5 Steps to Creating Your Photography Business for Less Than $100

May 13, 2014

Recently, I have been considering what to do once I retire from the Marine Corps.  It's coming up quick and I've known for a long time that I want to work for myself once I retire.  With that in mind, I've thought about what makes me happy.  The answer is photography, plain and simple.  I prefer landscape, wildlife, and nighttime photographyand those all have one thing in common.  They don't involve people.  I'll go into this in a later post, but knowing what I enjoy about photography I began to think how can I monetize this into a sustainable career after the military.  Fine Art didn't seem like it would be a suitable market to sustain a living off of so I did a little more thinking and came up with Real Estate Photography.

This instantly intrigued me and I began to look into it and do some research.  I emailed my realtor and friend, Alexis Pierson asking her thoughts about the market, explaining my vision, and where I would like to go, in order to facilitate a professional real estate agents thoughts on Real Estate Photography.  Although we didn't discuss specifics, everything we did discuss seemed achievable and aligned with what I was looking to do.  So I set out to create my business and below are the steps, which may vary by state, that you should follow to legally setup your business.

  1. Create a Business Plan.  While creating a business plan is not a required step to legally creating your business, it is entirely too important not to mention.  Creating a business plan is essential in that it gives you a clear statement of your business mission and vision.  It can help you decided whether you should continue on or stop and help you get the money you need in order to establish any immediate overhead costs such as photography equipment.  It helps keep you on track by setting a clear path to guide you along the way and most importantly, it improves your odds of success.
  2. Doing Business As (DBA).  This actually has a few names, which also includes Fictitious Name, Assumed Name, etc.  If you are using anything other than your first and last name as your business, then you need a DBA.  However, adding something to the end of your name such as “Tracey Higginbotham Photography” creates some controversy.  When I spoke with Business Link North Carolina they recommended to get a DBA to be on the safe side and I agree.  In order to file for your DBA, simply contact your local Clerk of Courts to see if your potential business name is available which they will typically search for free depending on your location.  Once you have your name picked out and available, fill out the documentation which is generally a page long, sign in front of a notary and have it notarized.  Turn the notarized document into your Clerk of Courts along with the application fee, which is a one time fee of $26 in Onslow, NC though this will vary by state and county.
  3. State Privilege License.  While not required in every state, most do require you to have a trade license with the cost varying by trade.  In the state of North Carolina, the application for a State Privilege License is also one page long and has a $50 “tax” which is required yearly.  Keep in mind when paying your yearly license tax, you'll also be required to submit a renewal application along with it.
  4. Federal Tax Identification Number.  Because I am filing as a sole proprietor to start off with, I do not need a Federal Tax Identification Number which is also known as an Employer Identification Number (EIN).  However, if I was filing as a Corporation, Partnership, or employing people, I would need one.  For more information on whether you need an EIN, visit IRS.gov.
  5. State Sales & Use Tax.  Whether you're going to provide your clients with prints or digital copies, you will be required to collect sales tax and pay them to the state.  There is some controversy around collecting tax on digital media, however, it is better to collect the tax and pay to the state, vice not collecting it and having to pay fines.  Additionally, from everything I read on the North Carolina Department of Revenue website, it was pretty clear you need to pay taxes on digital files.  Getting your Sales and Use Tax ID is pretty straight forward and is free in most states.  In the state of North Carolina, you can visit the North Carolina Department of Revenue and register your account via their automated system.  Upon completing your registration, you'll immediately receive your Account ID and within about two weeks you'll receive your documentation in the mail.


In conclusion, it takes five steps and $76 in the state of North Carolina to setup your own photography business the legal way. Why risk the fines and liabilities of not establishing your business you are working so hard for?

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