If you think that quitting your day job, going out there and consistently shooting is the way to go about doing business as a photographer then you’re not totally wrong. However, it’s not the most legitimate or smart way to go about it. There are lots of great reasons to set up an actual business–and only one of them are the banks. When it comes to legalities and working with/providing service for some bigger companies, you’ll have a couple of hurdles that can even affect payment.
So here’s how you go about setting up a photography business here in the US.
Setup a Website and an Overall Web Presence
Before you do anything else, setup a website with specifically curated images showing off what services you provide and only your best work. This is why it’s so great for photographers to specialize because it’s easier for them to hit a specific target market instead of casting a net out there and hoping to catch a fish.
PhotoShelter and SquareSpace have great website templates and have integrated ways of making E-Commerce easier and more seamless.
Be sure to also have an Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks. You may also want to be on Tumblr or other networks like EyeEm.
Oh yeah, and setup a blog. It’s a heck of a lot more useful than you think.
Register for at Least an LLC
Legally speaking, registering for an LLC in your state gives you an extra layer of legal protection as you’re just the LLC’s employee. Each state has a different fee for doing this and every year you’ll need to renew it with a significantly smaller sum.
When you get your Articles of Incorporation, you’ll ned to sign them and fill them out.
Beyond the legal aspects, incorporating as an actual business makes you an official entity. This means that you can actually go ahead and setup a business bank account because you’ll have what’s called an EIN: Employer Identification Number. Think of it as a Social Security number for your business. Many banks won’t let you set up a business account otherwise.
Set up a Business Bank Account
The objective of any business (even if you’re a non-profit) is to generate an income. When you have an actual business bank account (usually just a checking account is all you need) you can go ahead and have specific checks made with the business name and have clients make payments out to your business or your own personal name. Usually banks will ask questions like how much money you plan on having in the account at any specific time.
Pay Quarterly Income Taxes
There are some businesses and individuals that want to pay taxes once a year, but that turns out to usually be a massive sum that really hurts after some time. It’s much better to just pay quarterly income estimates which are based on the previous year’s income. For this reason, try to put aside around 50% of each check for taxation reasons just in case.
The problem with quarterly income estimates is that if you did really well the previous year and not so well the following year you’ll be paying quite a bit as a result. That amount will be adjusted and most likely returned to you or credited in the following year.
You’ll also need to file sales taxes–keep that one in mind too!
Create Itemized Weekly Reports of Income and Spending
On a weekly basis, use something like QuickBooks to update how much money is coming in vs how much is being spent. This way you can make adjustments based on profits. At the end of the year, the program will be able to generate reports of your income and your business related spending for you to give to your tax agent.
Stick to Your Mission Statement
In your LLC Articles, you’ll have a specific mission statement. In this case, you’re providing photography services that include sales, licensing, etc.
Don’t Forget to Network
Last but not at all least: go out there and network. Networking is the absolute most important part of being a photographer because it lets you increase business, collaborate with others, and as a result, people are able to put a face to the business. If you leave a good impression, then folks will want to work with you.
More than anything else–this is what you’ll have to do to ensure income. A business is literally all about survival and making sure that your expenses are covered and people can get paid. You’ll need to be social, jump in there and talk to people–but more specifically the right people that can bring you an income. Lots of photographers that have made it emphasize the importance of this more than anything else.