30 "to do" steps before starting your photography business

It is easier than ever before to start a photography business. With the availability and relatively low price of DSLR cameras combined with the fact that taking photos (mostly with our phones) has become an intricate part of our everyday lives, the barriers for entry into the "business of photography" are relatively low.

The process of being interested in photography, buying a camera, learning the ins and outs of exposure, composition and subject matter is different for every single photographer out there. There is no one "right way" to go about any of it. We all have different journeys and not all of those journeys lead into businesses. 

This list is meant essentially for those who are learning photography or have already been doing photography for a while and are interested in turning it into an actual business that is profitable. 

I distinctly remember when I first started in my own journey and scoured the internet for resources on how to actually "start" this thing that was to be Cinnamon Wolfe Photography. I never really found an all inclusive resource with helpful tips all in one place.

That is the problem this list is meant to solve! 

 
 

HOW DO I START MY PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS? 

You don't necessarily have to do ALL of these before you actually CALL yourself a photography business. Some of these are important to do beforehand and some of them can be done within the first year of your business. 

****They also don't have to be done in any particular order. They are just things you should be conscious of as you move forward into your business.. 

I will say that some of these really SHOULD be done at least before you start accepting money or charging people money for your services. I think it's an important distinction to make when we get into the muddy waters of hobby vs. business. To help understand where I am coming from here is how I categorize things in my mind to help make sense of all this: 

HOBBY:

If you photograph for free or just for fun (no money is changing hands) your photography is a hobby

HOBBY/BUSINESS: 

If you photograph on the side or part time but you charge people money you really have transitioned into business although some will still refer to it as a "hobby". 

BUSINESS:

If you photograph for a living, you have totally transitioned out of hobby and have a business. 

Is it just me or is the word HOBBY looking really weird about now?

So what sorts of things need to happen before or during your transition into an actual business?

1 | Register for an EIN number

You can apply easily online HERE

2 | Register with your state/city

(check local requirements)

3 | Get set up to pay sales tax appropriately

(check local requirements)

4 | Open a business checking account

I can NOT stress enough how important this is. Separating all of your business expenses from your personal makes everything about a MILLION times easier when it comes time for taxes! Just get your booty to the bank and open up that business account. You will NOT regret it! 

5 |  Get Insurance

I recommend Hill & Usher Package Choice

6 | Understand exposure

Being able to understand how exposure works and shooting in manual is pretty important when you start taking peoples money. With most things in photography, your knowledge of this will grow and grow and grow, but once you represent yourself as a business it is important to understand the basics about what you do.  

Read: Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson

7 | Website

Some would argue that you don't NEED a website to run a photography business and I guess in some ways that's true, but this business is VISUAL. You need a way to show people easily what you do and the type of work you produce. The internet is ingrained in our daily lives and having a professional website should be a given for any business owner. Luckily, Squarespace makes it very easy for you to do just that. Sign up for their basic plan and viola! You have a simple, gorgeous way to represent your business! 

8 | Create a business facebook page

9 | Create a business instagram 

10 | Invoice/take payment

How will you be invoicing or taking payment from your clients? I recommend 17hats!

11 | Contract

This is non-negotiable. I know a lot of photographers brand new to business forgo the contract or think contracts are only for weddings. This could not be further from the truth. You need a place to spell out the basics: what your client can expect from you and how they can expect it to be done. It doesn't have to be intimidating and full of legal mumbo jumbo it needs to set expectations. SO many issues can be avoided by taking this one simple step. Its better for your client and its better for you! 17hats also makes sending contracts a BREEZE! 

12 | Business Plan

Drafting up a simple business plan doesn't have to be complicated when you are first starting out on the business side of things. Write out what you want to accomplish (financially, technically etc...) and then write out how you plan on accomplishing that. Start simple in order to not get overwhelmed. The plan can grow with your business!  

13 | Image Delivery

Once you have determined your business plan or model, you will need to determine how you will be delivering images to your client. Will you be simply handing over the digital files? If so, how will you do that? Will you be selling physical products? If so, what will you sell and for how much? I currently use Shootproof for my digital image transfer and I love it! 

14 | Products

What products will you be offering clients, if any? If you don't offer products, where will you suggest clients get their products from. While online storage is popular, images WILL be printed and as a photography business owner, you need to familiarize yourself with this aspect of the business in order to help advise clients 

15 | File system for images and back up

It didn't take me but a month to discover that now that I was taking photos all the time, I needed a better system for organizing them. Plan out an organization system that works for you sooner than later, I promise you will not regret this! 

You also need a plan for backing up those photos. Whether it be to external hard drives, the cloud or both, get a system in place as soon as possible. 

16 | Lightroom

Buy, install and learn how to use Lightroom. It will be your best friend. 

Related Post: Everything you need to know to get started in Lightroom. 

17 | Client Management System

How will you manage your clients and the workflow that goes into each one? Pen and paper? Notebook? Online system? Again 17hats for the win! 

18 | Lighting

You should have at minimum an understanding of how off camera flash works. You don't have to be an expert, but situations will come up where you might need it, and it's better to be prepared than to walk into a situation you are completely unprepared for. 

Start here for more info on getting started with OCF

19 | Workshop

I would highly recommend attending some sort of in person workshop/mentoring/coaching or training at some point in the first year or year and a half of your business. Online learning is fantastic, but one on one communication can't be topped! 

20 | Join local photography group

Rising Tide Society and Tuesdays Together would be a fantastic choice!

21 | Rent lenses 

It is VERY easy to fall into the "BUY ALL THE LENSES" trap! There are lots of places that you can rent lenses for the weekend to play with and see how you feel about them before you purchase. I've bought and sold a FEW lenses since I started and am not finally at the place where I feel like I have what works best for me. RENT first and save yourself some time and money! 

22 | Invest in backup camera body

This may not need to happen for 6mo to a year in, but it's good to start planning for the future as soon as possible. If you depend on your camera to make money and something happens to it (it's a piece of equipment...anything can happen!) then what is your plan? Having a backup is essential for a business owner! 

23 | Offer discounted portfolio sessions for friends and family for practice

When you offer discounted portfolio sessions you set yourself up for success by communicating to your clients that the rate they are receiving is discounted. At some point in the future when your experience and knowledge expand, so will your pricing and it won't be as much of a shock to the system. Starting off on the right foot with pricing can save you hours of headaches later! 

24 | Read The E-Myth by Michael Gerber

25 | Decide on your business name and get a logo

Your first logo WILL change, I can almost guarantee that. There is so much to learn regarding branding and ideal client (which will likely happen in years 2 and 3) that almost 99% of the time the logo will change. But you need to have something to start with, even if it's just your name in a font that you like. Try to create one in Canva or look for one on Etsy. 

26 | Learn as much about posing as possible

Posing quickly became one of the things I struggled with the most after I felt more relaxed about my camera settings. It doesn't matter who you are, when someone points a camera at you, everything changes! We automatically stiffen and look awkward because we just don't know what to do with ourselves. Making people comfortable in front of the camera and directing them is CHALLENGING. But it can be practiced and learned. 

Read: Picture Perfect Posing by Roberto Valenzuela

27 | Find another photographer in your area and trade for professional headshots

28 | Reach out to a few photographers you admire and ask to 2nd shoot

29 | Learn how to use Back button focus

Related Post: How to be BFF with BBF

30 | Continually write down and follow up on your goals every 3 months, 6 months and yearly

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*** some of the above links ARE affiliate links, but I never recommend things I haven't personally used and loved!