Top 3 Legal Mistakes Photographers Make
A guest blog by Magi Fisher, The Artists’ Lawyer
Hi, I'm Magi! I'm a lawyer, educator, photographer, storyteller, traveler, and entrepreneur. My journey has taken me from photographing professional surfers while swimming in some of the world's most epic waves to receiving a Juris Doctorate from Rutgers Law. And these two sides of me have allowed me understand the unique legal needs of creative business owners. So, I'm sharing with you the top three mistakes that photographers make that can get them into legal trouble (and how to avoid them).
1) NOT USING A LEGIT CONTRACT
When you run a business in the service industry, contracts aren’t just a good idea—they’re essential. Not only do they protect you, but a thoughtfully composed contract makes expectations, services, and deliverables clear from the get go. This means your client knows exactly what they’re signing up for and can communicate any questions, concerns, or priorities before officially enlisting your services. Sounds ideal, right? Happy clients are good for business.
But hiring an attorney to create a custom set of contracts for your business can be extremely cost prohibitive for a small business owner, especially when you’re just starting out. It feels like a catch 22, but there is a solution—contract templates. Whether you need an NDA, a release form, terms and conditions, a GDPR-compliant privacy policies, an independent contractor agreement, a full service contract, or an individual clause, a quick Google search will instantly populate a plethora of template options to purchase and download.
When choosing a legal template to purchase for your business, make sure it is written in easy to understand language and presented in an organized fashion. Remember, these contracts aren’t just fail safes for your business—your client needs to be able to understand the terms so they can enter into the agreement with confidence. Additionally, make sure it is comprehensive for your industry. For example, a contract to enlist the services of a wedding photographer should include detailed policies that cover location limitations, cancellations, rescheduling, weather, harassment, safety, force majeure and other emergencies.
You also need to consider your source. It is never acceptable for a layman to provide legal counsel. You wouldn’t go to the owner of a clothing boutique and ask him to give you a medical treatment plan for your high blood pressure... even if his mother is a pediatrician. That seems obvious, right?
Likewise, you shouldn’t purchase contracts from anyone other than a licensed attorney; bonus points if their expertise is on creative, small businesses (let’s chat!). Why? Laws and regulations are ever-changing and require a full time professional to stay up to date on them, and contracts require specific language and meticulous composition. Not only will the document leave you and your business at risk, but creating and selling a legal template as a layman is a massive liability for their own business. My advice is to steer clear.
Instead of using an unqualified source for your legal contracts, purchase one from a currently practicing lawyer who understands the needs of creative business owners. It is hard to come across comprehensive, affordable, super niche yet legitimate contract templates, so I decided to fill the gap and create some myself, which are available here. But whether you use mine or someone else’s, make sure you review any customizations, additions, or alterations with an attorney practicing in your state for local compliance, and revisit them yearly to make sure they stay up to date with current legal best practices, as well as your most up to date policies.
2) MAKE IT OFFICIAL
You have your website ready to go, a shiny new logo, a branded Gmail account, and you’re ready to get started. But before you do, don’t forget to make it official. There are a few different ways to create a legal business entity—a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company (LLC), or a corporation, to name a few.
For most creative, small business owners (especially those in service industries), forming an LLC typically makes the most sense. Essentially, an LLC keeps your personal assets protected. For example, if your business gets sued, they can’t come after your home to satisfy the lawsuit when you have an LLC but they can in a sole proprietorship, and you don’t have to maintain as many complicated, and often expensive, formalities of a corporation (i.e. annual report and shareholder requirements).
Creating an LLC is super easy, and is one of the first steps you should take when forming your business. Search for “register a business” on your state’s website, and you should be directed to an online application. They might require rules, bylaws, or operating agreements and you will have to pay a filing fee, but the process is straightforward and can easily be completed in an afternoon. If you need any help with the filing process, feel free to reach out and we will guide you through the steps in a 1-1 consultation.
3) MIXING BUSINESS & PLEASURE
This one is pretty straight forward—and it’s actually really easy to do! Keep your business accounts separate from your personal, even if you don’t have a single employee. Why? Mixing your expenses is not only a bookkeeping nightmare (was that gas line on the debit card in April for my personal use or for traveling to the Smiths’ wedding?), but it also puts you at risk for losing the liability protections of your LLC. And I’m talking ALL your accounts—checking, savings, credit cards, Paypal, Square, etc.
All you need is an EIN (employer identification number), which you’ll receive when you create your official legal entity with your state. You’ll want to make sure you’re keeping track of all business income as well as any business-related expenses for tax purposes.
One of my favorite things I use is Bench Accounting, which takes care of categorizing and tracking all of my income and expenses, and then delivering that information to my accountant at the end of the year! Bottom line, always keep your business and personal accounts and funds separate, and keep track of it all for tax purposes.
This information is made available for educational and general informational purposes only; it is not legal advice for an individual case nor does it guarantee any future result. This material may be improved upon or updated without notice, and Magi Fisher, LLC will not be held responsible for any outcomes as a result of this education. Do not act upon this information without seeking individual advice from a lawyer licensed in your state. You understand that viewing this information does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and Magi Fisher.