A Legally Legit Photo Biz with Rachel Brenke

Natalie: We were just connecting there about how we met a few years ago before in the “before times”,

Rachel: In a non photography conference, believe it or not.

Natalie: I know the podcasting conference at a small one, which was really lovely too. I liked that kind of format because you get to really talk to people and meet people.

Rachel: As an educator, it's fun to go on big stages. I love the vibe of being a big stage. But I love little conferences even more because I get to know the other speakers. I get to know the audience.

Natalie: Yeah, me too. I really enjoy them. Well, okay. So we're here to talk about photography and law. Hence the law tog. Maybe tell folks a little bit about what you do related to photography. Kind of a quick overview, and then we'll jump in.

Rachel: Yeah. So I'm proud of the law tog. The resource came out of seeing big gaps in the industry. I always cringe a little bit when there's intros and they start with lawyer. I'm like, “oh my God, people are going to close the podcast. Nobody wants to listen to a lawyer.” So the point of me telling you that is that I try to make it fun, relatable and understandable.

I love the industry of photography, the creative aspect. I love the legalities. We're such an interesting industry and that there's very low barrier to entry. It's fairly unregulated, which is awesome. It's double edged sword in a way. But there's so much that is plaguing us as photographers from copyright infringement, contracts, legal business setup, privacy laws, client information.

And so it's really fun. There's always something new every day and I love doing it. My goal with the law tog is: y'all don't know what you don't know. And I bring the perspective of also a photographer. I was a photographer before I became a lawyer. And so I know the pain points, right.

So my goal was really I'm saying this, not just as a lawyer, but as a photographer who wants to avoid issues, because it is cheaper and easier and less stressful to prevent the issues that have to clean them up later, I will help you clean them up if you need, but it's easier if we don't have to get there.

Natalie: Yeah. And you already answered my question, which one came first. So you were a photographer before you were a lawyer. Did that influence being a lawyer at all?

at all. So it's funny. The short version of my entrepreneur journey is that I started out with an online apparel store, quickly realized that know anything about business. And this was like “myspace” days.

It was before the days of all this premium information. Podcasting wasn't what it is now. There wasn't Pinterest, Google was even like very limited, there weren't free resources.

Anyways, a couple of different businesses throughout that. And I was like, you know what?

“I wanna to go to law school”, because I'd worked with as a guardian ad litem for children that had been abused. And I very specifically initially went to law school after getting my MBA. Because I was doing business consulting. I'd been in business for so long. At that point, I said, let me just completely up end everything I've been doing, let me go to law school and be a prosecutor for child sex crimes. Cause I really want to like make a difference in the world. And I thought that was the way. And so during law school is when I was running my photography business, you know, financially needed it. It was also the creative outlet I needed to kind of like balance out my brain from like the really heavy legal stuff.

And by the time I graduated, all of the prosecutor stuff fell off the table because I realized there was so much of a need in the photography industry for information. I actually even wrestled for a few years, even though I was helping people, I wrestled for a long time of like, how am I doing good in the world?

And then I realized one day I was on the phone. With a client who's crying to me as she's paying me thousands of dollars to protect her business, and thanking me because it allowed her to be able to be present for her family. That was her livelihood. For me, I'm a mom of five kids and I've always wanted kind of a flexible lifestyle and that photographers can have that too.

So I say all that to say started out thinking I was going to go and be in a prosecutor and be like, you know, a superhero in that. I finally have come to accept and really love being able to help others, not just moms, but all individuals, creatives who want to carve their own way and be able to legally protect it.

Because it's unfortunate, we've got corporate giants and people be crazy out there that can try to steal the joy and the money from you. And I'm really, I'm really excited to be part of helping to prevent those issues.

Natalie: Yeah, it's really interesting that you touched on that idea of like making a difference in the world because I've been reflecting on this a lot too. Because the work I do with coaching photographers and photo business help, I've seen people be able to quit jobs they hate and spend more time with their family. It's occurred to me that, I've done my fair share of work in underserved communities, but that isn't the only place where you can make a difference in people's lives.

And I think that that kind of like, I think there's maybe just a cultural vibe. That's like, “oh, if you're not working in an underserved situation, you're not really doing anything good.” And I think I'm just glad that you brought that up because I think if you can grow your business and reach your goals and be with your family more and have more time to do the things you want, then like you're going to be showing up better in your family and your community. So I really believe that that's true.

Rachel: You know, it's you talk about your consulting clients and I do the same thing.

I do business consulting outside of legal stuff, and we always start with defining what is our real business to help us live our real life and the components of that are service of self family and your clients, and then your community.

And so I, it just hit me when you were talking and I've kind of known this, but the idea of being able to build something that meets, you know, those first three goals, it also financially allows me to serve underserved communities, right? Like at the law tag, we don't, I'm not one that says we need to wave the charity flag all the time.

I think that businesses should do good if they can. And so with the law tog, we do support a local homeless shelter, and then my law firm also participates. It's actually, we helped to create the program locally, where there are women out at the domestic violence shelter who may have wanted to create their own business.

And so myself and an accountant, and we had like a hairdresser that helps provide kind of like this package for free donated time to help women, once they get on their feet, to start making the gains to being an entrepreneur. There is a barrier, no matter when you're in financially, especially if you are in a life situation. So I say all that to say that, I struggled before…I was supposed to be like this super woman with a cape on saving these children. And I was like, oh my gosh, I can't.

And then finally I stopped and said, but I still kind of am. I'm financially help them to provide locally. I still volunteer as a guardian ad litem. And so I'm doing it in different way.

It may not be in the way that you see on TV or maybe culturally were brought up, but you can leverage and utilize your business for good in other capacities.

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photo business help podcast

Natalie: Totally. And that's the other piece of that. So, just because your business isn't dedicated to certain things, does it mean that you can't use the money that you're making and your potential for growth to like give back? And so like, your personal business model is similar in that way, where I give to a lot of environmental charities and do work in that area. I think there is like a mental block for folks. And then we can move on from this like super random, deep dive.

Rachel: It's a good mindset shift too, because sometime people get into business, and they feel this guilt of “I'm going to do this for me.” And it's like, well, the end goal could be you and others.

Natalie: That's right. And it is, it is you and others because I mean, in my own case of, I had just finished my graduate degree and was teaching and I just left.

And my life really, truly was so much fuller and better because I had the schedule I wanted and I had the potential for financial growth and I was able to give back a lot more and volunteer more and do well, and just be kind of a better person in. Better sister, friend, daughter, whatever. And I think, I think this is a good way to start this out, even though we didn't plan on it.

Rachel: Absolutely. I think this is a really good perspective to come from. It's even more so a reason to have your legal ducks in a row, because if you want to be able to make, put financial and physical and emotional resources into whatever your passion in your charities or underserved communities, whatever it is that you're interested in providing help for.

If you're constantly chasing client issues, if you're constantly chasing legal and being on the brunt end of legal stuff, then you're not going to have the mental capacity, the physical capacity, financial capacity, to do any of that. And I think sometimes that's some of what contributes to burnout.

And when it comes to being an entrepreneur, it's just not getting some of these key things. Part of what the law tog tries to bring. I'm known for legal, but I know a lot about business strategy and marketing too. And so I always try to bring that to the forefront because whatever we can do is strategically, effectively, and legally will free up so much of like your mental load to be able to in physical load, to be able to do other things.

Natalie: Yeah. Having just a foundation in general of systems that work and things that, you know, like you don't want to get busy and then find out that it's going to break. And then that's when you get really stressed, cause you're juggling all sorts of stuff. So I agree with that. Let's bring it to this…folks that are listening are dreaming of a business, or in their first few years of a business for the most part. What would you say to someone that's like, “oh, damn, like, what do I need to have in place as a photographer? What should I be looking at?”

Rachel: That's the thing, you don't know what you don't know.

And like I said, I still learn, I go into new situations every day. Y'all bring me some of the craziest stuff. So don't feel like you are going to need to know everything. Right. You know, the law tog, we try to provide that. We have like a legal roadmap, it's free. You can get it on the site and kind of look overarching of what you need.

But I think what's so freeing. And I was just having this conversation actually with one of my teammates. What is so freeing, is that because we are in an industry that's fairly unregulated, there's no required certifications or anything like that, you only really have to look to what the government is requiring you to do.

There's two major things that are the bare minimum. That's if there's a business license required for your area, typically is going to be county or state. And paying your taxes. So your income taxes and your sales tax, and there might be some extras depending on where you live, but that's really honestly all that's minimally legally required.

However, of course doing what I do. I want you to look at it in three major buckets, of what the ultimate protection is. So the first one you're looking at legal business setup. And those two things I just mentioned kind of nestle under that. There's other goods to have, like choosing an LLC or a corporation.

The second bucket is contract. So incredibly important. That is where I do a lot of my conversation because it helps us set expectations helps to prevent issues. And it's there if you ever have a legal issue. And then last is copyright. This is one of the most nuanced areas of law that we work with.

And it's so incredibly important for photographers because unlike other businesses, like a restaurant or whatever, we're selling intellectual property, we're selling photographs and there's legal mechanisms of that.And there is good and there's bad with that.

So it knowing how copyright works truly… 'cause I see a lot of superficially thrown around, but truly understanding how it works so that you can implement and use it in your business is important. So those three major buckets: legal business set up, contracts, and copyright.

Natalie: No, that's awesome advice. I like how you tied it back to regulation and what the government's doing, because paying the taxes thing, you know, having done this, my biz Jennings photo has been around for like 12 years. But as I got into the consulting and Photo Business Help side of stuff, it is alarming to me how many people don't know what to do. It's an alarming in the sense that you really don't want to get slammed with a massive tax bill. It's an awful feeling.

But the amount of information that's out there and like the confusion and the apps and all this stuff available, I think can be overwhelming. And just to be clear too, all of who I work with are lifestyle photographers.

And I think you get into the wedding world and you're making a lot of money, you know? So it's an important thing to keep in mind.

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Rachel: What's funny about this is, and I joke about this all the time….is, you don't need to be a lawyer in order to do this business, but you're going to probably know more than most lawyers I know. Because intellectual property, as of now, is not required on any bar exams in the U S, it's not required by the American bar association to take during school.

So it's one of those elective courses that you take. And when photographers come through, we have our education and membership called “get legit”, and I go through trademark, copyright, copyright infringement protection, all that sort of stuff. Y'all are going to walk away, and probably, even from this episode, know more than most attorneys out there.

In fact, a lot of attorneys that run businesses that don't do this kind of work come to me for the intellectual property type help, because we're not taught it. So I say that kind of as an encouragement of, first, make sure if you're going to seek out an attorney or information or a resource, not just a regular business attorney.

We're selling intellectual property. We have photographs. Those are our visual assets. That's our product.

Make sure they understand intellectual property.

But also feel proud of yourself. And once you deep dive into this sort of stuff, you're going to know more than most attorneys are. And I think that's kind of fun. Maybe that shows the law nerd in me, but as a business owner, that makes it kind of really fun for me to know that I can be equipped with information that even most lawyers.

Natalie: Yeah, I love that. That's really fun because I didn't know that wasn't a requirement

Rachel: It may be now. It wasn't when I was at law school, which was quite a bit ago.

Natalie: I cover a lot like with folks and just getting a basic contract in place and you know, the different things we've talked about with setting up your business and taxes, but I'd love to just dig in a little bit to the copyright stuff since we're talking about it, because this is really an area that I don't know as much about as I'd like to, but also I think it also depends on your industry as a photographer when it comes up more than others, you know, the bigger corporate gigs, the contracts and the agreements look very, very different than doing a family session down the street.

About Rachel: 

Rachel Brenke is a multi-faceted entrepreneur, business strategist, and practicing lawyer who helps creative entrepreneurs build profitable, legal, and strategic businesses so they can live their real life. Aside from her extensive career, Rachel is the wife of an Army veteran, mother of five, cancer survivor, photographer, author, and Team USA athlete. As an entrepreneur, Rachel created Brenke Brands, which includes TheLawTog®, FitLegally®, and Rachel Brenke. She is also the author of seven books, hosted the Real Biz Talk Podcast, and founded a boutique niche law firm. Rachel has been featured on multiple platforms including CreativeLive, Forbes, Business Insider, and at national photography conferences such as WPPI, Seniors Ignite, and The Baby Summit. Her belief that you can create a business that allows you to live the REAL life you dream of has allowed her to travel the world with her family while creating a successful empire.







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