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With pet specialty stores and dog-friendly restaurants becoming the new norm, more and more families are embracing the idea of openly expressing their love for their pets. Pet photographers, whether working in teams or as individuals, are there to catch a family’s four-legged loved one in action. Whether at an adoption event, dog show, horse race, or private photo shoot, these moments are captured on film, delivering pet lovers a keepsake they’ll cherish forever.
Who is this business right for?
Pet photography is the perfect career for an individual who understands, and is inspired by, a family’s love for their pets. Whether photography is your hobby or your current chosen profession, uniting your passion for both is the ideal way to venture out on your own professionally.
What happens during a typical day at a pet photography business?
If you’re contemplating opening your own pet photography business, it’s important that you clearly define your vision and professional goals. Will you be involved, rolling around in the dirt, waiting for the perfect shot? Or do you prefer to handle the administrative duties, leaving the photography to your talented staff?
Regardless of which path you take, your days will include the following activities:
- Answering phone calls, scheduling shoots, and collaborating with pet owners regarding their vision for the photo shoot.
- Attending pre-shoot meet-and-greets with clients and their pets, preferably on location.
- Prepping for photo shoots and collecting any props that might be necessary.
- Driving to photo shoots—many pet photographers say this takes up a considerable amount of their time.
- Educating yourself regarding animal behavior, dog and cat breeds, and the latest in camera/photography trends.
- Marketing and networking with members of the community who share your love of animals.
- Delegating responsibilities and photo shoots to your team.
There are a number of administrative tasks that will also require your regular attention. If the creative aspect is what drove you to this profession, consider employing someone who can handle these responsibilities.
What is the target market?
It’s estimated that there are more than 78 million pet dogs and 85.8 million pet cats across the United States. A vast majority of these animals are considered a part of the family, going on road trips, to the store, and out to dinner. For most pet owners, there isn’t much they wouldn’t do for their furry family members—this is your target audience.
How does a pet photography business make money?
Your organization will generate revenue from each photography shoot. Most businesses charge a flat rate for the shoot, including a specified amount of photos. Additional goods and services are offered for an additional fee.
What is the growth potential for a pet photography business?
More than 62% of U.S. households now include at least one family pet. With the number of pet owners increasing, this industry is set up to see significant growth in the coming years. With pets being a significant part of many families, many owners are now interested in displaying professional photos of their pets, and they are willing to pay for high quality images.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful pet photography business?
As a pet photographer, it’s important to show kindness and patience towards your subject. Each animal possesses their own personality, quirks, and hang-ups. Unlike humans, however, they’re unable to verbalize what they’re feeling. You must be able to read their cues, relying solely on the pet’s body language.
Successful pet photographers suggest signing up for courses in canine behavior, ethology, and animal training through an academy such as Trish King’s Canine Behavior Academy. While this training won’t deliver you the patience necessary for this profession, it will provide you with the tools required to read their cues and shift the animal’s focus whenever necessary. Additionally, a basic course in pet photography could provide you some valuable insight into capturing the true essence of a pet’s personality.
What are the costs involved in opening a pet photography business?
There are a number of pet photography franchise options available for the entrepreneur who prefers support and guidance as they start on this journey. Liquid capital required to franchise with Lil’ Pals Pet Photography is $71,000. $10,000 of this goes towards your initial franchise fee, while the remaining $61,000 is used for start-up costs.
Start-up costs include the following:
- Canine behavior training
- Photography equipment (camera, lens with autofocus, zoom lens, and memory cards)
- Mobile studio
- Computer and editing software
- Marketing materials
Each employee will need their own set of equipment, as well as a reliable vehicle.
What are the steps to start a pet photography business?
Once you're ready to start your pet photography business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your pet photography business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your pet photography business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Establish a 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. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I 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.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a pet photography business?
Experienced pet photographers offer the following advice:
- An animal’s true personality comes out when they feel comfortable and secure. For this reason, a mobile studio is most effective.
- The most successful photo shoots happen when the photographer and animal have had a chance to meet before the scheduled session. The cost of your time and transportation to meet the pet in advance can be factored into the total package you are selling.
- Speak with the pet owner prior to your photo session. Does the pet have any quirks, habits, or fears that you should know about?
- Treats will help most sessions go smoother. Be sure to ask the owner about any food allergies before offering treats.
- Practice makes perfect. Get to know your equipment so well that it starts to feel like an extension of you. If you have to look down to change your shutter speed, you could miss the ideal shot.
- Include animals in your practice sessions—the more badly behaved the better. This will prepare you for just about any scenario.
- Research the style of other photographers in the area. What is their style and how does it compare to yours? A distinct style is what will make you stand out above the competition.
- Growing up with dogs doesn’t make you an expert. Be honest with yourself regarding your knowledge and skill level. Read up on the different breeds, and consider taking a basic handling course.
- Never force an animal to pose in an uncomfortable position.
- If your subject is a dog, always keep him/her on a leash. This can be edited out later.
- Keep your schedule flexible and keep in mind how special this pet is to their family members. There may come a time when you’re asked to drop everything to photograph a dying animal.
How to promote & market a pet photography business
Before building a marketing strategy, research your area to determine how pet friendly it is. If the local market is already saturated with pet photographers, or if it isn’t particularly pet friendly, expand your service area to reach those who would be more interested in your services.
Once you’ve identified your service area, approach local dog magazines and pet publications. Purchase ad space and offer your services for a featured article. Give back to the community by offering a photography session to your local animal rescue. By doing so, you’ve helped save a life and the community has a chance to see your work.
Create a portfolio of your work, including photos of a variety of different types of pets (birds, fish, tortoises, rats, and, of course, dogs and cats). Approach local businesses that cater to animals and ask to leave a copy of your portfolio and business cards. Businesses should include: groomers, dog daycare, high-end pet stores, veterinarians, dog parks, and dog-friendly cafes.
Setting up a booth at Pet Expos is also an effective way to reach your target market. Pet photographers have also found success donating a photo session package to their community’s animal fundraising events.
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How to keep customers coming back
Customer retention often comes down to the quality of goods and services you provide. Always treat animals with the respect they deserve, and do your best to deliver excellent photos to every customer. Incentivize current customers by offering referral and repeat booking discounts.
How and when to build a team
Successful entrepreneurs never turn work away. As word starts to spread, you may need to hire additional photographers. There is always the potential for injury when working with animals. Keep this in mind when considering prospective employees. Look for someone with prior animal experience and with the maturity to handle stressful situations with ease. Since each photographer will represent the company, the quality of their work is critical. Review each prospect’s portfolio before making a final decision. Try to build a well-rounded team by adding photographers with different styles and/or experiences. The more options you can offer your clients, the less likely they are to seek the services of someone else.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a pet 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.
In addition, certain state and local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply.
- For more information about state licensing requirements, visit SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits
- For more information about local licensing and permitting requirements, check with your town, city or county clerk’s office, or get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
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.
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.
Certificate of Occupancy
A pet photography business can be run out of a large storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a storefront:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a pet photography business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or a storefront:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for you business’ location to ensure your pet photography business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Rates vary depending upon the photographer’s experience and location. Most offer multiple packages, which include the photo session and a specified number of photos. Packages might start in the area of $175, and can reach upwards of $350. Additional photos are available for an additional fee.
What are the ongoing expenses for a pet photography business?
Most pet photographers choose to forego the physical studio, opting for a mobile studio instead. This offers more flexibility and reduces overhead costs tremendously. When planning your budget, consider the following ongoing expenses:
- Equipment repairs and replacement
- Vehicle repair and fuel costs
- Mobile studio props—as trends change, you’ll need to keep adding to your studio options
- Animal treats, toys, and leashes
- Annual state registration fees, sales tax license, and city occupational taxes
- Payroll taxes—consider hiring freelancers as you start out to reduce initial expenses
- Liability insurance
- Ongoing education/workshops
- Software updates
- Marketing materials
- Website hosting and maintenance
How much profit can a pet photography business make?
Your company’s profitability depends upon a number of factors—how much you charge per session, how many packages you sell at each level, and how your business pays other photographers on your team. For example, one pet photographer out of Seattle charges $350 for a basic package. He is currently the only photographer, so all work is completed by him. If he shoots five sessions a week, he brings in $7,000 per month in fees. With an average of $600 per month in expenses, he earns a profit of $6,400 each month.
How can you make your business more profitable?
To make their businesses more profitable, industry professionals have implemented the following strategies:
- Offer to hang your art for sale at local vets, restaurants, groomers, and humane societies.
- Include printing and framing as part of your service for an additional fee.
- Offer a variety of products to choose from, including: key rings, calendars, cards, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and earrings.
- Consider taking photos at horse shows, racetracks, horse breeding farms, equestrian centers, adoption events, and dog shows.
- You can also offer to shoot photos for pet walkers, breeders, or groomers that these professionals can use in their online and print marketing materials.
- Christmas photos showing clients’ pets with Santa Claus have become a recent consumer favorite.
- Approach local breeders, trainers, and groomers about taking advertising shots.
- Sell stock photos to websites like iStock and Dreamstime.
- If you’re skilled at videography, include this as an additional service.