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  • Writer's picturebonniejheath

10 Steps for new photography business owners

Updated: Apr 4

A lot of new photographers ask me for advice about building a photo business. Here’s a checklist of steps to take as a new photography business owner. A lot of these steps can be used for other types of business too!

1. Build your portfolio website with your ideal client in mind

Who is your ideal client? What problem are you trying to solve for them? Where will your ideal client find you? You may have active Instagram or Facebook accounts, but those should point to a strong portfolio website, because your ideal client may not be looking for a photographer on Instagram.

If you need more images, organize some portfolio building shoots by asking friends to model for you.

I love StoryBrand for ideas about how to clarify your marketing message.

I designed my site in, but then found a Wix designer to help me with a more polished look.

You’ll need a logo for your site, business cards and other marketing materials, but your logo shouldn’t take too much of the spotlight away from your images. Don't spend time on a DIY logo unless you have some design experience.

If you need to rent a studio for portfolio building, I recommend

2. Get a signed contract for every gig you shoot

Even if you are in a “portfolio building” phase of your business, get a signed contract for every job. Contracts lay out exactly what you are giving your clients and how much they are paying you. They are also a clear communication tool for the session date, time and location. Professional Photographers of America is a great resource for example contracts.

Digital contracts are key to making your booking process streamlined for you and your clients. I've listed some resources for digital contracts in the section below.

3. Develop processes for your business

From first inquiry to final photo delivery, plan the process your clients will move through. How will you prepare them for their session? How will you deliver the final product?

I use HoneyBook as my main business organization tool. HoneyBook handles digital contracts, questionnaires, invoicing, lead tracking and more. 17 Hats is also popular with photographers.

For proofing and final image delivery, I use

It's important to have a process for your social media, too. It can become overwhelming if you try to do it on the fly. On Monday mornings, I use to schedule a few posts for the week ahead. I put a handful of images into a Dropbox folder every week with recent images that I'm proud of. I've been setting aside images like this for 5 years, so I have my best images ready when I need them for updating my portfolio.

4. Open a separate business bank account

It’s difficult to tell if your business is profitable without separating your bank accounts. It makes bookkeeping and tax time much easier when you buy anything related to your business on a separate debit or credit card.

5. Buy insurance for your business

Insurance is incredibly important for any business, and photography is no exception. Protect yourself, and your business. You’ll need liability insurance to be allowed into some venues.

Professional Photographers of America offers some basic insurance for their members, and you can buy additional liability and equipment insurance through them as well.

6. Write a business plan

A business plan is never a bad idea. It will help you better understand your ideal clients, better understand your competition, and set goals. If you ever need to borrow money for your business, you will need a business plan.

In 2019, I graduated from Start:ME Atlanta, a free business mentoring program and completing a business plan was part of the curriculum. You don't have to start from scratch with a business plan. Google "business plan for a photographer," pick one that fits your business and then start plugging in your local market research.

7. Claim your business profiles

Claim your business profiles on Google, Yelp, Apple Maps and Bing. Even if you have a home business, you will need to claim your business profiles with a specific location. This helps search engines find your business. If you uncomfortable listing your home address, get a co-working space near your home.

Remember to reach out to clients who have recently used your services to ask them for a review. Here’s a link with info about how to set up your Google business profile. It's free! Yelp listings are free but expect a sales call from Yelp. Politely decline to buy ads because the free service is just fine.

8. Apply for a business license

You will need to apply for a business license with your local city or county administration. If selling products is part of your business model, you will have to go through some steps to pay sales taxes, if you live in one of the 45 states that collects sales tax.

9. Decide how you would like to structure your business

There are a few ways you can set up your business structure: sole proprietor, LLC or S-Corp are a few. Talk to your accountant about the best way to set up your business.

If you set your business up as an S-Corp, you'll need a payroll system to pay yourself a salary. I recommend It makes tax time much easier, because you'll be paid as an employee of your company and federal and state taxes are sent directly each pay period.

10. Outsource as you grow

Figure out which business task you should do yourself, and which aspects of your business you need to outsource. I don't love to handle the financials, so I have hired an accountant and bookkeeper to help me with those tasks. I work with a very talented retoucher to handle all of my portrait retouching. I've also had success with a service called When I shot weddings, I would often use Photographer Edit to help with Lightroom editing so that I didn't get too far behind with delivering my images to my wedding clients.

Bonus tip!

11. Continue to learn and grow your network

Continue to learn and grow as an artist and entrepreneur. There are countless online educational resources for photographers like CreativeLive. Don’t overlook in-person conferences and classes like Imaging USA and Atlanta Celebrates Photography or ATLPhoto Night.

Building a network of other photographers is important. You may need assistance with larger gigs, and you will need talented colleagues to send as a referral when you get an inquiry for a photo service that you don't offer.

This list may seem overwhelming, but you don’t have to do them all at once. Chip away at them one at a time, and you will be on your way to building a photography business.


Bonnie Heath, photographer, Atlanta


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