If you’re worried about your bookings and are seeking ways to recession-proof your business during these tough economic times, I’d suggest you start by removing one thing from the equation: your pictures.
After working in the world of weddings for years, I can tell you that the quality of pictures (or lack thereof ) isn’t really what separates Photographer A from Photographer B. First-time buyers have taught me that it’s not the photography that determines the value of what I’m selling — it’s the stuff the buyer gets for their money.
Looking Beyond the Photograph
Photography buyers, even sophisticated ones, evaluate a photographer’s worth based on factors other than the pictures. I mean, anyone can take a picture, right?
In the case of a wedding couple, providing a DVD with all of the images and a copyright release might be more valuable to them than a wedding album, for example.
In the case of professional photo editor, the rights they need and the budget they have almost always determine the kind of photographer they will use — be it a bargain-basement, moderately priced, or high-end photographer.
By removing picture quality as a differentiator in my business calculations, I have increased my bookings and grown my price point every year. This doesn’t mean that I don’t take pride in making quality photographs; it just means that I don’t expect the quality of my work, in itself, to sustain my business.
Creating Perceived Value
Here are four strategies for creating perceived value in the market where you work. By concentrating on these things (not the pictures), you can separate your business from everyone else’s and continue to grow — even during a recession.
1. Be a resource. I’ve always thought of photographers as a resource. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been on assignment when a bystander has approached me with a question. Being a resource means helping those who ask for help. That includes lay people who don’t know how to use a camera correctly, the student with dreams of becoming a photographer, and the hobbyist who aspires to be a pro.
2. Treat other business owners like clients. Business owners who share the same customer base as you should be treated like clients. They should receive the same attention. This year we sent everyone we worked with a set of note cards for them to use. Every card had an image on it from a job we worked on with them. In the case of the florists, the flowers were featured prominently in each image.
3. Care about your customers. Provide a level of customer service that is unmatched. A recent bride didn’t like her album, so I offered to exchange it for one she did like at no charge. Another bride had to cancel her wedding because her fiance will not return in time from the war in Iraq. I agreed to apply her retainer to a date when he will be here. Every interaction counts; be there for your clients.
4. Market consistently over time. Find one way to market your work on a regular basis. It may be a gallery space to display work regularly. It may be a mailer to editors in your photographic niche. Or it may be an advertisement in a local publication. Whatever it is, displaying new work regularly to prospective clients will yield results. The trick, of course, is to find the avenue that is most effective and cost-efficient for your business — and to stick to it!
Growing a Following
These tips are all designed to help you grow a following for your business. By effectively marketing and caring for your customers, your community and other business owners in your market, you will begin to build a group of people who are loyal to your business.
These are people who think the world of you — and won’t hesitate to share their thoughts about your business with others. There is nothing better, and nothing more recession-proof, than this.
Of course, all these strategies take time and attention; your business won’t double overnight. But in times like these, when photographers seem a dime-a-dozen — and when buyers care more about what they get than the artistry of the pictures you make — it’s your surest path through this recession. Good luck!