Start a portrait 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 portrait 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 much can you charge customers?
- 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 portrait photography business?
It is possible to run your business from home. In this case, you would shoot your subjects in your own home studio space or meet them at an agreed-upon location. With this setup, the cost of opening your business will be about $11,000. That cost breaks down to $2,500 for two professional cameras, $1,000 for three different professional lenses, and $1,000 for assorted camera equipment (bags, lights, memory cards, etc.), It will cost about $1,500 to get insurance, incorporate your business, pay for money management software, and pay for annual accounting services. A professional computer and relevant editing software will cost about $2,000, and a professional website will start at around $500. Finally, you'll want to spend about $500 creating samples of your photography, and about $2,000 on initial advertising.
What are the ongoing expenses for a portrait photography business?
The good news is that your ongoing expenses are small, though variable. Once your equipment is acquired, your primary cost will be the cost of printing photos (if you have not invested in your own high-quality printer) and the cost of travel (if you are going to where the clients are instead of having them come to you). You may also spend money hosting your website, though this is typically less than $100 per year.
Who is the target market?
While you will have a diverse array of clients (and may market yourself towards a very specific niche), the typical portrait photography business market is comprised of young families. They are likeliest to want new photos every year for a variety of occasions, including holidays and birthdays.
How does a portrait photography business make money?
Typically, a portrait photography business offers fixed prices for different photo packages. You may also consider charging extra for special services, such as converting photos into holiday cards. Depending on your business model, you may also consider charging money for travel or even charging a flat hourly fee on top of the specialized package fees.
How much can you charge customers?
Your prices will vary, and may depend on your price structure. If you charge by the hour, you may charge between $25 to $100 or more per hour, and this typically includes providing a set number of different shots, poses, and copies of images. If you charge by the photo, you may charge between $10 to $50 per photo, though many businesses create photo packages that are more attractive to a customer (such as a $300 package that provides multiple poses, prints, and settings, such as outdoor photos).
How much profit can a portrait photography business make?
The exact profit your business makes may vary. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for photographers is just a little over $34,000 per year. However, this number is brought down by both low-paid hourly workers and those who are struggling to pay for expensive studios. If you are willing to shoot from home or on location, then almost all of the money you take in is pure profit, and it's easy for you to develop a steady stream of clients and create a very lucrative business within your community.
How can you make your business more profitable?
If you are willing to, the number one way to make your business more profitable is to diversify the services you provide. Being willing to shoot local weddings, for instance, opens an entirely new revenue stream. You can also provide less conventional services, such as providing professional photos of people who “cosplay” in various Comic Con-type venues. You may even appeal to younger consumers by explicitly selling a low-priced “Instagram profile” photo that will appeal to their need to look their best online.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is very important. If you don’t have a name in mind already, read our detailed guide on how to name a business or get some help brainstorming a name with our Portrait Photography Business Name Generator.
Then, when registering a business name we recommend checking if the business name is available in your state, federally by doing a trademark search, searching the web, and making sure the name you choose is available as a web domain to secure 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 portrait 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.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
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.
Read our Best Banks for Small Business guide to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
Recommended: BlueVine is an online bank with free business checking and no hidden fees. Great for businesses who do not often deal with cash.
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
Most states require retail businesses to obtain a seller’s permit. A seller’s permit enables states to record and collect taxes from the sale of taxable goods and services. More information can be found here:
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.
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.
The nature of legal requirements in distance education is ever changing, especially in regards to copyright laws. Here is a frequently updated resource, which can help keep you aware of the legal requirements.
Certificate of Occupancy
A portrait photography business can be run out of a 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 location:
- 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 portrait 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 build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your portrait photography business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a portrait photography business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
STEP 7: Get Business Insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
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 portrait photography business
Some of your startup money should be spent on local, “traditional” advertising, such as advertising in local newspapers and local radio. You may also look into paid advertisements via social media networks such as Facebook and Instagram. However, don't overlook how much advertising you can do for free through your own Facebook and Instagram accounts. You can market yourself online, bring in new followers, hold contests, and most importantly, show off your work through these highly visual mediums. In terms of advertising value, it's tough to beat!
How to keep customers coming back
In addition to the advertising methods mentioned above, make sure you have a wide range of prices. This allows your business to seem accessible to those on a budget while still giving you room to tell them more about your services. For retention, try to get your customers on an email mailing list so you can tell them about your specials and services throughout the year. Make sure you adjust your services for each season and occasion to maximize new and returning customers (people might want to have a spooky group photo in front of a green screen in their Halloween costumes, for instance). Finally, never underestimate the power of offering to shoot pictures of people in public places like parks and then texting them the image. They get a freebie, see the quality of your work, and now have an easy way to contact you!
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 Portrait 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?
Obviously, this business is perfect for photographers. By extension, it is also great for those who have some formal training in photography or have any formal education in photography. Finally, because the job involves interacting with many different demographics, the job is ideal for a “people person.”
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a portrait photography business?
Much of the actual job involves scheduling appointments, meeting with customers, and shooting them in a variety of poses. Part of meeting with customers involves some salesmanship, as you may decide to offer them bigger photo packages. You will also spend time editing, developing, and printing photos, and your downtime is likely to be spent advertising your business.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful portrait photography business?
As mentioned earlier, any professional experience as a photographer is very helpful in getting your business running. Being successful at social media can also be a benefit, as it can help with both business networking and offering photography services that appeal to the “Instagram generation.” Finally, any experience you have with digitally editing photos can help you with your future business edits, as these may range from touching up small blemishes to creating mind-blowing backgrounds.
What is the growth potential for a portrait photography business?
The growth potential for this business is modest, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics noting that the field grows by only three percent every year. However, it is very possible to establish your business in a community that has little or no competition, increasing your odds of being successful. Additionally, you can offer services tailored to this particular community, which is a vital key to repeat business.
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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 portrait photography business?
Attend any local conferences and join local photography groups to begin networking. Consider creating a niche for your business to help set you apart from others. Shoot pictures of friends and family for either a discount or completely free, as this is a vital way to gain experience and create a professional portfolio you can use to advertise yourself.
How and when to build a team
Due to the nature of this business, most photographers start out on their own. When your business is successful to the point that you need to open a standalone studio, or if things are just too busy for you to handle on your own, you should consider building a small team.