Awarded as best premium blog 2017, best newcomer blog category photo art 2016, and as best minimalism photography blog and best DIY on black and white photography blog in 2017.

HOW I RUN MY BUSINESS - Start a Photography Business with No Start-Up Money Part 2

Last week I started with the first part (read it here again)

 Today I will continue with the second and final part.

Build a Website

A website should be your first major business investment. However, it doesn't take much to build a website and start your web presence. I use Wix. The podcasts are often sponsored by Squarespace. Look at their templates and their pricing, then choose what works for you.
When I started, I paid less than $200 for my domain name, the Wix platform without ad banners, and an email address to match the web domain. Here is a step where you might be tempted to cut expenses. You can save money by allowing an ad banner like “This website is brought to you by,” or by not purchasing the email address to match your domain. Don't do it! Nothing says amateur more than a generic email address (like an @gmail or @yahoo address) and ad banners on your website. Spend the extra money to have an ad-free website and a professional email address.
My company's email is run on the Google app platform, so it's easy to use Gmail, Docs, Spreadsheets, and the rest of Google's application suite.

You'll need to spend some time designing your website. Don't rush this process. You also don't need to spend money on professional web design during the infancy of your business–with a platform like Wix or Squarespace, you can easily create your own website. The most important thing to showcase is your portfolio. Nothing will take the place of a solid portfolio.
To summarize, at this point you have a database, word processor, spreadsheets, email, and a website. Start-up costs at this point are $200.00US.

Library and Books

As you get your business up and running, don't stop learning. I am always reading a book about some aspect of photography. Why books first and not websites or podcasts or videos? Because books have been written and edited by professionals. A team of people have spent time and money curating and creating the content. Anyone can publish on the Internet (including yours truly), but not everyone will publish a book.

To save money, use your public library system to read books that you don't necessarily want to buy. My public library system allows me to borrow books from any library in the state. I may have to wait a few weeks for a book to arrive at my local library from somewhere out of town, but I do get the book eventually. And it's free!

Here are some of the books that helped me get better early in my new business:
– Nick Fancher's Studio Anywhere and Studio Anywhere 2 (If you’d like to read my review of Nick Fancher’s Studio Anywhere 2, click here.)
– Scott Kelby's The Digital Photography Book series
– Roberto Valenzuela's Picture Perfect Practice and Picture Perfect Posing
If you use your public library, your start-up costs are still $200.00US.

Rent, Don't Buy

I have run my photography business with a fairly sparse set of gear. In fact, for the first year of my business, I only used a kit lens and a 50mm f/1.4. (The kit lens was used for the first wedding I photographed.) As my client list grew, I was also being hired for more than just family portraits. When the job was more complicated than my current gear could handle, I didn't panic, and I didn't buy anything. Instead, I rented. When I needed a 70mm-200mm f/2.8 for a wedding, I didn't spend the entire wedding fee on a new lens; I spent $50 to rent the lens for the weekend. When I needed a lens wider than my 50mm for  a reception, I didn't go out and buy a 35mm f/1.4 lens; instead, I rented it for the weekend for $40.

While it may be tempting to use every penny you earn from photography to buy gear, don't do it! Spend the money on other things like education, mentoring, workshops, business tools, or yourself. If you live in a big city, chances are there's a camera shop with rental gear. I rent from Midwest Photo Exchange in Columbus, Ohio. If you don't live close to a camera shop with a robust rental inventory, then check out Brent Rents Lenses. He's a frequent supporter of Improve Photography and its media network.

Lens Rentals is another great place to read about gear. I often go to a rental site for lens reviews because they'll have a professional give a quick take on the lens as well as a comparison to similar lenses.

Perhaps you'll budget in $150.00US for rentals as you start. Now the start-up costs are $350.00US.

Social Media

I use both my personal and business Facebook pages to promote my business. I have a much greater reach on my personal page than on my business page. Most of the time, my social media pages are a place to showcase my latest sessions before I've written a blog post or a place to get some instant positive feedback about my photos. Sometimes I post messages about special offers or scheduling sessions. 

Of slightly greater value are Facebook groups, specifically local buy/sell/trade groups and parenting groups. Every now and then, I post a special on those chat groups. I'll get a handful of inquiries from those posts.

I don't make my social media presence a big priority in my business. I spend more effort on my photography itself and on cultivating the real relationships with my clients. In the two years since I started my business, nothing has gotten me more business than positive word-of-mouth support from past clients. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, and maybe I need to take a course or two on social media for businesses. But thankfully, I'm busy enough as it is without finely-tuned social media tactics.
Facebook and Instagram are free, so your start-up costs are still $350.00US.

Electronic Contracts and Signatures

As my business grew, I got tired of printing and scanning contracts. I searched through many digital signature platforms and ended up choosing The platform is simple to use. I simply upload a PDF file of each contract, add various fields for the client to address (signature, date, initials, address, phone number, etc.), and then use the platform to email the contract to my clients. SignNow also archives your contracts and can resend the email if your client forgets to sign.
I have been using SignNow since August of 2016, and I love it. Clients have found it simple to use, and I no longer waste unnecessary time printing, scanning, or hunting down contracts.
A full year of SignNow's basic subscription (perfect for my small business) is only $60.00US. The start-up costs are now $410.00US.

Banking and Invoicing

At some point, you will want to become an LLC. The main reason I became an LLC was to separate my personal assets from my business assets. As a homeowner with two children, I just couldn't risk losing anything personal to a possible business lawsuit. To become an LLC in Ohio, I spent around $140.00US on the registration and vendor licensing.

I mention becoming an LLC because as an LCC I can open a business checking account and take advantage of many more banking applications. My business checking account links to banking software that allows me to send digital invoices and collect payments online. Sending digital invoices and online payments are a must these days.

I have chosen to use my business checking account rather than an application like Square or PayPal due to the fees associated with those applications.

My business checking account software allows me to track and collect money in and out, send invoices, and track a business credit card. As long as I carry a certain balance, I can use the basic business functions for a flat fee of $15.00US per month plus $0.50 per invoice. To compare, payment solutions like Square or PayPal collect a percentage of each purchase (somewhere around 3%) plus a flat fee per transaction. With my level of business, my business bank solution saves me a small amount of money compared to the services of a company like Square or PayPal. As long as I make more than $6,000-$7,000US per year, then the flat fee from my bank is less expensive than services like Square or PayPal. (If your business makes less than $5,000US or so per year, then Square or PayPal is actually a better idea.)

The downside to my business bank account software is that I cannot accept credit cards, only client bank account information. For some of my clients, they'd prefer a credit card option. They just end up paying by personal check instead.

If you got lost in the financial talk of this section, the basic point is that I registered with my state as an LLC and used my LLC status to open a business checking account for online invoicing and payments. These two steps cost me about $320.00US for the year.
Total start-up costs are now $730.00US. 

Improve Photography

The last suggestion I have is to start where I started: this website. I discovered Improve Photography during the winter of 2015. The amount of free or inexpensive content available on Improve Photography is mind-boggling. The articles, podcasts, and video courses were instrumental in getting me to where I am today.

If I had to choose two paid features to begin with, I would do the following:
– Buy the photography contracts for super cheap.
– Purchase a portfolio review for $54.99US.

The photography contracts will give you a great place to start when creating your own contracts specific to your needs. The portfolio review will give you concrete, actionable feedback to help you improve your photography. (You could even purchases the full review for $69.99US and request me as your reviewer–yes, I'm a portfolio reviewer, too!)
You might also take a look at joining Improve Photography Plus, the premium service you can subscribe to monthly for access to all classes and resources, additional mentoring, and early access to workshops.

Finally, go back and listen to the podcast archives. I do not know where I would be without the amazing weekly advice from Jim, Nick, Jeff, Erica, Connor, Brian, and all of the other amazing podcast hosts. Start with Portrait Session and listen from the beginning. I would not be the photographer I am today without Portrait Session.

If we add the contracts and a portfolio review to the start-up costs, we come to $800.00US. In what other business can you begin for such a small amount of money? To give you some perspective, I made almost $7,000.00US during my first year. That means just over 10% of my photography income went to start-up and business costs. Not too shabby, I'd say.

If you're reading this in a part of the world where winter has begun, there's no better time to start your business, design your website, practice your craft, and be ready for spring photo sessions.
(Here are ten more business tips for your photography business. #6 is really important!)

I did that posts because a lot of people asked me how I started my own business and how I made it growing and successful during the past 3 years.

Be classy, be safe, be an artist. XOXO, Catie.
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