Nothing included here constitutes legal advice, but the hotlinks will direct you to people in the organizations that CAN give you detailed instructions on exactly how to accomplish whatever task is at hand. While this article is definitely geared towards people in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the process is similar regardless of where you live. If you think of this article as a compass that will point you in the right direction, you and your favourite internet search engine can sort the rest out. :)
If you think I've left something out, know of a great resource I missed, or wish to add something, please use the contact form here and let me know!
If you get through this list in under 4 weeks you are a) a liar, b) a superhero or c) missing a lot of steps. Before you start thinking this is all going to take a day or two, think again. It will take several hours over several weeks to put everything in place. Once you accept this reality, you can develop a much more realistic timeline and not risk overlooking something important by trying to rush through it or take the easy route. Expect to spend a ridiculous amount of time on the phone and the internet, in permit offices, and on hold. And it's all OK. Deep cleansing breaths and a lot of patience will help you do it right the first time and protect you from frustration and disaster later.
An excellent place to start when developing a strategy for starting a new business is to take the time needed to develop a proper business plan. You can find free samples everywhere but I really like the one available at Alberta Women Entrepreneurs.
Determine the kind of business you are going to run. Is it a sole proprietorship? Partnership? Will you incorporate? Once you figure this part out you can start looking at things like if you are going to register the business and open a separate bank account or take payments in your own name and throw the money in your regular bank account. If you do not live in Alberta, you need to check your provincial or state legislation for specific rules that apply to your area. You can find affordable editable legal forms online here. If you need help with incorporating, I have used Business Develop Canada's services before and found them to be knowledgeable, affordable, and incredibly easy to work with.
You do not have to have a business number unless you make over $30,000 and are required to collect and remit GST, or if you have employees. You can register for a business number here.
NAMING YOUR COMPANY, TRADE NAMES
Find a NUANS search provider in your area. This will help you determine if you can register your business name or if it's already in use. Be prepared with a few options just in case. Make sure to do a search for your desired domain name in case you want your dotcom/dotca to match.
BUSINESS LICENSE/PERMITS (MUNICIPAL)
Yes, you need to inquire about a license or permit for every municipality in which you perform work, even if you are taking money in your home town only. This applies to neighbouring towns, other provinces, and international locations as well, where you may be required to get a work permit or visa if you don't want your equipment confiscated, harassment from local authorities, or a jail term. Banff and Mexico are well-organized when it comes to monitoring outsiders. In Alberta, pretty much all you need to know about how to obtain a business license for most municipalities can be found at Bizpal. To find your own provincial Bizpal visit here.
You will need to determine how you are going to handle your banking. Are you going to accept cash only? Debit? EMT? Credit cards? Do you need to be able to take payments on site or mobile? What kinds of service fees are you allowed to pass along to your clients? What are the pros and cons of mixing your business income with your personal bank account? The best plan for setting up your business banking properly is just to make an appointment with the bank. You may want to do a bit of background checking on who has the best business rates - http://www.pcfinancial.ca
LOANS v. LEASING
Generally, leasing and renting offer better write-offs than purchasing and depreciation. Interest is not always tax deductible, either. An accountant will be able to advise you on what parts of your loans and/or leasing you can write off but only a TAX LAWYER can offer legal advice. If you feel confident in your ability to decipher tax laws, you can visit the Canada Revenue Agency and research what deductions are allowable and which ones are not.
EMPLOYEES v. SUBCONTRACTORS
You may need to have helpers from time to time. To determine if they are employees or subcontractors, use this status of a worker form. The IRS has similar information available.
Companies are required to pay Workers' Compensation. Contact your provincial branch to find out what kind of coverage you need, where to remit, etc.
There are both Personal Income Tax and Business Tax - here is a handy set of calculators and tables if you want to get a guesstimate of your Federal & Provincial business and income taxes. You will pay taxes differently if you pay yourself as an employee, if you are incorporated, etc. You may contact CRA directly or consult with an accountant to tax lawyer for details specific to your business.
GST/HST - Basically, total GST collected less total GST spent = GST remittance (refund.)
This guy is a Canuck and has a great Tax resource site.
PROFESSIONAL DESIGNATIONS AND MEMBERSHIPS
There are pros and cons to becoming a member of any number of professional organizations. Some require a peer jury for admission while others simply accept your dues and allow you to hang up a sign. You will have to decide personally which organizations you feel are legit. One of the biggest benefits of belonging to a professional photography organization lies in its ability to provide you with group health benefits and insurance rates. PPOC and PPA are organizations that offer both accreditation and benefits/insurance.
LIABILITY, PROPERTY AND BUSINESS INSURANCE
You should talk to your insurance agent (I don't know who he or she is but YOU do) to see if you qualify for any discounts by compounding your business with your existing home or vehicle policy, or you may contact any one of a number of insurance companies for a quote. If you have a physical location, your building manager may have minimum insurance requirements.
EMPLOYEE HEALTH AND OTHER BENEFITS
If you are running a small business with 5 or less employees it is often not cost-effective to set up a health benefits plan. A Google search will find you tonnes of companies you can request quotes from. You may also encourage your employees (if they are eligible photographers) to sign up for PPOC/APA to access group benefits.
COPYRIGHT AND IMAGE USAGE RIGHTS
Canadian Copyright Law is pretty straight forward - you own your images and have the authority to restrict how your clients use them by creating a personal or commercial license. This should all be addressed in your contract or model release.
CONTRACTS, RELEASES AND OTHER FORMS
Here's a collection of basic photography forms that you may modify to comply with your federal and state/provincial laws. Here's a subscribe and get it free wedding contract download from Tofurious who also has an incredible amount of marketing resources on his site. It's also highly valuable to create a number of "canned responses" such as a tip sheet for what to wear or bring to your session, an "away from the office" reply, and a price sheet.
WORK FLOW AND TIME MANAGEMENT
I highly recommend installing a time tracker on your computer. It will help you see how much time is spent doing legitimate work v. putzing by monitoring which websites you are on vs. which software you are using. It's really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you are working really hard and getting nowhere when you are actually just wasting a tonne of time on social media or surfing YouTube. You may wish to come up with a written workflow for yourself so that you have something to refer back to when you feel yourself getting sidetracked. For example, you could put a hard copy or a digital copy of your own checklist with each client:
Book, get all client info, send style guide or tip sheet with invoice
Send receipt and confirm location, booking, weather 2 days before session
Get contract and model release signed
Back Up Originals
Sort Photos 1 - garbage out
Sort Photos 2 - faves
Sort Photos 3 - find missing details
Sort Photos 4 - cull to quantity (ie 500
Export final cull to separate folder
Back Up final cull
Choose & Process Teasers
Post Teasers on Facebook, ask clients to share
Process images in Photoshop/Lightroom
Back Up professed images
Upload proofing gallery/schedule IPS meeting
Collect balance due
Design Albums, send prints in, etc.
Review and repackage competed products
Deliver gift and completed product to client
Some software (like StudioCloud) will actually send you reminders for this sort of thing but this can work if you are more of a hard-copy in a binder type. Others use whiteboards or desk calendars. The point being, you need to be organized so things don't fall through the cracks and so that you know exactly what the status of each clients' session is at a glance.
You will need to invest in some software. You will likely need either Lightroom or Photoshop (or both) and they can be found on Adobe Cloud for $20 - $50/month (probably less than you spend on your cell phone bill.) Cloud allows you to forever have the most current version of their software. You *can* buy CS6 still but Adobe is phasing out supporting all its older versions meaning they will not be updated with information to handle new formats, may not be compatible with newer operating systems, etc. Blogging will become a part of your life and you can make manual storyboards but if you want to save time you may want to invest in something like Blogstomp, Storyboard (Canadian!) or Compositor. When designing albums you may create composites/storyboards using InDesign or Photoshop or whatever but most pro lab systems ("ROES") have online design capabilities with free templates. Please review "Bookkeeping & Accounting" for business software.
MARKETING (BRANDING, ADVERTISING)
People go to school for 4 years to get degrees in marketing so don't expect a lot here other than knowing you need to consider your corporate image and how you will promote your business. Relying on social media with an "if you build it they will come" mentality will fail you miserably. You can find all kinds of detailed marketing advice for photographers online (I recommend Tofurious because he's clever AND entertaining) but my top two tips are: 1) develop a corporate identity (a lot of what goes into this will come from doing your business planning way back on Day One) and 2) make a marketing plan which includes some sort of market analysis or research (you may have done this already in your business plan) so you can properly target your campaigns. There is both free and paid software to help you with getting the word out - I suggest checking out Mailchimp and Hubspot; Studiocloud has a built-in calendar for this and (for a price) places like Sandy Puc's SPU actually do the marketing plan FOR you with ready-made templates and stuff.
Yes, social media gets its own category. There are pros and cons to using social media, but the general rule of thumb for photographers is that social media is a great way to inform existing clients and not so great for recruiting new clients. Even a post that gets 1000 likes doesn't mean your making a penny off it, whch makes it expecially frustrating since it takes so much damned time managing all your accounts - Facebook, Instagram, Vines, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. etc. etc. Managing several social media accounts can be difficult so you may want to look at some social media integration apps (both paid and free versions exist.)
WEBSITES, BLOGS AND ONLINE PROOFING
You need an online portfolio, period. Whether you use a blogsite, a hosting company, or get something fabulously custom made, you need to be able to send someone to your website. Here are many web and blog site hosts you can investigate. You can also check out companies that specialize in online proofing. If you wanna stay Canadian, check out zoomphoto.ca or showmyphoto.ca Pricing varies - free, pay and go, pay as you go, set-up + monthly fee, etc. Some offer clients self-fulfillment and direct shipping of orders while others you need to order separately from your printer based on their online order. Spend some time determining what your needs are and find a website host that fills those needs within your budget.
WHERE TO GET GEAR, PAPER BACKDROPS, CANVASSES, PRINTS, ALBUMS, DIGITAL MEDIA, PACKAGING, ETC.
Here is a review of some of the most popular labs. Many pro labs offer both packaging AND printing of everything from prints, albums and keychains to custom USBs and picture tins. Check for local printers first - in a pinch you might need something local so it's good to know. In Edmonton and Area every photographer should know about (in alphabetical order) Don's, McBain, Technicare, and Vistek. Photobooks can be printed lots of places in a variety of styles and price ranges - check to see which ones are 100% Canadian is you want your $$$ to stay in Canada. High-end albums are usually available through professional printers only. eBay and Kijiji, and local Facebook groups are a great resource, too.
A NOTE ABOUT STARTER GEAR
I often get asked what gear a photographer should buy first. I get asked what brand, too, but I don't discuss brand - that's up to you entirely. I shoot Pentax and if they ever went out of business I'd go Nikon, not because Canon makes bad gear but because I'm still bitter about one of their marketing campaigns back in 2001. While the lenses you end up using most to shoot your subject matter (landscape, models, cars, flowers, whatever) will eventually form part of your style, you do need a starting point. My advice is simple - your camera body will get updgraded several times, so start investing in good glass because frankly, while I 100% believe it's not about the camera, you will still get better results putting a $3000 lens on a $600 body than a $300 lens on a $6000 body. Here is a great place to get reviews on camera gear before investing in equipment. You can check local stores (listed in previous section), try eBay for new and used gear, or check on Kijiji or photographer forums for used gear.
Here's a versatile starter kit, available in whatever brand floats your boat:
1) 50mm f1.4 - a nice fast lens with great bokeh and little distortion
2) An inexpensive zoom, erring on the side of wide (you can always crop to zoom in but can never zoom out in post)
3) flash with pivot and swivel capabilities if possible
4) the best body you can afford after buying those two lenses and your flash
Also nice to have fairly early on:
decent camera strap and bag - you will get sore carrying your gear after a couple of hours
remote - always handy for selfies, hard-to-reach places, stealth shooting, and distracting children (cheap ones can run under a buck...)
tripod (if you pay less than $50 0r $60 you're just putting your camera needlessly in danger)
portable OCF kit (stand, bracket, & diffuser) (cheap ones run about $40 but don't forget to buy a sandbag, too!)
BUDGETS AND PRICING
Here is a great calculator to help you determine roughly how much is "enough" to cover your personal financial needs and goals as well as your COGS and operating costs. This will determine how you go about setting your prices and hours of work. Here are some free business calculators you might find helpful when determining your operating costs and cost of goods sold.
Now that you know how much you need to make to meet your financial goals, you need to set prices. It is generally not feasible to be a profitable or sustainable business shooting 1-hour sessions for $50. While it might feel like you are making money, you are taking time and money away from your family to subsidize a hobby that isn't even supporting itself. Rather than reinvent the wheel, there are several wonderful articles out there that already explain this in brilliant detail. I suggest reading all three of these, because they take such different approaches:
I love this one. It's geared towards weddings but really has a great way of presenting things in a logical way.
Creative Orange Juice might be a little TOO simplified but you get the basic idea (and a free video tutorial)
Psychology for Photographers - while I admit "Easy as Pie" is NOT my cup of tea and I do not like (read: hate) the language the author uses but to balance me out thankfully there are people who disagree with me and can be more objective about the value of this popular resource.
ACCOUNTING AND BOOKKEEPING
You will be required to keep detailed records of your income and expenses. Here are federal guidelines for your reference. You do not need to be an accountant to do your own bookkeeping - there are many free or inexpensive online software companies with a variety of pre-made templates and options such as Wave (my fave), Kashoo (rave reviews from industry professionals), and Studio Cloud (which is specifically designed for photographers). You might want to brush up on a few accounting terms.
If you aren't ready yet or can't afford to set up your own studio, in addition to being able to rent My Edmonton Studio, Edmonton has a number of other rental options suitable for different uses. If you wish to set up a physical location (including one in your home) you will need to check with your municipality and make sure that the location is zoned for that type of activity. After finding a location (Kijiji is my suggestion) you will need to consider equipment (printer/copier, lighting, projection, sound, etc.), furnishings (seating, props), decor (curtains, paint/baseboards, sample prints/albums), and props, backdrops, draping & costumes, as well as specific-to-photography goodies like wall-mounted paper roll systems, sandbags, and beanbag posers. Both the size and how you furnish and decorate your space need to reflect the type of photography you do - you will want a change table if you are catering to babies and it might be a good idea to avoid glass vases if you are having kids in your studio, whereas if you are doing boudoir you will likely want a make-up and/or changing area and a bed.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND NETWORKING
Keeping your skills up to snuff is important. If there is a specific skill you are lacking (Lightroom/Photoshop, OCF or lighting, newborn posing, boudoir, etc.) you can ask My Edmonton Studio to bring it in for you OR you may look at taking a class that is already scheduled. Professional development is a valuable investment not only in maintaining and improving your technical proficiency so that you may better serve your clients, but in developing a network of colleagues who will support you as well as provide valuable referrals. You may also consider joining online photography forums on Facebook (Edmonton has tonnes of groups in a variety of special interest areas - ask your photography friends for an invite or check out Facebook's suggestions) There are local meet-up groups as well as larger international forums, none of which I will suggest as I prefer to stay active more in local forums as they tend to have harder leads on local clients and resources.