7 Things You Should Do Before Starting a Photography Business

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You probably want to start your business now. Right away. As soon as possible. Today! If you’re prepared, then go for it. The unfortunate truth is a lot of people simply aren’t prepared to start a business. It’s not about knowledge or skills. They aren’t prepared in their lives.

Some people believe the best way to learn to swim is to just jump in. Instinct will take over and you’ll be swimming in no time. Or you’ll drown, which is far more likely.

The same is true about business. While jumping in with both feet might not kill you, a few swimming lessons take some of the terror out of the jump.

There are a lot of checklists out there for starting your business. You can happily check yourself right into business in a matter of days, if not sooner. There’s lot of guidance for what to do after you’ve committed to that business. There are how-to’s on getting clients in the door, serving them, and getting the job done.

But what about before you take the plunge? Are there things you can do before you jump in that would make things easier? Ask any group of photographers to answer the “if I’d known then what I know now” question, and you’ll understand why a bit of legwork can pay you back with abundance.

A little preparation can take you a long way. Most photographers start with enough technical skill to earn a living. If that’s all it took, the failure rate wouldn’t be as distressing as it is. Only after they’ve committed to the process do they realize what would really have made a difference. Ironically, it has nothing to do with photography.

Here are some things you should do before opening your new photography business.

1) Have a heart to heart

This is the biggie in any major life decision. Few decisions are as life altering as starting and running a business. Unless you’re an unattached single, financially secure and just tacking photography on as added income, your decision will affect others in your life. It is important to have them onboard with your plan.

This means you should actually have a plan. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and it makes me happy” might be enough for a loving spouse to go along. It’s only a few hours here and there and the extra money will be good. Eventually you’ll build the business into a great income and be a major support for your family. That all sounds wonderful, so why not have a go?

The reality doesn’t always turn out that way, though. It may take more time than expected. Things in life come up that need your attention. Your family financial situation may suffer under the added weight of your business baby steps. The biggest cause of stress in relationships is financial. As you read further along, you’ll see how important it is to be on the same financial page as your partner.

2) Save some money

It takes money to start a photography business. That’s not just the money for cameras, lenses, and software to produce the photos. You’ll have startup expenses right off the bat.

It also takes time for your business to start generating income. It’s not like you have a box full of whatchamathingies you’re trying to sell. You must create your offer, find your potential customer, and bring it all together before you even do the work you’re paid to do.

Meanwhile the world is still turning. You have life expenses and now you have business expenses as well. Cash flow problems are the main reason businesses fail. The savings you have set aside to start your business is an investment that gives your business a chance. Otherwise you might close up shop before you’ve even really opened.

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3) Pay down debt

The reasons to pay down debt are similar to why you need savings. The purpose of business is to make money you need to pay your bills. That money probably won’t come flowing in on a regular basis for a while. The more urgent your need for money, the greater stress you put on yourself and your business. It can be hard to make the right decisions if you’re under pressure.

If that debt includes credit card balances, paying them down before starting your business does a few things. The most obvious thing is you now have access to funds in an emergency. The less obvious thing is that your credit worthiness improves. Both benefits are valuable to you personally and to your business.

4) Take a look at your money habits

So now you’re saving money and paying down debt. It should be obvious that you need to take a good hard look at your relationship with money. It might seem backward to accumulate money when the reason you’re starting a business is the need for income. It takes commitment to take control of your attitude toward money. It takes discipline to actually follow through.

The habits you build now will become the habits of your business. Decisions should be based on one simple question, “Will this expense make me more money than it costs?” There is a common mistake a lot fledgling photographers make. As soon as they start making sales, they start buying all the shiny things. Gear, props, the trappings of success. It isn’t unusual to find people selling off excess bits and pieces because they now need money and these things don’t add to the bottom line.

This change in financial priorities starts now, before Day One of your business. Are there expenses you have now that you can get rid of so they don’t haunt you later? Subscriptions and memberships you don’t use? Are there ways to save money in your everyday life? Fewer meals out, making do with things you already own, paying attention to how much discretionary money you are really spending?

Once your business is underway, you will spend a lot of time with your numbers. Sales, expenses, budgets, what you plan versus what really happens. Your numbers will drive your business, so you must drive your numbers. Start with your life today, and your business tomorrow will be easier to control.

5) Talk with other local photographers

This probably sounds counterintuitive. You might think that no one will talk with you. Most photographers aren’t as insecure as you are at this point. Successful photographers won’t mind offering advice. They were once where you are now. They are not intimidated nor threatened by you. You might even find work down the road. Many photographers get their start as assistants for established photographers.

Aim high. Reach out to the most well known photographer in your local market, not other new or struggling photographers. You’re looking for advice and opportunities from someone who is where you want to someday be. You want someone to counsel, not commiserate. An established business has a referral list for clients they are unable to take on. The advice you want is from someone so busy that they keep such a list, because you want to be on that list someday.

The important thing is to be sincere and respectful in any relationships you form. Don’t use any of the information you’re given to harm a photographer or their business. If this is your intention, you will damage your reputation as well as your opportunities. Contrary to what you might think, photographers are a community, even in competition. Word gets around fast. An abuse of trust with one will shut doors to others. Don’t do it.

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6) Research your local market area

Talking with other photographers is a great way to research your local market. But you can learn a lot from searching social media, search engines, and business directories. Figure out the who’s who in your local competition.

Do they seem busy? What types of photography do they offer? Is it similar or different from what you plan to offer? What genre seems oversupplied? Are there any gaps that you could fill? What is your competition charging? Do they work from studios or are they home based?

This information will be useful later when you start building your offers and setting your prices. It will also help you decide if you want to move forward at all, especially if your market is oversaturated with photographers who aren’t particularly busy.

According to SBA statistics, the number one reason businesses fail is that there is no need for their product. After months and money have gone by is not the time to decide there just isn’t enough demand for one more photographer offering the same thing. Research will help you find your competitive advantage before you even get started.

7) Meet with a CPA

The purpose of your business is to make money. If that money is made doing something you enjoy, that’s even better. Everything revolves around money. You probably noticed that several of the things on this preparation list are about getting your financial house in order. The expert on this is your CPA (Certified Public Accountant). If you don’t have one already, now is the time to find one.

Many CPA’s and other professionals will offer a complementary or reduced price consultation for new business. Ask around for recommendations.

An accountant will take a lot of the guesswork out of your journey. Tell them your plans. They’ll ask questions. They’ll give the right advice for your situation. They’ll help you understand what you need to do to be compliant with tax issues.

While your business might be a separate entity from your personal self and family, everything eventually flows together when it comes to your tax obligations. Your accountant can look at the big picture of your life and advise on business structures that are better suited to your goals. Should you form an LLC (Limited Liability Company), and if so, when? Or are you better off as a sole proprietor? Will you run the business alone, or will it be a partnership with your spouse? Is there another source of income that affects your new business’s tax liability? Will your business need to collect sales tax?

The confidence in knowing you are doing things right is priceless.

Preparation is power

You probably want to start your business now. Right away. As soon as possible. Today! If you’re prepared, then go for it. The unfortunate truth is a lot of people simply aren’t prepared to start a business. It’s not about knowledge or skills. They aren’t prepared in their lives.

There’s a reason more successful businesses are started by people over 40 and most failures happen to the 30 and under set. These 7 steps will fast track your chances regardless of your age. They may delay your start, but the time you spend preparing your life and yourself for the commitment is not wasted. It’s the advantage that will keep you going when your competition bails out.

The luxury of preparation isn’t luxury at all, it’s a necessity. Years from now, you’ll see how true that is.