What to do in an over-saturated market.
I often have the privilege of being asked advice for some up-and-coming photographers. Inevitably, the question they all seem plagued by is this...
"What do I do now that there are too many photographers? The market is over saturated."
Since it comes up so frequently, I decided to share some advice for navigating this issue. I started photography back in my teens at a time before it was "cool" and most certainly before the market was "over saturated". When I was first starting out, it was hardly an issue, but just ten years later, even seasoned photographers can feel the effects of a highly saturated market. People claiming to be professional photographers who are really amateurs, steal your businesses because they have rock bottom prices. Most of which also have rock bottom quality, but saving a buck goes a long way with people...sometimes. For over a decade I have been observing the behavior of the market and here are my humble suggestions.
Do things differently: Yes your sister, cousin, and her mother, are all photographers. Basically everyone you ever knew is a photographer. So how do you stand out? Find something that makes you different. This could mean a lot of things. Here are a few examples
Pick a specialty: If everyone in your town does portraits, maybe it's time to look into a particular facet of photography. Head-shots, Weddings, Newborns, Events, Etc. are all examples of things you can specialize in. Oh, and by the way, the more specialized you are the easier it is to manage your platform and get the word out (marketing works best the more specific you are about it) So if you only have to do promotions for mothers to be that takes less time, energy, and money verses doing maternity, family, weddings, and so on.
Style differently: Growing up around my town, there was a ton of high contrast, vibrant styled shoots. I didn't love that look to begin with, but it certainly helped my businesses to be one of the first low contrast, muted tone photography services in the area. If your market (the area you service) has a specific inclination maybe it's time to see if they have any interest in the other side of the spectrum. An easy way to go about this is to simply invest time to make your own presets (Lightroom or Photoshop) or to buy some for yourself. Consider it an investment.
Make it an experience: Where to begin? What does this even mean? Did you know that people tend to re-book with photographers based in majority on the experience they had during the session and NOT largely due to the actual finished and printed product. Mind Blown. What? Basically people are looking for photographers that make their photographing experience a unique and delightful one. There are many ways to go about this. Work on your personable skills (if you are an introvert maybe practice having more conversation on a shoot or if you are extroverted maybe dial it back for the comfort if your client), have extra tools handy that make your particular type of session go smoothly (toys for babies to help look at the camera), thoughtful additions to your work flow (bringing a bride to be her favorite coffee before the wedding). These are just three...but are you tracking now?
Find your Ideal Client: Half of our problem is that we expect our ideal client to fall out of the sky. In most cases, when starting out, you need to locate your ideal client and work into that network. For example: Since I grew up in a small town my ideal client already had to be someone with more means than the majority of my neighbors. Here is what it looks like up close...local office holders, business men and women that commute to the city for work, owners of local businesses, etc. So once you take pictures for anyone I listed above, their friends and coworkers see your work and also want to use you. In most cases they will hold similar demographics to the audience you selected to start with in the first place. Influence, money to pay for your worth, and an overall closer experience to the type of audience you want to be serving.
People pay for Expertise: Whoa really? "You've never been to my tiny town with three stop lights." Well actually, that's where I grew up...true story. I used to have this same argument with my photography mentors. Part of this is true but realistically let me put it to you this way. There are always people willing to pay for your hard earned skills...you just have to find them. Using the tips from #4, this tends to happen naturally. What I want to emphasize in this portion, however, is that if you are going to charge like you have a degree with emphasis in photography, you need to have the knowledge to back it up. Finding mentors, classes, and other forms of knowledge sources to advance my photography business was one of the best things I have ever done. I've found is far easier to convince someone to book with you being confident of your skills, than it is to book sessions with minor skills even at rock bottom prices.
Network and Collaborate: I cannot stress this enough friend. Until I finally took the step to network I can honestly say I wasted many an hour trying to hand pick future clients. Networking and collaborating is the single biggest "marketing" tool that has accelerated my businesses TODAY! The amazing part...there are still ways to do this for FREE if you are a small business. I came across a local network (NWOTT) due to a friend, which is made up entirely of local businesses women in my area. Through just being a part of this network I have gained numerous opportunities, simply by reaching out to people who post in the network looking for web designers and visual artists. I am now actually the brand specialist of this group of 25,000 (and growing) women. But it didn't stop there. Someone in the group asked about collaborating with local photographers in trade for magazine ads. We worked out a deal where, originally I took photos for her lifestyle magazine (got my name and photos in print), and now I manage her social media per month for a full page ad (a value of $1200+) every month. All of which costs me nothing but time and has turned into business for me.
So there it is. If you managed to make it through my unconventional list there, hopefully you have come away with something. I used to be a photographer who did portraits, weddings, events, head-shots and anything else. I hated weddings, I wasn't very good at newborns, and didn't really enjoy portraits unless I was doing something for a theme (like Christmas which i tend to geek our over). Oh! And I did branding and web design on the side...which all rolled together made little sense and took up way more resources than necessary to manage. Instead of giving up after the saturation of the market started to play into my career, I decided to do something different. I turned my photography into an incentive service to go along with my newly refocused B2B services. Now it adds to my goal of re-branding a client rather than taking up time and energy for things I have no interest in and will not pay well due to the over saturation.
So go ahead and give these a shot, I'd love to hear if these strategies work for you. They have transformed my business and by extension, my life.