Times….they are a changin’.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard some of the doom and gloom that’s been rumbling in our industry. And although the photo industry is different than it used to be, this isn’t necessarily bad news. The photographers who are able to successfully navigate the changing industry landscape are still running successful businesses and have adapted to ensure that their business will still be around in the years to come. Whether you’re just jumping in and are new to the industry or you’re a seasoned pro, here are three essential skills that will help you succeed.
1. Choose your Words Wisely.
As you’ve built your photography business, at some point you probably were told about the exercise of choosing a few words to describe and characterize your brand so that you promote a consistent message. This is a great exercise and useful in helping you define your brand values, but as many photographers took on this task, some major cliches emerged in the photography world. Phrases like “capturing real moments” or descriptions like “Fresh, Modern, Fun” have made their way into the vocabulary and websites of countless photographers. (Don’t believe me? Try googling these three words with photography!)
It’s not that this practice or the descriptions aren’t useful, but it illustrates a major point: “providing great customer service,” being “fun” or “capturing emotion” isn’t going to set you apart. If you want to stand out to your potential clients, you have to search beyond that and define and carve out a very specific niche for yourself. Until you do this, you’ll find yourself competing against a line up of photographers that are all saying the same thing as you are. As you define your niche, be as specific as possible. Most photographers are looking for such a relatively low number of weddings to shoot each year, that they don’t need to appeal to thousands and thousands of potential clients. The successful photographers in the industry today are making it because they’ve figure out how to dominate whatever niche market they’ve carved out for themselves. They’ve named their specialty and stuck to it. Choose your three words wisely and you’ll stand out from the crowd.
2. Price for Sustainability – Not Star Power.
A few years ago, the industry saw a prominent message being preached online and in many photography workshops and classes: “Charge more – you know you’re worth it!” As this wave swept through some of the industry, many photographers raised their rates after being encouraged that they should charge what they’re worth and not undercut themselves or other photographers. There was a lot of chatter in the industry about how much different photographers were charging and a lot of industry credibility became tied to this.
Fast forward a few years to today and as the industry climate has gotten a little more challenging, it’s tough for some photographers to sustain those prices. Although most photographers would love to raise their prices (who doesn’t want to make more money?!) the reality is that the real “stars” of our industry are those who know what prices are sustainable for maintaining their business. It’s not enough to just say that you think your work is worth more, and then hike up our prices and wait for the phone to ring. If you want to be in business for a long time, you’ve got to build your business to last and charge what’s sustainable for you, in whatever market you’re serving.
If you want to determine what you need to be charging to build a sustainable business, start by thinking about three basic questions:
How much money are you keeping from every job you shoot?
How many weddings is it realistic to think that you’ll shoot each year?
How much do you need your yearly take-home salary to be?
These questions will help you determine if your current prices will allow you to shoot enough weddings each year to end up with your desired take-home salary.
3. Embrace the Open, Online World.
The fast growth of the online world along with the popularity of pro-sumer digital cameras means that images have a different place in the lives of our clients. Images are now shared so freely (and instantly!) not only on places like Twitter or Facebook, but via phone. The place of the printed image in our clients lives has changed and many clients now expect digital files from their sessions and want to be able to freely share those photos online. This has resulted in some photographers becoming fearful about what’s being done with their work and whether they’re losing money on print sales. You can fight it or embrace it, but the openness of the online world is here to stay. So it’s up to you to figure out how to stay profitable.
For a lot of photographers, print sales aren’t down, and they’ve actually remained steady! But staying profitable in post sales means that you may need to adapt your pricing to allow for your clients to freely share digital images while still allowing you to make money. Photographers who are succeeding in today’s changing market are embracing and capitalizing on the positive aspects of the new online world and its ability to help images and brand messaging spread much more quickly than ever was possible before. Just because you may be allowing your clients to share these images for free doesn’t mean that you have to lose money. If you can be smart about sharing images digitally, you’ll create a win-win situation: your clients can share their images as they please online digitally and you’ll have found a way to stay profitable.
Written by Katie Humphreys
Katie Humphreys is half of the Chris Humphreys Photography team. For eight years, Katie and her husband Chris have been shooting weddings all over the country. Whether they find themselves in New York City or in the mountains of Colorado, they love every minute they spend documenting the relationships and connections of all the families they work with. Katie is also one fifth of the Pictage and ShootQ Community Team where she oversees theSQUAD program and works on The Photo Life Dispatch to develop business resources for photographers.