When you decide to get serious and make your photo/video hobby a source of income, one thing that you need to look into is insurance. With the abundance of different plans available it's easy to become overwhelmed as to what coverage is right for you, but hopefully this guide can make that decision easier.
Much of the following stems from my own experiences in selecting an insurance policy as a commercial photographer/studio owner (lease tenant), including knowledge I had previously and things that I hadn't considered prior to selecting my plan. It's always a good idea to consult multiple sources and conduct your own research before making an important decision like selecting the policy that's right for you; these are simply some basic guidelines to use as a tool in that decision making process.
1) Know your options
The first part of finding the right insurance plan is figuring out what's available. Your local insurance provider should offer a summary of their plans including your deductible, liability coverage, legal coverage, etc. on their websites, or in brochures available in their office. Another option is to ask for a consultation from an agent, but it's been my experience that these consultations turn into a sales pitch pretty quickly, so it's important to make it clear that you're not signing anything if you do go this route... it's easy to think a plan has everything you need when it's laid out for you in a few minutes only to realize later on that you're not covered for something you're required to do regularly in your work. Take a notebook or tablet, write down the details, and grab the rep's card before you leave.
If you still aren't sure, it might help to survey some other local professionals working in your industry. In my experience, most won't mind offering some suggestions or giving you the name of a good insurance rep.
2) Find out what coverage you need
You know you need to cover your equipment, but how much do you need for liability? One consideration is if you're opening a studio or leasing office space, most property managers require that you're insured in case of fire, flooding, etc. before you can move in, but even if you're working from home you still need to be covered for your client's property and equipment (your home insurance only covers you while you're at home). If you're shooting engagement portraits in the park, you're probably okay with a few thousand dollars, but if you're dragging your studio lights into a large commercial office space, a fire could put you on the hook for millions, and many large companies require a minimum amount of coverage before they'll hire you. A good insurance policy will not only cover you for damages (regardless of who's at fault), but legal consultation as well.
If you think you'll be traveling out of your province/state or country for work, many plans will offer international coverage for additional fees, this is usually something that you need to talk to the provider about.
3) Determine your budget
Sometimes your insurance needs will narrow your options down to one plan, but in the event that you have a few levels of coverage to choose from (or you have the option of paying extra for more in certain plans), you'll need to sit down and decide how much you're able to afford each month. You really can never have too much coverage, but many higher level plans also come with much higher deductibles, and you need to make sure that you can afford to replace any equipment valued under that minimum.
It doesn't hurt to look into professional photo/video organizations in your area, as some will offer discounts on certain plans that they endorse. I'm not a member of the Professional Photographers of Canada, but I know that should I decide to become one as I'll get a 20% discount on my premiums.
4) Prepare for the worst
In the event that you do have to make a claim, it's a good idea to have a list of all of your equipment including the purchase price, date of purchase, and serial numbers (a photo works best) already prepared. This really comes in handy for cases of theft, but in the event that your claim is questioned by the company, having this as proof can save you from being denied. This list is just as important of your client's files, and should be backed up accordingly, as well as sent to your insurance rep. Personally, I keep a copy of my list in Google Docs which I can quickly access and make changes to no matter where I am as long as I have an internet connection.
Many business plans will cover loss of income resulting from downtime due to a claim, but likely won't pay out if your client goes elsewhere because you can't accommodate them in the mean time, so don't think insurance is an excuse to not have backup equipment.
Of course, plans vary greatly depending on where you are and what you're doing, but in my experience these points are fairly universal. If you read anything that contradicts my experience or you'd like to share your positive or negative stories about an insurance plan/provider, please let us know it in the comments below!