Whether you’re nearing the end of your two-week notice or have just begun to dream of becoming a full-time photographer, there is a lot of planning and preparing to take care of before (comfortably) taking the leap. To help you cover all of your bases, we’ve compiled a checklist of things to have in place before going full-time.
While some items on this list are flexible, such as creating a Pinterest for your business, other’s can save you a world of hurt down the road, such as having your equipment insured. No matter their level of necessity, each of the items on our list will add a level of preparedness to your business’s launch.
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We’ve detailed each of the items on the list in further detail down below, with additional tips and tricks on completing them!
A Strong Why
It is not easy to become a full-time photographer. It takes a lot of sacrifice, an investment in learning, and – most importantly – a strong passion for the field. Without a strong why, achieving the other items on this list will be extremely difficult, and launching your business full time will be impossible.
Your “why” doesn’t have to check any boxes; It only has one job: to motivate you when the going gets tough. It can be as brief as one sentence or as long as a three-page essay – whatever you think will spark your passion in times of hardship.
A List of Necessary Equipment
Having a thorough list of the equipment you’ll need in hand for your first day of full-time photography can save you from plenty of unprofessional hiccups down the road – hiccups that are understandable for a beginner, but great to avoid whenever you can!
We recommend starting with the basics (camera, batteries, back up batteries) and writing down everything, even the stuff you already have. Once you’ve covered the basics, envision a day in the life as a full-time photographer; Write down any items that you stumble across in this imaginary day, or items that will help you avoid shortcomings. This might be a dedicated work phone, a dedicated work laptop, a certain number of blank back up hard-drives, or protective gear for shooting in less-than-ideal weather.
Depending on your niche and business plan, your list may look very different from the equipment needs of another photographer, so don’t feel obligated to spend money on items you truly don’t believe will benefit you. Having the best and newest items won’t make you the best photographer, but being appropriately prepared is a necessity.
A Target Customer Base
Before fully launching your business, it helps to know who your target customer base it. This base can be as vague or specific as you want it to be, but it’s a quick way to check if the service you’re offering has a viable target audience. For example, if you want to target equestrian riders but you live in New York City, you may have some other things to consider (your living situation, travel costs, networking in a new location) before quitting your primary source of income.
A Detailed Business Plan/Outline
A detailed business plan is a key element to have in place before going full time with photography. It will help you learn what you should be charging, how many clients you need to take on each month, the maximum number of clients you can take on each month, which tasks can be outsourced as your business begins to scale, and what your largest expenses will be. Having an anticipated trajectory will help you identify when things are coming up short, making it easier to pause and adapt in short notice. This type of preparedness, flexibility, and deep understanding of the way your business functions can singlehandedly make the difference between success and failure.
Don’t spend your first few months as a full-time photographer compiling a portfolio. Your portfolio should be established – albeit ever-growing – before you make photography your primary source of income. Without a strong portfolio by your side when pitching to clients and adding content to your website, landing high paying clients – or any clients at all, for that matter – can prove extremely difficult. Investing a few hours each week towards your portfolio before you go leave your full-time job will put you in an advantageous position when photography becomes your full-time career.
A Registered LLC/Sole Proprietorship
“Register your business” is the checklist item that many photographers will tap out at, but we’re here to ensure you it’s not as difficult as it seems! Do a quick Google search for “How to create an LLC in [insert the name of your state].” The steps will vary state to state, but the process usually includes approval of your business’s name, the submission of a simple form containing identifying information (SSN, Business Address, Business Owner Name), and the payment of a handful of creation fees. The total cost of creating your LLC will range based on your location, but it can usually be kept beneath $1,000.
A Financial Map
Similar to your business map, a financial map will help you plan for maximal growth and identify financial red flags sooner rather than later. It’s wise to consult a financial expert to discuss the specifics of your budget, investment levels, and miscellaneous monthly costs such as
Your Business’s Name
This one is just as easy as it is obvious; Have a name for your business prepared for paper work, creation of social media accounts, and website creation before you launch full-time. The more long term your business’s name is, the better. Changing a business’s name well into its operation can be difficult for both logistical reasons and public perception reasons.
Insurance of your professional equipment can be critical for full-time photographers, since thousands of dollars of equipment are relied on for every day operations. Having your equipment insured can make the difference between a $500 setback and a $5000 setback on just one break. You can cover a lot of your photography equipment through extensions on your renter or homeowner’s insurance. This was explained nicely in this Lemonade article.
A Professional Website
Without a professional website that makes it easy for visitors to view your work and book their own sessions, most – if not all – of your marketing efforts will be pointless. Marketing your business by word of mouth, social media, email or old-school advertising is meant to drive potential clients to your website. Make sure you have a website that reflects your services and your brand before you lean into photography full-time. This will greatly shorten the window between having just a few bookings and finding yourself with a full schedule.
Client Contract Forms
In order to lock in your first client, they will need to sign a client contract. Having your client contract forms on hand before your business has officially launched can save you from that “Oh no” moment when you have to scramble to create a form within a short amount of time or, worse, completing a booking where no contract has been signed.
It’s expected that during the lifetime of your business your contract form will change to reflect lessons you’ve learned in the field, but it’s safe to start with the guidelines found in online templates.
We found a great example of a client contract form at ShotKit.com. You can download their free-to-use contract forms by simply subscribing to their email list (and unsubscribing at any time).
A Business Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest
The more social media accounts you can establish in your business’s name, the better. In a perfect world, you will have an Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn and TikTok for your business, but we know how time consuming every individual platform can be. We’ve selected Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as the most essential due to their unique strengths.
Instagram is a visual platform, making it a popular space for photographers and, more importantly, people looking to book photographers. When seeking a wedding photographer, newborn photographer, portrait photographer or so on, many Instagram users will do a quick search on the platform, easily scrolling through the past work of photographer’s they come across. When used correctly, it can be an incredible way to land clients right in your area.
Facebook has become largely pay to play – meaning if you aren’t paying for advertisements, you’re likely not getting much attention on the platform – but that doesn’t make it any less essential. The millions of niche groups created by users on the platform make it a common means of recommendation and endorsement. If a past client or friend recommends you to another user, having an established Facebook page not only allows you to showcase your work to curious visitors, but allows you to be tagged at all. Simply owning an account makes it easy for recommendations to lead directly to your profile, where you can clearly feature booking and contact information.
Pinterest is one of the few ‘social media’ platforms that is built around driving traffic to your site. We say ‘social media’ with quotations because Pinterest is technically not a social media platform; It’s really a search engine. This differentiation makes it a major asset when trying to land prospective clients. Think of it as a (much) smaller scale Google.
A Business Checking Account
Keeping your business and personal finances separate will be critical for the long term success of your business, while also greatly simplifying tasks such as tax deductions. Head to your personal bank and ask a teller for help opening a business account. They will be able to guide you through opening the separate account and get you set up with business checks and a business debit card.
Knowledge About Prime Season in Your Niche
Knowing the busiest season for your niche will help you identify the best time to go full-time. If you’re a wedding photographer, for example, quitting your main source of income in early fall probably isn’t the best idea. Once you’ve identified the prime season, account for the amount of time you want to dedicate to pursuing and landing clients in preparation for the busy season. Then you will know the optimal time to leave your current employ.
If you’re leaving a full-time job that covered your health insurance costs, don’t forget to accommodate for that when shifting to a self-employed role. It is strongly advised that your health insurance plan be accounted for before the plan you are under via your full-time job expires. Even a short window of time without health insurance puts you at risk of landing in an extremely difficult financial situation.
A Monthly Budget
This item ties in with your financial map, but it helps to view it as its own objective. Knowing exactly how much you are earning per month at your current full-time job, plus the value of benefits such as health insurance, gym memberships, 401k contributions and so on, can help you establish the amount of money you will have to bring in with your photography business to maintain your current lifestyle.
Matching your current income right off the bat isn’t a necessity, but it is a great way to tell that you’re fully ready to go full-time.
An Organized Expense Tracking System
Tracking your expenses and revenue is of utmost importance; It’s impossible to stay on top of the costs and responsibilities of running a business without having everything in order. Don’t wait for things to become chaotic before you get organized! Having a plan in place for how you’ll file and keep track of financial records will keep things running smoothly right from the beginning. Future you will be so grateful you prepared for this element of self-employment!