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Getting Started – Taxes, Permits & Insurance For The Studio Photography Business

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By Scott Bourne

I received a question from a reader that I will answer here so it can benefit everyone. Tara Clark from Cincinnati, Ohio wrote:

“What steps do you need to do to get started in the portrait/wedding photography business such as liability and equipment insurance, sales tax ID (and how much money to set aside for taxes), business license, etc?

I have been doing photography for friends for fun and when I am ready to get serious I would like to know how to start properly. ”

Hi Tara. The fact that you are concerned about these issues shows me that you’re more likely to succeed than not. The photographers who think buying a camera is the most important step in starting a photography business have more trouble than those who consider important operational issues like insurance and taxes.

Let me start by saying I can’t give you legal advice, since I am not a licensed attorney. What I can tell you is the steps I took – on the advice of counsel – to get my own business going. You should consult an attorney in your area for more information. Some local, regional and state governments have laws regarding these issues that I woudn’t be familiar with. But generally, you need a business license for instance. Here’s the breakdown.

1. Decide what sort of legal entity you want to form. Your basic choices are listed in this document prepared by the IRS.,,id=98359,00.html My company is set up as a Limited Liability Corporation.

2. Obtain a business license from your city, county and state governments – if needed. Some states have blanket business licenses that eliminate the need for local licenses. In other states, the opposite is true. I found this resource for you. The Ohio state government has created an online gateway that should get you started.

3. In some states, your business license is also your sales tax ID. It used to be that way in Washington state where I live. However recently, in Washington, the law changed and now here you need to apply separately for a sales tax ID. This is necessary to collect and pay to government sales tax.

4. You will need insurance for both your business and your gear. Some policies will cover both. In general, most people can start with one million dollars worth of business liabilty insurance. If you have lots of assets, you may want to up that to protect yourself. If you obtain insurance for your photographic gear, make sure you obtain what’s called “inland marine coverage.” Without inland marine, you will only get “fair market value” for any loss. That translates to about 50 cents on the dollar. If you want to get REPLACEMENT value, you need inland marine. Also note that if you rely on your current renters or homeowners insurance to cover gear used for your business, you might be in for a very rude awakening if you make a claim. Most such policies specifically exclude business gear.

The good news is that most of these things are inexpensive. You’ll need to research how much each item costs. In my state, there are incorporation fees, license fees and insurance. Some of these fees are ongoing and some of them are one-time fees. You should initially budget around $1000 to cover setup. This figure may be higher or lower depending on whether or not you hire an attorney and what the fees are in your state.

I think it’s very important for professional photographers to take these steps. Operating without the proper licenses and insurance can not only cost you with local authorities, but if you have prospective clients who do their research and find out, they may not hire you fearing you’re somehow underhanded.

Congratulations on thinking these things through Tara. And good luck on your new business.

This post sponsored by WHCC – White House Custom Colour – Get Five Free 8×10 Prints From WHCC


Written by scottbourne

June 9, 2010 at 5:36 am

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Five Easy Tips For Handling Customer Problems

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By Skip Cohen

Recently I had a serious customer service problem with Verizon. Unfortunately as a major corporation they’re not alone in providing less than stellar experiences.  The more I think about the problem I had, the easier it is to put the bad experience to good use!

So here are some easy to remember tips when you’re working with an unhappy customer:

1) The faster you solve a problem the greater the benefit to building your reputation. Solve problems as quickly as possible.  I know there are times when you might have to do a little research, but whenever possible fix the complaint in the first round.

2) If you don’t offer a solution then both you and your client lose.  NEVER say “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do!”  There’s always something you can do and sometimes even the smallest thing will still be appreciated.

3) Don’t point the finger elsewhere! Don’t pass the buck.  Look, mistakes happen and most people know that, but your customer doesn’t care if it’s the lab’s fault, the album company had a problem or even that Fedex or UPS made a mistake.  You’re the one they’re dealing with and you’re the one who has to make it right.

4) Take full responsibility for the problem.  Don’t put any part of the burden to fix the problem back on your customer.  Whenever possible take full control and then be impressive with your solution.

5) Compromise solutions are fine, but only if they have value.   Don’t insult customers with compromise solutions that they don’t understand, have little value or force them to purchase something else.

Companies like Verizon are actually doing us a great service – they’re giving every small business owner an opportunity to look good and show their customers how great customer service really gets done.  You’ve got a chance to be a hero and exceed expectations with every complaint or frustration you encounter.

Tony Corbell once talked about his philosophy when he first started his career:

“I wasn’t the best photographer in town, but I was determined to be the nicest!”

This post sponsored by WHCC – White House Custom Colour – Get Five Free 8×10 Prints From WHCC

Written by scottbourne

June 7, 2010 at 5:51 am

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Seven Things You Should Know About Photo Editors

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Copyright Scott Bourne 2010 - All Rights Reserved

By Scott Bourne

I am very lucky. I get to work with a few photo editors who are very good at their jobs. The people I know do their best to respect me and my work. My relationships with some of them go back 20 plus years. I am past just being professionally involved with these people; we’re friends. Thankfully, I am at the point in my career where I no longer have to deal with submissions to people I don’t know, and who don’t know me. But I’ve done thousands of them back in the day, and along the way, I’ve learned some things about photo editors that NOBODY else will tell you. I can tell you because I don’t have to worry about making these people angry. My livelihood doesn’t depend on them. But if you need to deal with them want the upper hand, here are some things you should know about many photo editors. And before I get to the list, remember, this post is ALL about generalization. There will be photo editors who don’t resemble anything on this list. But there are more who do than don’t. And a large majority of today’s photo editors will share at least a couple of these traits. Being forewarned about them can get you ahead, as long as you know what to look for and can suck it up and deal with it. And lastly, this may sound like I’m trying to be “mean” to the photo editors. I am not. I am trying to prepare the photographers who read this for the real world. Photography as a job can be harsh. Reality checks sometimes can soften the blow. In my experience, knowing what’s coming makes it easier to deal with than being surprised.

1. Photo editors don’t like to deal with new photographers because they are typically comfortable in their current relationships. In order to break in, you’re going to have to go the extra mile – through many, many hoops. If you’re not prepared for that, you should take another road.

2. Photo editors don’t like for you to miss your portfolio deadlines. They don’t like for you to miss your phone conferences. They don’t like for you to be late. They don’t like for you to miss submission deadlines. Yet, they expect YOU to forgive them for all of the same transgressions. They will more often than not pay you late and even sometimes, they’ll pay you less than they agreed to pay. They will miss meetings with you. They will be late in general. They expect a free pass from you. Deal with it. This isn’t something that is fair, but it is true. The buyers hold the upper hand.

3. Photo editors typically have big egos. After all, they get to say who does and who doesn’t work. They like to be, and expect to be stroked. If you know this going in, then you can use it to your advantage. Just don’t overdo it. These folks deserve your respect. They in fact demand it. A few of the good ones will even earn it.

4. Photo editors don’t like to do your job and their job. This is reasonable. Pay attention to detail. If the photo editor has to work extra hard to hire you, he/she is simply going to choose someone else’s photo to publish. They don’t want to do any more work than they absolutely have to. Get your part right.

5. Photo editors don’t care what you went through to get the shot. They really don’t. It’s just “art” filling a space on a page. They just need the picture, not your sob story.

6. Photo editors will butcher your photo. They will crop it wrong. They will change the color. They will do everything they can to mess up what you had in mind when you pressed the shutter. So what? If you got paid, live with it. Complaining won’t help. They’ll just pick another photographer next time so expect it and move on.

7. Photo editors go crazy if you waste their time, but since they are the buyer and it’s a buyer’s market, they don’t mind wasting your time. Again, you are on the short end of the stick here so it’s wrong to expect that you are going to get a fair shake. Be ready for portfolio calls that have to be acted on “before end of business today” only to find out that the editor doesn’t really have a need for new stuff until next year. I’ve lived through it and so will you.

If it it looks like I am trying to talk you out of submitting images to photo editors I apologize. That’s not my intent. If it looks like I think photo editors are bad people I apologize. That is also not my intent. What I am trying to do is tell the truth and avoid sugar coating what is in any reasonable person’s mind a tough market. The combination of royalty-free stock, a proliferation of photographers, and shrinking markets make it tougher than ever to break in. Someone will however do it. The photographers who can deal with the stuff on this list and still keep going will win.

This post sponsored by WHCC – White House Custom Colour – Get Five Free 8×10 Prints From WHCC

Written by scottbourne

June 3, 2010 at 6:17 am

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Get Out of Your Rut Part 2

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By Skip Cohen

24 Not So Genius Ways to Get Unstuck and Make Your Dreams About Photography Come True! – Part 2

If you missed the first half of this list last week ( I was sitting at Arby’s at the Akron Canton Airport two weeks ago. On the magazine stand was this month’s issue of “O”.  The cover story:  “28 Genius Ways to Get Unstuck and Make Your Dreams Come True.”   Well a few minutes later I was working on “24 Not So Genius Ways to Get Unstuck and Make Your Dreams About Photography Come True!”

Here’s the second installment:

13.  Design your own stationery.  We live in the electronic age and that makes a hand-written note even more impressive.  Think about the impact of a thank you note to a client or a vendor you’ve worked with versus an email!  Here’s your chance to show off your work in a completely non-promotional way and just like your holiday card, it reminds people what you do for a living!

14. Go to lunch with a couple of photographers!  Lunch is such a great time to catch up on what’s going on in your community, especially in photography, but you won’t find out if you don’t talk to other photographers.

15. Come up with at least three marketing promotions!  There’s no such thing as a bad idea here, because the benefit is going through the exercise.  Consider any of the following:  Start a frequent buyer program for your clients.  This can be especially effective if you’re a children’s photographer.  Look at ways you can add value to your wedding package without reducing the price – a few more hours of coverage, a larger album, a framed print etc.  It’s too late to get something going for Father’s Day, but it’s not too late to consider doing something for Homecoming at the local high school in the fall, Thanksgiving portraiture or a campaign to design something for holiday family portraits at Christmas.

16. Get to know your gear!  Do you honestly know every aspect of your gear under every lighting condition?  As a professional photographer you don’t have time to bracket and experiment when the light isn’t perfect.  You don’t have time to fool around with which lens is going to make that little church look like a cathedral – you need to know every piece of gear absolutely cold so there’s no second guessing when you’re under pressure.

17. Start a network lunch!  Dawn Shields in Missouri had the idea first – but it’s brilliant.  Find a local restaurant that has a private room and then invite everybody associated with your specialty to lunch.  This obviously works the best with wedding photographers.  For example, florists, hair salons, travel agencies, a bakery, bridal salon, wedding planners, venues, limo companies, tux shops etc – you all have something in common – you’re working with the same target audience, the bride and groom.  And if you’re a portrait photographer, get together with a children’s clothing shop, a toy store, maybe a restaurant manager from Chuckee Cheeze – you’re looking for common denominators to build your network.

All you’re looking to do is bring everybody together once a month to talk about what’s going on in the community.  In the process you’re going to get to know a whole bunch of people who are talking to your target audience.

18. Pick a charity to support!  Jay Conrad Levinson, in one of his books on Guerilla Marketing talked about how you need to be active in the community.  People like being involved with companies they perceive as giving something back.  You need to be involved!

19. Follow the GoingPro sponsors.  There’s a reason we’ve chosen the companies listed here – they’re all the very best at what they do. Unlike many programs in the industry we did NOT approach every manufacturer or service provider on the planet and then sign up with anybody who responded.  We approached them! They also do more than just sell services or products.  They’re involved in helping to build the photographic community.  That means you need to visit their sites, set up permanent links to their blogs and follow what they’re up to – they’re going to help you stay on top of new products, marketing and events.

20. Enter print competition!  Print competition is one of those things that simply helps make you stronger.  It’s like playing tennis with somebody better than you – your game gets better too.  WPPI, PPA, PDN all offer a long list of different competitions throughout the year.

21. Attend a webinar or listen to a podcast.  Scott and I have done a bunch of them at this point, but there are also some great things happening at CreativeLive, with free webinars to help you strengthen your skill set.

22. Intern or second shoot with another photographer.  Internships don’t have to be for extended periods of time – you can spend a day working with another photographer.  If you’re interested in wedding photography then working with a more established photographer when they need help on a wedding is an ideal way to expand your skill set.  But it’s best when you’ve worked to establish a relationship first.  Very few photographers want to work with a complete stranger, but here’s another benefit to building your network.

23.  Attend an industry convention, trade show or event.  Still coming up this year is Skip’s Summer School ( in August, PhotoPlus Expo (  in New York in October and Pictage Partner Con (  is coming up in November in New Orleans.  At every one of these events you’ll have an opportunity to meet more photographers and pick up new ideas on marketing, technique and business.

24.  Start a special project!  Special projects have a unique way of helping you focus your energy in ways that actually keep your battery charged.  Kevin Kubota talks a lot about how special projects have helped him build his portfolio and keep his energy level at the max, because these projects focus on things more personal than his business.

Last but not least – this blog post started out as a list of things you could do to get out of the rut if you’re feeling stuck.  Sometimes you need a sounding board outside your business.  Maybe it’s a relative, that favorite aunt or uncle for example, you need to talk to.  Maybe you need to spend an afternoon with a friend and just bounce ideas off of them.  We all get so private when it comes to our own challenges in life and especially in business – almost as if it’s a sign of failure to be frustrated with being in a rut.

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “If you wait until all the lights are “green” before you leave home, you’ll never get started on your trip to the top.”  Your trip out of the rut is right there in front of you and the lights are all green!  And if you get stuck along the way you’ve got Scott Bourne and me here to give you a hand!

This post sponsored by WHCC – White House Custom Colour – Get Five Free 8×10 Prints From WHCC

Written by scottbourne

June 2, 2010 at 5:41 am

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GoingPro Podcast Episode #6

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Announcing the GoingPro podcast. You can subscribe to the show free of charge in the iTunes store here.

You can direct-download the MP3 at Podomatic.

Here’s the NON-iTunes RSS Feed.

In this episode Scott & Skip discuss whether or not photographers need a studio and some alternatives.

NOTE: If you subscribe to the podcast in iTunes you’ll always get it before we announce it here on the blog. It’s our way of saying thanks for subscribing free at iTunes.

Written by scottbourne

June 1, 2010 at 6:46 am

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Balancing Your Marketing – What's The Best Mix?

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Guest Post by Matt Hill

Are you baffled by the exhaustive ways you can market your photography website? You aren’t alone. I’ll be honest, there is no conclusive set of directions on the perfect way to market yourself, but there is certainly lots of informed (and sometimes not…) opinions out there. I’ve spent the last 13 years working for a company that specializes in marketing, learned under many fantastic mentors plus made it a practice to continually learn and grow. Today I offer you my take on balancing a virtually endless realm of possibility when marketing your photography business online, and a bit of old-fashioned offline marketing.

I want to start first with a high-level distinction between marketing and advertising from my point of view. Then I’ll move on to some specific suggestions.

To begin, it’s my firm belief that choosing just one method of marketing is dangerous and inadvisable. It’s certainly akin to the old adage of “putting all of one’s eggs in one basket,” and the advice exists because you’d better be right. Are there guarantees? No. So I say be smart and choose a balanced approach.

That being said, let’s begin with a phrase I believe that Hubspot coined – “Inbound Marketing.” My paraphrasing of their approach is making content that attracts people who desire to talk to you, and focusing your attention on serving them. It’s a beautiful idea, and worth reading more and watching their webinars. And it’s essentially SEO combined with laser-focus on not interrupting people.

Hmmmm. Not “interrupting” people. Advertising is, essentially, interrupting someone while they are doing a completely different task. Think magazines. You purchase it not for the ads, but for the content. And while you are flipping through it, your journey is interrupted by these gorgeous ads designed to make you pause, consider and act. Seems humane to choose a marketing path that tends to potential visitors when they wish to seek you.

On the other hand, we all seek to maximize our business. Awareness is essential. How do you raise your memory in someone’s mind? Expose your business. Essentially you pay more for less at this point, but your potential for new customers is increased. Perhaps someone didn’t even know that your kind of business existed, or so geographically close and they are not in the habit of asking peers for recommendations. This is a good argument for advertising.

Graphs, charts and seven steps after the jump!

Take a look on your analytics. Do you see a variety of wedges in Traffic Sources?

In the above example, it’s quite balanced. The sum of Search Engines, Referring Sites, Direct Traffic and Other equals 100%, but no single method dominates the others. Digging deeper, you can see below, that qualifying your traffic sources is important:

The Pages per Visit (P/V) is important. In the above example – this is organic traffic from Google. Low bounce, high Time on Site (TOS) and majority New Visits. The other 46% of visits were returning visitors… Wow. Cool. They came back! As you scan down your list of Traffic Sources, you can qualify which are getting you a better return. Here is how you get there in Google Analytics:

I mention this first because informing yourself with real data is the best way to decide where to put your chips.

Simple start for online advertising:

1. Google AdWords

Sign up for an account. Write a few text ads. Geotarget them to your area of business. If you are graphically inclined, make some image banner ads and also place those to appear via the Google AdSense network (via your same account) on other people’s sites. best advice I have ever received regarding writing AdWords ads is to google your search phrase and write your ads while looking at all of your competitors’ ads. Be unique, eye-catching and human. Perhaps I’ll write more on this in the future 🙂

2. Google Maps/Places.

Does your business show up when you search? If not, then claim your listing or add it. It’s free and these results show up BEFORE all organic results on Google . Get in the top 10 for your area.

Google Places also allows you to offer coupons to map searchers. Incentives! How awesome is that?

3. Start/continue your Blog

It’s the easiest way to add fresh content to your site and puts across your true personality. The new content pushes you up on organic search results. And it’s fun for both you and your potential customers! It’s also cool if your customers like being in your blog and send the link to all of their friends!

4. SEO

It’s been beaten to death, but it is important to have an SEO-optimized website. If you can’t do it yourself, hire a local SEO agency to help. Best question to ask if you’re scared they might be sketchy is “Can you give me three telephone numbers of satisfied customers?” If they are proud of their work, the answer will be yes.

5. eBlasts/Opt-in

Marketing email is still one of the highest-acting forms of marketing. You’ve been collecting your customers emails for years, right? Well hire a local kid fresh out of college to make you some good-looking, well-written email templates and start sending out offers, updates and seasonal ideas to your client base.

Also essential is to prominently add an Opt-In form on your website that encourages potential customers to get on your email list. give them an incentive, like a free sitting or 10% off prints.

Never purchase lists. That’s a horrible interruption of someone’s day. Email inboxes are kinda like someone’s living room – don’t go there uninvited.

6. Your Peer Network

Make friends with other professionals in the area. Refer work you cannot do to them, and they will do the same for you. It’s rewarding and enriching to hang with other shooters and build a stronger community that not only knows everyone in the area, but can also confidently be generous with each other. And it’s good karma 🙂

7. Socialize it!

Use your Twitter and Facebook accounts to promote the cool stuff you do and your offers. Make a fan page on Facebook (not your personal account) for your customers so you can be yourself on your own time 🙂 Be generous! Retweet and repost interesting things. Most of all, be professional and courteous.

These are a solid start to building a lasting marketing plan. I didn’t mention direct mail, print ads, client presentation or other stuff like that because I am an internet geek 🙂 Doesn’t mean those other things aren’t important! But I can confidently say that the above marketing and advertising suggestions will build you a solid business base.

This post sponsored by Pictage – Make More Money – Free Your Time To Go Win More Clients

Written by scottbourne

May 31, 2010 at 4:32 am

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If I Were Just Going Pro Today – Here's The First Thing I'd Do

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Copyright Bambi Cantrell

By Scott Bourne

My life as a professional photographer started with a great big bowl of luck. I didn’t plan to be a professional photographer. It just sort of happened. I lived in Indianapolis at the time and I got a chance to photograph the Indy 500. I got lucky and made a photograph that the wire services picked up, and on my first serious shoot, I was published around the world and made $2000 for one picture. That was pretty serious and astounding money in the early 1970s. I spent the next six years photographing motor sports and realized, hey – I guess I’m a professional photographer.

While thinking about ways that I could potentially help emerging professionals, I thought back to those days and wondered – if I knew what I knew now – what would I do differently. The answer might surprise you.

But before I tell you what I’d do differently, let me reveal the first thing I’d do as promised in the headline. Ready?

Here’s the first thing I would do:

I would do the first thing.

Nope, it’s not a riddle. It’s sage advice from no less than Mark Twain.

“The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Since there are many tasks associated with becoming a professional at any craft, why not just pick the first thing and knock it off your list? Pick anything. Do anything. More importantly, stop planning, talking, dreaming, thinking, speculating, worrying, procrastinating, wondering, contemplating and just START DOING. Do something. Do anything. Just do it.

So many of the people I meet who want to break into the photography business are far too wrapped up in the mental side of things. They need to get up off the couch and just go for it.

As for me and what I’d do differently?

I wouldn’t change a thing – and here’s why.

I was too stupid to know I could fail. I was too stupid to even that failure was even an option. I was just a boy who had a camera and thought it would be fun to make photographs of race cars and all the trimmings that went with them. I didn’t have any master plan. I ended up after that first big sale living in the back of mechanic’s vans and car haulers, traveling the world – following the race cars and drivers with my camera. I ended up eating with the pit crews, track stewards and occasionally even the drivers, as I scratched out a living making $52.50 a week – after taxes mind you. I did that for six years and looking back at it now – well it looks like it was a bunch of hard work for very little pay. But I don’t remember it as being hard. Back then I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world. Heck I’m still lucky. 🙂

While I didn’t have this in my back pocket then, I do now. It’s a quote from an inspiring book by Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way:

“Leap, and the net will appear.”

I just jumped into professional photography. I took the leap, and everything worked out because I had the passion, the desire, the patience, the drive, the will, and the persistence to succeed.

It’s easy to find excuses. Telling yourself you’ll probably fail is the lazy person’s out. It’s harder to actually get out of bed and do SOMETHING. Don’t make excuses. Don’t plan for failure. Just get busy doing that first thing on your list. Then do the next thing. Then do the next thing. Before you know it, you’ll be like me. More than three decades will have passed and people will still be paying you to put a camera in your hand. It’s an amazing, thrilling and rewarding career. No matter how much money you get paid, your experiences – my experiences along the way – those are priceless. Now stop reading this and get busy. Leave a comment if you like telling all of us what that first thing is for you personally – keep it to one sentence. Remember baby steps. You can do it. Skip and I are rooting for you.

This post sponsored by WHCC – White House Custom Colour – Get Five Free 8×10 Prints From WHCC

Written by scottbourne

May 28, 2010 at 7:07 am

Posted in Business

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