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The photographer in the orange hat

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Differentiating your photo business – what hats do you wear?

For a successful photography business you need to stand out

How does your business stand out from the crowd, and how do you use that for your benefit?

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Making your photography business stand out from the rest does require some care

photographer wearing orange hat

The photographer in the orange hat

I’ve mentioned before, how there are many perfectly competent photographers out there, and that you really do need to give potential clients a reason for picking you.

Whilst you may come up with ideas to help yourself stand out against the crowd, it helps if these ideas are actually good for your business.

It’s worth remembering again that you’re running your business to make a profit, and that without it, you’ve just got a paid hobby.

Indeed, it’s the number of people happy to work at low or non-existent rates that exert a pressure on any photographic business to move away from the ‘commodity area’ these days.

If you are providing photography services that fall into the commodity area, then you are competing on price, and in this business today, that dooms you to mediocrity (or a part time paid hobby).

Five issues for your photo business’s differentiation.

(Actually relevant for most businesses)

1) I wear an orange hat

Ok, that is likely to make me stand out from other photographers, but what value is it to clients, and what way is it likely to make them more likely to hire me?

2) Did you know I wear an orange hat at home?

Let’s assume that I know of clients who really do want a photographer with orange hat experience – Have I told everyone that I’ve got one?
How is it going to make a difference if they don’t know I have this experience they value?
How am I incorporating hat related issues in my marketing.

3) What about all those customers who wear blue hats?

Let’s say the hat wearing is paying off. Are enough interested in orange hats?
What about all those potential clients who are interested in blue hats?
Should I be wearing blue hats, or is it good enough that I am seen wearing a hat more often than my competitors?

4) I’ve a lovely new hat that was a bargain at £18,000

Is the hat wearing going to bring in enough extra profit to cover the cost of my new hats?
A £500 outlay on hats that brings in £1500 in extra work is not bad. An £18,000 outlay that brings in £15000 of new work is not so great.
Remember though, that it’s not actually the amount of work you should be thinking of here, but the amount of profit.

5) Am I any good at hat related work?

At a certain point I’m going to have to produce some hat related work for clients.
Am I actually any good at it?
Are they going to come back for more hat work in the future?

So… What hat(s) shall I wear?

Blue tower block near to Leicester station

Blue tower block near to Leicester station

Le’s start with a nice simple differentiation that superficially appeals to many just starting out in their photo business:

Shiny new equipment that is ‘better’ than other photographers.

Let’s replace my hats with two bits of photographic equipment, one my Canon TS-E17mm (tilt/shift) lens, and the other an 80MP medium format digital back with a wide lens and mount that supports camera movements (a hat much more than £18,000)

I much prefer to make use of available light, but feel happy to substitute really whizzy lighting systems here if it makes it more relevant to your own work.

First up – very few clients are interested in lenses. Or for that matter, any aspects of what kit you use.

They want your help to help with their problems (see Are you of value to your clients? for more).

So, it’s results that count. I make a lot of use of the TS-E17mm lens, and it gets me shots I couldn’t easily get in any other way. It enables me to produce photos that are visibly different to a lot of other work I see.

In fact, 5 out of the 8 large prints I’ve got at an upcoming exhibition are taken with this one lens, such as the Blue Tower block.

This building is widely disliked in Leicester, but I’ve had lots of people say that they really like the print.

I use images like this in my marketing – aimed at clients in the architectural and construction sectors.

These images are one part of my own business differentiation – the aspects of my hats that are seen.

The lens has enabled me to get shots that have generated work worth many times its cost, and what’s more it’s expanded my own creative options which shine through in many other areas of my work.

38mm wide lens and mount for MF

38mm wide lens and mount

What about that really expensive hat? All that medium format gear with specialist lenses and mountings?

Would I like this hat? I sure would – I’d love to try it out.

Yes, that is a not very subtle hint to any suppliers/ manufacturers who might read this ;-)

Add a decent medium format back and I’ve not got much change from £25,000

What a hat!

But who would it impress and where is it going to make me more profits?

At this current point in the evolution and development of Northlight Images, it’s not going to make me £25,000 of extra profit.

I suspect that I could produce some simply stunning images, but I have to face the reality that, at the moment, we do not have the client base to support this level of investment.

BTW Hiring such kit is not an option for me. I take time to experiment and learn the details of any new technology – you can be sure there would be several articles about it on this site…

Later this year I may well be spending £4-5k on a replacement for our Canon 1Ds mark 3. This is covered by the 4 years use of I’ve got out of the mk3 and by the fact that I’ll still get a good second hand price for it. This is a hat I not only want to wear, but I’ll be making a point of emphasising benefits over what we used to use.
[Actually it was not until 2015 for a £3k replacement, so getting nearly 8 years of use, but no 2nd hand value of note]

So, when looking at ways of making your business stand out, consider these 5 issues:

  • Is your differentiation of any interest/relevance to clients?
  • Are you telling people about this differentiation?
  • Are you aiming your differentiation at a big enough market
  • Will this differentiation increase profits enough for the effort required?
  • Can you deliver? If you’re setting yourself out as special, will customers agree?

You need to make your own photo business stand out from the crowd – just make sure you stand out in ways that contribute towards making a profit!

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  • bycostello | Sep 12, 2011 at 9:04 am

    very good and very true…

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