It's not an original topic, but it's certainly near and dear. I meet and talk to so many photographers who blame everything bad that happens on their business, the economy, technology etc. instead of the person in the mirror every morning. With the fourth quarter coming up it seems like a great idea to give you a checkoff list of things to consider in building a more successful business.
1) Do people know who you are? Remember, it's not who you know it's who knows you. Press releases, being involved in the community, giving something back, advertising, marketing - they all play a role in building brand awareness. Being involved in your community will do some incredible things to speed up your growth.
2) How's your reputation in your community? If it's bad then you need to back off for a little while, get involved in some charity events and look for ways to change your "rating".
3) Are you producing outstanding images? This is all about the finished product. Are you a great photographer or does your work look like everybody elses? I've written this a few dozen times in other posts: Look at every image in your online gallery and portfolio and ask one question, "If this was the only image I could show, would I get the job?" If "YES" then it stays, if "NO" or even questionable, don't show it!
4) Are you a one trick pony? You need a little diversity in your skill set so you can expand a little outside your specialty. You never know who's going to walk through your door and what kind of help they're going to need. You should be working to develop a couple of strong secondary specialties.
5) Are you competitive on what you offer for your services, prices and finished products? Everyone always thinks they need to lower prices to beat their competitors, but lower prices simply change the dynamics of the entire market and most often, NOT for the better. In a guest post a few years ago, my good buddy Cliff Mautner
"I felt the need to add a bit of value to their collection in lieu of reducing my pricing – which I was dead set against. I added hour here, a flexible payment plan there, and things fell into place nicely."
6) Are you involved in your photographic community? Virtually every community has a group of photographers who get together once a month, just to talk about the business. Often there's a guest speaker. In fact, one of the best groups I've ever worked with was the Dallas PPA. In virtually every major market there are programs coming to your community where you'll not only have a chance to listen to a great guest speaker, but meet other photographers.
7) Do you follow a few different blogs? I appreciate your support, but there are a lot of other great blogs to add to your list, many written by photographers in your area of expertise. There are so many different resources and some of the best are photographers who are writing about the challenges of being on the front line every day. Check out Photofocus, for example.
8) Are you attending every possible program and workshop you can? Besides PPE, IUSA and WPPI check out Shutter Fest next April. There are more things coming and being announced almost every day and they're not hard to follow if you make it a point to keep a lot of key players in your tweet stream.
9) Are you spending too much time "negative selling"? Negative selling is simply talking more about how bad your competitor's work is instead of talking about how good you are. Don't compare yourself to your competitors, it'll only back fire.
Years ago Rollei ran an ad in the major professional photographic magazines. The headline said, "While Hasselblad has slept, Rollei turned dreams into reality!" They even showed a picture of a Hasselblad in the background, on a pillow! Remember, I was president of Hasselblad at the time and couldn't have loved the ad more. I even called their ad agency and offered to pay for more runs of the ad. The ad was a big contributor that year to helping us continue to build awareness for Hasselblad!
I know how frustrating it is to have competitors in your face, but that's what keeps you on your toes too. If you're a tennis player, people always say your game improves when you play with somebody better than you. Well, in business it's the same. A tough economy and competition forces us to look at things we should have looked at a long time ago in our marketing efforts, running our business and even the way we photograph.
10) How's your customer service skill set? It's all about exceeding your client's expectations. If your customer service is bad or perceived as bad, because you didn't respond fast enough or people feel bounced around, then you've lost the battle before you even had a chance to fight it.
I guess it's just a great day for the world according to Cliff Mautner and I can't think of a better close than his quote:
"I still believe there’s no substitute for busting your ass. I’m working harder than ever to stay working hard. I don’t think that will change. It’s the survival of the fittest out there and this is no time to chill. Sharp skill sets, innovative marketing, and top notch customer service will always prevail."
Illustration Credit: © Sashkin - Fotolia.com