Starting a successful photography business takes more than knowing how to set up the perfect shot. Starting a new business requires completing several steps, and obtaining licensing is an important one as it may impact your ability to operate legally.
The question, “what business license do I need to start my photography business” is a common one, but in reality, your business will likely need multiple licenses, permits, and registrations from federal, state, and local agencies.
Let’s look at which licenses to consider when starting a photography business.
To not miss any important licenses and permits, we recommend also checking with your local Chamber of Commerce, economic development agency, or use a business license service like Incfile or Corpnet.
What Licenses Do You Need to Start a Photography Business?
While there aren’t licenses specifically for a photography business, there are still a few general licensing requirements for starting a business at the federal, state, and local level. Here are a few of the common licenses and permits that a photography business may need:
When starting a business, the legal entity needs to be selected. A legal entity refers to how a business is organized in order to operate. There are four main types of entities; sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC).
Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability protection, costs, and administrative requirements.
Business Name Registration
While not necessarily a business license, it’s worth noting that to use a name for a business, many states require the registration of that name. Making matters more complicated, the process of name registration is different by state and the type of business entity.
For instance, sole proprietorships and partnerships generally need to register a business name (also referred to as a Doing Business As, DBA, fictitious name, or assumed name).
Learn: How to register a DBA
Corporations and LLCs register are a little easier because the name is registered when the entity is formed with the state.
General Business License or Permit
Depending on where the business is located, a general business license or permit may be required. A few states require a business license; however, they are more commonly found at the city level.
Learn more: Business license requirements by state
Federal Employer Identification Number
The Federal Employer Identification Number (also referred to as a FEIN, Employer Identification Number, EIN, or Federal Tax ID Number) is a unique nine-digit number that identifies a business with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This number isn’t commonly needed for a photography business, however, some will.
Any business with employees or those that form as a partnership, Corporation, and in many cases an LLC, the business will need to get an EIN.
Sole proprietors and single-owner LLCs without employees can instead use the owner’s social security number.
Learn: How to get an EIN
Sales Tax Permit or Business Number
Perhaps the most confusing registration for a photography service is whether a sales tax permit (also referred to as a business tax number or tax ID number) is necessary. To sell services in some states, which most of what a photography business provides is a service, a state sales tax permit may be needed. More commonly, a sales tax permit will be needed for a photography business that sells photographs to the customer.
This permit creates an account number with the state’s Department of Revenue (or similarly named state taxing agency) to collect and remit sales tax.
Certificate of Occupancy
Since photography businesses set up and operate on-site, they are typically operated as a home-based business. In some cities and towns, a home occupation permit is still required to operate.
If the business has larger ambitions and plans to operate in a commercial building, a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) may be required. This certificate is typically obtained from the city and/or the county and allows a business to occupy and operate from a building. Before the certificate is issued, the building will need to comply with zoning regulations, building codes, and any other local requirements.
Before purchasing or leasing a location for your photography business, be sure to check with the local zoning department first to ensure the business can legally operate out of the chosen location.
The process of identifying all of the licenses and permits necessary to start a photography business may feel confusing and overwhelming. It is critical to do this right the first time, otherwise, your business may be shut down after opening until all licenses are obtained.