resource here. Why check your local zoning laws? It may be illegal to run a business where you’re located. Many residential areas restrict or forbid running a business. If you are running a business in such an area and are caught, you will have the business shut down and face fines as well. If you’re renting, you also need to check with the property owner to make sure you can run a business. Most apartments have policies against or limiting home-based businesses. Know what you’re up against before hanging out your shingle.
5. Take the time to write up a business plan. Just taking the time to make a business plan is a good way to think about your goals and how you’ll achieve them. If you should ever need loans you will need a good business plan to even get considered for any financial help. Writing out a business plan will also help you in deciding if you should run your business as a Sole Proprietorship, LLC, or Corporation.
6. Decide on a business name. In photography, I highly recommend using your real name. Often people like to go with catchy names, but using your real name has a few advantages. Why? Because it saves some extra work and money. When you run a fictitious business name you have to register for a Doing Business As license. This license tells the public who actually owns the business. It’s designed to protect the public from fraud or scandalous business practices. Often people don’t use their real names because they might want to sell the business in the future. Honestly, the only chance you’ll have to sell a photography business is if you are successful enough to franchise. You’ll stand about a 1% chance of selling a photography business. Another reason I suggest using your real name to do business.
7. Register and license your business. In most areas, it’s inexpensive and fairly easy. Each state and locality is different but should be pretty painless. Believe it or not, people will check you out before doing business with you. If all you have is a website and no business information to be found, you will lose the chance of getting customers. Having your business registered tells the world you are indeed running a business. Just having a website will keep many people leery and worried about doing business with you.
8. Register your business with local, state, and federal tax authorities. I’ll admit it’s a pain gathering up and sending in the tax reports and money every three months. But it’s much better than the alternative of facing charges of tax evasion.
9. Register your business domain and set up a website. Even if you do not plan to get a website up and running at the time, do register your business domain. Get the domain registered before someone else grabs it. When you start letting it be known that you are a business, rest assured someone out there will be ready to profit off of you. Someone will be sure to check and see if you have a domain registered for your business. If not, they’ll register the domain and be happy to sell it to you for many times more than they paid. Another reason to have your domain registered is it just looks more professional having emails set up to the domain. Yourname@gmail.com isn’t very professional.
10. Get a business phone. You want a phone that is dedicated to your business. Unlike in the old days, a phone dedicated to the business is not very expensive anymore. You can get a prepaid cellphone, but since a new business will not be getting a lot of phone calls go for the cheapest plan you can get. Another option is VoIP service ie. MagicJack. I have personal experience with MagicJack and recommended it and it’s only about $50 a year. Having a dedicated business phone is much more professional than using a phone for personal and business use. Be sure to list your business phone number on your website and social media sites. BTW, always answer your business phone professionally and set up the answering service with a professional message for the times you are available to answer.
11. Get business insurance. There are several reasons for having business insurance. If you’re running a business from home, your homeowner’s insurance isn’t going to cover business-related issues. If you are a wedding and location photographer all venues and most churches, etc. will require proof of insurance before letting you conduct business. Most businesses will require you to have a minimum of one million dollars in liability insurance. You also want to ensure your equipment in case it gets damaged or stolen. I recommend using an insurance company that specializes in photography businesses. They aren’t very expensive and the peace of mind is priceless.
12. Let the world know you’re in business. Start networking on social media and your personal network. Let family, friends, and people you work with know you have a business. Get business cards made so you can give them out to people who may be interested in becoming a client. If you aren’t promoting your business, no one is going to know you in business. Go out to where your potential clients do business and start networking.
These are just 12 steps to get you started and let the world know you are ready for business. It by no means is all there is to running a business. But these steps will get you into the mindset of running a business and let others know you are a serious business owner who wants to be profitable and successful.