Business Startup Basics

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and I feel like I go blank. They say “So how did you start? How did you get where you are today?” ….. And I don’t have a 5 step program. I wish I did. 5 step programs make everything so much easier. Just do this, this and this and you’ll have a successful business. Welp, unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. It would be so nice if we could all buy a “Photographer’s Startup Kit” but they don’t exist.  They don’t exist because everyone’s story into photography is different… and thank goodness for that!  If we all followed a 5 step program, we would have matching blogs, the same editing style and the same business all together. How boring!!!

So while I don’t have a “Photographer’s Startup Kit” available for download… I do have some tips.  Now, these tips for starting up your photography business are based off of my personal experience. For some of you, this model won’t work…. because you’re not me and we may be VERY different in our approach to business. You all have different strengths and weaknesses and it’s important to realize those before you try to implement these things. If you’re NOT a great blogger and actually DEPISE the “Add new post” button…. don’t blog. It will  be a waste of time for you.  Who wants to follow someone who despises writing a blog post everyday?! Not me! So make sure that the business ideas that you’re implementing WORK for you.


I started into this crazy business when I was a Junior in college. I really just started on a whim. I second shot two weddings, loved graphic design, was obsessed with interior decorating and so I launched “Inspired Designs”.  I just wanted to be creative…. so I launched a business that did it ALL. Mistake #1.  What I was really doing was trying to figure myself out. What did I LOVE most….what did I only love doing for myself but not for clients? Where were my strengths?! “Inspired Designs” very quickly became SOLELY a photography business.  Once I realize that photography was my main passion… I went full speed ahead. Here are some of the FIRST big to-do’s when you’re launching a small business: (and ps. I’m including images so that this isn’t the most boring post known to MAN!)


1. DECIDE ON A NAME: a clearly defined NAME.  I learned from experience that using “Katelyn James Photography” instead of “Inspired Designs” was a HUGE game changer for me.  You’re selling YOU…. so people have to know who you are.  If your business name is “Over the Stars Photography” ….. It’s cute, but I have NO idea who the photographer is. Again, this is JUST my opinion. I had a business name for 2 years that didn’t represent me and that hurt me in the long run.


2.  SAVE YOUR DOMAIN.  Go to or any other hosting site and buy the BEST domain that is available!! I bought “” when I was in HIGHSCHOOL!!! Yes, when I was 15 I thought to myself “Someone is going to steal that domain! I better snatch it up!”. So I did. I paid $5.99 for 5 years to keep that domain and FINALLY I had a reason to use it when my business launched. Best $30 I’ve ever spent.


3.  The BRAND & ONLINE PRESENCE: Start building ideas for your brand. Create a Pinterest board and PIN anything that you LOVE and represents YOU. Hopefully, you’ll start to see a pattern and you can start forming a brand that resembles who you are and what you love. I realize money is an issue when you’re first starting out…. but starting with bad branding will only cost you more money in the long run. Find a talented friend or designer that can help you create a unique brand for your new business.  (Logo, colors, overall feel of the brand, website, etc.).  Your toughest job is to make clients believe you’re legit when you’re just starting out. If you don’t have a professional logo or website…. it’s harder for prospective clients to take you seriously. A facebook fanpage is great… but a 13 year old middle schooler could start a photography fanpage….you have to take it a step further.


4. PRACTICE & the PORTFOLIO: Many believe that you can launch a website and just start charging whatever you want for your services. I understand how exciting this is. I used to dream about pricing and new products to offer, etc. etc….. and then I realized… I’m NOT THAT GOOD!!! I needed to improve my SKILLS so that this business was actually worth what I thought it was worth! Try not to get caught up in the “pricing” when you’re a beginner. The GREATEST thing you can do to push your new business forward is to PRACTICE and gain a GREAT portfolio!  The more you shoot, the more experience you have and the more your name is being passed around! Second shooting is a GREAT way to do this! Eventually, you will have a portfolio of 40-50 GREAT images for your website and you will hopefully have created a BUZZ about your new business. That leads me to the 5th tip!


5. The BUZZ!  When you first launch a business…. you can’t spend $1500 on a print ad in a magazine…and even if you could afford it, I would never suggest that you do that. I would advise new business owners to take advantage of what is FREE and POWERFUL…. and that’s Social Media! If you have a small business and aren’t on Facebook……lets just say, you need to get an account TODAY! RIGHT NOW.  It’s free and it has viral capabilities!  New photographers, TAG your clients in their images! Share albums on their wall!  Comment about how much FUN their session was!  You will be creating a BUZZ about your business with just a few clicks! Some people give up on facebook because they say “Well I only had 100 fans”.  Ok, lets think about that….. that’s 100 PEOPLE that are actively viewing your work! If just ONE of those 100 people has a close friend that is getting married and has a tight budget… guess who they are going to think about referring that friend to… YOU. But you can’t expect referrals like that when you’re not constantly updating your fanpage. Don’t give up….it’s not like you’re losing marketing money with facebook…. you have nothing to lose! USE THIS FREE MARKETING TOOL!!!  Twitter is the same story! It’s tough to get followers but if you follow some of the mainstream planners, stylists and venues in your area…. it may only take one retweet for them to notice you! …. But you have to take that risk! Put yourself out there.


6. The MONEY: Create a separate checking account and open up a business credit card account. Keep your finances separate… believe me, this will save you SO much time in the long run. Only purchase BUSINESS purchases with your credit/debit card so that you can constantly see what you’re bringing in and what you’re spending to make your business run.  When you’re buying new flats from target AND new ink cartridges on the same transaction…. how are you monitoring your business costs? It gets tricky that way. Simplify your accounts and make the business SEPARATE! When I started my “Katelyn’s Krafts” business in high school… I used this system… and it works! Trust me!


7. TAXES and the BUSINESS LICENSE:  The day you start getting paid for your services, you need to apply for a business license. It stinks. It’s paperwork and it’s NOT FUN… but it has to be done.  Once you file a business license with your county, you will have to start paying monthly income tax for the first year or so. Again, this isn’t fun either. I totally understand. (ps. This is VA law, everything may be different elsewhere).  If you’re a VA photographer… here comes some more not-so-fun news. We have to pay SALES TAX…..yes, even if we’re not selling products. It’s ridiculous but here is the proof.  We, by law, have to tax our time and services. So not only do you need to be paying income tax, you have to charge your clients .05% sales tax and file that monthly.   If anyone has time to lobby against this…. I’ll be your biggest cheerleader! Seriously, it’s not fair. The state knows they can make a killing taxing our time…. but why aren’t lawyers, mechanics or any service taxed for their time? We should pay sales tax on products… like everyone else. (This ends my rambling!:)   Bascially, bottom line, whatever the law says, you are responsible to do it.  Paying penalties for un-filed sales taxes because “You weren’t aware of the law” is not fun. (I know from experience). Do it the RIGHT WAY…. from the START!   Tip: SAVE receipts, make a spreadsheet of equipment purchases, use!)


8. MAKE FRIENDS! This sounds so childish but it’s SO valuable. If you start a business and then sit in the corner, just hoping that friends will come your way…. you’re going to be waiting a LONG time. Get involved with Facebook groups, start attending meetups! Invest in a workshop (mine or any other one that sounds interesting!) Email another new photographer and form a relationship with one another. Believe it or not, there ARE photographers around you that would love to be FRIENDS… not competition! You just have to look in the right places to find them! Put yourself out there and take a risk. So what if a few more experienced photographers shoot you down….that’s only hurting them in the long run. Continue to search for friends that will become companions in this industry!

9. CREATE CONSISTENCY! This may be one of the BIGGEST tips I have.  You have to be consistent. If you’re just starting and only shoot once a month… you can’t randomly just post about that shoot… you have to create constant conversations.  I started doing this through a BLOG. Wanna see where I started? Welp, here ya go! This is my FIRST BLOG.   It was nothing special….nothing fancy… just a little Typepad blog with off centered images because I didn’t understand coding.  This was nothing amazing… but it was constant. I posted on this blog and on Facebook as OFTEN as I could because I knew that if I stopped talking about my business… everyone else would to. You HAVE to be consistent. If you’re new and you’re not shooting until May… blog about your new business cards, your branding ideas, your new lens, shoot something for fun! & blog it!  Allow people to be a part of this journey WITH YOU! They will connect to that…. if you’re consistent!


10. Decide to KEEP GOING! The first year can be the hardest. You’re probably not going to make any money, you’ll have to work harder than you ever have and you’ll be tired…. decide to KEEP GOING. Decide to keep pushing forward and taking risks. This isn’t over until you allow it to be over. If this is truly your PASSION… make a commitment to keep fighting for your dream!

So I hope this wasn’t just a rambling list of advice. People ask all the time about what my advice would be and this post is it! I didn’t figure everything out on my own and so I think it’s only fair that I try to pay it forward as well! I’m so thankful for the leaders in the industry that believed in me and pushed me to think BIGGER…. I hope this post did that for some of you today! Enjoy this beautiful Monday and here’s to a productive week!!


xoxo, Katelyn
73 Comments Ask Anything, Education, Resources
  1. Crystal Sprague reply

    Thank you so much for this post!

  2. Jessica Hunt reply


    You have no idea how much this just encouraged me today. I actually JUST launched my website and blog today, which really means, I launched my business. Thank you for all the great advice! I hope to attend one of your workshops and am (GET THIS) dreaming and saving now for you to shoot my wedding in a few years.

    Thank you for everything you do for us little photogs out there,

    Jessica Hunt

  3. Joseph Fiore Jr. reply

    I couldn’t agree more with point 6. It is far easier to just charge things to different accounts than it is to sit with a box full of receipts having to figure out how much was personal and how much was business related spending. Great points!

  4. heatherk reply

    amazing advice! thank you so much for it. There are alot of things I still need to do!
    I am so glad to have met you at the fix! you are AMAZING!

  5. Lupe Ruiz reply

    This is sooo perfect! thank you again!!!

  6. Kimber Wassenberg reply

    Great tips! I’m going to keep this post in mind and come back to it whenever I need to. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Kari Jeanne reply

    Thanks for sharing!! Great tips :)

  8. Lauren Jolly reply

    Thanks for all your great advice! Posts like this get me pumped to be productive and get going!!

  9. ashley reply

    this is no boring at all!! thank you for sharing this great information~

  10. ashley reply

    sorry….i meant, “not” boring :)

  11. sarah danaher reply

    aaaaaaand I’m at the “decide to keep going!” point. =) thanks for good tips!

  12. Saira reply

    This is probably one of the best, quickest to read, but most comprehensive Advice to Beginners article I’ve read since I’ve been searching for stuff like this! I am so glad I came upon it, and it was really perfect timing because I was starting to give up on myself, after seeing so many flourish around me and wonder what I was doing wrong. I need to have the right mindset and follow these tips!

  13. Faye Bernoulli reply

    I have THEEEE hardest time with blogging consistently :( HOw do you do it Katelyn?!

  14. Allison Marshall reply

    Thank you Katelyn! I am definitely going to use these tips, and will send this post to any new photogs who are looking into ‘going pro’ :)

  15. Heather Holleger reply

    Thanks for your great advice!!! :)

  16. Jade reply

    Love it.. Thank you :) I really hope you come out to Australia soon :)

  17. Charis @ Gifts of Grace reply

    wow — great thoughts! Thank you so much for sharing Katelyn!

  18. Deborah Zoe reply

    First time I was able to check today… and I was surprised by not only an amazing post but US:)! love!! Thanks for sharing the knowledge you’ve learned, you’re helping so many people!

  19. Patricia Carlisle reply

    I’m currently a junior in college trying to make it in photography! This post was so encouraging to me! Thanks for sharing your knowledge! I loved reading it!

  20. milsztof reply

    Great post. The hardest thing is to keep going not only shooting but marketing at all the time.

  21. Sarah reply

    Ahh Katelyn!!! Just what I needed to hear!! Even though it’s not a photography business, It’s always great to hear advice on how to start your own company, especially the branding side!! Thanks for the encouraging and realistic words of wisdom!!

  22. mari reply

    Thank You, thank you, thank you. I will be back to this blog because you have me come for more :)!

  23. Annetta reply

    Thanks so much for this Katelyn.

  24. lee sun hee reply

    These are ALL AMAZING tips! No really! Thanks for sharing Katelyn. Your work is beautiful, keep it up.

  25. Heather Deadrick reply

    This is so helpful! You are an awesome blogger and I love to read what you have to say. I am a junior in college right now and you make me feel like I can do anything! Thanks for the awesome blog!!!!

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  27. Jennifer Harrup reply

    Katelyn, this was great advice! I’m a wedding planner (remember me, I’m always asking to feature your amazing work??) so I know this wasn’t geared directly towards me, but I would say 99% of it was still applicable. I am almost finished with my first year in business and I loved looking back to see your first blog! You’ve come a long way and I can’t wait to see where I am in five yeas!

  28. name* reply

    thank you, this was seriously so encouraging and helpful!

  29. Megan reply

    Thanks so much Katelyn!! I am in my first year, and it’s soo tough like you say. It’s encouraging to hear how you started out and how not to give up. :)

  30. Rachel Lynn reply

    Wow… 10 is so powerful; I recently started a small business and that is just what I needed to hear. :-) Thank you!

  31. Charity reply

    Great advice!! …can WE be friends?…lol

  32. Becky reply

    I really loved browsing through your old blog. I know consistency is essential with blogging, but all of the blogs I follow are way more established than me, and so had a lot more work to blog about. It was really great to see some of the things you blogged about in the beginning. Thanks!

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  34. Emily Cerasani reply

    What do you use to design you albums? Where do you order them from?

  35. kiyah reply

    so helpful!!

  36. Jessica Bonestroo reply

    Katelyn, I have really been struggling with my business name and have thought about changing it so many times but I feel like it is too late. Like I am commited to it now. I really want to change it to my name but I am afraid i will risk loosing the business I already have..Help!

  37. Sherlene reply

    You’re so awesome! I don’t believe I’ve read anything like that before. So great to find another person with a few unique thoughts on this topic. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This site is one thing that is required on the web, someone with a little originality!

  38. sasha reply

    This was so helpful

  39. lindsay reply

    Hi! I found your blog/article on pinterest… it’s super inspiring, thank you:) I’m an aspiring photographer in north dakota, and also a stylist at a salon. I just thought i’d throw in that I can’t believe they charge you taxes for your time!! I can’t imagine being charged for doing hair, or taking pictures! Crazy!
    Anyways, thanks again :)

  40. Nina reply

    Incredible points. Outstanding arguments. Keep up the greaqt spirit.

  41. Lauren Cyr reply

    Thank you for all the detailed inspirational and logical advice! this year (2014) was first year of being a licensed business. all your steps have made it clear of what i need to keep going and use for taxes, sales, marketing, etc and over all love for being a photographer! many thanks!!

  42. Annalise Richardson reply

    I loved this blog! All the tips are extremely helpful. When did you decide to change your business name to Katelyn James? Was it a big hassle to change? I’ve already gone through the process of making an LLC and getting an EIN under my business name, is there an easy way to make a switch without paying all over again?

  43. Lauren reply

    Thank you so much for this! These are some great tips!

  44. Lauren reply

    you have such a kind heart. Thank you very much for your educational resources, they really fill in the blanks and that is appreciated more than you know!

  45. Mai reply

    I love what I read…. Thank you so much for inspiring me.

  46. Careen reply

    very inspiring. I am planning on starting a photography business with a friend. I believe these tips from you will be of great help.

  47. Bobbi Bryant reply

    Hi Katelyn, I’m just starting out and have not gotten my business license yet. I’m going to be doing it soon. I read your blog here and it was so helpful. I do have a question. It says we have to pay monthly taxes. What are we paying taxes on and what if we didn’t make money that month? How exactly does that work?

  48. Tanya Moon reply

    Katelyn, Thank you so much for all your wisdom and insight! You are truly an inspiration!! My husband and I have only been in photography for 8 months now, but it has become our passion. I heard of you through the Turn it Up Community and I am so glad to have found you! You are so inspiring, and I love your personality and style. We have not shot a wedding yet, but we have had several inquiries and we can’t wait to get started. We are learning so much from you, thank you!

    • Katelyn James reply

      You’re so welcome Tanya!!! I’m glad you found us through Turn It Up!! :) Wishing you and your husband all the best as you pursue this together!!!

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  52. Jaydee Reid reply

    Thank you sooooo much for this. I am not new to business but could almost say I am. I started 2012 struggling but doing it little by little. But I guess I just wasn’t building the foundation correctly. I recently had to move due to my husbands work and my photography came to complete stop. Now I’m struggling to even start back up. So… I am picking my self up and working hard to get going. Thank you for all your advise.

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  57. Jeri reply

    Thank you so much for the advice. What has kept me from starting my photography business is, yes fear, and basically where do I begin. This has been a tremendous help.

  58. Rachel J. reply

    This was such an awesome post, blew my mind, thank you so much!!! I just found you today and was searching through your blog, but did you by any chance ever do a “what’s in my camera bag” post? I am just starting out, and after having the same gear for longer than I should, I am looking to upgrade and always curious what lenses are recommended etc. If you have a post like this, would you be able to post the link to it? If not, no worries :-) And thank you for your time!!!

    • Katelyn James reply

      Hi Rachel, I do have a post about my preferred equipment that may be helpful for you ! You can check it out here:

  59. Angelica reply

    Thank you so much for this post. I am currently in the process of trying to start a small photography buisness and I feel like I’m going through the same questions. This is truely inspiring and it encourages me to keep moving forward with my ideas and it will get somewhere.

  60. Vi reply

    This has really helped me as I’m also thinking about starting a photography business since I have been getting paid for photography services. I just don’t know how to price my services. I also live in Virginia. Do you have any advice on pricing?

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  62. Farren reply

    Thanks for the advice. I have been taking photos on the side for about 3 years and have decided to get my business license and attempt to try to get 1-2 a weekend since I work full time. My question is, how do you figure out what to charge? Right now, I’m cheap and I feel like a still don’t get a lot of business. I look at other photographers in my area and feel my pictures are just as good as theirs and they are charging double! Should I go ahead and raise my prices even though I may not have the customer base? I don’t want to lose the ones I got, but I feel like I’m worth more, especially when I get a license. Thanks!

    Farren w/Farren’s Foto’s

    • Katelyn James reply

      Hi Farren, We actually have a free downloadable PDF “5 Signs that it’s time to raise your prices”, that may be helpful for you! Hope this helps!!

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  65. Shawna Adler reply

    This was extremely helpful. I’m a bidding photographer in Virginia. I’ve created a Facebook page and I have the equipment but you’re right, pushing and selling myself and my business/talents is a huge part of it. Unfortunately I do get discouraged sometimes and think I won’t have a successful business because I find myself looking at how far I have to go rather than how far I’ve already come. I’m currently working on my business cards, business lisence, watermark, website and logo. It’s something I’ve dreamed of doing for a very long time and I only dabble here and there. T habks for the encouraging tips and advice, it’s all things I already knew but it was great to have the assurance from a successful photographer that’s been through the same thought process as me. Great read!

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  68. Miriam reply

    “If you stop talking about your business, everyone else will too.” THANK YOU!

  69. Rebecca reply

    Oh my gosh, Katelyn, you are such a saint. Your posts are the most insightful and I honestly don’t know what I would be doing with myself without all of these helpful tips. I have just about a dozen posts pinned and I constantly refer back to them. Bless you for sharing your experiences with those of us who are just getting started.

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