Do I have to use “LLC” in my photography marketing?

Do I have to use “LLC” in my photography marketing?

Do I have to use “LLC” in my photography marketing?

Everything in life is black or white, wrong or right, delicious or disgusting, no?

Well maybe if you are my five-year old son.

As adults however, we are reminded almost daily that the solution to so many of the issues we encounter falls somewhere in that oft referred to gray area. This so called gray area is defined by ambiguity, uncertainty, and confusion. In other words, the answers that fall into this category are what my relations like to refer to as “clear as mud.” It really does sound dreadful, but take heart, we can dig our way out, and in order to do so we get to use our hard earned judgment! By combining our judgment with due diligence and a mindset of being better safe than sorry we can ensure our business is protected while also creating graphically pleasing marketing materials! Yay!


The reason for the ambiguity in the answer to this particular question is due to the fact that these guidelines are set by each state. And even within each state it is not totally clear where you may or must use the term LLC. What is clear however is that by taking the additional steps necessary to set up your photography business as an LLC, you saw value in and sought the protections provided by this particular formation, and rightfully so. As we covered in an earlier post, the benefits of an LLC  are numerous and in my opinion well worth the additional cost and effort.


So now what? I like to focus on the things I do know, to determine answers to the things I don’t. In this case it is clear that one of the primary benefits of an LLC and one of the main reasons to choose this form is that it provides the owner(s) with the same personal protection from responsibility as owners of incorporated businesses. In order to ensure you receive this protection however, it is imperative that you meet all of the requirements of an LLC, one of which that is particularly relevant to our question is to make the status known. In other words, in order to receive the benefit of the LLC you have to let people know that it is in fact an LLC. The most obvious, important, and required place to do this is on ALL legal documents such as contracts, leases, and even bank accounts. See your states filing guidelines for more guidance on which documents require that you use the officially registered name.


So what about my website, business cards, and other marketing materials.


This is where the better safe than sorry mentality comes into play. While you are certainly diligent in using your full business names on legal documents, often times these are not what the client first sees or pays close attention to. If your marketing materials are doing their job, this is where clients first familiarize themselves with your company. Although using the LLC may not sound as catchy, it is good practice to use it on every piece of collateral.


It’s not as bad as it sounds though. So let’s start with the website, I’m not suggesting that your main headline display in big, bold type your business’s full legal name, but the contact page and footer area of your site are good options for placement that are visible yet discreet. This strategy can be used across the board on brochures, business cards, and event photo folders and portfolio items.


Another great reason to embrace this recommendation is that you deserve the credit! Going the LLC route was certainly not the easiest but you did it to protect yourself and your business. There is added assurance and legitimacy provided to clients when they realize your business is an LLC, and it may help them choose you over a competitor.


Still not convinced? Then let’s discuss the DBA option.  


If you chose your business name before you considered how it would work, look, and sound on marketing materials then you still have the option of registering a ‘Doing Business As’ name. This is not necessary in every state so depending on where your business is incorporated you may not have to do go through this process in order to achieve the same results. In states where this is required however, you can choose a name different from that listed as your business’s official legal name. While you will still be required to use your officially registered name on all legal and government documents it will provide you with a bit more flexibility on how you market your business. All this to say it is still wise, even with a DBA, to include your full legal name in places such as your website and most printed collateral in the areas discussed above.


And so here we are, still in the gray area but armed with a bit more information and hopefully a clearer understanding of how to determine where you should include the full, legal name of your business and where you can opt to drop the LLC or use your DBA.  





The other day I was going through our nighttime routine with my daughter.  As usual, she was using every stalling technique she could find in her box of magic tricks – “I want a drink of water”…”I left something really important downstairs”…”Can you read me one more story?”  I tried to redirect her by talking about some of the fun things we have planned over the next few weeks and explained that if she goes to sleep right now, then the time goes by much faster.  One phrase describes my well-intentioned attempt – “Epic Fail.”  My daughter started jumping up and down and screaming in excitement about her friend’s upcoming birthday party that I mentioned.  Just like that, her energy burst had her all but ready for bed.  

I think this incident was a great tale of “unintended consequences.”  I thought that bringing up the fun events and explaining that sleep would make them happen faster (or at least appear that way) would encourage my daughter to go right to sleep, but really my efforts only discouraged sleep.  I walked right into the trap. 

Unfortunately, we do not experience unintended consequences in parenthood alone.  We often see them in business as well, only they tend to hit us in our wallets instead of delaying our coveted evening adult time by another fifteen minutes.  While some unintended consequences cannot be avoided, others can easily be prevented by implementing certain business practices.    

If you have been following my work, it should come as no surprise that I tend to favor a certain entity type for photography businesses – the Limited Liability Company.  Forming a LLC requires a little more effort on the front end, but it allows you to eliminate risk and personal exposure.  A critical step towards avoiding those unintended consequences I mentioned.  However, there is more that goes into it than formal structure.  Effective contracting practices is another area that can prevent the preventable.

How you sign your business contracts is extremely important because you need to show your clients and the world that your personal life and business operations are entirely separate things.  Regardless of who you are photographing – a new client you acquired through a cold call, a repeat client, or your best friend – you will need to sign a contract in the official capacity you hold in your business, such as President or Manager.


How do you do this and what does it look like? 

First, you always want to make sure that you are using the formal legal name you have registered or formalized in your state through your articles or certificate of organization.  For example, if you registered your company as “Ultimate Photography, LLC” with your state, then where you define your business as a party to the contract it should say “Ultimate Photography, LLC”. 

Second, you should never deviate from the name, even in seemingly minor ways.  In the example above, using “Ultimate Photography Company” instead of “Ultimate Photography, LLC” may create enough ambiguity to open you up to personal liability.  One way to avoid deviating from the formal name is to create a template contract that has your company name pre-set. 

Of course, there is an exception to this.  Isn’t there always an exception in matters of the law!  If you create a formal “Doing Business As” or “DBA” with your state, such as “Ultimate Photography, LLC dba Ultimate Photography,” then you can use “Ultimate Photography” without the same risk. 

Finally, you need to make sure that there is a signature block at the conclusion of your contract.  The signature block should list your entity’s legal name above the signature line.  You sign your own name on the signature line, but must include your business title with that signature.  You can do that in a couple of ways, such as listing your title immediately after your signature:

Ultimate Photography, LLC


Ima Photographer, President


Or by using a full signature block:


Ultimate Photography, LLC

Signature:  _______________________

Name of Signer: Ima Photographer

Title of Signer: President

Date:  October 1, 2016


Either option shows that you are signing your name in your official capacity for the business.


Should you ever deviate from a formal process? 

You may often provide photography services for good friends and family.  Having formal contract processes feels a bit impersonal and unnecessary in these situations, but lawsuits happen even among family and friends. 

I also recommend that you have all clients sign a new contract for each transaction, even repeat customers.  Just because you have history with a client does not mean that future sessions won’t hit speedbumps.  

All in all, I believe you should never make exceptions to signing a contract using your formal business name.   Even though it may feel impersonal and unnecessary to you, your clients probably don’t see anything unusual about it.  This is, after all, business and almost every time money passes from hand to hand these days a contract is involved. 

In the end, running a successful business is not always easy and it requires you to have a good balance of personal touch and necessary formality.  This does not mean that you cannot treat your clients as more than clients, it means that you should not allow your personal relationships to cause you to avoid necessary business practices.  Do what you love, let your passion shine through, and protect your hard work.

Legalities Of Running A Business When You Are Not Yet 18 Years Old

Legalities Of Running A Business When You Are Not Yet 18 Years Old

Legalities Of Running A Business When You Are Not Yet 18 Years Old

I have a brilliant friend who started a baking business back in junior high school. She would take orders from classmates at school and bake cakes for birthdays or other special occasions. She would bring the cakes to school for her classmate to give as gifts to other students. She had a true entrepreneurial gift that ultimately carried over into her adult life where she is co-owner of a very successful business…though not a bakery!
While she seemed unique to us all back then, today we hear of successful minor businesses all of the time. From the young girls in Colorado who started their own lip balm company using the beeswax from their parents’ bee hives, to the boy genius who developed and sold a successful app.

Many minors have the talent, entrepreneurial spirit, and drive to run successful businesses, including photography businesses. However, how does a minor manage turning photography from a hobby into a successful business? Let’s talk about a few of the more significant hurdles you will face.
Can you enter a legally binding contract with your clients if you are under 18?
While I am putting the cart before the horse and talking about contracting on behalf of your photography business before setting up your own business, your rights and obligations under contract law has direct bearing on the type of entity you would be able to create. So, I start here.
In a few states under mostly limited circumstances, minors are able to execute fully binding contracts. In most states; however, while a minor can enter into a valid contract, the contract is usually considered “voidable” by the minor. What this means is that the minor contracting party can hold the other party (assuming they are an adult) to all of the terms of the contract, but the minor may avoid his or her obligations under the contract at any time. There are exceptions…there are always exceptions, such as if the minor turns 18 and continues to perform under the contract, which is known as ratification. As you can imagine, while this seems all well and good from your perspective, having the ability to get out of a contract at will likely creates some hesitation from a client’s perspective.
Can you formalize a business in your state as a minor?
As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I tend to favor a limited liability company, or LLC, for photography businesses. Whether or not someone under the age of 18 can form an LLC varies from state to state. Several states specifically provide that someone has to be at least 18 years old to form or organize LLCs , while other states are silent as to the age of members. If you are in a state that does not specifically preclude you from forming an LLC or being a member of an LLC, your ability to void contracts at will is something that would likely impact your ability to act with authority for your organization. More likely than not, being an LLC Member will be extremely challenging at best. In these instances, a sole proprietorship may be an easier option for you in terms of getting your business started, but a sole proprietorship will not shield you from liability if you could be held liable for your business activities under the laws of your state.
Can you open a business checking account with your bank if you are a minor?
So you formed your photography business and have started making your own money. That is great. Where are you going to store or save income? Whether you can open a business or personal checking or savings account will depend on the law in your state and each individual bank’s policies and procedures. In many cases, a parent has to be joint owner on a minor’s bank account. If you are in a state that does not allow an individual personal bank account, chances are you also will not be able to open your own business account as the requirements may be more stringent for business accounts.
I may need some financial assistance for my business, can I access credit as a minor?
Accessing credit as a young adult, much less a minor, can be difficult. Typically, you have to have a credit history in order to get credit. Therefore, without a credit history and a full-time job, it will be very hard to open a credit card account without assistance from an adult. You may be able to get a debit card with your bank account, but that will limit you to expenses that are within your account versus being able to “spend more to make more.” That may not be a great lesson for spending within your means, but isn’t always the best limitation when growing your business.
What role could my parents play in all of this?
In the end, many of the hurdles you will face as a minor could be overcome with your parents’ involvement in your business – they could sign mutually binding contracts on behalf of the business, establish an LLC to limit liability, jointly own bank accounts with you, and cosign on loan or credit card applications or allow you to be an authorized user on a credit card account.
This is not without personal risk on their end, as their assistance can impact their credit score and rating. Additionally, if your parents get involved in your business, I would definitely reiterate my position on setting up an LLC. Even though you may not have significant personal assets, your parents likely do. Therefore, they will want to protect themselves as any other adult business owner should.
If you are passionate about starting a photography business as a minor, I say go for it, but have a plan to address these issues so you don’t become discouraged at the outset.

5 Reasons to NOT be a Sole Proprietorship

5 Reasons to NOT be a Sole Proprietorship

Many times people start out in the creative field part time or with great uncertainty as to whether they are going to “make it” in business.   For these reasons, many of you may be sitting on a dangerous risk pile of sole proprietorship (SP) formation.  

Yes, because I will undoubtedly get emails saying there is a time and place for SP businesses. You are correct, however, I don’t feel comfortable recommending such a risky formation even withironcladd contracts and insurance contracts.  I present this article with the understanding that not each of you has the money or know-how to be a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or a Corporation, but I want to encourage the understanding into the risks of being a SP so that you can make a game plan to grow out of that formation. 


What is a Sole Proprietorship?

Colloquially, it’s having all your business and personal assets thrown into the same bucket. There’s not separation and there’s no liability protection arising out of the formation.    SP is quite a streamlined process, in fact, many times people create SPs without realizing it.  SP is the default formation that occurs when you’re in business (whether you are full time, part time, or just acting like it on any timeline).   State laws vary on formation requirements but this formation is most commonly found since it is the “default” and other formation types require overt filings and payment to receive those benefits and protections.


#1 Liability Risks

While SP is arguably the easiest and least expensive option, it also brings with it very little benefits.  Sure, you’re a formed business and may have ease of filing taxes, but there is an uphill battle trying to take your personal assets out of that “bucket” when an issue arises so your personal life isn’t touched.   At formation, LLC and Corporations give you two buckets – personal and business. All of the assets are separated.  Note: You’ll be afforded liability protections if you avoid piercing the corporate veil (more on that in another article). 


#2 Access to Capital

If you reach a point in business where you need to acquire financing, whether through loans or other individuals, sole proprietorships can have a difficult burden to demonstrate the value of the investment. Further, a sole proprietor cannot bring on partners as that would require a change in formation.


#3 Business Termination

Should the individual become incapacitated or deceased, the business ceases. A SP is tied to the individual and is not a “passable” entity.  


#4 Personal Bankruptcy/Credit Risk

Unlike other formations, all of the business credit goes under the SP as an individual.  When an SP “goes under” and needs to file bankruptcy it has to be done with the personal assets as well, not simply just the business assets.  Remember, no separate bucket protection here!  Further, should a “business” expense fall into collections, a creditor can collect judgment from the bucket that includes personal assets.


#5 Lose Tax Benefits

With LLC (with Corp election) and Corporation formations, there are tax benefits that can help the business (and you!) save money paid on taxes.  Sole Proprietors do not receive the same tax benefits that incorporated businesses do, and you may end up spending more than needed.  


As you can see – sole proprietorships may have a place in your business timeline, but for a limited period of time.  It is best to seek LLC or Corporation options to receive all the benefits and protections available to your photography business.


Need more help? 

This stuff can be really confusing.  BizRevamp® is an online course by yours truly, photography and lawyer – to help you understand business formation, taxes, contracts, insurance, retirement and more.  

Get more information here.

Opening a business bank account for your Photography LLC

Opening a business bank account for your Photography LLC

Opening a business bank account for your Photography LLC


Now that you’ve taken the plunge and created your photography LLC, you’ll need a place to keep all those dollar bills that will be rolling in!  It’s important that you open a bank account for your LLC separate from your personal accounts and use the new bank account is solely for the business.  Setting up a separate business bank account helps prevent the appearance of commingling of funds and adds a layer of liability protection for you as member of the LLC – that’s the biggest advantage of forming an LLC! 

The importance of keeping your business funds separate from your personal finances can’t be overstated, and setting up a business bank account early in the life of your company can help make accounting and managing cash flow much easier – not to mention fewer headaches at tax time. 


Some Considerations When Selecting a Bank

Most banks offer small business accounts. You’ll want to evaluate the options and determine which bank and type of account is the best fit for you and your business. What works for others, may not automatically work for you, your business, and your personal preferences.

Generally, you’ll want to evaluate the following:

  1. Location

Think about branch locations in relation to your home, office, and other errands.  Are there multiple branch locations? Will you need to access your bank while traveling out of town? 

Does your personal bank offer business accounts that may be a fit?  If so, it might save you from making stops at multiple banks for deposits.

  1. National vs. Local

Weigh the big chains against the small-town branches.  Is it important to you that it’s a national bank or do you prefer to support a bank within your local community?  Do you need to connect your bank account with your accounting system?  If so, is it compatible and easy to do?  Often, the large national banks have more invested in technology and system compatibility, but the small local banks may be more accessible and offer the ability to develop a more personal relationship with your business banker. 

  1. Monthly Fees and Required Minimum Balances

A lot of banks charge monthly fees and require you to maintain a minimum monthly balance. But many other banks don’t charge monthly fees, so call around to a few and check before making the trip into a local branch.

  1. Promotions

Be careful of promotions or incentives for opening an account. Although they may sound good, most are just temporary and usually lead to ongoing monthly fees or minimum balance requirements.

  1. Different Packages

Banks often have different packages/tiers of business accounts (like silver, gold, and platinum, for example). Usually, the fancier sounding packages have extras you don’t need and higher fees as a result. Unless there is a particular reason for selecting an upgraded package, go with the basic package and save yourself the money – you can usually upgrade later if you change your mind.


Questions to Ask

Call your top bank choices and ask to speak with the person who handles business accounts to confirm the following:

  • Are there minimum monthly balance requirements?
  • What are the monthly fees, if any?
  • How much is needed for the initial deposit?
  • Do all LLC members need to be present?
  • What’s the best time of day for quickest service? Can you make an appointment?
  • What are the required documents?
  • Anything else I need to bring?
  • Anything else I need to know?


Gather Your Documents

Once you have selected a bank, you will need to gather documents to take with you to the branch to open your account.  Required documents may vary based on state and your selected bank so it’s always a good idea to call ahead for specific requirements. 

The common theme is that you need the basic documents that substantiate the name and general nature of your business, the fact that your business is registered with the IRS, and that you, personally, have the authority to set up the bank account.

The following is an overview of the most common requirements:

  1. LLC Approval

This will be your LLC’s approved Articles of Organization, which might be called something different in your state (e.g. Certificate of Formation or Certificate of Organization). If the articles of organization do not provide sufficient information regarding who is authorized to sign on behalf of the LLC, you may also need an additional LLC document that does provide that information such as a resolution.

  1. Federal Tax ID Number (aka EIN)

Make sure you’ve received your EIN from the IRS before heading to the bank. You’ll need to show them a copy of your EIN in order to open your account.  For more information on registering for an EIN, click here.  

  1. Business License

Depending on your location, you may also need to have a business license (or permit) that states that you’re allowed to do business in the state or city where you’re located. However, this can vary from state to state.

  1. Two Forms of Personal identification

The bank will require proof of your identity to open a business account. The Patriot Act, Dodd Frank Act, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, require business owner/operators to provide certain details and data to corroborate their identities and their business models.

You’ll need to bring in two forms of ID for yourself and any other authorized signers on the account. One of these needs to be government-issued (such as a driver’s license). The 2nd ID could be any of the following: credit/debit card, passport, voter’s registration, or utility bill.


Tips when Ordering Checks

After your account is opened, you’ll be able to order business checks. Below are some helpful tips.

  • Think about your starting check number: The lower the check number the more “amateur” the perception others may have of your business. You can ask the bank to start your checks at #1000 or #5000 or whatever you please to provide the perception your business has been established for a greater period of time.
  • Don’t get super-sized checks if you don’t need them: Often banks will try to sell you “special” business checks. They are big business checks that come in a large, bulky binder. Usually they are printed three to a page. Unless you have a particular need for checks in this format, you can save yourself some money by just ordering regular size checks.
  • Address on check: By default, the bank will put your address in the upper-left corner of all your checks. If you prefer not to have your address listed, just tell the bank. For that matter, you can personalize most of the information printed.  Just be sure to carefully review any changes for errors before they get sent to print – and again once you receive the checks.