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So you want to start a photography business? YEAH! That’s awesome, and you should pursue it!! But, before you get all gung ho about shooting gorgeous couples and details or traveling the country to shoot landscapes, there are some things you should know! The biggest pain point for most people that want to start a photography business is the whole BUSINESS side of it! To do it the right way, there are some steps that you need to take!
Most people don’t want to think about that. We want to just get out there and shoot! You buy the gear, you get the clients, and you think that’s it. But it’s not!! You’re telling me I need to be paying sales tax? I need to have insurance?? You mean I need to talk to a lawyer??? Yep. If you’re a photographer offering services and delivering prints or flash drives to your client, all of these things apply! It is MUCH easier to tackle these things before you start a photography business than later. The last thing you want to do is get waist deep in this business and realize you are doing something illegal!
To help you in this crazy journey, I’m sharing 10 steps to take before you start a photography business. The main thing I want to stress is that I am NOT a tax or legal professional. I’m just sharing with you my experience in hopes of making it a little easier! My advice should in no way be taken as definitive! Laws change all the time, and there are different laws for different states. This is just a starting point for you!! Also, I am giving you basic nuggets of information. I am not going in depth at all! You should have in depth conversations with legal and tax professionals!! Okay, let’s dive in…
This is SO important, and so often neglected!!! Running a business is not easy and shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are federal and state laws about conducting business, so you will want to talk to a professional! By this I mean a tax professional or legal professional. I know I’ve got those listed in other steps, but it’s just that important.
Will you be a sole proprietor? An LLC? Not sure? Again, seek professional counsel on this! The answer to this question will matter a lot when it comes to how your business is organized, what licenses you need, and how you will file your taxes.
Chances are, you’ll need to register your business name with the state. Some businesses will need to register with the secretary of state, and some just with the department of revenue. And you’ll also probably need to obtain a business license, or multiple licenses depending on where you conduct your business. A google search about starting a business in your state will give you a good starting point with this, but it’s always best to talk to a professional.
Before you create an amazing business name complete with a logo, website, and branding package, you’ll want to make sure that someone else isn’t already using that name. It’s pretty easy to do this online by doing a business name search on your state government’s website.
Again, talk to the professionals. Many states require photographers to pay sales tax on their entire photography package price, even if they aren’t offering physical products to their clients. Some states (like South Carolina) only require sales tax to be paid if physical products are offered. By the way, a flash drive or CD counts as a physical product. And yes, most (if not all) states will require you to pay sales tax on the entire photography package price because all of your time, labor, editing goes into delivering that physical product to your client, even if it’s just a flash drive. Know the laws and follow them. In SC, you will need to register with the SCDOR to pay sales tax, and this is a monthly payment, not yearly. That’s why it’s important to get this done BEFORE you conduct business!
Seriously, do it. They will help you register your business, get your business licenses, and file your taxes. By the way, I talked with two accountants that didn’t know that photography businesses were required to pay sales tax on the full package price. The SC law tax law does state that is the case. So make sure your accountant is well versed in small business logistics or that they are able to look up the laws for you! One accountant I spoke to didn’t know this at first, but was able to look it up for me. You also may need to be paying personal property tax on your equipment, and you may be required to send your second shooters 1099s at the end of the year or some kind of form reporting their income!! Ask your accountant about these things!!
As much as we as creatives don’t like to get all nitty gritty about the logistics of photography coverage and the ins and outs of a contract, we have to. It’s a business. It would be so easy to verbally agree that we’ll photograph a certain session at a certain time, but you’d be surprised at how much trouble you can get in if you don’t have a written contract.
You will want to talk to a lawyer to make sure your contract protects both you AND the client and to make sure everything is worded correctly!
You may not think you need it, but it is a good idea to have it. Some venues don’t even let uninsured businesses shoot at their location. Business Insurance can cover your gear if anything breaks and also cover you if someone tries to sue you. It sounds far fetched, but it does happen.
Get excited about your new gear, your new clients, get to work on your brand and website, and have FUN being a photographer!!!
Keep records of everything! Your mileage is a huge one (I’m a big fan of Mile IQ!). Also, your receipts for meals/coffee with clients, receipts for purchasing prints, advertising and marketing expenses, equipment costs, supplies, etc. Keeping records as you go will save you a ton of heartache at tax season!
You must must must report your income on your tax return. And sometimes, depending on how your business is structured, you may even need to file taxes if you didn’t make any money at all. Talk to a tax professional!!! You also may be required to make quarterly payments, so be ready for that too!
Once your business is up and running, it is not terribly difficult to keep it up. The biggest pain points are those first steps! I know this sounds overwhelming, but think about it – once it’s done, it’s DONE! It won’t have to hang over your head anymore. You’ll be able to get out there and do what you love to do – take amazing photographs!!
If you found this helpful but want more guidance about getting started with your photography business, I am considering offering mentoring sessions this fall. If you are interested in a one-on-one mentoring program with me, send me an e-mail at email@example.com, and you’ll be the first to hear about when I launch the program! I can’t wait to meet you!
Also, here are some more resources for you!
The South Carolina Business One Stop: https://www.scbos.sc.gov/
A great starting place for how to start a business in South Carolina!
The Law Tog: https://thelawtog.com/
Tons of legal resources for photographers!