Ask Mrs Robinson: how can I stand out as a photographer?
Mrs. Robinson, how can I stand out as a photographer?
This week we are getting rather serious and ask Mrs. Robinson about competitive positioning. You might think that this is something that exclusively concerns your agent and not something you should take an interest in. If you actually think that (don’t get me wrong, most photographers I meet are acutely aware of the importance of competitive positioning), Mrs Robinson is here to give you your wake-up call. If you are taking your competitive positioning seriously, I hope to provide you with further insights and guidance. While it is true that in the past you might have been able to get away with giving your competitive profile less attention than it deserved, those good old days are a thing of the past and unlikely to return any time soon. In the current global economic conditions, competition among photographers is tough to say the least and competitive positioning is imperative to keep your career blossoming!
Sounds challenging? A little bit perhaps, but Mrs Robinson is here to help. Even in these harsh economic conditions, I am convinced that quality work by talented artists can still command a premium in the market. The key to your success is how you position yourself in this market vis-à-vis your competitors: to stand out and make it easy for potential clients to identify you as the photographer they must work with and are willing to pay market rates. So, yes, fortunately or unfortunately, it all depends on you! But here is where a good agent can assist you to steer clear from common pitfalls and act as a sounding board.
Finding your niche and keeping it…
Wikipedia tells me: “a niche is the subset of the market on which a specific product is focusing, aimed at satisfying specific market needs”. So what does this mean for a photographer? Look at what comes naturally to you (where lies your talent); then choose to specialize and discover what it requires to be among the best within this specialization.......................................
Develop your own style – specialization does not mean doing the same thing in the same way all the time – you can be creative. Beware of style drift though, customers are sensitive to this – thus, once you’ve found your specialization, stay to true to it! Your specialization will to a large extent help to define your niche. But together with your agent who knows the marketplace and client demand, you can customize your niche to better fit your talent (and sometimes vice versa) and career aspirations. Your niche does not have to be static per se and could evolve over time in line with your development as a professional – you and your agent must carefully nurture it without losing sight of what it is you do best.
Since it is impossible to excel in everything (ignoring a happy few of divinely blessed artists perhaps), it becomes crucial that you make choices. Most fundamentally, what product or service do you offer and to whom? And who else is offering the same product and are they better at it than you somehow? Can you successfully compete in your chosen niche? What is it that gives you a distinctive competitive advantage? And does that advantage allow you to charge market rates or perhaps even a premium? How crowded is the niche? Keeping in mind that too many competitors in a niche usually means a race to the bottom where participants only compete on price. You don’t want to be in that niche. You want to stand out.
Ensuring your professional brand is personal and genuine…
Once you’ve found your niche, it is time for personal branding. Like any professional (and probably even more so than in other professions), how you are perceived by your clients will determine your success. The authenticity you put in your work, should appear also in your communications, your negotiations, your service. Connect with your clients and lay the foundations for a long-lasting business relationship. Genuine authenticity I have seen work wonders. Clients are incredibly appreciative of artists who show their true self – it forms the basis of trust and allows you to build confidence, and confidence is what you need to sell your business. Also, listening carefully to what your client is trying to tell you is absolutely essential – not only will you then better understand what your client is looking for but also fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Mrs Robinson says: be protective of your reputation and brand
– this is where the value of your business is -
Running your business as an entrepreneur…
This may sound like an obvious statement, but I still see too many artists who fail to recognize they run a business. You can only run a business when it is profitable - which means you need paying clients and, in turn, means you have to keep up with clients’ demands and expectations.
The commercial photography market has changed dramatically, mainly because of digitalization. Clients now expect you to work much quicker and cheaper. Whereas in the past you might have been commissioned solely because of your craftsmanship, these days you are also judged as an entrepreneur who should deliver effectively and efficiently.
You must develop business skills and firmly establish yourself in your niche. Respond, but better yet, anticipate significant developments and innovations in your niche. Again not only as a photographer but also as an entrepreneur. It should be cear to you what the threats are in your niche and where the opportunities lie. Skills that you might never have learned during your training as a photographer, but which today are just as important as mastering Photoshop!
Your clear vision as an entrepreneur will distinguish you from the amateur photographer.
Making yourself visible to clients by strategic use of technology and social media…
Make use of social media and technology relevant to your specialization and niche. Increase your international reach through sites like B:Studio. Your own website should be up-to-date and viewable from smart phones, iPads etc. Your on-line profile and presence will go a long way in enhancing your personal brand as well. Finally, personality matters a lot. People like doing business with other people – develop the courage to literally show yourself. Clients don’t do business with a website or company – they want to do business with you and would love to see who you are. So stand up and stand out!
All sounds daunting…? Not really. Mrs Robinson sees exciting opportunities for all of us. As long as we stay true to ourselves and focus on what we are good at opportunities will present themselves through collaborations and exchanging ideas. No better place to start than on B:Studio.
As always, I am very curious to learn your experiences and share ideas... comments are very welcome!