Two Peas Photo Classroom - How to Get Started in Business the Right Way

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Posted 5/24/2010 by alexismiller in General Photography


PeaNut 224,660
September 2005
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Loc: Utah

Posted: 5/24/2010 5:10:23 PM
How to Get Started in Business (The RIGHT Way!)

I hope that this lesson will be helpful to some of you. I am sure that I will leave things out, so if you have other suggestions, PLEASE feel free to add them! I love photography, but the business part is a little more challenging for me. When I was first getting into the photography business, I did some of these things, but I totally failed at others! I wish that I had done more research about the business side of things before I jumped in! Here are a few things that I think might help you on your business journey.

1. Write a business plan. Sit down and write down what it is (in the most basic terms) that you intend to do with this business. Think about and record goals - how much time and money do you intend to invest? How much money do you hope to earn per month/year? What resources do you have to help you with your venture? Who is your target market? How will you appeal to them?

2. Decide whether you'd like your business to be a sole proprietor, and LLC, or a corporation. There are several distinct differences between the options. A sole proprietor is basically just you - owning a business at home. The state looks at the business as YOU. If this is the route you're going to take, you'll need to file for a DBA (Doing Business As) as well. An LLC takes a little more time to set up, but your personal assets are more protected than they would be if you were a sole proprietor. Here is a link that goes into a little more detail about types of business organizations.
I have also found that many of the websites have good information about business entities too.

Whatever type of business you choose, be sure to properly establish it with your state. Make sure that your business is recognized as such, and that you have the proper tax numbers for sales tax.
All in all, registering your business will probably require you to fill out a whole bunch of forms and paperwork for your state. But, it will be worth it - it is so important to make sure that you're a legitimate business if you're doing work and collecting money for it.

3. Decide on a business name and register it. The process for this will vary depending on your state, and for the type of business that you choose, but make sure that you own your business name. Even if it is FirstName LastName Photography, you will want to make sure that it is registered so that you "own"  it. You don't want to be in business for a few years, and have someone else decide to use your name, register it, and pursue you for the use of their name! I think it's generally pretty affordable and not too difficult to do.

4. When you choose your business name, you'll want to register for a domain name as well. Even if you don't have intention of using it for awhile, it's still a good idea to make sure that you have the domain name registered so that when you get to the point that you're ready for a website, you won't have to worry about someone else already owning it. It's also a good idea to try to make sure that the web hosting company lists you as the domain owner, and not themselves. It will make things much easier should you decide to switch hosting companies later.

5. Set up a business bank account. It is important to keep your business funds separate from your personal funds. You'll also want to get some bookkeeping software, or even just an Excel spreadsheet. You'll want to track your expenses and income. When you track your expenses, think about what categories things fall into. Some examples of mine are: Cost of Goods Sold (anything from any photo lab goes here), Props and Backgrounds, Equipment, Office Supplies, etc. I suppose that you could do just fine without categorizing your expenses, but it really helps to be able to track specific categories. You will want to be able to see, for example, how much money you spent on prints from the lab vs. how much money you collected for those prints.

6. Get business insurance. Homeowners policies do not cover your equipment or any liability that comes from your business. It really isn't very expensive, and it is good to be protected. This is an absolute must if you intend to *think* about shooting weddings. Small business insurance policies will cover your equipment, and they'll help protect you if one of your clients is injured during a session, or even on your property. (Like picking up their order at your home and tripping on your front steps.)

7. Obviously, most of us already have done this, but you'll need to purchase your equipment, and make sure that it is capable of doing the job. If you're shooting weddings, very large families, or other once-in-a-lifetime events make SURE that you have backup equipment. Backup camera body, backup lenses, batteries, chargers, and a bunch of memory cards. If you use a flash, it's probably a good idea to make sure that you have a backup of that too. These things will definitely take time and money to accumulate, but again, for the once-in-a-lifetime events, it is extremely important to be prepared.

8. Set up your pricing. Decide whether you're going to offer print packages only, or if you're going to offer digital files as well. If you decide to offer digital files, remember that the price for the CD needs to be high. High enough to cover what you might have made selling prints to the client. Set your prices at a level of what you'd like to be charging in a year or two from now. Then, during your portfolio building, offer a discount from these prices. If you do this, your clients will be aware of your actual prices and won't be shocked or frustrated by the price increase when you're finished with your portfolio building. Be very careful not to set your prices too low. The expenses you will encounter will be far greater than you initially realize, and you will need to make more than just $100 or $200 from a session.

9. Start working on your business policies. Before you accept your first client, you'll want to have some policies in place. As many of us have experienced, there are demanding, cheap, rude, clients everywhere. Make sure that all of your clients are aware of your policies from the beginning. Things like copyright, model releases, session fees (and whether or not they include any prints), minimum purchases, how much time you'll spend retouching their faces or making them skinnier, referral programs, etc. Get a set of forms put together that outline your policies and make sure that your clients read them and sign them prior to any session.

10. Start working on your business branding. This includes everything from your logo to your packaging. Think about your brochures, price lists, websites, blogs, business cards, CDs, advertisements, etc., etc. Everything should look unified and cohesive. Choose a color scheme and keep it consistent throughout your business. These things really don't have to be expensive - business cards can be quite affordable, and many photographers use the internet now exclusively for publishing pricing and FAQ. Your packaging can be simple and affordable too, but it should look like it belongs to your business.

11. Send some test prints in to a bunch of different photo labs. Evaluate them all, and decide which lab works best for you. It's a good idea to choose a Pro lab, rather than just your Wal-Mart or Costco photo lab. The prints are higher quality. Your customers will expect good quality, and not drugstore prints. There are many very good labs out there, and there are lots of threads about labs on 2Peas.

12. Start portfolio building. Practice, Practice, Practice. Take a class locally or online. Attend a photography club. Spend time here at 2Peas and any other good photography forum online. Listen to others' critique and keep trying to make improvements to your work. Be patient and have fun with it. After about 1-2 years, evaluate your work and your progress. If you feel that you're ready to start charging full prices, go for it! If not, keep practicing and learning, and re-evaluate in about 6 months.


Nikon D90


PeaNut 263,040
May 2006
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Posted: 5/24/2010 5:20:25 PM
AWESOME AWESOME!! great coverage of a business. A business plan is also a great idea to get FUNDING *something almost all small businesses are in need of*

You left out Partnership in #2. Though my DH says its really a dumb idea to be in a partnership when you could be an LLC, it is another option.

It is important to keep your business funds separate from your personal funds.

I'll echo that and add that DH has said if there is enough mixing of personal and business accounts, even if you are an LLC you can have your personal assets taken away should anything happen b/c you didn't keep the finances separate. He probably told me all this more eloquently, but that is what I took away from it.

purchase your equipment

Legally, as is my understanding, one must own their own licensed paid (not student) version of editing software. Not that I could see someone getting in trouble in court for this, but something my very professional graphic designer informed me when discussion copyright issues... etc.

You have a great tutorial! Inspired me to polish up on a lot of the things I've been slacking on (ie business insurance being one).


Molly C
PhotograPea Enabler

PeaNut 49,752
September 2002
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Loc: Virginia, where my heart has always been

Posted: 5/24/2010 5:28:10 PM
Thank you. This is super helpful to someone on the outskirts still of business. I didn't realize this lesson was in the lineup when I put in my request for the second go-round. I think most of these things I've already accounted for, but it is nice to have them all consolidated here.


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A Marvelous OlymPEAn

PeaNut 36,135
April 2002
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Posted: 5/24/2010 5:38:56 PM
FABULOUS thread!!!!! this alone should be pinned at the top of this board!

Write a business plan.

i am so glad this is your number one. i think its soooo important. i wrote one 3 year ago and have pretty much followed it, i knew what i wanted to gain from PB, didnt go into just willy nilly. i had to tweak it last year a little and then rewrote a new one this year so of course its not like its set in stone, but putting things in writing can really lay things out for you.

CC and plays always welcome!

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PeaNut 406,249
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Posted: 5/24/2010 6:18:33 PM
This was great and helpful. I am considering moving from free sessions to portfolio building and obviously want to move into the right direction - thanks for the priceless insight!

~~ Corrie ~~

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PeaNut 138,098
March 2004
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Posted: 5/24/2010 6:35:59 PM
Thank you for this information. Not now, but maybe someday, I will be good enough to consider starting a business. I will definitely be bookmarking this for future use!


PeaNut 392,949
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Posted: 5/24/2010 6:50:36 PM
Great thread and I second the business plan- I wrote one a year ago and it really makes you get in the mindset that this is your business and you are the owner who controls the direction of your business.

I actually requested more business type subjects for the 2nd round too!!


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Stacey Anna

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Posted: 5/24/2010 6:51:16 PM
Thank you SO much Alexis!!


PeaNut 455,932
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Posted: 5/24/2010 8:34:37 PM
Awesome! This has been on my mind recently. I'm "portfolio-building" now and I'm doing a couple sessions each week for free for the next few weeks. I think it's time to get a plan together so I can start getting a return on this investment or my husband's going to have a fit!


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Posted: 5/24/2010 8:43:52 PM
Great coverage of the information!

Nikon shooter


PeaNut 246,670
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Posted: 5/24/2010 10:06:18 PM
Not in business here, but thanks Alexis for taking the time to share this valuable information!


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Shell B

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Posted: 5/25/2010 4:45:31 AM
Great information! Thank you for taking the time to prepare it.



PeaNut 39,805
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Posted: 5/25/2010 9:26:04 AM
This is FANTASTIC, Alexis!!!! Every.single.person who is starting a photo business should read this. Thank you so much!!!


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PeaNut 286,202
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Posted: 5/25/2010 9:31:03 AM
Thanks for putting this together, Alexis! Great information!


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PeaNut 365,669
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Posted: 5/25/2010 9:32:42 AM
Great advice and information. Thank you so much!

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PeaNut 355,647
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Posted: 5/25/2010 10:10:09 AM
Great info! Thank you so much for putting it all together in one spot!


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PeaNut 207,672
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Posted: 5/25/2010 10:47:08 AM
Thank you, all very good info!


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PeaNut 189,415
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Posted: 5/26/2010 8:49:16 AM
Awesome information - still in the portfolio building stages, but this is very insightful!


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PeaNut 456,601
February 2010
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Posted: 5/26/2010 5:03:14 PM
Thank you so much for this! I have been dying waiting for this! Can't wait to read it!!!


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PeaNut 341,583
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Posted: 5/26/2010 5:14:01 PM
Wonderful tool. Thank you so much.

I wanted to mention this in case others live in areas of business schools but a local business college here has the seniors match up with someone in the community that wants to start a business and guides them through the business plan and all kinds of agencies that might be offering assistance financially or promoting etc. They provide this for free. ~Jackie

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PeaNut 343,181
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Posted: 6/14/2010 5:57:52 PM
Somehow I missed this when it was first posted. Great info! Thank you Alexis for taking the time to put it all together.

"You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through." {Rosalyn Carter}

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PeaNut 89,428
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Posted: 6/14/2010 6:57:55 PM
I went to a free seminar about this topic and it certainly wasn't as comprehensive as the info you have given us here.

Thanks SO MUCH for taking the time. Much appreciated!


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PeaNut 494,757
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Posted: 10/8/2012 12:38:41 AM
Great advise! My planning took about 3 months but well worth it! Just remember... you are never finished planning.

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