The Tools You Need To Successfully Run Your Photography Business
I think I googled that exact phrase about 6 years ago when I was still in college and just shooting photos for fun as a little side hustle. It was hard to find the resources that tell you exactly what you need legally and financially to run a business. Now that I feel confident in both my photography business and my finances, I want to share my knowledge with you! This will cover the basics of everything from finances to tools you’ll need to run your business. I am not an expert, but I have gotten most of my knowledge from financial advisors, my CPA, and other professionals in the industry. However, it’s always good to consult an accountant or professional in your area to make sure and see what’s best for you! I’ve included referral links in each category, not to try to sell you on anything, but to simplify and offer extra benefits– I know I would’ve loved a resource like this a few years back!
Step 1: Register Your Business
One of the most common questions is, “When do I need to register my business and pay taxes?” when starting out in photography. First things first, choose a business name and register it with the state. I started out as a Sole Proprietorship but switched over to an LLC this year since my CPA recommended it. It can be confusing to determine which is better for you, so here is a good source that may help explain: https://www.nav.com/blog/llc-sole-proprietor-18376/
Technically, if your business has brought in over $600 in one year, you should be paying taxes. And no, you aren’t supposed to accept payment through Venmo (made that mistake the first couple of years)! Filing taxes can be confusing and overwhelming, so I recommend using Turbo Tax or hiring a small business CPA if it’s in your budget.
Step 2: Create a Beautiful Website/Online Portfolio
First, you will need to register a domain name and get your personalized web link through a site like GoDaddy. For the longest time I used Zenfolio as my website platform because it was user-friendly and had unlimited space to deliver galleries all through one platform. This is a great option if you are a beginner and trying to keep costs down. This year I switched over to Showit because I wanted my website to be more aesthetically pleasing and interactive, and easy to customize. I designed it all myself and there are drag-and-drop tools and templates that make it super easy! To send my galleries I use Pic-Time! They offer beautiful, timeless galleries with a built-in store and sales automation to make your marketing easy! Use my code at checkout to sign up and get 30 days free: “EZEQNV”.
Step 3: Open a Separate Bank Account
Once you have the documentation that your business is registered, you will need to go in person to meet with your local bank branch and set up a separate business bank account. This will help you keep your income and expenses separate from your normal checking account. I also recommend getting a business credit card and using that on ALL of your business expenses! I use the Chase Ink Business Unlimited credit card! It has no annual fee and 1.5% cash back! Use this link to apply and get 75,000 bonus points: https://www.referyourchasecard.com/21f/YTPUZRFB1N. Just be sure to always pay it off on time, like with all credit cards, to avoid paying interest. I use a separate credit card for all personal purchases. I recommend the Chase Freedom Unlimited for getting started since it has no annual fee and you get 5% back on all grocery stores and Lyft rides, 3% back on dining, all in addition to 1.5% on everything else! Use this link for signing up to earn $200 cash back: https://www.referyourchasecard.com/18f/QZKEGMTC6N
Step 4: Get Organized
I recommend using a site like Honeybook, or Quickbooks as a cheaper option to keep all your finances organized. I use the Quickbooks Simple Start Plan which is $25/month. It tracks your business mileage (to write off for tax purposes), organizes your expenses, and allows you to invoice your clients where they can easily pay online by bank transfer or credit card. To get 50% off Quickbooks + a $50 Visa Gift Card use my link to sign up: https://www.referquickbooks.com/s/Merissa
Step 5: Save
Learn how to budget each month to try to save ideally at least 20% of your earnings that month. I use a separate bank account to put my savings in that has a higher annual percentage yield (APY) than just sitting in a Chase bank account. I recommend using Marcus by Goldman Sachs for this since they are very secure and currently have a .70% yield. You can use this link to sign up and get an additional .20% APY for the first 3 months on your online savings account: https://www.marcus.com/share/MER-DVQ-KLUY
Once you’ve started saving a good amount, you can set up an Individual 401(k) and a Roth IRA to start making contributions towards retirement. I use Vanguard for my Individual 401(k) and Wealthfront for my Roth IRA.
Step 6: Invest
Now that you are saving money and keeping an emergency spending fund (I recommend having at least 1 month’s living costs in your checking account at all times), you are ready to invest! Now I’m no expert at investing, but these resources have helped me so much and are great for others out there with little experience. I highly recommend setting up a Wealthfront individual investment account. You can deposit recurring payments each month and choose your risk level, and they invest for you! Easy as that, no need to pick out stocks yourself! Wealthfront in low-cost exchange traded funds (ETFs), which are basically bundles of individual stocks to provide diversity to your portfolio. Since I started investing in 2019, I’ve had a 25% money-weighted return! Use this link to get an extra $5,000 managed for free: https://www.wealthfront.com/c/affiliates/invited/AFFD-DNHA-HJ5V-ESB8
Another good user-friendly way to invest is the app, Robinhood. I haven’t used it a ton yet, but if you do have a little more experience/knowledge with investing and want to pick your own individual stocks, they make it easy for you! Use my link to get a free bonus stock when you sign up (you could even get a free stock of Apple or Microsoft if you’re lucky!) : https://join.robinhood.com/merissd
I know all of this may seem overwhelming, so no need to tackle it all at once! It took me years to figure this all out and be confident with my financial and business choices. Hope this was a help to you and feel free to comment with any questions below!