Definition of Photography Business
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Old 04-01-2013   #1
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Default Definition of Photography Business

I know this topic has been discussed a lot but I notice a lot of disagreement about what the definition of a photography business on many different forums and discussion boards. So what does it actually take?
  • Does it have to be a 40+ plus a week commitment?
  • Do you have to have a Brick & Mortar Studio with a business address?
  • Do you need make a certain amount of revenue?
  • Do you have to employ others?
  • Do you need 100's of clients a week?
  • Does it have to be full time employment or could it be a weekend warrior?
  • Do you have to be professional to be considered a business?
  • Do you have to be competent or skillful to be considered a business?
Am I wrong to say that those who have created a legal and proper public presence and also trade services and products for compensation of some sort are considered to have a business? Now, this does not make them successful or professional but a business nonetheless.

Another question I have in my mind is what is the right/correct way to start a photography business? Is it starting out as a assistant? How about starting a part time business to see how things work and learn as you go without making the full time risk? How about building a portfolio to gain more experience? If so how to you achieve the portfolio? Charge or don't charge? Is there a one size fits all or does it vary by individual or goal? Why does it matter to others how you start your own business?

The reason I ask such a question is because I have noticed a certain discomfort when conversing of earning income by providing a photography services with other local business owners attending workshops or community photography gatherings/groups. Some seem to be really outgoing when trying to teach/mentor photography and impress others with their knowledge to amateurs and enthusiasts but as soon as the topic of offering service to the public the mood changes quite quickly and some have became introverted for the duration of the gathering/workshop. Why is this? I would assume since you are in the same local they become competitive and guarded. I'm my opinions the industry as a whole has became very competitive in the recent years and only the strongest survive.

I did have a very good conversation with a veteran wedding photographer of 15 years a few weeks back about this very issue and what I took from this conversation was this:

There is some resentment (for a lack of a better word) between full time photographers and the part timers /weekend warriors. I am not trying to infer that he meant 100% resent, just the perspective of one man. I assume It does present a valid and real challenge for the full timers but I don't see it affecting their business too much especially if they have a good client base and effective referral process. Another thing he brought up was some unrest because the part timers have lower overhead costs and can use the the savings as a selling point to prospective clients or those on the fence. I can see this as an advantage to the to the part times as long as they are effective in advertizing and marketing themselves properly but also a disadvantage because they don't have the walk in studio with tons of examples that you can see, touch and experience in real time. Others may prefer to search and see examples online... Again, is there a one size fits all business? When I ask myself this questions I immediately think of Walmart and Amazon! Would Walmart work better in cyberspace only? or would amazon be as successful in 1000's of stores across America? They are both successful and both have very very different model of business.

Another interesting subject we talked about was The Profession vs. Professionalism vs. Professional Presentation. When he started I was what the heck is he talking about. The guy is older but hardly on the verge of being senile. (that was a joke for you sensitives out there) As he went on to elaborate he mentioned one very important point that I took away from the 20 min conversation. They may not be all connected in terms or definitions but they are all connected if you want to be seen and respected as a successful professional photographer. You cant have success without understanding what it takes to achieve each of them separately. Another stunning tidbit he gave was you can run a successful photography business with only those three qualities and some moderate business sense while lacking the technical expertise and still profit from their clients. I find that amazing!

What a crazy world to be a part of to say the least, But I love it!

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Old 04-01-2013   #2
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Default Re: Definition of Photography Business

I should know better to get into this conversation as it always devolves to flame wars but the post is intelligent and the topic is relevant if not somewhat a dead horse in that it is likely no one will have any new opinions.

You are legitimately in business when you meet the legal criteria of your community.

These requirements typically include at a minimum the procurement of a Business License, tax license, liability insurance, a business bank account. The brick and mortar studio is not required though some sort of physical business address is needed to obtain licensing in most jurisdictions.

Myself being that I offer workshops and teach upcoming photographers the studio skills needed I do not shut down when the topic comes to business. In fact I teach from the business prospective that all who attend my workshops indeed have a desire to go pro and earn at least a portion of their income from the business of photography. I do not worry that I am training my competition as those who would compete with me will gain the knowledge with or without my teaching. If I teach them though I have the opportunity to influence the way way they choose to run their business, their pricing structure, their TFP policies etc.

I think where most enthusiastic hobbyist photographers who take on some paid work here and there run afoul of the local full time pros is in the area of devolving pricing. It is one thing to go after low budget work with low budge prices but there is always one or two in any community who has skills better then their rates would indicate and that undervalue their work to the point that they start a devolution of the local pricing structure by doing mid to high level jobs at lowball prices. In this economy everyone wants a deal so these guys actually do well. If they screw the job up well then they harm only themselves but if the customer walks away happy the price point in town just was pushed even lower and in most towns today pricing is already at all time lows.

The other place the part time pro runs into issues is the fact that often times their poverhead is lower because they have not take on the expense of legitimacy in the business community. They have no business license, no insurance, no physical business address etc. this translates into no safety nets for the customer and as the unlicensed provider has no overhead to speak of they tend to consider every dollar they earn as profit and as such lower their prices.
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Old 04-01-2013   #3
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Default Re: Definition of Photography Business

A photography business, like any other business, requires at minimum a business license, a state tax license with the charging, collection, paying and reporting of sales tax, Federal Tax ID #, a business bank account, insurance and some sort of incorporation to protect personal assets.
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Old 04-01-2013   #4
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Default Re: Definition of Photography Business

One area that photography is different than most other businesses is the large number of people who have it as a hobby. Even if hobbyists charge for their services, their intent may not really be to make a profit (as opposed to offset some costs):

I'd say if you can pass the IRS tests, then you can claim to be a business:

Business or Hobby? Answer Has Implications for Deductions
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Old 04-02-2013   #5
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Default Re: Definition of Photography Business

Well why not throw a little gasoline on what I'm sure will turn into a flame?

I'm a professional photographer and I own a photography business. I have a state tax ID number and that's all required in my locale. I have a dba sole proprietorship which required an assumed name to be registered with the county clerk, about $35. Under that dba I have a business checking account at the bank. My business is about as bona fide as it needs to be.

Now for the, "professional" part: My total income is derived from my business, it doesn't get much more serious than that for professions. I do not work 40 hours per week nor for 50 weeks of the year. Blue collar workers do that. I work fewer than 26 weeks per year currently and of those weeks the majority are only 3-4 days excluding travel. I don't make $100,000/yr.

I don't find it necessary to call myself a professional to sooth my ego. I'd rather it was okay if I called myself a craftsman. I think photography is a craft more than a profession in terms of definition. It's not the popular modern definition though. Just because a person makes his living from an occupation, that occupation isn't necessarily a profession. So far as being a legitimate businessman I am one.
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Old 04-02-2013   #6
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Default Re: Definition of Photography Business

Here's a very workable criteria: You have a photography business when the tax-man says so and comes to get his part.

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Old 04-02-2013   #7
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Default Re: Definition of Photography Business

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven G Webb View Post
I'm a professional photographer and I own a photography business. I have a state tax ID number and that's all required in my locale. I have a dba sole proprietorship which required an assumed name to be registered with the county clerk, about $35. Under that dba I have a business checking account at the bank. My business is about as bona fide as it needs to be.
Is a DBA required if you are doing business as your identity? In addition I realize the importance of limiting liability to ones self so what is the difference/advantages of registering as a sole proprietorship rather than an LLC?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven G Webb View Post

Now for the, "professional" part: My total income is derived from my business, it doesn't get much more serious than that for professions. I do not work 40 hours per week nor for 50 weeks of the year. Blue collar workers do that. I work fewer than 26 weeks per year currently and of those weeks the majority are only 3-4 days excluding travel. I don't make $100,000/yr which supplements my income nicely.
Maybe I have not received what you are trying to say here but you say that people that work 40hr/week or more are defined as blue collar? I would have to disagree with that analysis on many fronts but I really dont think you meant that, but please respond as I am curious. I actually consider myself as a blue collar worker but my profession (outside photography) is defined as a profession. I don't make over 100K either in my day to day career but in combination with my business ventures into photography I do on occasion break 100K

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven G Webb View Post
I don't find it necessary to call myself a professional to sooth my ego. I'd rather it was okay if I called myself a craftsman. I think photography is a craft more than a profession in terms of definition. It's not the popular modern definition though. Just because a person makes his living from an occupation, that occupation isn't necessarily a profession. So far as being a legitimate businessman I am one.
I agree with you about being a craftsman rather than professional. The professional comes into play as the businessman/woman! So in reality the photographer is a carrier of many hats and by definition could actually be called a professional on the premise that they own or operated a photography business. Agreed?
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Old 04-02-2013   #8
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Default Re: Definition of Photography Business

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Originally Posted by korman View Post
Here's a very workable criteria: You have a photography business when the tax-man says so and comes to get his part.

Korman
Unfortunatly our tax code (USA) is not too clear in all variations of business. With your theory, large corporations such as Verizon Communications, General Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric, Boeing to name a few would not be considered businesses as the pay negative tax... still dont know how its possible but hey...

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012...es-politicians

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/...7A261C20111103

http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2011...s_avoidin.html
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Old 04-02-2013   #9
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Default Re: Definition of Photography Business

For small operators, usually a good criteria is whether the IRS accepts it as a business and taxes them like a business. If so, it's a business. That's a better criteria than gear, price, number of clients, their web-site or the text printed on the business cards.

You could start splitting hairs about whether Verizon can be considered a Photography business or not if that excites you, but for what purpose?

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Old 04-02-2013   #10
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Default Re: Definition of Photography Business

I was just getting a general consensus from the community. I was looking at what other photography business owners specifically did to get up and going or recommend to do as a part of becoming seen as legitimate.. Insurance, Liability protection, Business License ect

Taxes are not specific to a photography business

In my research I remember seeing there are some circumstances that photographers are not required to register a NIN or tax ID other than the photogs SSN. I am not sure if this is correct but that is the beauty of discussion.

Does anyone have a link or guidance to information that put this in plan English? US English!


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