Becoming a legitimate photographer can be a little intimidating! Even if you don’t plan on going full time right away (or at all) these are the things you absolutely need to have in place when you start taking on real clients. Heck, these are things you should have in place even when you’re portfolio building! If you don’t know where to start when it comes to creating a successful photography business, I’m going to lay it all out for you here.
LLC. Sole proprietor? SCORP? What do these even mean!? It can be intimidating as hell, but starting your business the right way from the very beginning will save you so. Much. headache. In the long run. I promise. I’m no business expert, but I started my business as an LLC. Now that I make a certain amount of money each year, I’ve had to convert to an SCORP (I still don’t know what that means). I hire someone to handle all that mumbo jumbo for me.
You can get your LLC set up very quickly, just search for your specific state’s Secretary of State website and find their small business section. Most of them have easy directions to walk you through the process.
City business licenses & other permits. In addition to my state LLC, I’m also required to get a business license for each city I shoot in. Beaufort, Bluffton, Hilton Head, etc. Each city has it’s own local tax requirements and I have to renew each license annually.
Some places I shoot in also require an entrance fee. Some are annual, some are per visit. Be sure you keep track of how much you spend on all of these things because it is a tax write off!
Taxes. Sales tax? Retail tax? EIN? The biggest mistake I made in my business was not setting money aside for taxes from the very beginning. Trust me, I’m paying for it now. Literally. 5-figures to be exact. Get in touch with a CPA who is familiar with your state laws and photography expectations. Depending on whether you offer products, digitals, etc will determine what kind of taxes you pay.
I highly recommend getting the book Profit First and implementing it in your accounting & bookkeeping. I had heard other entrepreneurs talk about the Profit First system but didn’t think I could get it to work for me. Until I really got to thinking how much am I actually making from my business? I honestly couldn’t tell you. My expenses bled in to my income and I had no idea what I was doing. I finally caved and I actually got the audio book (because who has time to read nowadays). Mike is a genius when it comes to solopreneur finances and I’m so glad I got his book.
Now I have money set aside specifically for taxes. I can tell you how much I’ve gotten to pay myself out. I can even operate my business within a budget!
Contracts. Another mistake I made early in my business was not getting contracts in place. Even for free sessions. Even for friend’s sessions. Any session where you’re taking pictures, you should have a contract in place. It sets basic expectations, it sets you apart as a professional, and it sets you up for success. There are tons of awesome photography contracts on the web. Check out The Law Tog or The Legal Paige for some. I promise, they are worth the investment.
Once you start taking on multiple clients it will probably get hard to keep all their session details straight. When, where, who’s gonna be there, how much they owe, etc. Having a CRM ensures that each client gets treated equally and you don’t drop any balls or, god forbid, double book yourself (been there, done that a few times!).
Not sure how to collect payments? A good CRM will take care of that for you!
There are tons of options out there, 17Hats, SproutStudio, Dubsado, Picsello, Session, ShootProof, PixieSet, etc, but HoneyBook is by far my favorite that I’ve tried. Get 20% off your first year of HoneyBook by using my referral link.
From inquiry to gallery delivery and beyond, there are so many things that will go in to your client experience. Throughout the entire process, make sure you’re telling your clients what to expect.
They should know what your booking process is. Contract? Deposit? At what point do you finalize where and when you’ll shoot? When is the final payment due?
I also like to send my clients a series of prep emails to help them choose outfits and get in the right mindset for their session. Want to see the exact emails I send to my clients? Grab your copy here!
Once you get to the shoot, give them a run down of how things are going to happen. At the end of the session tell them how long it will be till they get their gallery and what they’ll be able to do once they have it.
The day after a session I like to send my clients a follow up email, thanking them, telling them I enjoyed our time together, and reminding them again when they can expect their images and what to do with them once they get their gallery.
When you finally deliver the gallery explain the process of ordering prints, products, and if they may have any extra edit requests. I use CloudSpot to deliver my galleries. It gives my clients an easy download experience, and I even get to include a personalized app with all their images on it! Get 20% off your first year when you use my referral link. Everyone loves the app they get.
One week after I deliver their gallery I send a feedback questionnaire and also request a review. This helps me get some insight on what part of the process they liked the most and what areas I can improve in my business.
At the beginning of every month I order client gifts for the previous month. I like to change up what I send every once in a while so it can always be fresh to me and I don’t get in too much of a creative rut.
The most rewarding part of this entire process is when clients come back and ask me to take their pictures again because they enjoyed their experience with me that much! I always make sure to reward those clients with a % off discount. This is the best indicator of how successful your photography business is.
Speaking of discounts, I also offer my top referring friends discounts or send them occasional thank you gifts. This is a major networking / word of mouth business and having a good standing in the community will ensure you continue to get leads and inquiries.
Have you ever heard the saying “A jack of all trades is a master of none”? There’s actually a second part to it that goes, “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but still always better than a master of one”
My first 4 years in business I didn’t think it was necessary to niche down. I wanted to shoot anything and everything. If you were going to give me money, I would take your pictures. But I’ve slowly come to learn that it’s good to be known for something. I like to think I have 2 sides to my business now. I’m known as a lifestyle (mostly family) beach photographer, but most people also know that I have a studio so I’m able to offer a totally different genre of photography.
If events are your thing, great! If boudoir is your thing, more power to you. It takes great skill to get a woman to feel beautiful in such a vulnerable state.
Finding a niche will not only help you stand out in your market, but people will begin to turn to you for advice and guidance! It’s okay to specialize in one or two (maaaybe three) things, but you definitely want to keep it narrowed down. Don’t feel rushed to figure it out right away. Take time to feel out what works best for you. You also don’t have to stick with it for your entire career! It’s okay to change and adapt as your business changes.
Not sure what niche you want? Here’s a list to get you started for a successful photography business!
“Community over Competition” is something you’ve probably heard a lot, and I’m willing to bet you won’t stop hearing it. Nothing lights me up more than helping other women succeed! On that same note, seeing photographers tear each other down makes me so sad!
I’ve had so many photographers tell me they’re thankful that I’m so open and appreciate everything that I share with them. Use this as your reminder that if someone is changing your life, tell them! They may not know. I sometimes feel like I’m just talking to the masses, but hearing from actual people that I’m helping them makes me feel like I’m actually making a difference.
Having a community to lean on is so important to being successful. My photo besties Whitney Kilcrease and Amanda Goralczyk have been my rocks. If I’m stressed I vent to them. Overbooked? I refer clients to them. When I got COVID unexpectedly, I turned to them to cover my sessions.
Let this serve as your reminder that this is a people business. From your ‘coworkers’ to your clients. It can feel lonely at times, but you’re never alone!
If the information here was helpful but you want more I offer one on one mentoring to help you launch a successful photography business! I also have some workshops in development that I’ll be announcing soon, in addition to a course that will be launching in the next month or so!
If you want to see more about my mentorships, you can check out my website here!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I may earn a very small commission. Keep in mind that I will only ever share about companies that I truly believe in.
newbie photographer, solopreneur, full time photographer, family photographer, photography business
July 23, 2022