Can I Market My Way to Success?
You start your photography business a few years ago and in the beginning you actually do pretty well. You earn a few bucks and you decide to invest in yourself and attend a few workshop, perhaps you took a few of mine. Your imagery gets better, perhaps a lot better but your business doesn’t experience the upswing that you thought it would, so you try some different things and conclude that a heavy dose of marketing should be your next step. Sounds like a logical progression but hold on to your wallet- before you invest into a new and expensive marketing campaign, get an HONEST assessment of your work before you spend your hard earned dollar.
Please beware, even if you’ve seen great improvement in your work, it still may be considered “average”. If you plan to market an average product, success is going to be limited, even with the greatest marketing plan. As the rule suggests, big advertising bucks into an average product is not always the best solution for a small business.
Let’s look at the music business- suppose a band wants to take it to the next level, hires a manager and does a major marketing plan to promote the band. How far will this band go if their music is average? They may get some initial success but in the end, the band will never achieve great success if their music is average.
Walk before Run
Before any dollars are spent on marketing, get an evaluation of your imagery- 95% (or higher) of the photographers in the marketplace are producing average work. Did you know that 95% of the photographers who apply for work at Bella Pictures, the world’s largest photography studio, are not hired? Perhaps your imagery has improved but can one honestly say it is on par with the top 5% or better in the country?
The first rule to a successful photography business is to create quality ART. Why should a CPA go into business if not a qualified accountant? Conversely, this happens with photography all the time- unqualified photographers entering the market that is why 98% of the photographers fail to establish a successful business.
Before investing heavily into marketing, make sure the photographer has invested in creating imagery that is first class. In my opinion most photographers do not invest in themselves enough when it comes to giving themselves enough tools to create really good photography with a signature style. This is the first step to success and should not be overlooked.
Average Photography, Great Business
Naturally there are some photographers that do well who are not great photographers but they have some sort of excellence in another area of their business- a winning personality, good looks with a good fashion sense, a great relationship with a key vendor, an impressive online presence, a winning personality, etc. Again, let’s look at musical groups as an example, there are some bands that have an image that supersedes their abilities and they enjoy amazing popularity and fame- perhaps the band members are strikingly beautiful with an entertaining personality etc. They have an intangible brand quality that creates their success, usually not a repeatable model- i.e. Justin Beber (sorry JB fans!)- A talented individual with “boy next door” looks and someone who happens to perfectly hit the “tweener” market, the male version of Hannah Montana.
Do we notice popular styles and feel pressured to constantly change our style to fit current market tastes? We flip flop back and forth before we really establish who we are as a business and artist. If anyone is going to be successful, we must be the trend setters and not trend followers.
Built To Last vs. Hooter Marketing
We want to build a business that is built to withstand the rigors of time, state of economy, void from the favorite or popular flavor of the day but a photography business built from sound principles in lighting, posing, composition and executed with the artist’s unique signature style. We must respect the industry and realize that not only is mastering the art of photography extremely difficult, but PHOTOGRAPHY should be the core focus of our business and NOT the style of our blog template, how gorgeous we look, if we have a snazzy logo or if we have a killer marketing campaign.
Of course all these things help but it should be a secondary goal and not the primary. Far too often I see photographers place emphasis on their business brand more than their photography skills. This is a recipe for marginal or hit or miss success, wasted energy and resources where a business must continually pour money into marketing. When we try to build a business from a secondary area of strength other than the core of our business, I call this “Hooter marketing”- after the famous restaurant chain where the business is built on the amazing physical attributes of the waitresses rather than the quality of food which is establishing a business on other areas of excellence other than the core service or product. A clever marketing angle but not necessarily the best method when establishing a business that wants to sell photography as its core service.
This does work in the wedding photography world because most of the time our clients are not artists and not experts in the field of photography. In this case people tend to pick photographers who are the popular choice with great personalities, who offer a great experience with a nice looking website- not necessarily offer the best art. My viewpoint is…why not have a business that does both- great photography and a great business model with style and flare? This is the surest path to success and a business model built to last regardless of economy. There are economic slumps over time but it is far easier for a business to survive difficult times if they produce quality work.
Do we always want to target market clients who are in general ignorant of really good photography? Perhaps we would like to evolve and target the client who actually knows more about art and photography… movie and tv producers at the highest levels, art buyers at museums and fine art galleries, fashion magazine editors, first class stock photography agencies, book publishers, etc. If a photographer is highly skilled, teaching is another type of revenue stream available. Don’t be fooled into believing we can only make money from people getting married, high school seniors or families who need portraits. When a photographer is talented and pushing the envelope, they realize there is an entire new world of imagery people are willing to pay top dollar for.
Zero Cost Marketing
Superior products hardly need any marketing and average products need constant marketing that can be very costly and expensive. Do you notice that average food restaurants offering pizza, burgers and tacos constantly bombard us with advertisements and the fine food establishments hardly market? No one raves about a mediocre restaurant. NO ONE begs us to visit a restaurant with average food, service or atmosphere. Has anyone highly recommend that you need to go to Taco Bell lately? How can we honestly convince people to rave about our work if our imagery is just average?
Most small businesses can’t operate with a low profit, high volume business model that requires more resources to be scalable. A small business has limited resources, usually just one main photographer so it is imperative to maximize profit margin. A low volume, high profit model suits the small business better– which means producing a high quality, unique product. Consequently, this creates client rave and saves the business from huge marketing budgets.
Of course we must market our business regardless of the quality of our work but we must be careful to choose the right marketing strategy that matches our business. To maximize marketing efforts, it is imperative to promote a superior product. That is how to get the most bang for our efforts and buck.
Get an Expert Opinion
Before you invest in an expensive marketing plan for 2012, why not get an honest assessment of the quality of your work. Here are some suggestions…
1. Let your images compete against the world’s best. Submit your images into international competitions like WPPI. I do not suggest entering local competitions only. Compete against the best in the world, not the best in your area. There is a huge difference. Although this is not an entirely accurate assessment, it is a fairly accurate gauge. Most award winning prints show that the artist understands the fundamental skills in lighting, posing and composition, the concept of beauty and produces images with creativity and style. For additional information, I have written an article on How to Producing an Award Winning Print. Top photographers in my book can consistently win awards with at least 30% of their entries- not in just one submission but over the course of several years. I think photographers need to constantly submit their work to show that they are evolving.
2. Pay someone to be the bad cop. We all love to hear praise about our work from our clients, friends and family but they will not give an honest or qualified assessment of our work. Find a professional that not only has a great business but is also respected in the industry for their photography. There is a difference between great business and great imagery, try to find a photographer with both or has experience and track record of developing other photographers.
3. Pay someone to be the good cop. Everyone needs an expert cheerleader because being a successful entrepreneur is probably one of the hardest things in life to accomplish. Just about everyone needs a mentor or coach that can encourage them when times are rough or when experience a new transition with our work or business. We must find encouragement from those who have endured the difficulties we are embarking on. Hope is VERY powerful and is necessary for achievement, without it, we most likely will not push through the difficult times and failure is highly likely. Find those who give us hope and inspiration and make great efforts to be around them as much as possible.
The Best Principle
Before you go ahead and sign on the dotted line for some expensive marketing plan for 2012, if your business is struggling or is not at a satisfactory level, I encourage you to get an honest assessment of your work. The process may be painful because our art is very personal but it may be the best move we make in 2012.
Creating world class work is not an overnight process, personally I felt it took me about 7 years to start producing work I was really proud of. This doesn’t mean waiting 7 years before we start marketing but before we start taking on expensive and high level marketing, our imagery should match the type of marketing we do. The more we market to reputable or influential people, the higher quality our imagery must be or else the mover and shakers in our industry won’t give a lick about our work because the best only want to work with the best- I call this the Best Principle.
Companies that produce the best only look for people and business that produce the best quality. Lets assume you are an influential leader in your industry, what type of people do you want to work with, average producers or trend setters? Excellence creates unlimited opportunities because if influential people or businesses latch on to you, they can bring you to new levels of opportunity beyond our wildest dreams.
Designing Your Life
Once we produce unmatched quality, we start to enter what I call the extraordinary life because suddenly our world becomes bigger with new opportunities approaching us at every corner. We can start to design our own life rather than the world determining ours because we have many more career options. If we want more options, we must produce excellence in things that are of value to the marketplace. Share with the world your unique vision and excellence and I guarantee a whole new world will open up for you if you are not already on this path. The places you will go, the people you will meet and the things you will experience will be extraordinary.