Have you ever considered the idea that you’re in the time-travel business? Not literally, of course, but professional photographers do preserve the memories and images of the present for the benefit of those living in the future, allowing our future selves and those as yet unborn to experience the legacy of our creations.
It’s a fun idea, and you could say that we’re in the “futures” business.
Other people’s futures, that is.
But what about the future of photography itself, not only as an industry, but as a viable business proposition for an individual professional photographer?
What might the future of the photography business look like for the next generation, and what can we do today to help shape and ensure the security of that future?
Who will take over from you when you’re gone?
Being Professional Requires Professionalism
Before I go any further, I want to be clear that this isn’t another one of those doom-and-gloom “photography is dying” posts, but it nevertheless contains a warning for the careless…
Anyone who knows me as a photography business coach will already understand that I’m very passionate about the idea of professionalism in the photography business, and that I believe we use the word “professional” for reasons besides the fact that we happen to earn money taking photographs.
Professionalism, in the sense I’m referring to here, has as much to do with the basic philosophy, mindset, and approach to the marketing, sales, and business aspects as it does to behaving in a professional manner.
Because there are no regulatory bodies in the photography industry, or professional licenses required, I believe it remains up to us, the photographers, to set and maintain the professional standards by which we operate.
But, while they’re vitally important, it’s not those standards (technical or otherwise) that I’m really concerned about here…
The Future Of Photography Depends On Respect
What does bother me is the way I see the industry being treated by those with little or no regard for the professionals who have gone before them, and especially how the label of professional photography is sometimes portrayed to the outside world.
On top of that, there are people in the industry who simply don’t want to learn the business and marketing side, and are caught up in the mistaken belief that their technical prowess alone is all that’s needed to be successful.
This lack of respect for the photography industry just might prove to be the single biggest danger we’re facing today as photographers.
What Will Your Children Inherit?
Chances are, you’re not of those people, and you do understand the need for continuous education in such matters. But, even so, ask yourself this simple question:
If your children were to inherit your photography business tomorrow, with no possibility of help from you, how would you rate their chances of long-term success?
If you’re really honest about how you answer that question, I’m willing to bet that you feel quite shocked at what it reveals about where you are right now in your business.
For example, what marketing, sales, and business systems or methodologies do you have in place that would ensure your children could take over the helm as seamlessly as possible?
Don’t Train Your Clients To Devalue Photography!
Just as importantly, and more often overlooked than anything else, what are you doing right now – today – to train your clients on how they can expect to do business with a professional photographer?
Do you have well-defined marketing, pricing, and sales systems in place that can guide you in all your important business decisions?
Or, and this seems (sadly) to be the case for the majority of professional photographers, are you caught up in a dangerous game of continual discounting, special offers, promotions, inconsistent policies – all of which contribute to a steady devaluation of your work in the eyes of the consumer?
Whether or not you realize it, everything you do in your business that’s visible to your clients will condition and train them to respond in one way or another.
So, if your clients and target market are being “educated” right now to expect Groupon-style discounts, or to wait until the next sale comes along, how do you think their children will view professional photographers when it’s their turn to invest in photography from your children, if and when they decide to enter the business in the future?
It’s easy to see the problems we’re facing in the photography industry as things that exist only in the here and now, but the ways in which we respond to the challenges we face today can have far-reaching consequences for those who come after us.
It’s a little like the issues facing the environment. Whether or not you subscribe to the idea of global warming, for example, it’s simple common sense for us to take care of the environment now, while we can, in order to preserve it for future generations.
The future of the photography business is just the same – if we fail to take care of it now, at a fundamental level, then we risk damaging it beyond repair for those who want to make a living from photography in the future.
Can you imagine a world where the professional photographer is nothing more than an obsolete relic, because conventional wisdom has been conditioned to believe there’s no value in it?
Stress Kills Creativity!
Every day, I hear from photographers struggling to find clients, who lie awake at night worrying about how to make the next sale, or feel as though their creativity has literally been drained out of them because of all the stress and worry.
Many of them want to blame the economy, the high level of competition, the weekend warriors, or the idea that people in their town don’t buy photography.
The truth, though, is that they’re not really running their photography business as a real business!
No Plan = No Future For Photography
They have no plan, no system, no clear direction or business objectives, no business policies.
For many, the only marketing they do is something that happens in an emergency mode when they reach that point of panic and realize they need to get new clients right now, so they hurriedly throw together some ill-conceived promotion, put it out there on social media, and… nothing happens.
Or, maybe they get a few bites, and a couple of sales, but then find those clients will only buy when there’s a special offer available.
So, the next day, the photographer is almost forced to restart their business from scratch, because the expectations of the few clients they do have are set at a ridiculously low level.
And so the cycle goes on, with the photographer trapped in a deadly race to the bottom, with the inevitable closure of the business.
The Future Of Photography Should Be Bright!
If we aren’t careful, then it’s possible that there will be no industry for our children to inherit from us, should they feel the calling to be professional photographers themselves…
In short, every time we devalue what we do in the name of getting a sale, we negatively affect the future viability of the business for the next generation. We might get a sale in the short term, but at what ultimate cost?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see a future for photography that is not as bright as it can be!
If you run your business in a deliberate and planned way, with systems that take care of SEO, making the right connections with your target market, converting leads into clients, and cultivating meaningful relationships with your clients, then you’re already way ahead of the majority, and you can’t go too far wrong.
Then, when your children come up to you and say, “I want to be a professional photographer just like you…“, you’ll be able to hand over the reins, secure in the knowledge that they’ll inherit a real business from you – something they can take to the next level in their own way, and put their own mark on.
What could possibly be a finer legacy for a professional photographer than that?
How Do YOU See The Future of Photography?
What do you think about this complex issue? Share your thoughts in the comments below – I’d really love to hear from you!