Start a real estate 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 step guide to starting your real estate 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 initial 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. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.
Choosing the right name is very important. 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 real estate photography business is sued. 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.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account
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.
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.
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.
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.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
This business consists of an individual, or a team, who are hired to take quality pictures of properties for sale. The purpose is to attract potential buyers who view the property online. Due to the competitive nature of the real estate industry, the demand for quality property photos is elevated and perpetual. Proper lighting and point of view helps a property stand out above the competition, driving potential buyers to view the property.
Who is this business right for?
Ideally, individuals with photography experience and an eye for architectural detail will be the best fits. Contacts in the real estate industry are an added bonus. It is also beneficial for the person to enjoy working outside or away from an office setting. Being in the field requires reliable transportation and an ability to transport gear, sometimes on foot for extended amounts of time, as well.
What happens during a typical day at a real estate photography business?
Your time will be split between running the business and being out in the field shooting photos. A typical week will include the following activities:
- Meeting with clients to confirm what parts of the structure they need photographed and if they have any special requests or needs for the photo shoot.
- Surveying property prior to a shoot to get an idea of lighting, time of day for exterior shots, etc.
- Identifying the best angle for each shot and staging the area.
- Editing photos
- Sharing photos with client
- Following up with client to ensure they received images
- Re-shooting or re-editing images
- Administrative work - Entering information into accounting software and paying bills/payroll
- Marketing and networking - Checking in with past clients to see if they have any other properties that need to be photographed, attending realtor’s meetings, and calling real estate agents and businesses, reminding them of the services you offer.
What is the target market?
Your customers all have one thing in common - they are trying to sell their home or commercial property. They understand the value of publishing quality photos and include this as an essential part of their real estate budget.
How does a real estate photography business make money?
Real estate photographers generate revenue from each shoot and photo delivery. Most charge according to the type of property. When photographing personal property for real estate agents, they are paid prior to or on a shoot and based on the number of images which have been contracted to provide. For commercial clients, a deposit is paid upfront. The remaining balance is invoiced to the customer upon delivery of images.
What is the growth potential for a real estate photography business?
A growing number of real estate consumers are realizing that professional-quality staging and photography can add value to a real estate listing. For this reason, the demand for real estate photographers is high, allowing businesses to decide for themselves exactly how much volume they accept.
Before entering the industry, however, photographers are advised to research their area to define market saturation and identify specific industry needs that are not currently being met. To further expand their businesses, many business owners have opened satellite offices in other areas of the country.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful real estate photography business?
Real estate photography requires an eye for detail, architecture, and lighting. These skills will help deliver photos that require little editing and ensure a smooth post-processing experience. Professionals must possess strong communication skills and should be able to work under the pressure of deadlines.
Individuals who are looking to improve their photography and editing skills should visit Photography for Real Estate. This site offers a number of eBooks, workshops, and videos specific to this industry. They also offer coaching, monthly photo contests, and a flickr group, which is an open forum, designed to provide feedback from the industry’s most successful photographers. Additionally, Real Estate Photographers of America & International (REPAI) has proven to be an invaluable resource, providing advice regarding both photography and the business aspect of growing your enterprise.
Since your long-term success requires a balance between your photography prowess and business acumen, novice entrepreneurs are urged to take a business planning course before getting started.
What are the costs involved in opening a real estate photography business?
While the growth potential is high, many business owners start out as the sole photographer. This eliminates the need for a physical location, decreasing initial start-up and overhead costs. Industry leaders indicate a budget of $10,000 or less should be sufficient.
To get started, you will need the following items:
- Camera - While you do not need a top-of-the-line model, make sure it has the ability to change out lenses and add a cable release, flash, and wireless trigger.
- Wide and ultra-wide angle lens
- Flashes - You will need several, designed for different sized spaces.
- Light stands
- Editing software - Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System come highly recommended
- Dropbox or other file sharing software
There are a number of franchise opportunities available in this industry as well. While start-up costs are higher, this provides additional resources to investors that could help accelerate enterprise growth. Franchising costs range from $15,500 to $45,000.
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 real estate photography business?
Before getting started, consider these insider tips from experienced real estate photographers:
- Prior to the shoot, send each client a task list. This should include suggestions on how to prep the property.
- Plan ahead for the seasonal lulls. From November to January and August to September, the work will be inconsistent. With the right marketing strategy in place, you should be able to find work year round.
- Always work to sharpen your photography skills by shooting every day, regardless of the subject, and trying strategies.
- Be flexible. You may have to revisit a property multiple times to capture proper lighting.
- Carefully review their rules before partnering with a large real estate company. Many of them require a non-compete contract and offer minimal compensation for your work.
- While you don’t need the most expensive equipment, make sure you’ve invested in a Digital Single-lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, an ultra-wide angle lens, and a tripod.
- Provide your clients with both web-based and full resolution photos.
- In real estate, timing is everything. Consistently offer quick turnaround on your jobs.
- To ensure you are properly compensated, require clients sign a contract that defines the details of your job, as well as what you require of them.
- Google Maps and Google Earth are great tools for determining the best time of day to shoot the outside of the property.
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Growing Your Business
How to promote & market a real estate photography business
In today’s business landscape, every marketing strategy should include a website and an active role on social media sites. For this industry, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, and Tumblr garner the best results. Additionally, The Real Estate Photographers of America & International (REPAI) offers the public an effective way to identify the best in the industry. Photographers are urged to invest in membership and take advantage of this useful tool.
It will also be necessary for you to network within the community. Visit local real estate offices and commercial businesses that are on the market, leaving pamphlets that showcase your work. Ads in real estate magazines and online forums are also an effective way to generate leads.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
To incentivize prospective clients, consider offering a new client discount and offer to re-shoot and re-edit at no additional cost to the customer. Deliver quality service by arriving on time and delivering your images by the defined deadline. It’s also critical that you personally follow up with each client to ensure satisfaction. If you allow just one dissatisfied client to slip through the cracks, it could derail your path to success.
How and when to build a team
The size of your team should be consistent with the amount of business available. When your organization is busy enough to warrant hiring employees, conduct a thorough background check on each candidate. It is your job to ensure your clients and their possessions are safe from your company’s representatives.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a real estate 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 more 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.
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.
Real estate 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 real estate 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.
Certificate of Occupancy
A real estate photography business can be run out of an office. 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 real estate 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 real estate photography business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Pricing varies from $80 to $500 per shoot, depending upon the size of the property being photographed and what part of the country you reside. This includes the photo shoot and delivery of twenty-five to fifty edited photos. Novice real estate photographers are urged to carefully consider their pricing. Undercutting the competition only devalues the entire profession.
What are the ongoing expenses for a real estate photography business?
Until you decide to open a home office, your overhead expenses are fairly minimal. Items you should budget for include:
- Website maintenance - $100 to $1,200 annually
- Accounting software - up to $300 per year
- Editing software - $48 to $150 per year
- Business insurance
- Fuel costs
- Marketing materials
- Payroll and payroll taxes - hire photographers on a freelance basis to reduce insurance exposure and payroll expenses.
How much profit can a real estate photography business make?
Like most startup businesses, it can take one to three years to realize a significant profit. Independent real estate photographers average an annual profit of $50,000, with many exceeding $90,000 per year. Considering the low overhead costs, profits stand to climb exponentially for each freelancer/employee you add to your team.
How can you make your business more profitable?
There are a number of strategies you can implement to maximize your organization’s profits:
- Extend your services to include photos intended for magazines, ads, and other promotional materials. Businesses that might benefit from your work include: builders, resorts, hotels, home stagers, interior designers, restaurants, and nightclubs.
- Partner with property management companies in the community.
- Approach local magazines and offer your services for their regular publications.
- Research what areas of the country are in need of real estate photographers and open satellite offices there.
- Teach photography classes and host seminars.
- Offer online classes.
- Offer instructional videos.