Every year or so I run a similar spin to the story of the hot dog vendor. My good buddy Jim Morton found it years ago. We were both at Hasselblad then and in a tough economy, our parent company was suggesting cutbacks to save money on things that were MAKING money. There was a great story in circulation by the advertising community in the early '90s. Jim showed it to me, and while it might be close to thirty years old, it's still so valid.
Here's the short version: A very successful hot dog vendor is hitting record sales. He’s advertising, cross-promoting, staying open longer each day and business is fantastic. His son comes home from college for the summer and says, “Dad, don’t you know we’re in a recession? You need to watch your spending and be ready for business to slow down.”
The father, concerned, stays awake all that night worrying about what his son has said. The following day he pulls down a lot of his signs and puts the money he would have spent on advertising and promoting in the bank. By the end of the month, business is terrible, and all he can say to himself is, “Wow, it’s a good thing I listened to my son. There really is a recession.”
I’m frustrated with hearing some of you cry the blues when you haven’t made an effort to evaluate and restructure your current business model. Every business owner, and not just in photography, whether sales are up or down will always add: "But I've NEVER worked so hard in my life!"
There is no secret to surviving and growing as a professional photographer today—survival is all about marketing, promotion, hard work and utilizing every aspect of new technology. But there are some aspects of running a photography business everyone needs to make a decision about.
Diversification: Are you chasing the same old target or new markets? If you’re a wedding photographer, how many of your brides in the last few years now have children? If they loved the wedding album, you created, how about photographing their young family? If you really don't want to stray from your core business then at least develop a relationship with a children and family photographer and then cross-promote with each other.
Market and Promote: Our hot dog vendor, to stave off the recession, stopped telling people he was there. What are you doing to promote your business? Are you involved in the community? Are you advertising in local papers? Do people recognize your presence? Do you own your zip code? Do you have consistency on your blog with new posts at least 2-3 times each week?
Attitude: When was the last time you did an attitude check on yourself? Your clients trust you to be their eyes and sometimes heart at a wedding. At a portrait sitting they're trusting you to see them the way they see themselves. They're trusting you to deliver a product far better than Uncle Harry could ever dream of! So, are you delivering a quality product that sets you apart from your competitors? Are you building relationships with each client instead of just providing them with photographs?
Tony Corbell has often told the story about when he first started as a professional photographer. "I may not have been the best photographer in town, but I was determined to be the nicest!" If you know Tony, then you know he's never strayed from that philosophy, although he did become one of the very best photographers in the industry!
Think about the passion for imaging that brought you to today. It's okay to be frustrated if things aren't coming together as quickly as you had hoped, but it's not okay to ease up if you haven't taken advantage of every opportunity to build a stronger brand.
Here's another quote from Twitter this week that hits the topic from a different angle.