Kristin Griffin Photography Po Box 514, Raynham Center, Massachusetts 02768 508-320-2670 www.kristingriffinphotography.com Kristin@kristingriffinphotography.com
Kristin Griffin’s Tips for Starting Your Own Photo Business So you’re ready to start making money off of your photography? Opening your business can seem complicated, but if you follow a few simple steps, you’ll be on your way to profiting from your new endeavor. 1. Figure out which specialty of photography you are going to focus on. Will you become a landscape photographer? Wildlife? Portraits? Weddings? Fine Art? Still-life/products? Food? Fashion? Photojournalism? Check out the competition. How do you fit into the niche? What are your competitors charging? What can you offer that’s different? 2. Decide on a business name. Many photographers choose to open their business (especially sole proprietorships) under their own name, e.g. John Smith Photography. You should check out whether the name you have in mind has already been taken: http://www.uspto.gov/main/trademarks.htm and also consider whether you can set up a website with a similar name. If you choose to operate your business under an assumed name, e.g. Pixel Perfect Photography, you will generally have to fill out additional “Doing Business As” (DBA) forms. A DBA will be easier to sell in the future than a business under your own name. 3. Decide the structure of your business and whether you want to incorporate. Most new photography businesses begin as sole proprietorships, since the fees associated with this business are lower; however, you are personally liable for your business debts (putting your personal assets at risk). If you need information on business structures, visit: http://www.sba.gov/smallbusinessplanner/start/chooseastructure/index.html 4. Apply for an Employer Identification Number or Federal Tax Identification number. You will need this number to open a business banking account. You can apply online at: http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=98350,00.html 5. Obtain a business license by visiting your local town/city hall or town clerk. If you plan to operate your business out of your home, you may have to visit the local department of planning, to review zoning regulations. Depending on where your home is located, and whether it has been zoned for commercial use, you may or may not be allowed to open a studio in your home. In general, business owners living in a residential area only may NOT be allowed to have customers visit the building, advertise using their street address (a PO Box may be necessary), or post signage. Home-based businesses and photography businesses where the owner uses the place of residence for computer retouching/home office are generally acceptable in residential zoning. If you have questions about zoning, speak with a business lawyer or the city clerk. 6. Open a business checking account, business credit card and/or line of credit. This
can be very useful to manage cash flow and separate personal and business assets. You will generally need your business license and EIN to open a business banking account. 7. Purchase business insurance. This is a crucial step many new photographers overlook because they don’t think they have the money to invest in insurance and assume (incorrectly) that their personal home insurance policy covers them. If you make ANY money off of your photography, home/auto insurance policies will generally NOT cover your equipment for loss, damage or theft, even if this occurs in your home or automobile. Most photographers will want professional business insurance that includes coverage for your equipment (for loss or damage), and liability, including coverage for people who may be injured on your equipment (say someone trips over your sync cord), and “malpractice” or “business liability” (in case someone sues your business over loss or non-capture of their images). You can get business insurance from a number of carriers, including through professional organizations, just be careful to be sure that the policy is your own – not a group policy, which comes with cheaper premiums (but the limits sometimes apply to the whole group, so when you make a claim, if the limits have already been reached, you may be out of luck). If you plan to shoot weddings, be aware that some venues will require proof of your insurance and request that your policy lists them as an “additional insured” on the date of the wedding, or you will not be allowed to take pictures. Check this out ahead of time; you don’t want surprises on the day of a big shoot! Call around to find the best premiums for your area and equipment coverage requirements. Some insurance policies will also require that you “schedule” or list out all the equipment (and estimated value) to be covered under the policy. 8. Start a website to showcase and advertise your work. When I first started out, I designed my own website, although I now use a web designer. With some time and effort, you can easily build a website using software that won’t require you to learn a lot of HTML code. I like Macromedia Dreamweaver. It’s a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) software that lets you drag and drop items into the screen. If you are good with code, you can also write in that as well. You’ll want to register your domain name, and then find a server to host your site. I’ve used www.web.com for a number of years, and I’d highly recommend setting up your own site, over using templates. I’d also recommend purchasing a domain name, rather than using only flickr, myspace, facebook, geocities or other free hosting sites. These are good for social networking and building a name for your business, but you’ll quickly grow out of the space you’ll need to post all your photographs, and it’s not as professional to have a site with so many ads. Even if you don’t plan to start your website right away, I’d recommend at least purchasing the domain name, so it will be there when you want it later. You also want to optimize it for search engines (in general flash websites are harder for search engines to map out), promote your official launch, and track your traffic. If you also decide to host a blog, make sure you post to it regularly. 9. Start collecting business promotional materials. You’ll need business cards, sample prints or tearsheets, a portfolio, press kits, etc. www.moo.com is great for printing images on high quality cards. Your pro lab can also make postcards,
business cards and promo material for you – check out places like www.whcc.com, www.bayphoto.com, www.millerslab.com, etc. 10. Test out reputable third-party services for printing/album or book publishing, etc, or purchase (and maintain) an archival printer. Other than for your snapshots, I’d avoid services like Snapfish and Shutterfly. The quality of their color management and non-archival nature of their products won’t reflect well on you as a professional. There are many other service providers that cater to the needs of professionals and give better quality products. You’ll have to test them out to find ones that suit your purposes and who have the products you want to offer. I’ve used Lustrecolor, Pictobooks, Leathercraftsmen, Albums Unlimited, and GraphiStudio for albums in the past. I like Zenfolio’s online gallery hosting (purchase a pro account so you can make profits and have unlimited galleries), and Miller’s or White House Custom Color for prints. Pick up a magazine for professionals in your genre, and check out the ads. This will give you a good place to start testing services. 11. Promote and advertise your business. How and where you decide to do this will vary greatly by your market, your competition, and the size of your business. Check out your local chamber of commerce for some free (or cheap) classes about advertising/marketing for tips about your specific area. Join a professional photographer’s association and attend the local and national conferences. They are jam packed with ideas to kick start your business. When you run a campaign, be sure to analyze its success as well. Remember you are developing a brand; something that people should begin to recognize and associate with your skills and talents. 12. Follow up with previous clients. Build a name for your business based on excellent customer service and high quality products. It doesn’t cost you a thing to offer good customer service and in a flooded field, can set you apart from your competition. 13. Network with professionals in your field and related fields. Offer reciprocal links on your website, refer your customers to related businesses (if you’re a wedding photographer, make an effort to meet with DJ’s, florists, videographers, officiants, caterers, bakers, tailors, limo companies, hair and makeup stylists, musicians, reception venues, etc.) in exchange for the same consideration from them. 14. Create a business plan, and a simplified five- and ten-year plan. Have an exit strategy in case your business isn’t working for you. Keep analyzing your cash flow, and be sure you pay your business taxes (including quarterly estimated federal and state taxes and sales tax). Remember that many things are deductible – equipment purchases, travel, etc, so keep track of your expenses. Just remember that expenses aren’t one for one – don’t purchase something just for the tax break! Tax software meant for small businesses is great; accountants are even better. 15. Become an expert in the field. Join professional associations, enter competitions, get published, attend conferences, write articles, etc. Consider continuing education to hone your skills and keep practicing. Develop your own style that’s not based on copying what else you see – how are you different and unique as a photographer? What do you offer in your business that’s different from everyone
else? Why should someone hire you?