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Start a commercial photography business by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your commercial photography business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
STEP 1: Plan your Business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How long it will take you to break even?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a commercial photography business?
Experienced professionals suggest budgeting for a minimum of $10,000-$15,000 for camera and studio equipment. If you plan to have your own studio space, double your starting budget to account for deposits and any necessary facility upgrades.
Camera and equipment should include:
- Camera(s) and various lenses
- Tripods and monopods
- Hard drives
- Flashes and flash filters
- Color meter
- Editing software
- Backup storage devices
As part of your initial investment, you will also need to discuss your insurance needs with a professional and have a simple, yet professional website built. Accounting and business management software would also prove beneficial.
What are the ongoing expenses for a commercial photography business?
Ongoing expenses you could potentially incur, depending upon your target clientele and goals for the business include:
- Brick and mortar
- Travel expenses
- Networking and marketing
- Maintenance or replacement of equipment
- Business tools
- Payroll or professional fees
Who is the target market?
Unlike most professions, you define your own target market based on your vision, passions, and strengths. Your role is to help clients reach their target demographic(s), leaving virtually every demographic in need of inspiring photographers.
How does a commercial photography business make money?
Commercial photographers are generally paid a flat fee per shoot. Fees are determined ahead of time and are based on a number of factors, including scope of project, client budget, and the photographer’s experience.
How much can you charge customers?
Commercial photography business owners set their prices based on experience and project demands. In addition to expenses, a flat fee is standard. Daily fees range anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 per day.
How much profit can a commercial photography business make?
Profits vary, depending upon a wide range of factors. Entrepreneurs who prefer to keep businesses small report an average profit of $75,000. Industry leaders report making well over $250,000 in profit.
How can you make your business more profitable?
To maximize profitability, consider implementing the following strategies:
- Include product photography in your list of services
- Build an agency of talent of varying skill levels
- Include video in your list of services
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is very important. Read our detailed guide on how to name your business. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.
After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your commercial photography business is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Check out the Top Business Formation Services from our friends at StartupSavant.
You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: You can get $200 when you open a Chase business checking account with qualifying activities. Learn more.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a commercial photography business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Commercial photography businesses should require clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and intellectual property ownership. Here is an example of one such services agreement.
Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional service agreement for your commercial photography business when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.
Trademark & Copyright Protection
If you are developing a unique product, concept, brand, or design, it is prudent to protect your rights by registering for the appropriate trademarks and copyrights.
STEP 7: Get Business Insurance
Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
How to promote & market a commercial photography business
Whether traveling on assignment, at a convention, or working from your home office, more than 65% of your time will be spent marketing. Get involved with the community, collaborate with a variety of contributing artists, and join professional organizations such as American Society of Media Photographers and Professional Photographers of America. In addition to advertising services, these associations offer members educational and networking opportunities.
Once you have identified your target market, reach out to ad agencies that serve these niches. Schedule a meeting and come prepared with a portfolio that makes you stand out over the competition.
How to keep customers coming back
Once you have convinced someone that you are the best fit, it’s your job to follow through. Build a reputation of professionalism, quality, and consistency. Nurture relationships in every facet of the community and word of mouth will become your strongest marketing tool.
STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence
A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Start A Commercial Photography Business In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
The creative individual that is passionate about photography and inspiring others through their work is drawn to this profession. Those entering this specialized field often do so because of their passion and eye for both fashion and photography. The combination of these two art forms serves as a creative outlet. Successful photographers are often able to travel the world, earning an income that supports them, as they work to fulfill their dreams.
What happens during a typical day at a commercial photography business?
While most professionals are drawn to this industry because of the creative aspect, managing and marketing the business are equally as important. Your website must be maintained and portfolio updated regularly. Additionally, you or a member of your team will perform administrative tasks, such as making travel arrangements, managing the books, and maintaining business contracts.
Whether your photo shoot is local or takes you on the road, the groundwork should be laid well in advance. This helps ensure the process goes smoothly and that everything is ready when you arrive. Commercial photographers who spend much of their time on the road indicate a trip can last anywhere from 3 days to several weeks.
In addition to planning, directing, and photographing a photo shoot, successful professionals continuously strive to learn and better themselves. Networking within the community, researching, and noting the latest trends are all effective ways to grow creatively and professionally.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful commercial photography business?
In addition to having an appreciation of photography composition, it is critical that you understand marketing strategies. Who your client is trying to reach will dictate every aspect of the campaign. Understanding people and their needs, and being able to convey this to your client, are all critical components to your business’ success.
Whether laying the groundwork or on-site, you represent not only your organization, but your client’s as well. It’s important that you are able to communicate professionally and connect with individuals from all backgrounds and cultures.
Leaders in this industry advise working as a photography assistant before venturing out on your own. In addition to helping ensure you are at one with your camera, this firsthand experience will assist you in planning, problem-solving, and networking. Most commercial photographers specialize in one or two industries, particularly when starting out. Use your time as an assistant to identify what industries speak to you and which you have a natural eye for.
What is the growth potential for a commercial photography business?
Because each marketing campaign requires something different, there is great demand for commercial photographers of all different styles. This is great news for professionals of every skill level, as it offers the opportunity for growth and ensures the work always remains fresh and interesting. Growth opportunities include opening an agency or a marketing firm.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a commercial photography business?
Leading industry professionals offer the following advice:
- While you’re blessed to turn your passions into a career, it’s important to remember that this is a business, too. Sign up for some business classes or work closely with a mentor before venturing out on your own.
- While your job is to turn your client’s vision into a reality, the end result reflects directly back on you. Consider this when taking on new projects. Don’t sacrifice your own creative style, unless you believe it could help you grow creatively and professionally.
- Never stop striving for professional and personal growth. Surround yourself with others in the community who challenge you. Learn from each other.
- When traveling out of the country for a project, obtain a work visa and carry a list of all equipment that’s traveling with you. This will help you with negotiations should an issue arise.
How and when to build a team
Many entrepreneurs enter this field to fuel their artistic fire. If this is your primary goal, join the majority of freelance photographers and build a substantial support team. An assistant can remove the day-to-day stresses, while an attorney and/or accountant can ensure all contracts and finances are in order.