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How to set up a photography business in Canada
Setting up a photography business isn't as complicated as it sounds. We'll show you the steps you need to take.
If you have a talent and a passion for photography, it’s possible to turn this into a business. It’s not as complicated as you may think it is, but there are specific steps to take to do it properly.
This guide illustrates the steps you need to take to get your photography business off the ground.
What qualifications do you need to start a photography business?
You don’t need to have any educational qualifications, permits or licenses to start a photography business. The proof of your expertise is in the pudding.
If you have a talent for taking great photos and an inkling about how to market them, you’re ready to go. Of course, you may choose to take a photography course in order to learn your trade.
To be successful as a professional photographer, you will need to invest in top-of-the-range camera equipment and lighting.
Registration: Choosing the right business structure for your photography business
Your business type determines how much tax you’ll pay on the money you make and how personally liable you’ll be for business debts.
Here are your main options.
- Sole proprietorship. You’ll continue to pay income tax and other remittances to the government as an individual. You personally will be held liable for business debts or lawsuits against your business.
- Partnership. This is essentially the same as a sole proprietorship, except profits are shared with your business partner(s). Under a general partnership, each partner is held personally liable. Under Limited Partnerships and Limited Liability Partnerships, only general partners (those who manage the business) are liable, while limited partners (investors) are not.
- Corporation. Here, your business becomes an entity in its own right and your personal finances are separate from your business finances. In addition to filing your own personal tax return, you’ll also file a separate business tax return. Plus, you’ll have to pay yourself a wage from company profits. You can’t be held personally responsible for business debts and will have reporting and management responsibilities.
- Cooperative. Cooperatives are best for groups of people who share similar social or economic needs and want to operate a business democratically. In Canada, all cooperatives must be incorporated, either at the federal or provincial level. Cooperatives can be set up as for-profit, not-for-profit or charitable organizations.
How to choose the right business structure for your company
Creating a business plan for your photography business
Unless you plan to apply for financing, you don’t need to create a business plan for your photography business. But doing so could still be helpful. Laying out your plan clearly will allow you to spot potential obstacles to your success or reasons why you might want to reconsider starting a business or explore other options.
A great photography business plan should include:
- Company overview. The name of the business and its owners, the business type and its address. Perhaps a short mission statement, explaining your goals for the company.
- Your target market. Who will you market your services to and why? It pays to be as specific as possible. The better you know your audience, the easier it is to market to them.
- Products and services. A full list of what products and services are offered by your business, plus how much you will charge.
- Competitors. Who are your competitors? How does your business differ from theirs? Why is yours better?
- Marketing plan. Are you planning to distribute brochures? Where will you market your business? What is your monthly marketing budget for each marketing platform?
- Financial plan. How much will it cost to launch your business? What are the estimated monthly running costs? What are your monthly sales forecasts? (You should list a minimum viable target amount, an average target amount and stretch targets for long-term growth).
Things change quickly in the world of business, so it’s recommended to review and amend your business plan at least once every quarter.
Setting up your photography business
This is likely to involve purchasing a lot of top-of-the-range photography equipment. Depending on what type of photography you’re specializing in, you may need to build or rent a studio too. You’ll need to add up these costs and figure out the best way to finance this.
It’s also essential for photographers to have a strong online presence. That means investing in a professional website and social media accounts – especially more visually-oriented platforms such as Instagram.
All of your offline and online spaces should be kitted out with your company’s personal branding. A professional image is particularly important in this field since your product is so visual, so don’t cheap out when hiring a graphic designer for your branding.
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Opening a business bank account
A business bank account works similar to a personal account – the main difference is that it’s dedicated to your business’s finances. Knowing businesses will need to process frequent deposits in higher amounts than individuals typically deposit, banks often charge a fee per deposit based on the size or type of deposit (cheque, cash etc.).
You should expect similar features to what you’d get with a personal bank account — such as a debit card, the ability to send and receive payments, optional overdraft option, online and mobile banking and more. You may even want to look into accounts that let you earn interest on your balance to help your earnings grow even faster.
Interested in a personal bank account instead?
Do professional photographers need insurance?
Although not all insurers offer the same options, you may find the following types of coverage helpful for your photography business:
- Photographers’ Professional Liability Insurance (also called Errors and Omissions Insurance). This provides coverage for the cost of handling lawsuits from unsatisfied clients claiming you did not follow through with your job commitments or provided substandard work. Given the subjective nature of an artistic profession like photography, it can be crucial to have this type of insurance.
- General liability (or Third Party Liability). This protects you and your employees if legal action is brought against your business for damages done to a client’s person or property.
- Business contents insurance. This protects any professional assets you keep in your place of business regardless of whether you rent, own or work out of a home office. Coverage can potentially extend to computers, office furniture, inventory, machinery and equipment.
- Commercial property. Provides coverage for lost, stolen or damaged equipment.
- Personal injury. Helps cover costs associated with recovering from a work-related injury.
- Commercial auto coverage. Get car insurance for vehicles you use for business including supply vans, trucks and regular passenger vehicles.
There are some insurance companies out there offering photographers insurance, which will cover you in most or all of these potential scenarios.
How much should you charge?
On average, professional photographers charge around $100-$250 per hour. The newer you are, the lower your rate might have to be to attract a client base and begin to develop a business reputation.
You can charge a “day rate” or “creative fee” for a day’s worth of services (which could be good for big events like weddings). Just remember to factor in the cost of all the time before and after the day you’re shooting to make sure you’re adequately covering your costs.
Extras like loading photos onto a CD or flash drive, printing hard copies and travelling to your client’s location should be charged separately. This allows customers to customize the type of package they want.
If you’re regarded as one of the best photographers in your niche, you can charge through the nose and probably still attract customers. If you haven’t built that sort of reputation yet, it may be necessary to lower your prices in order to stand out from your competitors. Take a look at what your competitors charge on job sites like Kijiji and Upwork, then price your services appropriately.
How to market your photography business
The best way to market your photography business is to get your photos in front of as many potential customers as possible (while making it clear who was responsible for them).
Here are some ideas for doing that.
- Leverage social media. The more people see your work on social media, the more likely you’ll find someone who loves it enough to hire you. The best strategies for building a social media audience appear to be changing all the time. Honestly, it may well be worth hiring a dedicated social media manager to take care of this side of your business.
- Start a blog or online portfolio. Your website should showcase your photography and all the key details of your business, but your business blog doesn’t necessarily need to be just about photography. It could also cover other topics that your target audience will want to read about. If you’re a sports photographer, write blog posts about sports. If you’re a nature photographer, write about wildlife.
Include your best photos in the blog posts and do everything you can to help them get shared. Sites like Zenfolio, Flickr and 500px provide great tools for displaying your photographs to potential clients.
- Have a referral scheme. Photographers can secure a lot of business from customer referrals, especially if they make it worth their while. Consider launching some sort of bonus scheme for customers who refer friends.
- Cross-promotion. It’s worth setting up cross-promotion deals with other professionals that you could share clients with. For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, you should be looking to collaborate with other companies that work at weddings (venues, DJs, florists, etc).
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