While on Facebook the other night I came across a business page for a photographer. Looking through this photographer’s photos, it’s obvious they are just starting out… shooting flowers, friends and Craiglist models. Most images were out of focus, under exposed and to be honest, just as good as snap shots I’ve seen friends take with a point and shoot. My frustration came when I saw they listed their “company” as offering “professional services”. Yes, we all have to start somewhere, but what I’m learning as I go along in my journey of being a small business owner is this: YOU DON’T NEED TO START A BUSINESS JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE A NICE CAMERA AND ENJOY PHOTOGRAPHY. It’s okay to have a nice camera and enjoy photography as a hobby. Actually, I highly recommend it and this is why…
There seems to be a misconception in the photography world that you can just start a facebook page and you are in business. THIS IS SO NOT TRUE, and I can’t make the caps any bigger or the bold any bolder to get my point across. Starting a photography business is like starting any other small business. Could you imagine trying to open a restaurant without going through all the proper legal steps? No. So why do we think we can skip these steps with our photography businesses? I will admit that when I first started I didn’t have liability insurance, and maybe I had put the business license papers to the side. Then I thought about it… if someone got hurt during a shoot and they sued me, that’s exactly what would happen, they would sue ME and I’d have no protection. I’m not saying I do everything perfectly, but I’m learning from my mistakes and other photographers’ knowledge. I have a business license, business bank account, liability and equipment insurance and, most importantly, I pay taxes. Of course there is more to a business than the legal stuff… there is scheduling, emailing, marketing, editing, delivery products, repairing and buying equipment, advertising, accounting, organizing and of course creating and shooting (my favorite part). The part I love most is probably what I spend the least amount of time doing. Not that I don’t enjoy most of the other areas of my work, but the misconception, especially for those who want to start a photography business, is that you get to do something you love all the time. SO, if you love photography, enjoy shooting and creating your art and don’t think you need to make it a business! If you don’t need it as an income and you don’t think you would enjoy the business side of it, keep it as a hobby.
I know, I know, you’re thinking, “she just doesn’t want anymore competition”. Of course I would love to live in a world where I am the only photographer, I only get dream clients and I can add rainbows and unicorns to all my images. Actually, there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. I truly love my group of photographer friends. We bounce ideas off of each other, support each other and most of all have fun together. There are enough people in the world that we can all be photographers and somehow survive off the income we make. The frustrating part comes when I see people able to charge lower prices because they are “doing it for fun” or they don’t pay taxes and all the other expenses that come with a legitimate business. Sometimes I hear my prices are too high. I think some people think one day I just decided, “oh, hmm, that’s a pretty number… I’ll charge that!”. The truth is, alot of different variants come into my pricing. Besides the quality of the product my clients receive, I also have to factor in how much I give to the government and overhead expenses… like any other business. I wish it all went into my pocket, but it doesn’t. If you are running a photography business, and all the money is in your pockets right now, please consider bringing back dignity, respect and legitimacy to our profession! To make it easy to do so, I’ll give you a starter list. After reading this, if you feel like all this work seems like too much for what started as a hobby, there is no shame in going back to having a fun hobby! Trust me, there are days when I wish I could just shoot for fun (like when I had to miss both of my parent’s birthdays to shoot events). Ok, so here is your list:
1. Decide the legal structure of your business. Will you be sole proprietor, a LLC, S Corp? If you decide to become incorporated, companies like BizFilings make it easy to do!
2. Get a tax ID number.
3. Get a state and city business license. Each state and city are different so check with your local government agencies.
4. Insurance!! This should be number one on the list but making your business legal is probably even more important. There are companies such as Hill and Usher that specialize in insurance for photographers. Personally I use an awesome insurance agent. If you are in OC and want their info, feel free to contact me and I’ll pass it along.
5. Open a business bank account. Keep your business money separate and pay yourself a salary. It makes it much easier to save for taxes and keep track of the money you earn.
6. Continue educating yourself. Whether it’s through workshops, school, photography groups, keep learning! I am still constantly learning new things!
I think this short list will give you a good start. I’m sure there are things I’m missing, and I’m not claiming to know it all so please feel free to doubt what I wrote and research for yourself. I hope this post has been helpful and not just a downer for those who are just starting their photography journey. But trust me, when you run your business like a business it really does feel like more of an accomplishment, and there is some pride in that! If you want to ask me any questions, feel free to email me and I will respond as quickly as I can.