PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
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WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT? WHAT IF IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT?
Let me start this talk on photography business development by stating the obvious. To make a living as a photographer, you need to spend time, energy and money on your photography business development. It won’t just happen by itself.
In my recent article TURNING DOWN UNDERPAID PHOTOGRAPHY WORK, I examined how what I called there “The Underpaid Photographer” undermines the efforts of fellow professionals, ultimately ending up destroying the business for everyone including himself. Lately, I have been hearing and reading lots and lots of whining about The Underpaid Photographer’s actions, resulting in less work; about the recession, resulting in less work; about how since the advent of digital photography the field got crowded by photographers more or less competent, also resulting in less work; and so on.
All true, of course. Let’s now consider an alternative, as unpleasant as it may seem. What if, all whining aside, it is in fact your fault, or partly so, at least, if you can’t find enough work?
Or, to put it differently: what are you doing, if anything, for your photography business development? Here are some possible answers:
1. Nothing. I am just sitting there hoping that it will somehow miraculously all work out;
2. Nothing. I am just developing my photography skills, and I am sure that if I am good enough things will somehow work out;
3. A lot. I am posting my photographs everywhere online like a madman, so that lot of people will see my work, and this will somehow turn into business for me;
4. A lot. I am trolling every possible photography forum writing hundreds of messages a day to make people consider me great, and if they say I am great that’ll surely turn into more business for me;
5. … (more of this sort).
Jokes aside, if all you are doing for your photography business development is any – or all – of the above, you are in for a surprise. And, I am afraid, not a pleasant one.
So, let’s start by taking a look at your photography business development as it is today. It’s fairly easy, since it mainly boils down to one question: is your photography a business aiming to generate a profit?
If the answer is Yes, you might skip to the next paragraph below. If the answer is No, great: you are a paid amateur, making some money on the side of your other job (I surely hope you have one). If you are happy with that, stop reading, enjoy your photography and go out shooting. If, on the other hand, you want to start making your business profitable, read on to find out how to do some photography business development.
First, you may want to start by taking a look at the kind of photography you are doing now to make money and see if that is really the kind of photography you want to do in your life (please note that it doesn’t have necessarily to be one single speciality, of course). Then, you might want to try and figure where the market is going to be in the mid-to-long-term for the kind of photography you want to do as your business. Once you’ve done that, let’s see what you could do to improve your photography business development.
Paraphrasing President Kennedy, to improve your photography business development ask not what your customers can do for you, ask what you can do for them. Meeting your customers’ needs is paramount to generate recurring business from them. After a job well done, you’ll have to follow up with them, keep in touch with them, trying to make yourself constantly visible without being obsessively spanning them. Just delivering the one job and disappear will not help you consolidating your existing market, let alone developing new customers.
Consider this. While, for you, photography is your livelihood, your passion, your art, the thing you pour your heart and your creativity into, for most of your customers is just a commodity, a product to get when they want it or need it. It’s an offer-and-demand situation, and since the advent of digital, offer for this commodity have increased thousand-fold. So, you have to ask yourself what you are doing to stand out the pack, what is it that you offer, and other photographers don’t, that will make a potential customer choose your services against theirs.
In short, gone are the days when being a good photographer was enough to have people coming to you. Welcome the days when you have to constantly ask yourself what you are doing for your customers to make them happy to give you their business, the days when photography business development is fundamental. Remember that the market you are aiming for isn’t very likely to get any bigger in time – if anything, it’s going to shrink even more in the future.
Not only that, it’s going to get more and more crowded in time, too. More and more people will be able to produce images technically good enough for most customers, thus pushing prices down even more. In the end, soon there will be more people calling themselves “professional photographers” than the market can afford, and the system will not be able to sustain them all. Depending on your local, this might already be the case. No surprise there. This has actually been going on forever in most other businesses, were they selling services, commodities or physical products, and it usually ends with the disappearance of some, or many, of the weaker competitors.
Photographers, on the other hand, have always been able to survive better than other professionals even not paying much attention to business development. Part of the reason for this has been the “magic” shrouding the whole process during the film era, making it difficult to enter the ranks of professional photographers and thus limiting competition.
Examining in detail both the old business model for photographers and how digital affected and changed the market (a topic debated to death, btw) is out of the scope of this article. When the digital revolution happened, many photographers thought that “having been in the business” for an x amount of years would magically save them from the hordes of competitors that the advent of digital created and encouraged. Many, on the other hand, simply underestimated the digital revolution and didn’t understand its implications, at least not completely.
So, we are now operating in an overcrowded market, high offer and low demand, with all that this implies when it comes to your photography business development. Assuming that customers are aware of the differences in quality of the commodities on offer (a pretty big assumption in many cases, and the topic for another article), natural selection will very likely take care of those unfit to survive in such a market. The question is, what to do to escape the ranks of the perishing?
If you already are a good enough photographer, now is the time to invest more time, effort and money in marketing and in your photography business development. How much time, effort and money, and what to do?
First of all, let me say one very important thing. If it were up to me, I’d rather be out there shooting all the time than taking care of the photography business development aspects of my photography. However, if I did that, I’ll likely not have a business to take care of anymore. In my experience, like it or not, if you want to survive you have to dedicate a lot of time to your photography business development. But, more importantly, you have to do so constantly. Doing a little bit of photography business development every day easily beats doing nothing for a year and then spending a whole week or two, or a month even, just doing that. Why is that so?
For starters, people have a very short memory, especially in this day and age. If you want them to remember you when they need to call a photographer, they have to be constantly – but discreetly – reminded that you exist. The best way to do so is doing it in small doses, as often and regularly as possible.
The details of what to do actually depend on too many variables for me to give you a simple receipt for success, something supposedly guaranteed to work in all cases, no matter what you shoot and where in the wide world you are based.
Incidentally, there are many people out there selling “magic” recipes for success: beware of them. If you ask me, the only magic thing that these recipes might do is to make their sellers rich. Which actually is magic indeed, all things considered.
Providing you with a general answer to the “what to do” question, however, is very simple. To promote and grow your business, you have to invest in photography business development at least the same attention, time, effort and money that you dedicate to developing your photography. If you don’t want to do this yourself, you can task a business manager to do it for you: just leave it to a professional to take care of your business, while you do what you are supposed to do – take photographs.
This is a great solution for photography business development, and one I’d definitely recommend if you can find a good business manager and if you can afford his or her services. On the other hand, if you’ll have to (or decide to) do this on your own, this would be my list of suggestion:
– Choose the kind of photography you want to do;
– Analyse your market and your competition;
– Prepare and constantly strengthen a portfolio, online or in print;
– Prepare a list of the products or services you want to offer;
– Decide your fees or prices for these;
– Advertise yourself to your potential market, online, on traditional media, on trade media, or on whatever it is that your target market uses to make their decisions;
– Get new customers;
– Keep your relationship with them always current;
– Leverage on repeated business, word of mouth, etc. to establish and enlarge your customer base;
– Repeat the process until you are happy with your business development.
To sum things up, I think that you’ll have to either dedicate about half of your time to your photography business development or pay someone to do so for you. You have to think positive. You have to act positive and proactively. If you do so, I am pretty sure that you’ll start seeing results coming in rather quickly, while at the same time you’ll stop noticing many of the things most photographers usually whine about.
Thanks for reading this post, I hope you enjoyed it! Why don’t you share it with your friends, or drop me a comment to let me know how you feel about this?
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