Differentiating your photography
There are about 50,000 professional photographers in theUK, although there are no official figures. There are 48 counties in the UK, so there are 1041.6 photographers per county, right? Actually there is probably another 10,000 nought point sixes per county, as there’s an immeasurable number of amateurs out there. What does all this mean? Well, it means – if you weren’t abundantly aware already – that there’s a hell of a lot of competition.
Fortunately most photography businesses are very similar in their approach. This means that if you offer something a bit different then you’ll stand out from the crowd. Think of it from the customer’s point of view; they’re thinking ‘why should I choose you?’
Successful brands tend to have something about them that differentiates them from their competitors. Examples of how companies compete with each other are:
- The cheapest – Pound shops
- The ‘greenest’ – Toyota
- The best service (delivery guarantees, money-back guarantees, Call queue promises etc) – British Gas (believe it or not they do win a lot of awards)
- The best quality product – Bang and Olufsen
- The most ethical – The Co-op
Although there are a lot more photographers than there are supermarkets or car manufacturers you still need to differentiate your business, i.e. give it a distinct ‘personality’ or brand. If you can offer your customers something that other photographers can’t easily copy then that’s even better. Then you have what’s known as a USP or ‘Unique Selling Proposition’. This is gold dust because if you can do something that your clients value and no-one else can do, you have a competitive advantage.
Using your existing knowledge
Think about what you have prior experience in. The famous photographer Dan Heller used his prior knowledge of IT and business economics to create a very successful photo library and blog. Think about what you’re good at and try to weave that expertise into your photography.
What do you mean you’re no good at anything? You’re not thinking hard enough! Maybe you have an obsession with cars or birds; perhaps you travel a lot; Maybe you’ve lived in the same area for donkey’s years and know all the best places to photograph wildlife or landscapes. Can you sew or make outfits? Do you own an unhealthy array of different clothes?
Have a really good brainstorming session and I’m sure you’ll think of something from your past experiences that you can use in your photography (I’ve listed some ideas below to help get you thinking). You could also consider teaming up with friends or acquaintances of they have relevant skills that will enhance your service offering.
Research your market
Before considering how you are going to offer a unique service or exploit a market gap you need to do your research. You can’t offer something different if you don’t know what everyone else is offering or what the market wants.
Understand your customers better using the following techniques:
- Get feedback from your customers about what style of photography they do and don’t like.
- Ask them why they chose you and what services they would like you to offer that you currently don’t.
- Use prize draw questionnaires on your website to encourage customer feedback.
- Go to fetes and exhibitions so you can interact with your customer base and ask them questions in an environment where they expect to be quizzed.
- Use online photography forums to look for emerging trends and chat with other photographers.
- Read trade magazines. Not just photography ones but anything relating to your photography market: wedding magazines, hotel and restaurant magazines, fashion mags and so on. They’ll be at the cutting edge of trends so it pays to keep tabs on what’s hot.
- Don’t be afraid to copy business models from other photographers – just make sure you either do it better, or that they’re not on your patch. After all businesses copy each other all the time (loyalty cards used to be ground breaking, now every chain seems to have one). It’s great to be innovative, but just be aware that pioneers got shot by Indians.
Understand your competitors better:
- Look at your competitor’s websites to see what they do well and what they do poorly. If enough of your competition is doing something poorly then it could be a gap in the market for you to exploit.
- Try Googling different keywords to see if there’s a gap. For example, I’ve recently become the number one pet photographer inPeterboroughon Google, simply because no-one else in the area has actively promoted that service. Amazingly I’ve only done one pet shoot, so you can see how easy it can be to exploit a gap. All I need to do now is bulk up my pet portfolio by photographing friend’s pets and I’ll be able to convince the passing web traffic that I’m a serious pet photographer.
Of course what I’m advising here is that you do a basic piece of marketing called a SWOT analysis. It simply consists of looking at your Strengths and Weaknesses and the Opportunities and Threats within your market.
Some ideas for differentiating your photography business
What can you offer that no-one else does? What does your market want that no-one is providing? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- A portrait photographer could offer themed photo-shoots if they bought or made different outfits. Charity shops and car boot sales often have fancy dress costumes and other interesting gear that you can use in a shoot.
- Develop your Photoshop skills so that you’re able to create photos that look more like art than actual photos. For an example of what I mean just go to www.dmitrimarkine.com to see his style.
- Money back guarantees are a good way of reassuring prospects. Most photographers don’t offer them as they’re concerned some people will take advantage of it. In fact you’ll gain far more business than you lose. I’ve had plenty of customers ask if I offer a money back guarantee but I’ve never had one capitalise on it. Offering free reshoots are a slightly less extreme guarantee, although they are more likely to be acted upon.
- Package deals are a good way to compete. Don’t compete directly on price because it’s too easy for a prospect to just go with the cheapest. If you offer set packages that come with lots of benefits they can’t compare like-for-like. Packages are most effective when you offer something that has a high perceived value, but a low cost. An example would be to offer a free report on how to become a model with every portfolio shoot. It may take some time to research and produce the report, but once it’s done the run on costs are minimal. However, an aspiring model will put a high value on such a freebie.
- If you’re a car enthusiast then why not blog about it? Other enthusiasts will read your blog for the information and some of them may want you to take shots of their pride and joy. Perhaps you could hire out your pride and joy to wedding couples. They’d love arriving at the church in your lovingly restored Jaguar XJS.
- I know a photographer who was a hotel and resort manager in locations all over the world and he has used that to show his hotel and foreign wedding clients that he understands their needs and concerns.
- If you’re used to presenting at work (or maybe you’ve been a teacher) then you might want to consider offering photography classes and trips.
- Are you good at putting on make-up or hairdressing? If so you could offer that service as part of your photoshoots.
- If you want to be a pet photographer then become a registered dog trainer too. Clients will feel their pets are in good hands and you’ll be able to get the best from your subjects.
- If you photograph weddings then why not offer a ‘trash the dress session as part of a package deal?
- Specialise heavily on one particular area. This will mean you will become known as the expert for that particular type of photography. For example you may want to focus on classic cars, macro insect photography, portraits of older people, whatever takes your fancy really.
- If you travel a lot (perhaps you have a full time job as a salesman) then you have plenty of opportunity to photograph different locations for a stock library or build up an impressive portfolio of hotel and restaurant shots.
If all else fails
If you’re really struggling for inspiration, or if you’re just starting out, then you might want to try this; simply explain your service and benefits better than anyone else. If you emphasise a particular part of your service then you begin to own that benefit in the marketplace. For example, most professional photographers Photoshop some, or all, of their photos these days. However, surprisingly few actually tell their customers. If you wax lyrical about how you enhance all your photos with Photoshop (customers often call this airbrushing) and explain the benefits then you’ll start to build a reputation as the Photoshop expert in the market, even if you’re no better than anyone else. Before and after shots will show your customers the value of Photoshop. To steal a quote from the great copywriterDrayton Bird ‘Those who tell more, sell more’. So, you don’t have to be the best, just the best at articulating the benefits of your service.
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