6 Basics you need to have in place BEFORE you start working with clients in your photography business.
Where to start when you are getting your business off the ground or ready to professionalize your existing business?
- The Basics.
Will you be a corporation? An LLC? A sole proprietor? If you are starting small then just start, you generally have the entire year, before taxes need to be filed, to determine your status. Due some research here, read up on the pros and cons of each. But don’t let this decision prevent you from getting your business started.
I recommend, even if you choose to just get started and begin as a sole proprietor – I strongly recommend getting your EIN. Even if you don’t plan on having employees or become a larger photography business, there are a few benefits to using an EIN rather than just your Social Security number. Remember we are thinking long term here.
I also highly recommend getting a CPA onboard at the outset. Maybe you think you aren’t ready or big enough yet for this professional but believe me their fees pay for themselves. You want their knowledge on your side, especially when it comes to difficult tax questions and other issues that can pop up throughout the year and of course at tax time. They can also recommend what type of business works best for you.
After you have figured out your name and what type of business structure you have, now it is time to get insurance. I can’t tell you how many established photographers do not have insurance or don’t have enough insurance.
I use professionals that work with or specialize in photography and videography – they are well informed on our industry and can be a source of information as well.
Not only can insurance protect you in the event of theft, you will also need insurance to work at certain venues and other premises. And beyond just these two reasons, there is so much more to an insurance policy that can protect you in the event of all sorts of things that can happen or go wrong.
Of course I have to mention health insurance as well. Maybe you are covered on someone else’s policy but if not, get yourself enrolled in the Marketplace insurance.
Once you have employees there will be other insurance concerns but for now I’m assuming that you are starting this business by yourself or are currently operating a business on your own with no employees – but more on that later.
The last thing I want to mention in The Basics section is that it is imperative to have a bank account for your business. Even if you are a sole proprietor – have a separate account. A business account set up for one and only purpose – being used for your photography business. This will save you so many headaches down the road, especially at tax time – and more specifically understanding your business, your income and expenses and what is the overall health is of your business.
Now with these 3 items taken care of, you have taken the first few steps to professionalize your business and get the foundation you need.
- Establish your policies. Think of the potential client’s perspective: what do they need to know from you and about you? This is helpful to do ahead of time because it outlines what your client experience will be. What are your timelines, turn around time, do you require a retainer, what is your cancellation policy, rescheduling policy, do you have an online gallery for them to view their images, how can they order from you? What is your policy on digital files? Do you watermark your images? Do you retouch images before you share the gallery? How long do you keep galleries active? Do you take credit cards? Cash? Venmo? Checks? Do you share raw files? You do not want to be making up policies on the fly. Again, we are professionalizing every part of your business – your policies remaining consistent from client to client is a big one. That doesn’t mean they aren’t going to evolve as your business does but you need to start with a core set to get you going.
- Basic Bookkeeping. This is the cornerstone of your business hands down. You have the bank account set up and now you need to set up your basic bookkeeping. This is where many of my clients get overwhelmed. Finance and money is not their strength so they say. I promise this is not as challenging as you think, especially with the help of Intuit Quickbooks and other bookkeeping software. These bookkeeping practices are what powers your business. Knowing and understanding your numbers is paramount to having a successful longterm business. But I do have a few industry friends that choose other ways of bookkeeping from using 17hats (I use it in conjunction with quickbooks, as their capabilities are too simple), Honebook, excel spreadsheets, to handwriting their info in notebooks.
I personally strongly recommend using something like quickbooks for a multitude of reasons. Photography is the type of business that can quickly get out of control. Lots of mini sessions, or maybe a busy wedding season with a busy portrait season tucked right in the middle. Lots of events, branding sessions, headshots, whatever your niche is. How do you keep track of clients, retainers, open balances, etc. A good bookkeeping system is worth it’s weight in gold. If it is not something you personally want to stay on top of because you are intimidated or don’t have the time then I recommend hiring a bookkeeper. For a small business like a new photography business we are talking like $50 month. That may seem like a lot with all the other monthly recurring charges you have, but this is another one of those expenses that pays for itself. If you make one error in recording a deposit incorrectly or overlooking an open balance or losing track of payments or retainer deposits, things start getting crazy quick. Just another thing you have to worry about or add to your huge pile of things to do.
The 17 Hats / quickbooks combo for me syncs to each other as well as my calendar. So I keep such a tidy set of books and can check at any point to see the status of a client – or look back at old quotes, accepted quotes, invoices generate automatically, the client uses their online portal with 17hats to sign contracts, make retainers, pay final balances, and on and on. It literally does what it says, you wear 17 hats as a business owner and this helps organize it for you. The tie in with quickbooks is that you can see reports that are thorough on your business, your income and expenses. I just love it!
- Basic Pricing. Please do not get stuck here and not get your business off the ground. I know this is a big topic to make sense out of. But get a basic price list together that you can easily share with potential clients. This is another one of those items that you need to professionalize your business. You can have it as a hidden page on your website that you share the link with those that ask or maybe you create a pdf to share with those that inquire. Whatever way you want to create the pricelist (Canva worlds great!) make sure you have something that you can easily send out to inquiries. And one for print pricing as well so that people can see upfront what you charge. We aren’t hiding anything here, we always want full disclosure so that your clients are not blindsided after a session by your pricing. Of course if you use a platform like Shootproof, the pricing is within the gallery – but your clients need to know how much you charge ahead of their session. We don’t want sticker shock, we want to use the pricelist to presell and prepare your clients for what comes after their amazing shoot with you – whether that’s a mini session or a full blown wedding. Transparency!!!!
Another note on creating your pricing. This is a huge topic that needs to be covered at great length BUT I can’t stress this enough. You need to understand what you should charge. Please, please please do not undercharge, do not underestimate what your time is worth and how much time is invested on your end for each session. One of my first exercises I like to have my clients do is make a list of every single thing that goes into a photo shoot with you. Add that time all up – come up with a number – say including emails, delivering the contract, driving round trip, the actual shoot, editing, setting up the gallery, emailing, phone calls, etc. it takes say 5 hours for a family shoot. If you only charge $100 for this session – then you are only making about $20 / hour (and there are so many hidden costs that should be factored in or ammitorized like your education in photography, courses you have taken, office rent, posting on social media, etc.)
Please have a pricelist that can be shared ahead of the session, I promise you this will be so helpful and creates a more professional feel. And your back end sales will be better. Again more on this topic, lots more coming up in another podcast episode!
- Have a Contract. With a Model Release. This is a must. This protects you – in the event a client cancels or doesn’t live up to their end of your agreement. It should also include expectations and policies (some of which you created before you started booking clients), pricing, retainers and anything else you deem important. For us we felt that items like photographer substitution in the event one of us became ill, a favorable cancellation policy (that protected us), and other miscellaneous items like ‘we can’t guarantee a specific shot’, we use our artisitic freedoms (which should be why they hired you but sometimes they forget what your style is) etc. And they also come in handy when you want to use these photos for something else. If you want to. But this is yoru business, your policies, so if you have that model release and a big company contacts you and asks if they can use your photo in an ad campaign and will pay you thousand and thousands of dollars but you don’t have a model release. Well then! (back to policies, we do not share our client info if they don’t want it shared, if it is a high profile client or the mom next door, we honor our client’s wishes when it comes to privacy. So even though we technically have a model release, we would only use it when it is appropriate.
- Have a professional presence where they can view your portfolio. This can be a website / instagram or some other way to share your work with potential clients. This is your calling card. What sets you apart. You don’t need to work on this endlessly and never get your business off the ground because you don’t think you have enough to show. A website can have one gorgeous photo. But your potential client needs to feel that they have come across a professional – even if you are brand new or transitioning to a new niche – you have to present yourself in the most processional light possible. This also includes, in my opinion, a real email address. The story needs to go something like this: client is looking for a photographer, they google you or search instagram, they come across a beautiful site or feed that has the look they want, and it seems professional, they take that next step, they reach out to you via the email (hopefully professional email that goes with your brand) – and, this is a really big and – you get back to them quickly. I’m talking within 12 hours quickly. Not a couple of days but within a day at the longest. This my friends is the number one way you book clients. You actually respond to their inquiry. And because you have policies in place and a pricing page to share, you wow them with your professionalism. We have head over and over for nearly 2 decades, that we were one of the few people to respond in a timely manner. I can’t wrap my head around this, everyone wants more clients but when clients actually reach out, it is crickets.
I hate to say this because I will sound like I am over simplifying how hard it is to consistently maintain a profitable and prosperous business but a lot of what works are these basics. Have a well oiled machine, it will become a booking machine in no time. I promise you!
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