Are you one of the many unfortunate photographers being held hostage by your photography business failing, or showing signs of impending failure?
We probably shouldn’t wait for the end of the year, or some other milestone, to look back and ask ourselves the $64,000 question:
“How was business this 12 months? Was this year better, worse, or the same as the last?”
Can we define this year as a success, a failure, or as simply static?
As much as it hurts, I suspect many photographers are finding things to be not much better, despite assurances from the economic wizards that the recession has been over for quite some time.
Oh boy, there’s a question, right there.
Why has the photography business been so bad for many of us, even though the recession is supposedly behind us? Why have so many talented photographers quit the industry for the security of a regular paycheck?
To find answers to these questions we have to look within, and examine our own businesses. What possible explanations do we have for not performing as well as we could have? Surely, there must be someone or something we can blame…
Perhaps these six great excuses will help alleviate some of those bad feelings we have, and help us sleep better in the knowledge that we can at least justify our failings:
- Poor economy (despite the optimism of the economists)
- Too many competing photographers
- Consumer apathy
- Marketing overload
- Excessive “noise” in the commercial landscape
- Blurred lines between consumers and producers
Business Failing Excuse #1. Poor Economy
This is right there at the top of our hit list of bad guys. The economists claim the recession is over yet, apparently, no one has bothered to inform the consumer. Here’s an example of what I hear on this subject from a lot of people:
No one is spending any money. Everyone wants something for nothing or at the cheapest possible price. People in my area no longer buy photography.
A great reason, right? I don’t think so. Blaming the economy for our business problems is so easy because it’s something big we can point a finger at. However, the statement above is too broad and all encompassing for me; even during the depths of the recession some people still had disposable income to spend on photography. Admittedly, there were fewer of them than before, and they were harder to find, but they were still out there looking for the same high quality work and service they’ve always valued so much.
So what’s the real problem? If we’re truly honest with ourselves, it’s a simple question to answer:
A lack of creative thinking and ineffective marketing.
During the recession many businesses made the huge mistake of cutting back or even eliminating their marketing, claiming that, “we don’t have the budget for it.” Instead, they hunkered down to weather out the storm in a form of business hibernation in the vain hope of returning to life when the economy improved.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the way it works. People simply forgot they existed.
The photographers who remained successful during these hard times didn’t do so because they quit marketing to save money. They stayed in business because they came up with new and creative ways to engage their clients, despite a leaner and tighter budget. They continued to do the same great work, at the same prices, and still remained busy. Okay, they probably weren’t turning away as many as before but, and they worked harder to get new business. But they also worked more effectively at harnessing the power of referrals and social media – areas that don’t cost as much as traditional marketing methods.
The lateral thinkers and the truly creative marketers were the ones who stayed successful and prospered in such a poor economic climate.
Business Failing Excuse #2. Too Many Competing Photographers
This one is the “dog ate my homework” excuse on the list. It’s the one we’d like to think everyone would believe, but we know in our hearts that it’s nothing like the real reason.
Looking around, it’s easy to imagine an army of photographers in our area, all competing for the same small number of prospects and clients. But, really, how many of those photographers are we actually in direct competition with? True, if we specialize in “everything” and are obsessed with being the cheapest in town, we might be in a little trouble. However, in reality, we all have some elements that set us apart from the other photographers.
This makes our sphere of competition much smaller, and if we focus on highlighting our difference and how they can benefit the client, we stand a much better chance of success.
There is only ONE of YOU, and no one on the planet can compete with that, so the only photographer you need to worry about competing with is yourself.
Business Failing Excuse #3. Consumer Apathy
Apparent apathy on the part of the consumer is another lame excuse on which to hang our failed photography business out to dry. “All she wanted was a 5 x 7 or a CD,” we can say to ourselves. “She didn’t value my work enough to invest in a wall portrait, so there was nothing I could do about it.”
So why work with her in the first place? Why accept a client who is not a good business fit? Was it just because we needed the money? What money? She didn’t buy anything, so the whole exercise was a waste of time (ours and hers), and caused nothing but trouble.
The fact of the matter is that if we end up with clients who don’t care about what we do or value the art of photography enough to invest in it, then we only have ourselves to blame. It all comes down to the simple fact that we failed to qualify the prospect in the first place to make sure they were a good fit for us. We need to take a good look at our lead generation process to see where things might not be working for us.
That means spending more effort to make our web sites more engaging, more emotional, and with copy that speaks to our core values and unique factors that separate us from other photographers.
It also means spending more time during the initial telephone or email conversation to build rapport, generate enthusiasm, qualify the prospect and educate her about our policies and level of investments.
If the prospect makes it through this process to a design consultation with us in person, we have one final opportunity to ensure that we are a good fit for each other before proceeding.
We simply should not expect to work with everyone we come into contact with.
Business Failing Excuse #4. Marketing Overload
We’re all constantly subjected to a barrage of marketing materials and advertising from all directions, most of it going unnoticed. As consumers ourselves, we can lie to ourselves and make the excuse that our own marketing efforts just don’t work because they get lost in the cacophony created by the incessant advertising that everyone else is doing. After all, that’s something that isn’t under our control.
Admittedly, our prospects have become blind and deaf to many forms of interruptive advertising and marketing, simply tuning them out thereby rendering them ineffective.
For example, I recently signed up for Netflix as a way to catch up on some of the shows and movies I’ve missed out on until now (btw, if anyone has a cure for being a “Lost” addict, please let me know!) I’ve always disliked TV commercials, but I didn’t realize how much so, until I found Netflix, which has no commercials. Now I find it extremely difficult to watch regular TV, even the news. Incidentally, I notice that the TV media actually refer to advertising as “commercial interruption” – at least they’re honest about it.
In short, I acknowledge that there’s a problem with traditional marketing and advertising methods, which is why we need to avoid them. That doesn’t mean abandoning our efforts completely; we just need to be more creative in the ways we market ourselves.
This is the direction that social media marketing is moving in, and quickly – away from traditional interruptive methods, to means of engaging people in ways designed to encourage them to market for us by talking about our business in the arena of social media.
Business Failing Excuse #5. Excessive “Noise” In The Commercial Landscape
What I mean by “noise” in this context is anything unwanted or distracting that leads to a degradation or loss of meaning in our message. A problem that’s new to social media in particular, we find our message is jostled and lost in the static of generally inane and useless chatter about cats, strange breakfast foods, silly videos, and a torrent of recycled quotes that have lost all their inspirational qualities through overuse by people who are themselves less inspiring than a weathered telephone pole.
But is this a “real” reason for failure, or just another excuse? That’s a difficult one to answer, but I’m going to end up siding with “excuse” because I believe there’s something we can do about it, and I really believe there’s no excuse for inaction.
The only element that we have true control over is our own message. Forget everything else, especially the unwanted noise. Instead, distill and concentrate the message, amplify it and encourage others to spread it through a process of authentic engagement with the audience.
One way to do this is to make sure you keep your social posts on a professional footing, while still allowing your personality to show through. There’s no harm in humor, and people love to read useful tips, but keep religion, politics and mud-slinging out of it at all costs. No one is interested in what your cat ate for breakfast or that he can play the piano with one paw tied behind his back.
Business Failing Excuse #6. Blurred Lines Between Consumers And Producers
Finally, we come to excuse number six. This is the “my client said her husband is pretty good with a camera and can make his own prints at home” excuse.
What can we do against that kind of opposition?
The answer is simple: The same as we’ve always done – make sure we stay ahead of the consumer by offering products, services and experiences that they can’t do or get by themselves. The main difference now is that the race is a lot faster and it doesn’t take as long for the consumer to catch up with us as it once did.
Sure, they can probably make their own small prints at home for their albums using their photo printer. But can they make a 20 x 30 gallery wrap canvas or a custom-designed flush-mounted album? Perhaps, by using an online service, but not at home for themselves, and we can still outshine them in sheer image quality and artistic talent. Still, this should be a good reminder that, as professionals, it’s our responsibility to stay ahead of the curve if we’re to remain in business in the long term.
Creative Marketers Win
The common thread linking all of these “excuses” for failure together is the need for us all to be creative marketers in our photography businesses. It doesn’t matter which niche you operate in, who your target market is, or how expensive your prices are. Sadly, it doesn’t even matter if you are the most amazing photographer ever to walk the planet with a camera.
Our success or failure depends entirely on how creative we are at marketing what we do to the people who understand the added value our photographic art brings to their lives. It hinges on being able to engage our market and help them to share with others their experience of working with us.
It is not an easy fight, and no one can be creative in a vacuum. We need to support each other in the photography industry, share ideas and keep the business we love alive. If we succumb to a paradigm of “excuses” then we risk slipping onto a dangerous slope toward eventual failure.
To Do List – What Next?
The only solution to the problems outlined here is to take ACTION. Understanding the issues we face is only the first step. To effect change we need to do something. In order for us to be able to say that 2011 was a great year in 12 months time, we have to start now.
Here’s a laundry list of things we can start with:
- Define your strengths and passions…
- Identify your target market and learn as much as possible about them…
- List at least 10 things that separate you from your competition…
- Focus your “about page” on the customer, not you…
- Learn effective telephone sales skills…
- Meet all your prospects in person before scheduling a session…
- Study social media and the new ways of effective marketing…
- Be professional and focus your message like a laser…
- Stay ahead of the game – research new products…
- Give your clients a great experience…
- Be innovative (finding new ways to solve human problems)…
- Support your fellow professional photographers…
You can read more on the hot topic of whether the photography industry is in trouble at “Failed Photography Business? Is Photography Dying As A Profession?”
My hope is for the start of a new era in the professional photography business, where “professional” doesn’t just mean that we earn money through our cameras. It’s time we worked hard to restore the respect and admiration that professional photographers once enjoyed through their hard work and dedication to their art…
No more excuses.