How to Start a Photo Booth Business
When I got started in the photo booth business 5 years ago, I never expected it to become this popular. You can't attend a wedding anymore without seeing a slew of props, a photo booth, and tons of smiling faces. It's an awesome business to be a part of.
So what does it take to start a photo booth business? Well, in it's simplest form you just need one thing. A "portable" photo booth. However we know that a product by itself isn't a business. In this article, I'm going to walk through everything you'll need to start your very own photo booth business. If you are looking to understand more about photo booth business profits and expenses, then check out our other article "How the photo booth guy made $635 profit at a wedding."
Lets get down to business. Here is everything you'll need to start a photo booth business today. Note that I am only talking about the things that actually matter. Inexperienced people will tell you that you need to research the computer processor speed, the megapixels of the camera, etc etc. None of that is actually important. In my article "How to choose a photo booth" I'll go into detail on the finer details of what you need in an actual photo booth. Lets move on!
- A Portable Photo Booth - You can buy a photo booth for $5k-$12k depending on what you're looking for. Open air/Freestanding, Enclosed with a canopy, and hard-body photo booths are the 3 styles of photo booths that you'll find for sale. Each booth style has it's own benefits. See our article "How to choose a photo booth style" to learn more about each of the pros and cons for each booth. Now, you can buy a photo booth or you can build your own. I know that I'm a booth builder and I recommend buying a booth but lets look at it logically. To build a photo booth it's going to take you 1-2 months of doing research on software, buying the components, doing the carpentry, figuring out how the canopy setups are made, and more. Going with an experienced booth builder will not only save you 2 months of headache, but you'll be able to get started sooner. You'll get all of the builders experience put into the design of their booths. For example, we built our first photo booths 5 years ago because at the time, most booths were terrible. They took 45 minutes to setup/build, looked ugly, and took horrible photos. So we tested our carpentry skills out and built a functional but pretty awful looking setup. It worked, but overtime we polished our system up. Wrinkle free canopies (Because the cloth pulls just tight enough when it's fully setup and steaming our original setup was a pain), tilt camera mounts (When you work kids parties they're much shorter), adjustable legs (Sometimes the ground isn't always even), and more. If you buy a photo booth, you can focus on what really matters, which is starting your business and getting bookings. Lets move onto the #2 thing you need.
- Website - No business can operate without a storefront. When is the last time you bought a sub sandwich from a guy on a street corner? In the photo booth business it doesn't make financial sense to own a storefront, so we own a website. Brides, party planners, and wedding coordinators will search for photo booth rentals online. Your website needs to be great at converting visitors to customers. What does that mean? Well, when someone visits your website, they need to feel that you are an authority in the industry. You have to entice them to leave their information with you. We've been modifying and split testing (trying different designs) on our websites for 5 years. Our newest websites collect customer information from 40-50% of the people that visit our website. That number is amazing. Our first website and the website that many people will try to sell you converts around 5-10% of visitors. This means a great converting website will not only make you look more professional and allow you to charge higher prices, but it will get you more business. Make sure you understand what makes a good website before you decide to just throw something online. This is one of the most important things your business needs.
- Marketing - Once you have a photo booth, you need to advertise it. I can't tell you how many times someone has purchased a booth from us only to never advertise their services. We give them step by step videos showing them how to setup google or facebook ads, but they think word of mouth will suffice. It doesn't. The only way your business could go without marketing is if you're partnering with DJ's/Photographers as an add-on to their services. Then you're paying them a cut of your profits. Online marketing is the #1 most effective and affordable way to promote your business and will make your life and business easy. You can laser target the people you want as customers and only pay for them to view your website. Alternative marketing to online ads would be things like wedding expos, bridal shows, venue open houses, etc. From our experience, all of those methods aren't time effective. We are able to fully book out our calendars by just using online marketing. It would cost us around $100 to acquire a customer. An expo will cost you $700-1500 depending on the size of the event. The most bookings we ever got at an expo was 3. So $300/booking but it also took us 16 hours of intense sales pitches and effort. No thanks!
With those three things you can successfully run an operate a photo booth business. Of course there are a lot of additional things you'll need to understand and setup to be a "real" business but those are the nuts and bolts. If you want to learn everything there is about running a booth business then continue reading. I'll briefly touch on "everything" you need to actually run the business side of this business.
- Email AutoResponder (Optional) - While this is an optional feature, when you have 400 event requests a month, emailing everyone can get quite tasking. I highly recommend setting up an email autoresponder which will automatically email every opt-in on your website with your pricing, FAQs, and other important information. You can use a service like Aweber, mailchimp, or a slew of other options to do this. In our business training modules we give all our customers our exact emails that we use in our business to automate our sales process.
- Business Contracts - Once you book a client you need to set some rules. This is where a well written contract comes in. Did you ever think about carring your 100lb booth up seven flights of stairs by yourself because there is no elevator or the elevator is broke? How about what happens when the event is cancelled and you're en-route to the event. Do they still pay? These are all things you have to consider and then some. We give all our customers our contracts to use with their business.
- Legal Entity - You need to get a federal business EIN and license setup for your city. This is a pretty easy step. Register your sole proprietorship, partnership, or LLC with your local office. You can apply for an EIN online through IRS.gov. Is there a tax benefit to one structure over the other? Honestly, unless you're doing 250k+ in annual revenues, it doesn't really matter. Consult with a tax accountant for professional advice. An LLC will help keep your business separate from your personal assets.
- Event Management - You need to keep track of all your events, remaining balances, and more. We use a simple spreadsheet to monitor and manage all our events. We also use our auto-responder system to automatically email clients when it's time to pay in full for the event (30 days prior). I DO NOT recommend taking checks for payment at the event. While it can be fine most of the time, getting screwed once will really make for a bad day. We give our customers our google spreadsheet for them to use.
- Merchant Card Processor - Charging credit cards. Most people don't pay with checks anymore. You're going to need a merchant card processor company to process credit cards through. This is also how we automate much of our sales process. We have our customers go direclty through our website and make payments online. Often our auto-responder and website will sell a customer without us ever talking to them. It's amazing!
- Making Sales - You've got a customer that wants to use your photo booth. They're starting to question why your prices are higher, why should they use you, etc. You're going to want to feel confident about your booth and the service you provide. We give our customers a document on making sales over the phone based on our real experience.
- Buying Supplies - Some booth builder companies require you to purchase paper/ink from them at a marked up price. They say this is how you pay for their support. What a joke. $400 for a box of paper/ink that costs $100 is a total rip-off. Avoid those companies like the plague. A good booth won't require support. You can buy paper/ink for nearly any printer in the industry from Imagingspectrum.com. Props - Avoid prop stores. They overcharge for everything. You can buy most props at online stores at a fraction of the cost. Photo albums - We include a photo album with all our events included in our price. Some companies charge $100 for the scrapbook option. We found it easier to sell our services when everything was included at one price. We made the mistake of charging for props at one point in our business. The customer didn't want them and we got bad reviews for not having props.... Just include everything for free in the price and be a happy booth owner.
- Support - While a good booth won't need much support, you're still going to need to understand how the booth works and how to get things rolling. Whatever company you purchase from, make sure they'll show you how to use the equipment. Our team is available weekdays, we host weekly webinars where we walk you through using your photo booth and can ask our tech support guru Jim anything. We have training videos online for everything and also give you a user manual with solutions to any issue we've ever experienced. We often get asked, "If most of our events are on the weekend, why don't you offer weekend support?" Fanstastic question! We used to offer weekend support, however we never got a single call. So we gave our employees their weekends back. =)
I hope this introduction to the photo booth industry helps. If there is anything else you'd like to see in this article send me an email and I'll get it added. Happy boothing!