Starting an Equine Photography Business
So you want to make a business of shooting horses. Awesome!! Now before we jump in and start shooting every living horse we see, lets get down to the business of running a business. Many factors go into owning and running a business and let’s be honest, many of them do not look or sound like fun. Trust me writing about it is not much fun either, but I am doing it to help you! So, don’t let the thought of it deter you from your dream job. What you need to understand is that by starting out the right way, your business is more likely to survive and grow. No one wants to say “well I started a business but had to close it because I did not make any money,” so lets start out with a roadmap to make you successful. While we have not covered everything here, these things are the biggest that you need to make sure you deal with.
The first step on your new business journey is to make a business plan. Creating a business plan sounds daunting and flat out scary, and for some they never do this. What I have learned though is that this is the equivalent to having a road map or blue print to run your business from. The more work you put into this step, the better prepared you will be. Ever try to build something very complex without a plan? (Ok if you are a guy – you probably have….) Your business should be no different, I would love to see you succeed and a plan will be more help than you can imagine. There are lots of resources to help you build a great business plan. Nolo press has a great book called How To Write A Business Plan and it is available at most book stores or online. (I do not endorse any book or product for remuneration but have used this book and it is easy to understand and helped me tremendously). Another great source for doing your business plan is the Small Business Administration . However you decide to work through creating a business plan, do it, and do it with as much passion as you would shooting a gorgeous horse with a long flowing mane.
If you have absolutely no idea on how to run a business, you may want to invest some time attending some business classes. There are many free resources for this as well as seminars. Again the SBA is a great resource. What you will find is that being a photographer is actually only about 20% shooting and the other 80% you will find yourself in some sort of business mode – accounting, marketing, post process, etc. You may as well figure the hard stuff out now so you can apply yourself to your passion of shooting. So again, find some resources to help you learn the ins and outs of running your business, it will make your life easier in the long run!
Where are you going to run your business? Are you going to get a studio space? or are you going to use a spare bedroom in your home? we need to find out what the zoning ordinances are for our area. Some areas will not allow you to run a business out of your home. Other areas may allow you to run your business out of your home, but you can not have clients come to your home office. Your state comptroller can help point you in the right direction of where to find information for your area. The answer to this could determine where you have your business, so be sure to research this.
We have all heard of a sole proprietorship, LLC, S Corp and C- Corp, we are now at the point that we need to determine what kind of business we are going to be. But, how do you choose the right one? This is a very important area and way more information than we can discuss here, especially since I am not a tax advisor or an attorney. They way that taxes are dealt with are different for each classification, which makes this a must have conversation with a tax advisor who can help you determine the best option for you. Really the best way to decide which you should use is to have a conversation with your tax advisor. So make an appointment with your tax advisor and be sure to have all your questions written down to take with you so you can make a very informed decision about this step.
So what do you want to call your new baby?? For some their name is the easy route but perhaps you want to have a clever name, like S. Sylvester Photography…oh wait, that is soooo not clever. There are some great names out there that are being used. Our next stop on our business creating journey is to come up with a name. Your best bet is to come up with a few names that you like, because we are going to have to make sure that someone else is not using the name we want. For me I had to go to the Texas Comptroller to see if the name I wanted had been used yet. So find your local comptroller and check the names you like and see which are available. The other thing I made sure to check was to see if the website name was available. How awful would it be to have come up with a great business name, register it with your state and then find out that the website was taken by someone else? If a website is similar in name to yours, this could potentially cause your customers to end up at the wrong website, so make sure you research your web domain thoroughly. Network Solutions will let you check several web domains at one time.
Now depending on what type of business you have decided to register as, you may need to get a tax-id number. Your tax advisor can tell you if you will need a new tax id number. If you are doing a sole proprietorship, then you should be able to just use your social security number. To make sure we are doing things on the straight and narrow, check with your tax advisor to be sure if you need a new tax id or not. Last thing you want to do is go to file your taxes and realize that you have a huge mess because you don’t have a tax id number.
Guess what?? We are not done with tax stuff…..ughh. The next thing on the list is to obtain a tax license from your state and/or local municipality. What you need will depend on your location, again the state comptroller is your friend for this question. They really are great about helping new businesses get all the information needed to get going. Find out what you need, then file all the appropriate paperwork with them to get your license. Remember also to find out what you need to charge in the form of sales tax, and what is actually taxed. In Texas we have to charge tax on the session fee as well as any product, but some states the session fee is not taxed but products are. So make sure you know exactly what you need to charge tax for and then file your tax forms monthly or quarterly as your license dictates.
A very often overlooked step in the business process is insurance. Most homeowners policies do not cover businesses, and if you choose not to have insurance, you could actually run into problems with your homeowners insurance. “Why do I need it?’ you may ask, this scenario will hopefully help you understand why: Your friend wants cute pictures of her kid in the park that has that really cute little waterfall. You agree and off to the park we go with your gear and little Johnny in tow. Mom says “oh how cute would it be for him to sit on that rock next to the waterfall?” (now I am not talking a huge waterfall, just one of those cute little park ones…..) She sets Johnny up on the little rock, and he falls and hits his head and falls weird on his arm breaking it. Now we are off to the emergency room where Johnny gets stitches on his head and a really cool blue cast on his arm. Your friend has a $10k deductible that they have not yet met. The bill from today runs about $7k because the doctor wanted to do a ct scan since he hit his head, along with the xrays, cast, stitches etc. If your friend is super nice you may not have to pay anything, or they could ask you to pay the deductible (since you are the professional and should have known Johnny was going to maybe fall) or they could decide to sue you for damaging their precious little Johnny (even though he was being a brat and running all over and not listening to anyone). For me I would want my insurance co to say “we got this”. Horses can certainly create reasons for insurance!!
Contracts Yes you need them!!! Does not make a difference if you are shooting a horse show or a portrait session, have a contract. Remember we are running a business. Find an attorney who can help you with this. Attorneys are not scary or mean or any number of other horrible things. They want to see you succeed ad much as you do, so invest in your business and make sure you are protected.
Employees…..yes or no??? Most small startup companies usually do not have any employees other than the owner(s). If you plan on having employees, please check with your tax advisor and your state comptroller on what you need to do. Your tax advisor can help with 1099’s or W2’s depending on how you decide to deal with having employees.
Whew! I think that should keep you busy for a little while! Running a business is work, starting one is even more work, but it can be done and if done with much consideration and thought put into it should be successful and rewarding. A business plan can and should become your roadmap for the short term as well as your next 5 years. Each year make a point to revisit your business plan and revamp and tweak where needed, you will find it an amazing tool to help you keep your business in the black. Time to get to work and make your dream a reality!
© Suzanne Sylvester/S. Sylvester Photography