I witnessed something yesterday on a local community page and it really got me thinking about how we, as photographers, operate. How can we be heard above the roar of a flooded market when it seems everybody is getting into photography? Someone posted on our local community Facebook page, “I’m just got engaged and I’m looking for a photographer to do engagement pictures! Who do you guys recommend?” Within minutes people were posting their names, the names of their friends, phone numbers, links to websites, links to portfolios, some were posting “Sending you a private message now!” It seemed that every photographer within a 50 mile radius was vying for that engagement shoot. One well-meaning woman copied and pasted 10 (TEN) different images from her portfolio, each in a separate comment saying “I can do this.” “or I can do this” etc… I sat down and looked over the comments and as I scrolled I asked myself, “Why do we react like this? This is blind panic marketing at it’s finest. So why are we doing it? Why are we throwing our names into the hat like it’s the lotto? Is it really the lotto when trying to get gigs in photography? Isn’t there a way to better our odds of getting business? If we threw as much effort into effective marketing as we do in getting that ONE engagement shoot posted on the community page, we would be unstoppable. This is what I call “knee-jerk” marketing and I know we have all done it. Okay…Well… I’VE done it. When I see that post in the community forum it’s like running for a flag. It gets your blood pumping and your blood pressure roaring. Boy howdy! I’m going to get that gig!!!
I know what you are thinking… yes, photography seems to be the fruit de jour these days and every year right after Christmas there will be a few thousand more. Technology has catapulted the photography industry into being one of the most popular pursuits of business in the last 30 years. As technology has become more affordable, more and more photographers are getting in the business daily. (Yes. I totally meant to say “daily”.) When we are first starting out we tend to throw a blanket over all things photography and act on the premise that anything under that blanket falls under our job description. It becomes a world of “Get all you can and can all you get.” I know what you are thinking… and YES… you SHOULD shoot anything and everything when you are learning photography. Try it all! The world is your oyster! But once you have found your niche – once you have found what you really love to shoot? Then its time to make some decisions – decisions that will dictate your marketing strategy. Trust me… “Get all you can and can all you get” is NOT a marketing strategy.
As I was reading the 100 + comments on the photography thread I got to the end and noticed the post below it. It read. “Any recommendations for a website designer?” There were three little comments. One was a business’s name, one was “Google” and another was a “.”…. That’s it. Just a “.” (dot). I am assuming it was placed to boost the post on the page…
When I was fresh out of college, the business of “website development” was at it’s peak. Everybody was offering to design websites. The market was flooded with flesh talent. EVERY body and their nephew was designing and coding websites. Why? How? It’s because the technology had been made available to the masses and it burst open the doors of opportunity for everyone! If that thread asking for a web designer had been posted 20 years ago it would have had a reaction rivaling the engagement post. Now, don’t get me wrong. Let me reassure you that now is a PERFECT time to get into photography. It has never been so affordable or accessible to get into this amazing art form. As a life-long creative-head, getting a digital camera was like being handed a brand spank’in new set of paints! Digital cameras took the hobby of photography from “too expensive” to “affordable” in the time it took me to turn the thing on. I get to create all these new things I couldn’t create before! I am not pointing this out to discourage you but encourage you. Getting in the furnace when the flame is hottest is the most opportune time to get into a business. It burns up the things that don’t work and leaves you with the gems that do. FAST. Those who are getting into the photography “business” don’t get jaded. As with anything… The storm will die down. The next technological firestorm is already in the works.
I was telling my husband about the post last night and he asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks. He said, “Why would you not try and get that shoot? Everybody else is posting their info! Why aren’t you?” That is a GREAT question. I am here to tell you if you don’t have an answer to that question then your business will not survive a year. Mull it over. Wrestle with it. Get mad about it. Journal about it and don’t come up for air until you have an answer. The answer to this question can make or break your success. This is a question that every single successful business owner can answer within seconds. Why? Because answering it identifies WHO their competition is and what makes their service or product stand out in a crowded market.
My husband is a numbers guy. He is a banker and he is good at it. REALLY good at it. He puts a price on everything. But there is a big difference between price and value. My husband once asked me “Why would someone pay you 125.00 an image when they can go down here and get all of them for 75.00?” I said, “For the same reason Budget Inn is just as successful as the Ritz Carlton”. I mean really… Think about it. There are a lot of hotel chains out there. Every single one of them offers you a bed and a toilet. How is it that BOTH hotel chains are so successful? If you use that logic then shouldn’t the Ritz Carlton be going out of business? Why would anybody pay such high prices when they can get a bed and a toilet at Budget Inn? I’ll tell you why. They are not competing in the same market. When developing your photography business and products you need to be able to answer, “Who is your competition?” and “What makes your product different from your competition?” There is nothing wrong with competing on price. If that is your angle then work it. But identify who your competition is. Narrow your playing field and create a product that is viable in a competitive pricing market. I think that is why so many photographers become jaded and quit. It’s because we all start out trying to compete with anybody who owns a camera and has a business card. Every person who owns a DSLR is NOT your competition. If you compete in that huge arena you will be up one day and flat on your back the next. Trust me. Don’t go down that rabbit hole. It’s dark down there. You will get really hungry. If you want a viable business then come out of that black hole where there is more opportunity for you and less competition. You know that question we all face when starting out in photography and it never seems that anybody has a clear answer… “How should I price my photography?! For the love of Pete! Somebody just tell me what I should charge!!” It depends upon who your competition is. Nobody can answer that if you can’t identify who you are competing with. And remember…”Everybody with a DSLR” is NOT an answer. Once you have found the genre of photography you enjoy, then everything from how you price to what you include in your services depends upon who your competition is. Identifying just that little piece of the puzzle makes the rest of the pieces so much easier to figure out.
So that brings me to my husband’s question…Why did I not throw my hat into the ring? Because I have chosen not to compete in the comparitive pricing market. I cannot create what I want to create in my product and be successful in a market that is based on price. It is not because I think I’m a better photographer. It’s not because I think I am a worse photographer. It’s because do not want to compete with every photographer who owns a DSLR and can provide a product for less. I will lose… and I hate it when that happens… However, I WILL compete on value and product portfolio. I’ll throw my hat into that ring any day. Game on.