When I was in high school, I took quite an interest in physics. I wanted to know how things worked and what cool things were possible. My professor came into the classroom one day and presented us a contraption that at one time was supposed to provide the world with free perpetual energy. It was one variation of a perpetual motion wheel as designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
The interesting thing about it was almost everyone in the class immediately deduced that the concept would not work. We were not physics geniuses obviously, but we knew enough about forces that everything in the wheel canceled out. That left the wheel motionless unless there was some initial input to get it going. This thought turned out to be a really good metaphor for my future business. The lesson is, nothing sets in motion by itself, some initial thrust is required. In business, that initial thrust must come from you. You must set your photography in motion.
Set Your Photography in Motion!
If you’re anything like the countless photographers I’ve met over the years, you are primarily focused on producing photography. It’s a natural urge — nothing wrong with it. There is, however some confusion among photographers about how producing photography relates to your actual photography business. When I say set your photography in motion, I don’t mean produce more photography. I assume you’re already well on your way in that endeavor. I mean that I want you to put the photography you have done to work for you. This is probably the most fundamental ingredient in a photography business, but surprisingly few photographers actually carry it out.
Simply put, if you don’t take action, your photographs will likely never be seen by anyone other than your clients. True, your clients can be a great source of future business and you should make them a priority, but you can’t base your business solely on word of mouth — it’s not a complete business plan. You must find who your target audience is. Then map out a strategy to get your photographs in front of them. Finding your potential clients eyeballs is not easy or an exact science. Your efforts will initially be trial and error, which is good and natural. Once you have identified your target audience (you’ve started doing that right?) you should list all the places they frequent, types of things they like to do, etc. and this will lead you to research marketing strategies to reach them.
The Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principle states that 80% of results come from 20% of causes. To apply the Pareto Principle your photography business, you could say that 80% of your income will come from 20% of your photographs and that 80% of your clients will come from 20% of your marketing and so on. I don’t want you to focus too much on the percentages, rather I would like you to come to terms with the fact that most of the results you produce will be the result of a relatively small percentage of the work you do. Once you accept this, the quest to find the most efficient use of your time becomes much more urgent. No one serious about their business is content with wasting time on tasks that don’t produce a return.
In order to focus your efforts on your most profitable business avenues, you must necessarily try many methods that are not effective. Say for instance your business is head shots for actors and actresses. You might try radio ads, mailers, Groupon, Facebook ads and find that none of them work very well. One day you decide to head down to the art school and take candid shots of the actors as they rehearse. You then post the images online in groups they are a part of.
It takes some time, but eventually you build a reputation in that space and many of the graduates come to you once they are ready to start looking for work. You then decide to drop all the ads and spend more of your time building up good will with the local students. You also find that about 50% of these clients will come back to you for more work over the next 5 years. It took a year or so of research, but you’ve finally figured out what works and you adjust your business plan accordingly.
Focus on Your Best Work
Your best work is not the picture that your mom or significant other likes the most. Your best work is the collection of photographs that resonates most with your target audience and inspire them to hire you. I know far too many photographers that fixate on a few photographs — their Mona Lisa’s if you will — and ignore photographs that could be generating business and revenue.
If your photographs don’t speak to your target audience and further your business plan, then they are not your best work. If you want to take your personal favorites and enter them into a photography contest, by all means do it, but you must realize that your customers dictate what your best work is in your business world. No one else. And your customers will not be shy in saying which ones they like. If you want to set your photography in motion, you must know which photographs will soar.
Marketing is Everything
There is a lot of you that will immediately disagree with the phrase “marketing is everything”. I actually don’t mean that phrase the way you’ve probably taken it. I don’t mean that your business is only marketing and that the work you do is insignificant. On the contrary, what I mean is that marketing is literally everything. Marketing is the work you do, it’s the product you provide, it’s the relationships you make — EVERYTHING. Don’t think of marketing as the job you had interning in the marketing department of some company one summer. That’s not what we’re talking about. The world isn’t nearly as compartmentalized as the departments at Walmart. You’re customers are observant and will notice everything you do. You must consider everything that comprises your business as serving a marketing goal. If not, you will find many opportunities to set your photography in motion wasted.
photo credit: Frederic Köberl