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As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.

Turning Semi-pro

rickrick Member
edited February 2011 in business & marketing
This is probaly an age old dilema, but I would like advice. My photography has reached a point where people are willing to pay for my work. The genre I'm talking about is infant/toddler/maternity portraiture. This would be very much a sideline at the moment as i'm still employed as an engineer, within 10 years of retirement. What do I have to do to set myself up as a business ?


  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Are you registered as an LLC ?

    Also, make sure you charge sales tax, and report and pay the taxes you collect.
    If you think the IRS can be tough on you, the sales tax people will camp on your doorstep if they suspect anything.

    Do you have an online gallery where you can post images?
    I use ZenFolio .. which I also use as my off-site backup of the processed JPGs.

    Other than that ...
    - marketing materials;
    - price lists;
    - a website! (or blogsite).
  • gmphotosgmphotos Member
    edited February 2011
    You do not need to spend the money to become an LLC. This is usually recommended for businesses that need to protect large assets, like real estate, doctors, lawyers. A sole proprietorship will be fine and you do not incur the yearly expense of the LLC.

    You should file a DBA in your local county. These usually run about $25-$35 dollars.

    Getting a tax ID number is next and a business bank account.

    Nolo.com is a good resource for all of the legal stuff. They have great articles and books. I highly recommend joining a professional photography association, like PPA (Professional Photographers of America) or ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers), where you get indemnity insurance.

    You will also want to get equipment insurance and liability insurance. The professional photography organizations offer these at good rates. They are also a great resource for proper business practices and can help you with any legal issues that may come up.
  • I'm actually based in the south of the UK, but I'm sure there are the equivalent organisations here. The first thing will be to join the Royal Photographic Society and gain Licentiateship. Neil, I'm using Facebook at the moment, but a blogsite/website will certainly be next. Do you think it's best to "test the water" first with regards to pricing and then increase accordingly. What something is worth is only what someone is willing to pay and is quite an emotive subject. Thanks for your advice guys.
  • Hi Rick,
    Going pro, even part time can be more work than you expect on the business side of things, I heard this many times myself but still didn't realise just how much work you need to put into the non-picture taking side of things. Not trying to put you off, just be prepared and go for it.

    Definately get yourself a business bank account, makes tax time much easier and you can keep an eye on expenses vs. income much easier. Plus you would be surprised how helpful some banks are with small business operators, giving some good free advice when you use their services.

    Think about gear and public liability insurance, all it takes is one person tripping over your bag and breaking a leg and you could lose everything, and I mean everything, house, car, the lot.

    As for price, I would suggest at least work out what you should be charging to cover all your costs and then add you want to be paid on top of that (doubling your calculated costs is a good start). Just picking a price out of thin air can be a mistake unless that price turns out to be higher than it needed to be and people are willng to pay. Charging too little will get you referals that expect the same and raising prices can be difficult once you've set the mark.

    hope that helps, good luck.

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Oh, one of the very best things I did for myself last year, was to get an accountant.
    Made my life so much easier.

    So I would agree with the others here ... get separate business accounts - for a checking account, and for a credit card.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Facebook is without a doubt your strongest way to market yourself online at the moment.

    I would still say that a blog / blogsite is essential.
    The one thing that makes me nervous about Facebook, is their absolute control.
    For example, several boudoir photographers have had their Facebook accounts closed. Two of those were for very mild burlesque style shots. Not revealing at all, but sexy in a specific stylized way.

    It just takes a single person to lodge a complaint, and the image(s) or even your entire account can be closed. And there is no recourse.

    So while I post all my weddings and other work on Facebook, I still believe a separate blog is necessary in case your account on FB is closed. (Keeping in mind this advice is coming from someone who hasn't updated his 'Latest Work' blog in 7 months. Ooops. I've been busy!)

    The other thing that your blog offers you is that a blog is SEO-capable. Facebook offers very little SEO-richness to you.
  • Hi, I've been thinking the same too, but I'm still working on getting my photography skills consistent. I've been following Neil and also following a podcast called Going Pro. Great advice there too. http://goingpro2010.podomatic.com/
  • I cannot offer advice on professional photography per se, but I can offer some advice on pricing professional services (my experience is with software development): serious prices encourage serious offers. To put it another way, start high and work your way down. My experience has been that I am treated with the highest degree of professionalism and courtesy when I have stuck to my highest billing rates. People do not value things cheaply acquired. This goes for services as well.

    In your case, you have the additional luxury of a sideline business. You will still have food on the table if you over-estimate the demand for your business. You have little to lose and much to gain by starting at a higher rate. You can always adjust down if you think you are losing the customers you really want to cheaper alternatives.
  • jhilgersjhilgers Member
    edited April 2013
    What is your opinion of SmugMug.com? They offer decent protection of your photos, handle the professional quality printing side of things, and they even track the photographer's total earnings for photos that have been sold. Tax earning reports are made available at the end of the year (if the photographer sold enough) that are ready for submission to the IRS.

    SmugMug provides the ability to give the customer a protected link so only they can access their photos and then provide the customers with all of the packages and custom printing choices for them to choose from.

    Anyone else have any input on SmugMug?
  • I was going through smigmug for a year and switched over to zenfolio due to the fact that smugmug does not offer a blog. Zenfolio also offers the same protections that smugmug does as well as the ability to have custom client logins and galleries. I would reccomend trying both out via their free trials and see what works best for you.
  • jhilgersjhilgers Member
    edited May 2013
    I've been using SmugMug for some time now; I just wanted to ask Neil if he had any opinion on it was all.
    I do not really want a blog per say, beacause I am not trying to "talk" about anything regarding photography. I just want somewhere to display my photos that is clean, maintainable, and looks professional that I can direct someone to for reference. A couple people that asked me to do portrait work of their kids really liked the custom mouse pads and shirts that they could order that had photos of their kids on them.
    I just like not having to deal with any of the money tracking and printing issues that can come up with photography, SmugMug has handled this for me well while I concentrate on the shooting and post production aspects.
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