Want to share your love of painting and design with the pet parents of the world? Are you able to branch out and serve businesses as well? In this article we’ll cover setting up a pet portrait business.
Note: If you click some of the links in this article we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Table of Contents
- Step 1. Decide on a Market
- Step 2.Choose a Name
- Step 3. Decide Between a Home Office VS. Commercial Space
- Step 4. Register Your Business
- Step 5. Consider Setting up an LLC
- Step 6. Get General Liability Insurance
- Step 7. Aquire Some Basic Equipment and Programs
- Step 8. Create Your Offerings and Set Pricing
- Step 9. Start Marketing
Step 1. Decide on a Market
First off, who do you plan to serve? The two major markets for pet portraits are individual pet parents and businesses.
They have completely different price points and completely different end products.
Pet parents want actual printing or painted images that are framed. These are best sold locally, through your website, and on gig sites like Etsy.
The video below covers more on what people are looking for in a pet portrait designed for pet owners.
Businesses on the other hand want graphics for their book covers, websites, blogs, and other media products.
They want graphic design deliverables like jpegs, pngs, and the like. They expect fast, low cost service.
Businesses mainly go through online gig services like Fiverr.com for this.
If you are willing to add in other photoshop services like converting portraits to digital images, touching up photos and more you can offer your services through Upwork.com. We highlight several freelancers there making a good amount of money in our article on portrait marketing.
Step 2.Choose a Name
Next you need to decide on a name for your business. You’ll use this to register with your state, get business banking setup, and get business credit cards.
More importantly it’s a way to separate out your business income and expenses from your personal income and expenses.
To find a good name do the following:
- Brainstorm names
- Check if the Domain is available
- Search the USPTO Database to evaluate if the name has been trademarked
- See if it’s available in your state to register as a business and as an LLC
We cover how to do all of the above with links to various resources in this article. Plus we share 80 names we brainstormed that are currently available to buy as URLs.
Step 3. Decide Between a Home Office VS. Commercial Space
We recommend starting as a home business. Why? It’s significantly cheaper and this type of business lends itself well to working from home.
Even with local customers your business will mainly be conducted over email and over the phone.
You should still check to make sure your HOA and your local zoning don’t expressly prohibit having this kind of home-based business.
Where you run into issues is when you have a lot of local customers coming over day after day. That kind of activity can get you fined by your HOA or turned in by your neighbors to your local planning office.
Conversely you could rent commercial space. Retail space rents for $10 to $25 per square foot and up depending on the quality of the building and it’s location.
Again, this business isn’t like pet photography where people come into the studio to get pictures taken.
Instead clients send you pictures then you do the portrait either digitally or through sketching and painting.
Dive deep into the option of working from home, especially when starting. If it’s against your HOA just don’t take local clients. Have everyone contact you through email or phone.
Disclaimer – We aren’t a lawyers, CPAs, etc. and can’t give legal advice. This is for informational purposes only. Get your own legal counsel and do your own due diligence for your City, County, and State of business operations.
After you’ve decided on a location for your business it’s time to register it with the State and begin making it official.
Step 4. Register Your Business
Just about every state will require you to register your business with it’s Secretary of State Office. There usually is a simple online application and a small annual fee of $50 or so. That’s how it goes in our home state of Colorado.
You’ll also want to check your county and city to see if they have other requirements. Sometimes they do. For example, in Denver you have to separately register a Pet Daycare and Boarding Kennel business.
It’s unlikely you will have to do that for a graphic design or fine art business like pet portraiture. Still, it’s good practice to find a local CPA or business attorney to help you set this up and to answer your questions just to be safe.
Step 5. Consider Setting up an LLC
Next stop – To LLC or not to LLC, that is the question. Once your business is registered with the State you also have the option of creating a Limited Liability Corportation. You can even do this as a single member LLC.
Read all the benefits of LLC creation here.
Benefits of an LLC for Pet Businesses
- Protects managers and members by separating business assets from personal assets
- Avoids double taxation (e.g. tax the business then tax the individual)
- Privacy Protection
LLCs must follow a set of rules though. They aren’t hard but must be followed otherwise an LLC can be thrown out in a lawsuit and they could go after your personal assets. To avoid this do the following:
- Read the book above about LLCs!
- Read NOLO’s free online information about LLCs
- Get an attorney to help you and answer your question (e.g. Legalzoom.com)
- File your articles of incorporation with your state
- Use a template to draft your operating agreement
- Read and follow your operating agreement!
- Get a business bank account and business credit card – completely separate your business expenses and revenue from your personal expenses and revenue (day job)
- Hold regular LLC meetings and keep minutes
- Follow your operating agreement! Sorry, this is important enough to mention twice
Step 6. Get General Liability Insurance
What’s general liability insurance? It protects you from lawsuits. Costs usually range from $300 up to $1500 per year depending on what your business does and it’s size. At that price range it usually covers liability up to $1,000,000.
Even though an LLC will provide some protection it won’t provide money to pay for a legal defense if needed. That’s what General Liability Insurance will do – they will fight for you when you get sued.
We recommend seeking insurance with the following insurance brokers. We have had experience with both. However, you’ll have to contact both for quotes as they work with different carriers. They will need to review your specific situation.
Step 7. Aquire Some Basic Equipment and Programs
It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into depth on the best equipment out there but we wanted to go over the basics you’ll need to do this business.
Macbook Pros seem to be the preference for illustrators and graphic designers.
Personally, we prefer a nice basic $500 or less PC. When the money starts flowing in later you can go Apple.
Photoshop or Gimp
Gimp is a free open source program that pretty much covers most if not all of what Photoshop can you. Download it here. Check out this cool instructional on using GIMP to convert a picture into a sketch.
Photoshop is the standard tool for this industry.
In addition you might want to pickup a copy of Adobe Illustrator if you plan to create vector based images for business websites and media as part of your services.
Apps to Convert Photos to Paintings
Don’t want to buy Photoshop or Illustrator? No problem! There are plenty of apps for this kind of work.
Includes hundreds of filters. One of the best free options for converting pictures to paintings. You can get it here. Fast and easy to use.
Basic version is free. Full version is $20 per year. Check it out here.
Over 40 specialty brushes gives you tons of options for better photo to painting conversions. Download it here.
Best for people and pets instead of scenery. Download it here.
Best for watercolor conversions. Check it out here. Sadly it’s only for iOS.
Step 8. Create Your Offerings and Set Pricing
See our breakdown on marketing for examples of different pricing structures to use when working on Fiverr.com, Upwork.com, and Etsy.com.
In short, you’ll start with an initial offering. For instance, on Fiverr.com they usually offer a simple face conversion of a picture into a painting for between $5 and $15. Then they offer upgrades like large picture sizes, full body, backgrounds, and unlimited commercial use licenses for more money. Each add-on is typically $20 or so.
With Upwork.com you’ll mainly be doing touch ups and graphic design work. It’s not a great place to market portraits to pet owners. See the examples at the article above though.
There is a market there to do digital touch up work on portraits. Some freelancers have made many thousands of dollars doing that.
With Etsy the main market wants you to convert a photo into a painting, print it, frame it, and ship it to them. Again see the examples we show. You charge more for different sized frames and shipping.
Step 9. Start Marketing
We’ve already covered marketing on Fiverr.com, Etsy.com, and Upwork.com in a separate article. Check that out for how to do it.
What’s great about those services is that you don’t need a website. You setup a profile and can start working with clients immediately.
You make more money as you get more 5 star reviews and create more upsells (e.g. bigger frames, backgrounds, commercial licensing, etc.).
Local Marketing and Referrals
It’s worth your time to setup a Google My Business page. You can get started here. You’ll need to sign up and verify your address.
Once that’s completed you’ll be searchable in Google Maps. Be sure to add tons of photos. According to Google, google map listings with pictures get 42% more requests for directions and over 30% more direct clicks to the listing’s website.
Keep in mind if you have people driving over without calling it could cause issues with your neighbors or the HOA. Be sure to mark how they should contact you in the listing.
As you get local clients be sure to ask them to leave a review on your google map listing and ideally add pictures of your work. Feel free to offer them a coupon for future work both to give to their friends and to ask for them to leave an honest review.
Also, ask them for referrals. Do they know anyone else that is interested? Give them coupons to give out.
Lastly, monitor the reviews. Respond to everyone thanking them. This is especially true for negative reviews. Be sure to respond kindly and see if there is anything you can do to fix things in the future.
Social Media Marketing
For social media marketing you should keep it super simple. Just setup a Facebook business page and an Instagram page using your business name. Make sure to include your address, name, phone number, and business email so people can contact you.
Then start posting pictures of your work and just keep doing it. People will eventually find your profile info and contact you for work.
Don’t stress much on this one. If you hate it and you get plenty of work from your freelance websites then no need to push this. It’s just free marketing that can drive things to you.
It’s not passive though. It requires fresh pictures all the time to work.
Passive marketing comes next.
Content Marketing (Website and Blog)
Content marketing can be a great way to bring passive business to you through Google search and Pinterest. It’s way too much to get into depth on what to do. We’ll cover it in short form though so you can learn more if needed.
The basic steps are as follows:
- Get the URL and host your website at Bluehost.com (or a similar hosting company).
- Install wordpress and a free theme like astra.
- Build out your homepage. Just talk about your services and pricing. The easiest way to do this is to use one of Astra’s ready to import starter websites. See the websites here. Just choose one you like, import it, and change the details to match your business.
- Do keyword research to find topics relating to pet portraits. This is hugely important. You can learn exactly how to do that from Miles Beckler, someone we trust and follow. Here’s his instructions on it.
- Write the articles yourself or pay a company like Contentpit.com to do it for you.
- Post the articles. Make sure they are formatted well and Search Engine Optimized. Again, use Miles instructions on how to do that.
- Rinse and repeat till you have at least 100 articles.
- Then add an email funnel to start converting readers into email followers then email followers into paying clients. Again, learn from Miles on how to build an email funnel.
It’ll take 6 months before Google starts sending you visitors. Then with each article you add it’ll take 6 months for those to bring in their maximum number of readers. Plus not every reader will become an email subscriber. Then not every subscriber will be a customer.
I’m not going to lie. It’s a ton of work.
So why do it? Once it’s setup it’s like a machine that brings new clients to you passively.
Plus you can skip the freelancer websites that take a percent of each job. You keep all the profits for yourself.
Your last marketing option is paid ads. We’ll cover that next.
Marketing With Ads
This is the option we recommend the least. You can do it once you’ve done everything else above and have positive cash flow.
If you learn ads on your own expect to pay $5,000 to $10,000 in wasted ad spend before you figure it out.
By figure it out we mean that you earn more revenue than the cost of the ads.
If you’ve setup your website and email funnel as described above we recommend using adds to bring in new email subscribers.
To calculate if it’s working you need to calculate the cost per click from each add then the cost per new email subscriber. You should also know the conversion rate of turning an email subscriber into a paying customer. You’ll also need to know the lifetime value (LTV) of each customer.
Once your cost per email subscriber from ads is less than your LTV you’ve figured it out.
You can also pay services to do this for you. Expect to may $1,000 a month and up plus the extra cost of running the ads to have a marketing agency do this for you.
Want to learn more about ads? Again we recommend Miles Beckler. Check out his tutorial on Facebook Advertising here.