Starting a new business can be exciting, overwhelming, and rewarding. It's an enriching experience knowing that you have a product which people enjoy but even better when people request it - let alone want to pay you for it! It comes with its own set of challenges with the unlimited freedom to make any decision you want when you want. However, with all those decisions to make, where do you even start?
I've been working as an architect for almost 10 years now in a professional business setting. Just about half of that time was spent gaining great experience from working in a small firm of less than 5 people. Working side by side with both principles on a daily basis provided considerable insight into the many daily habits it takes to successfully run a business. I was never in charge of running the business, and seeing what seemed like an immense amount of pressure with long work hours was never something I saw myself wanting. But here we are, a hobby I've always loved and an inspiration to share it with the world!
Fast forward to the year 2020. I'm still working full time as an architect. Add into that the stress being a still new father, and a side of a global pandemic, and you have the perfect catalyst. What else could I possibly add into the mix to feel in control again? I was frightened by the thought of attempting something and failing. No, not just failing, but embarrassing myself. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there. However, I am the type of person that generally doesn't care what others think, so I took the leap of faith. With the list of should-do's and would-do's growing longer and longer and with minimal startup capital, I was able to construct a sturdy foundation by narrowing my focus onto just the basics and slowly expanding from there.
So, you've got your idea, some equipment, positive motivation, and maybe a business name picked out. Now what?
Well, here are my top 5 tips for an aspiring photographer planning to start their new business!
1. You CAN do it for less.
CRMs, websites, gallery hosting, storage, contract delivery. Ugh, what a headache! The moment you start google-ing how to run a photography business you will be bombarded with ads for paid services left and right. All of them promise you a seamless way to manage your business. Sure, they are probably right. They might make your life a little easier. But they do not do it all for you. You still have to be the one to click the mouse, type the words, and make the decisions.
Here's all you really need: a Google business account, some image editing software, and a way to share your photos.
- Google business suite can be had for free. With it you will get access to an email address, excel sheets, a word processor, unlimited photo storage, and a whole host of other free tools. Not to mention, they are all integrated with each other so jumping between files is painless.
- Editing software can be as cheap or expensive as you like. Although Adobe makes a great product, you definitely don't need a subscription to Lightroom or Photoshop. Free editing programs like Gimp or Darktable have most of the basics and can certainly be enough to get you up and running.
- Sharing your photos with clients is easier than ever thanks to applications like Google Drive or Dropbox. But even better free options exist thanks to websites such as Pixieset. With beautiful galleries to help your clients see their full shoot, they can also select their favorite images and even download and purchase prints directly from the website! As a bonus, Pixieset even offers website hosting, which is an absolute must these days.
2. Did you get it in writing?
Contracts. Contracts. Contracts! Make sure you get everything about your services in writing. Whether its free or paid, have it signed by your client. Give them a copy and save a copy on your hard drive. Getting yourself set up with contracts is not only going to protect you from demanding clients, it can also help save you in case something goes wrong.
Client wants more images? Client doesn't want to pay you the amount you told them? Maybe their daughter tripped during the shoot at the location you chose? Anything you can think of should have it's own clause to limit your liability. You can find tons of sample contracts online to get you started. Draft up a list of items in word processor, and make it template. Better to have something to protect you than not. Make sure to have your contract checked by a lawyer to make sure everything is legit. They can even write one for you if you like.
Now, although contracts are an absolute must when dealing with any exchange, I would be remiss if I did not mention that they do not replace registering your business as an LLC, or limited liability corporation. The benefits of an LLC are beyond the scope of this essay, but in short, they will separate your assets from the business, in case you ever named in a lawsuit.
- In today's fast paced world, I highly recommend digital contracts so your client can easily sign and return them without having to print and scan. Pandadoc will let you set up contracts in the format you like, insert areas for signatures, and will even notify you as clients view and complete the contracts. Best of all, the free version includes all the necessities!
3. Don't forget about taxes.
So, you finally got some profit coming in, and you've decided to upgrade to that new fancy mirrorless camera body and extra long lens. But wait! Along comes tax season and you didn't bother to set aside any savings for your uncle Sam. You made a dollar but you forgot to give him his cut. Don't get left short by not planning to pay revenue taxes.
It's also important to make sure that if you are selling goods and services you are appropriately charging sales tax. Depending on your state, digital photos may be charged with sales tax, where here in MA, they are not required to.
As a good rule of thumb, you should plan to put aside at least 30% of any revenue for federal and another 6-7% for state that comes in. Putting that money right into a separate business bank account will keep you from spending it. Doing so will help make sure you aren't hit with a bill at tax season that you weren't ready for.
I keep track of everything in a google sheets file that I assembled myself. It has tabs for everything from invoices and expenses to what I should be charging clients using basic formulas. It will even tell you expected federal and state tax holdings depending on what value you enter. I've made it so smart, it pretty much calculates itself!
It's important that you check with your state and federal guidelines for more accurate information on how to handle your taxes. Please consult your local tax advisor for the best solutions for your business.
4. Taking and delivering photos is easy. Marketing is time consuming and tricky.
Being behind the camera might be the fun part but it doesn't stop there. Taking and editing pictures pretty much only accounts for less than 10% of your time. The rest of your time will be spent emailing clients, managing invoices and your bankroll, developing your next marketing campaign, or even browsing for inspiration. Luckily, I find this type of thing to be enjoyable. Okay, maybe not sitting on the couch binging on Netflix while eating a whole pizza enjoyable, but it is challenging and I've always loved a good challenge.
When it comes to making the decisions it doesn't have to be hard but it does take some strategy and time to think it all through. I've found that using a combination of Google's sheets to keep tack of all my expenses and Square for managing client's invoices will keep your bankroll in the green. With Gmail, you can set up marketing templates that will make client communication a breeze. Although nothing is automated for me, I am able to control how I want the experience to be. And with that, I know where everything is at any given time.
5. You don't need a studio.
Nope! I work out of my 2 bedroom apartment. I don't have a garage. I don't have a finished basement. Heck, I don't even have a closet and my office is in the darkest corner of my son's bedroom. Do I wish I had a dedicated space? Absolutely! But it is by no means required.
I prefer to take pictures outdoors, on location, with as much natural light as is available. Occasionally I'll use some backdrops and a speedlite or two, but that's mostly for special occasions or specific clients. I to travel to my clients, which is perfectly fine with me (make sure you track those miles!). I'm happy to be at a location that is special to my clients and if not I can always suggest some beautiful areas nearby. In the end, all you really need is a place to sit with your computer to chug away on those photos.
While there are many "how to start your business" lists are out there , I've highlighted these 5 items to emphasize how easy it is to get your business up and running with very little resources. These points are certainly an overview and not meant to be construed as an all encompassing list of business do's and don'ts, but I believe with these lean business startup strategies on your list, it will make it easier than ever to break into the business while barely spending a dime. By using these points in addition to the multitude of other business, tax, or photography tips out there, you will be well on your way to success. I am by no means certified in accounting, law, or have an MBA, but by drafting out a careful plan and using a bit of research you can finally stop making excuses and get your business started today. If you really enjoy your craft, whether it's photography, architecture, or macaroni art, then taking those few extra steps can be well worth the effort!
What other tips do you recommend to your colleagues looking to start their first business? I'd love to hear from you!
Disclaimer: I am not an accountant or an attorney and do not pretend to be. Any information you have read here is not to be taken as legal or tax counsel or advice. Please consult a certified professional or advisor as they will be invaluable to helping you manage your business and keep you protected. Every business is different, and what may work for some, may not work for others.
I am not endorsed or paid by any brands or companies mentioned in this post. I am simply sharing my honest opinions and findings.
However, if you use some of the following links below, I may get a small kickback as referral bonus!
Pixieset: Get bonus storage or free month: https://pixieset.com/ref/BNya1gJpyg
Pandadoc: Get free upgrades: https://app.pandadoc.com/invite-link/a2959969c12b4ec5832a9e044a94ba86/join
Square payment services: waive your service charges for your first month: https://squareup.com/i/MDISALVATO
If your interested in obtaining a copy of my Photography Business Worksheet, where you can track all of your business revenue and expenses, just click the image below. This worksheet is designed to work right in google sheets so you can edit your spreadsheet anywhere you go, and of course an excel version is also available! Again, this worksheet will help calculate everything from invoices, mileage, expected income taxes, business expenses, and quarterly profit and loss. I've even included bonus tabs to help you price your photography packages and plan your next year's growth!
Although this sheet is geared towards photography, it can absolutely be modified to suit your business needs.
To get yours, just click on the images below to purchase for a one time cost of just $10!
What did you think?
What other tips do you recommend to your colleagues looking to startup their new business? What was your biggest hurdle when starting your new business? What inspired you to start your business? I'd love to hear from you!