How to start a pet photography business

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Dog Photographer Rebecca Goutorbe

I am Rebecca a dog photographer & dog groomer.
For over 30 years I have owned, ran and set up businesses all within the pet industry. 
Qualified in small animal care, kennel & cattery management and a qualified member of the Guild of Photographers. 
I owned for 15 years, a busy boarding kennels, grooming parlour and cattery. For 10 of those years I worked around 80 to 100 hours a week.
The owner of show dogs, I’ve won many top awards at dog shows including Crufts dog show.

how to start a photography business

Follow the steps below to start a photography business

Dog Photography Business

In 2016 I set up my dog photography business after photographing the Kennel Club Gundog events. 
I set up my own limited company for the dog photography and opened a business bank account.
When I set up my dog grooming business in 2018 I was already half way there with business side of things I just needed some dog grooming clients.
I also used my dog grooming salon for studio dog photography, this worked well and was a really cheap and easy set up. But there was a lot of dog hairs to clean up! 

Dog Grooming Business

My dog grooming business has no staff, it’s just me and it makes a full time wage working part time hours.
This fits in with school hours nicely, I can still do dog photography and other things around it all. 
You can set up any business you like, you just need to put some effort in, take a few risks, know exactly what you want from it and then take action. 

Step 1. Set your goal

Take control of the business from the start.
Decide exactly what you want from your photography business.
What type of clients do you want? etc
Get a piece of paper and write down exactly what you want to achieve.  
This could be 

Only you know what you want, be clear about what you would like or need.
Then take the steps you need to make it happen, for example buy a camera and lens, learn how to become a pet photographer.
With my dog grooming business, what I wanted or needed was 3 dogs per day for grooming 5 days a week. 
Once you know what you want then you can get it. 

Step 2. Choose your photography niche

Niche it down, get good at your photography niche.
Create your own unique style. 
As this post is about how to start a pet photography business niche down the pet photography.
Are you going to become a

Become an expert at Pet Photography,  Dog Photography, or an expert at whatever niche within the niche of pet photography you would like to do.

Step 3. Pick a business name

Choose a name for your pet photography business, short and sweet works best.
I will give you a really bad business name example ‘K9 Dog Grooming By Rebecca Goutorbe’.
Why this is so bad?, OK you do know what I do, and who is doing it by the business name.
But it is far too long with 6 words.
When new clients ring they don’t know what say “Is that K9?”, “Is that Rebecca the groomer?”, “Is that the dog groomers?”. The K9 part of the name, when giving out the address they will ask is that K9? or canine?

Why? K9 Dog Grooming By Rebecca Goutorbe

I set up the website for my dog grooming business before I had opened, I had just ordered a dog bath for £2,500 and had no premises at this point to run it all from.  
I had a company name but couldn’t think of a name for the grooming, but as I had a website I thought I needed a domain name.
A domain name is the address of your website. 
I found the domain name k9doggromer.com and thought it was quite good so based the grooming name around the domain name.
The problem now is that the website address and business name don’t match either.
I still get loads of enquiries from the website so it’s not that bad. 

How to choose a photography business name

Choose a short business name for your pet photography, one which represents what you do.
Make sure it is different but not the same as anyone else, and is not an existing trade mark
A lot of photographers use their own name and then add photography after it. 
Ideally while you are thinking see if there is a domain name available which matches your business name too.

Step 4. Decide what type of business you are setting up

Set up your business before you start and decide what type of business you will be running.
Be dead clear where you are going with this photography business you are setting up.
Get in touch with an accountant, or you may want to do your books yourself.
I have a limited company and the accountant fees are not cheap at all, this is because of the amount of paperwork involved.
However you decide to go forward get organised keep all your receipts and keep your invoices in order.
Don’t leave it until the last minute at the end of the year to sort your paperwork out if you do decide to do it all yourself..

Sole trader

A Sole trader / self employed, also the owner of the business. You can still have staff, (employees) when you are a Sole trader. 
You need to register your business with HMRC, you keep all the profits after tax, and you will pay income tax.  
As a sole trader you take full responsibility, liability for the business. 
If the business owes a lot money, they will come to you as the owner of the business for the money.
So you could go bankrupt if you can’t pay up. 
Your own personal bank account can be used if you are a sole trader for the business.
A business account will keep things more organised. 

Limited company

A Limited company has a director, there can be a number of directors within the limited company.
Each director can have shares of the company.
The shares are paid out as dividends. 
You need the company to make a profit in order for the dividends to paid out. 
With a limited company you register your business name with companies house and you will need a business bank account for the company.

Companies house

Once registered with companies house your company will have registered number.
You will need the company number when you set up a business bank account for a limited company.
With a limited company for you as the director there is limited liability to you.
If your company goes bust that’s it, it’s not you it’s your company that goes into liquidation.
You won’t go bankrupt as you would being a sole trader.  

Dividends

2022, £2000 dividends can be taken tax free, as long as the company made a profit.
Corporation tax is paid on the profits whereas as a sole trader the tax you pay is income tax. 
By having your business work through a limited company, you as the owner can become an employee of your company and take a wage.
You are not classed as self employed when you have a limited company, although in theory you are, you are the director and an employee of your company. 
Or you could run a limited company with no employees, still be the director and take the dividends at the end of year if you make a profit.
You still need a self assessment filling in and sending to HMRC. 
This way can work ‘not being an employee of your company’ if you are employed by someone else, and want to start a sideline, example photography.

Directors loan

What you can also do as a director of your company is loan your company money, to buy lets say camera gear with money from your own personal bank account (keep the receipts and personal statements, to prove where the money came from). 
Then when the company has made enough money to pay back what was spent back on the camera gear, you get your personal money back as what is called a directors loan.
You get your money back as a directors loan back but your company doesn’t pay tax on the earnings, because it’s a directors loan.

Company assetts

Big items your company will buy like camera’s lenses, laptop etc will all become asset’s to the company.
There are lots more to the accounting side of a limited company.
I am not an accountant, if you choose this way to run your business get an accountant. 

Disadvantage to a limited company

There is a good chance that no one will lend a new limited company money.
Because it’s limited liability, unless there is some property involved or something of value within the company. 
Your chances of getting a mortgage to buy your own house as a company director are very very slim if your a new limited company.
Or an existing limited company which has been running at a loss. 
You might get a mortgage if you have loads of money in your own bank for a giant deposit?, you might not too. 
Mortgage lenders want 3 years of limited company accounts to see your business is making a good profit.
If it’s a new company then impossible to produce.  

Main difference between Sole trader & Limited company

You will pay less tax on the profit made within your Limited company compared to a sole trader.
A Limited company pays corporation tax at a lower rate than a sole trader who pays income tax.
This will be worth while if your profit is high. 

Partnerships

Set up a pet photography business in partnership, will that work?
I won’t even own a dog in partnership with anyone. 
Partnerships will fail at some point for one reason or another.
If you are thinking of setting up a business in partnership with anyone, discuss exactly what you both want from the business. If it matches great if not then don’t do it. 

Ways to set up a partnership

A limited company again would work for a partnership, if there were 2 people in the partnership both could hold an equal amount of shares in the limited company. 
By working together or building a business together the turnover of the business could easily get up to the VAT threshold of £85,000.
This means your business will have to become VAT registered, your prices will have to increase by 20% to cover the VAT you will be paying out quarterly. Your accountant fees will rise too, because you’ll probably need one. 
You can register voluntarily for VAT, if it suits your business, to be VAT registered.
Or you could both have separate companies or work as sole traders. 

Step 5. Staff

Are you planning on starting your business with staff?
If you do get to a point where you are so busy, or feel you need an extra pair of hands to help.
Then you may need to employ staff.
Think carefully before employing staff.
Obviously you need to pay staff and staff get paid holidays (paid time off).
A full time member of staff is entitled to 28 days holidays and 8 UK Bank Holidays. Break that down over over a 5 day working week. 

how to start a pet photography business

You may need to use an accountant for the payroll, pension scheme and PAYE contributions.

Trial period

No doubt about it staff cost time and money to a business. 
Great members of staff are hard to come by and can be an asset to your business.
You usually find that the best members of staff won’t stay that long, a year or so.
This is because they are ambitious, use their initiative and know how to think, don’t dismiss these, they are the best ones to employ.
The others you may just be stuck with for a long time.
Anyone who you are willing to employ should be set on a trial before you commit to employing them.    

Step 6. Buy camera and lenses for pet photography

If you are going to run a pet photography business you need some camera gear to take photos with. 
Clients will not know if you have brand new camera gear or second hand kit which can be so much cheaper.
What will be clear is if you don’t know how to use your camera and lens you have for pet photography. 
I have 15 tips for dog photography and a best lens for dog photography blog posts.

Step 7. Choose a location to photograph pets from

Decide where you will be you will be doing your pet photography

You may decide to do all types pet photography anywhere and everywhere. 
Outdoor natural light pet photography will be the cheapest way to start out your pet photography business once you have a camera and a lens for pet photography. 
There are no extra overheads like there would be with a pet photography studio, you still will need photography insurance however you are making money from photography.
Although if you have a studio for your pet photography, it’s a base and you are not ruled by the weather like you are with outdoor photography. 
If you want to do event dog photography once you have your camera and lens all you need is a easy to use photo sharing website to sell your photos from afterwards.
I have videos and tips how to use a website like this.

Pet photography studio

Over heads and bills to pay come with a pet photography studio. 
If you get your own unique style in your studio, it will be worth while. 
Once everything is set up that is just brilliant, put your flash trigger on your camera and start taking photos. Unless you are going to use natural light then it’s even easier.
You could set up a pet photography studio at home.
Contact the local council you may need to pay business rates, and you will need some photography insurance for public liability.

how to start a pet photography business

Outdoor pet photography

There are so many places for outdoor pet photography.
Check before hand that you don’t need permission or a permit for certain parks and places also check the rules with building’s which may appear in the backdrop of your images.

Mobile studio pet photography

Fill up your car with studio photography gear and go mobile with your pet photography. 
I know a few pet photographers who work this way, it is great for cat photography.
A lot of cats don’t like being in a cat carrier so photographing them at home would be much better for them.
Get your pricing and costing right as working this way takes time, travelling and setting up.

how to start a pet photography business

Pet businesses

Pet businesses need images of their establishment for marketing purposes.
Boarding kennels, dog care centre’s, dog groomers, vets, dog trainers, dog walkers they all need good quality images. 
I photographed a pet hotel in Spain, they have just had new signs for the establishment with the images I took.
They look great, and it’s nice to see your work being used in this way.

how to start a pet photography business

Event photography

Dog event photography is just the best, dress up and turn up to a great day out with front row seats to all the action. 
Use the right website and you will make money from the dog events too.
Dog shows, Gundog events, fun dog shows there is always some kind of dog event to go and photograph. 
If your lucky like I was you might even get to photograph Her Majesty The Queen at a Gundog event. 

how to start a pet photography business

Step 8. Photo storage

If you are starting a pet photography business you will need photo storage.
Storing your photos on hard drives and USB’s is not the way forward, they don’t last forever. You will fill up the memory on your computer quickly if you use that for photo storage too especially if you are wanting to store raw files.
Cloud backup is the best solution.

Unlimited Photo Storage

Step 9. Client galleries

Client galleries are a great way to securely share images online to your clients.
This will save you doing IPS (in person sales) which will save you time. 
You can also sell your photography online through client galleries, sell digital downloads, prints, print packages, packages, wall art and keepsakes. 
Take a look at my tutorials page on how to sell images online.  

Step 10. Photo website

Set up a photography website for your new pet photography business. 
You can’t expect to run a business just from a Facebook page, you need a photo website too. 
Your photography website as well as displaying your photography portfolio online needs to include everything you offer as a pet photographer.  All your services, prices or prices from , how a photo shoot will work, you need to know what you want and who you are targeting. 

Step 11. Photography contracts

Get photography contracts organised for each photo shoot. These need filling in before any photo shoot takes place.
If you are member of the Guild of Photographers they have template contracts you can download.
The Guild of Photographers was originally set up for Wedding photographers but it has evolved over the years.
Pick the parts you need from their template contracts to create your own.  

Step 12. Create a logo

how to start a pet photography business

Think of a logo for your pet photography business.
A logo needs to be really clean and simple.
Check again if the logo is not trademarked. 
Use photoshop to create your logo or use a free logo maker.

Step 13. Partnerships

Make friends with other pet businesses in your local area and photographers.
Leave leaflets with them?  
Don’t be reliant on any one or any other business to create your business.

Step 14. Advertising

You will need to advertise your new pet photography business. 
Be careful who you are willing to pay for this service. 
Get your business a Google My Business listing and a Facebook page set up, make sure you include your website address on both.
Use google ad’s to get started to bring in clients, to your website.
Use your website as your marketing tool, list everything a client needs to know about what you offer on your pet photography website. 
I have a free guide how to build a photography portfolio website using a free photography website template.

how to start a pet photography business

Step 15. Follow up for repeat business

Create offers for previous clients so they can use your services again. 
Example if you have a done a puppy photo for a client they may want a photo shoot now the dog is an adult dog.

Step 16. Pricing your services

The pricing is what will make or break your pet photography business if you don’t get it right. 
All you need to know is what you want to make from it. 

Outgoings

Starting a pet photography business you will need to estimate your outgoings.
This will include everything that you will spend through the business for the business.
Example rent for studio, camera equipment, electric, accountant fees, website, photo storage, anything you can put through as an outgoing to the business.
This could come to any figure if you are estimating it, say £10,000 per year on outgoings. The figure could be less or lot more you know what you want to do.

Wages

Next decide how much you like from the business as wages or profit after tax. However you will work the books or the business. 
For this example just call it wages. Let’s say £30,000 per year you want as wages. 

Business turnover

Now your pet photography business in this example needs to turnover £40,000 to cover the costs of the outgoings at £10,000 and your wages at £30,000.
You need to sell and do enough photo shoots and sell photography products that will make your pet photography business £40,000 per year.

Pricing the photo shoot

To price up what you will charge per photo shoot. 
Next decide how many weeks of the year you would like to work.
In this example say 40 weeks you will work, and 12 weeks holiday (time off). 
Divide £40,000 into 40 weeks which equals £1,000 per week you need to earn from your pet photography business.
Then divide £1,000 between how many photo shoots you will do in a week. 
You could do 2 at £500 to make £1,000. Or 5 photo shoots at £200 each to make £1,000 per week. 
The choice is yours what you would like to charge and make this is your pet photography business.
This is just an example of how to get to a photo shoot price.  

Photography packages

Offer print packages and photography packages which can be bought through your website.
By using the Pro account from SmugMug you can easily create packages to increase your pet photography sales.

Step 17. How to say no to free photo shoots

When you become a business owner who wants to make money you will learn how to say no to friends, family or anyone.
It’s dead easy to do, learn how to smile and say no at the same time, it works really well.
Again use the Pro account to offer discounts instead if you find it hard to say to no. 

Step 18. How to deal with problematic clients

At some point in business you will come across a problematic clients.
I can spot them a mile off within the pet industry and I won’t deal them, I know how to say no. 
If you get them keep calm, just deal with them and forget about them. 
Then ask your self how the hell did you attract them. 
Look at your website is it giving off the wrong information? how did your website attract that type of client?
Is it you? did you not say no to job you should of said no to in the first place.

Reasons for problematic clients

The main reason you will get a problematic client is that they don’t know what they want in the first place. 
If you know what you want, and they come to you for what they want everything usually works out just fine.
Don’t be so desperate to take on a job or client that you don’t want because you can’t get what you do want.
That is exactly how you will get problematic clients. 
Take a risk say No Thanks, leave a space for what you do want.

Build a pet photography website

Build a website for your pet photography business and put on it everything you do want.
Don’t even talk about what you don’t want. 
It will all come, a business takes time to build so learn to be patient too.
In 2018 I built my dog grooming website with SmugMug.
SmugMug is a photography website although it works for any business when you put some nice photos on it.
After a few months of my business running I realised I hadn’t filled in the SEO boxes which SmugMug provide.
The website was on page 3 of the google search results and by easily filling in the SEO boxes. I moved my SmugMug website from page 3 to the top of page 1 and my business took off. 
Try SmugMug free for 14 days, I have a discount off any new account, videos and tips how to use it. 

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