Photographers get no shortage of advice. Some of it is good. Some of it is great. Some of it is – well – not so good at all.
There is no question that these are challenging times. It’s funny that we all seem to think that’s new. It’s not. The decision to enter small business is the decision to accept the challenge of going it alone. Like that ad on TV where the guy says he’s the ‘Chief Everything Officer.’ If you decide you want to be in the business of photography then that’s what you are, a Chief Everything Officer. (Now, go and have new cards printed up that say that!).
Much of the discussion today centers around the challenges of the photography industry. To be sure, too much supply and not enough demand is a big challenge. A photographer who wishes to succeed – and for purposes of my posts we’re going to define success as making enough money to earn a living as a photographer – needs to make a lot of scary decisions about their business. However, from what I’ve gleaned during my short time here at Pictage, I think there are a few solid rules that serve as checkpoints. Think about these things when considering all of those scary decisions and you’re likely to be just fine…
1. A significant portion of the struggles this industry faces have nothing to do with this industry. You sell a luxury product. The economy has been really troubled for the last three years and this will continue this year. During these times your focus needs to be on preserving your business, husbanding cash, saving costs where possible – (now – really – do we ALL need to run out and get the iPhone 4s?), etc.
2. Partly due to the above and partly due to the proliferation of solid consumer grade cameras, consumers are making choices about where they want to spend their money. If they value photography they will spend their money on photography. If they don’t they won’t. You can’t change what a consumer values. You can merely position your business to meet the needs of the consumers you wish to serve.
3. You don’t want to be in the deadly middle. Sell your business in one of two ways. Either target the high end consumer who cares about photography and has money to spend or target the low end consumer with a low priced product (that is inexpensive for you to fulfill). Either strategy is valid. What is not valid is trying to do both.
4. Diversify. A consumer (whether high or low end for these purposes) who hires a professional photographer is telling that photographer two VERY important things.
One – they value professional photography services enough to hire a photographer.
Two – they like that professional photographer enough to have hired them out of a field of competitors.
Just because the first shoot is over doesn’t change any of this. They will have other needs. It is YOUR business and YOUR job to make sure they know that you are a place to fill those needs. Keep in touch with them. Send them little reminders of who you are. If they want portrait work don’t turn them away. The next week a friend of theirs will be getting married. Take every opportunity you can to turn your sunk cost investment into dollars in the bank.
5. Keep moving. The hardest thing about business over time is keeping moving. Trust me. There are days when I want to pull the sheets over MY head and go back to sleep. Business is frustrating, frightening, disappointing, and tiring. There is nothing easy about being in a small business. You have to make a choice to keep moving. Sure, sit around and reminisce from time to time but then get up off your butt and get going. (You ARE you say? What new things are you doing this month that you weren’t doing last month? What is on your calendar for next week, next month, next year that will change your business? Don’t tell me about a conference you’re going to go to where you will figure it all out. Tell me about some ACTUAL things you are doing right now. Not all of them will work but some will.)
There are no magic bullets in your business. There is no one who’s going to do the thinking for you and there is certainly no one who is going to do the doing for you. Baby steps. Start with one thing. You can do it. After all, what’s next is what’s important.
About Jim Collins
Written by Pictage CEO Jim Collins
Jim joined Pictage after a long and successful career in managing and growing a variety of businesses that focus on small business services. Most recently Jim was the CEO of Affinity Internet, an internet hosting provider to small business. At Affinity, he successfully grew the company from 11,000 subscribers to over 450,000, and showcased his relentless focus on customer service. Jim is an avid photographer, and he is excited about having direct access to the industry’s leading pro lab.