It takes money to make money.
That being said, some things will make you more money and get your business off the ground a lot faster than others. You’ll find that some purchases end up being a waste of money, and when you’re first starting out it’s easy to make those regrettable purchases.
So here’s a list of the Top 8 Essential Things to Buy When Starting a Photography Business.
1. Your own domain name and photography blog
The photography blog is your storefront. While there are numerous free blog sites out there, it screams “unprofessional newbie” to have “myurl.wordpress.com” or “myurl.blogspot.com” as your web address. It implies that you’re not established on your own yet.
Thankfully, it’s not that difficult to set up your own site and it’s relatively inexpensive to do. Once you’ve decided on your domain name, you’ll need to buy it and find a web hosting site. You can get a domain name for under $15 per year and you can buy hosting for about $5 per month.
Once you get your website and hosting, I highly suggest installing a WordPress blog. The WordPress platform is free, and it’s one of the easiest blogs out there to use. Select and customize a template for your blog, spend about 30 minutes doing these quick things to make you show up better in internet searches, and start blogging!
2. Business Cards
Business Cards are another essential tool for getting your name out there and bringing in new business.
Their use is fairly obvious, so I’ll leave you with these tips. Always give out more than one card and tell them to pass a card along if they know anyone who might be interested in your work. Also, carry them with you all the time. Give them to your spouse to carry as well in case they are talking to someone who is interested in hiring you. Hand them out with Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters (or not, but seriously get them out and about as much as you can.)
The nice thing is that business cards are super-cheap. I buy mine through ZooPrinting, and they do a fabulous job and offer green paper options at no additional cost.
3. A good accountant
Find an accountant that you can trust that really knows their stuff. They are invaluable tools and are worth every penny.
Consult with them about what business structure would be best for you to use to protect your personal assets and to help create the most profit.
Pay them to do your taxes, and take any tax advice they give.
Have them help you set up a system for tracking your business transactions. Personally, I think it is worth paying for their accounting software as it makes life easier. I use Quickbooks Pro, which has a high learning curve but really makes it a breeze at tax time once you get the hang of it. Don’t let this one slip – you’ll be hating yourself in a few months if you haven’t put together a great system for tracking everything. (And I do mean everything!)
4. Adobe Lightroom or Aperture
Unless you’re shooting film exclusively, you’re going to need editing software for your photos. I highly suggest Adobe Lightroom 3, as it allows you to catalogue your images, edit them, create slideshows, and lots more all within the same seamless program. While photoshop is awesome, I probably do 95% of my editing in Lightroom and find that to be much faster.
5. PPA Membership
The benefits of this membership are huge. From discounts on a ton of products and services to their additional insurance and legal advice, the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) is one organization that is well worth it’s price. They also offer sample contracts to use with clients and have a wealth of information about topics such as copyrighting your images and industry data. Their monthly magazine is a nice read full of great photos and business advice as well.
6. External hard drives
You MUST back up your images in at least a few different places. External hard drives are cheap – definitely pick a few of these up and back your work up often! You’ll be thankful one day when one of your drives goes down, which is fairly likely to happen if you stay in business long enough. I highly suggest using an external hard drive from Western Digital.
7. At least one really awesome lens
Yes, eventually you’ll need and want more than just one, but I think you need at least one good lens to start with besides the lens that came with your camera. This is sufficient for just doing portraits, although this is NOT ENOUGH for shooting weddings!
Unless you bought your DSLR body and lens separately, chances are you have a “kit” lens that is a piece of junk. I’m just going to say it like it is. Yes, it is versatile and can zoom, but unless it gets down to an aperture of at least 2.8, it isn’t going to look professional in most scenarios unless you’re a master at controlling your own light.
Thankfully, you can buy a really awesome lens for around $100-$200 that will be great for getting you that beautiful professional-looking portrait. Both Canon & Nikon offer a 50mm f/1.8 lens in that price range that makes your backgrounds blur (it’s called bokeh) when shot at an aperture of f/1.8 and your subject nice and sharp. Considering many pro lenses run between $1500 and $2500, this is a cheap but amazing lens that is vital to any starting photographer. (Note – if you are shooting with a Nikon D5000 or lower, I’d suggest you actually get a 35mm f/1.8 as the 50 mm does not support auto-focus and you’ll have to manually focus it.)
Insurance is one of those things where you hope to lose money each year. I suggest purchasing Inland Marine coverage for your gear (most home owners policies will not insure your gear if it is used in business), General Liability coverage in case someone gets hurt on a shoot or you break something at a venue and you get sued, and Errors & Omissions coverage, which is the photography equivalent to malpractice insurance. You may also need Commercial Auto coverage if your personal auto coverage does not insure you if you’re driving on the way to or from a photo shoot. Some do and some do not, so it is important to look into it. The last thing you’d want is to have a major accident and have to pay for it all yourself because you were driving to a shoot and it wasn’t covered.
Living up to the term “Professional”
While it’s tempting to skip out on some of the items above, you’ll only hinder yourself and your business from growing by doing so. Don’t run your business like an amateur – if you’re going to be a business owner, do it responsibly and professionally. There’s lots of other expenses that are extraneous that can be cut, but these are worth every penny.