Four Strategies for Recession-Proofing Your Photography Business

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!

15 Responses to “Four Strategies for Recession-Proofing Your Photography Business”

  1. Excellent tips, thanks for sharing

  2. I loved the tip about sending thank you's and pics to your to vendors who helped out....AWESOME!!!!

    Lucy 🙂

  3. Thanks both very much for your comments. Glad to know that the piece was helfpul.

  4. The idea that "anyone can take a picture" is lame, quite honestly. How can one say that, and then in the next paragraph say that they "take pride in their pictures"? This rings false to me. Yes, anyone CAN take a picture. In fact, there are many mediocre photographers out there. Those who truly take pride in their work however, and have the talent to back it up, would never accept "removing their photographs from the equation". Passionate photographers should LOVE their work... Sorry to be so harsh, Sean, but that's how I see it.
    The other ideas are fine and dandy, and much appreciated.

  5. John, not to speak for Sean, but I think he was just trying to make a point, since so many photographers focus on the work itself sooo much that they neglect the business side. He was pointing out the (perhaps unfortunate) fact that in many clients' eyes, there's not much difference between great work and good work, so this distinction seldom dictates their buying decisions.

  6. John,

    Sean was winking when he said "anyone can take a picture".

    Great stuff, Sean!


  7. Thanks for these pearls of wisdom 🙂

  8. Thanks again for all of the feedback.

    And yes, my reference early on is meant to illustrate what many photography buyers are really thinking when they look for a photographer.

  9. This article is rich and well written. I am in the business of working with brides as their personal jeweler.

    Your article was valuable to me. I'm so grateful for those who share, because it's an opportunity for others to learn. And, it re-affirmed for me, some of the ways I am doing business. Thanks for taking the time.
    Jyl Walker ~ Designer ~ Signature Gem Designs ~ http://www.SignatureGemDesigns ~ Knoxville, Tennessee but selling worldwide!

  10. ... for my two cents worth, our competition in the wedding and portrait market is not just other photographers, but also the relatives and friends of the bride/groom, or parents. I recently went as a guest to a christening and the photographic firepower on hand was phenomonal, as was their apparent knowledge of photoshop, RAW processing and basic understanding of the equipment. They don't need to know as much as we do; they just need to know enough that our prospective clients don't see the value in hiring us over them.

    Its easy to say "they'll regret it". Its too late then. Many of my clients have regretted getting family friends to do their video rather than us, but I'm sorry its too late then.

    If we are given the opportunity, we need to tell clients why they shoudl not risk getting a friend to shoot the day, and make it compelling enough to book us. Package your services so that its competitive anough for them to hire you, and then give them enough reason to spend more with you later (up sell bigger albums, more pages etc).

    When we go into a suit shop, we are sold a suit, but the salesman offers us a belt, shoes, tie, sox etc. He/She is giving us a reason to spend more.

    My two cents worth ...

  11. Sean, you should be teaching Marketing never mind photographing...your ideas are brilliant, yet many of us are saying "Gee those ideas and tips makes so much sense, why didn't we think of that! " I think too many of us get into that "Arteest" mode and let our egos get in the way of reality. The commercial aspect of this industry has changed dramatically in the last ten years. With the onset of Digital photography...Hi quality Cameras at lower prices, the low barriers of entry into the field have produced thousands of new photographers with little experience and template web-sites that charm the hell out of people. Also the relative easy of use has allowed enthusiasts to buy them and get pretty good results.

    I think Branding and positioning in the market is critical. Why is it that some photographers can command a 10k minimun while others are whoring themselves out for $1800- for 7 hours-with a second shooter who is really an assistant probably a student or a body found on craigs list? This is what we need to think about and try and educate the clients when they come to meet us. The bottom line in my opinion is "Branding" and building a strong network, along with cultivationg relationships with people and places we enjoy working with or at.

    Keep up the good work! Love your articles.


  12. Thank you! This was very helpful!!

  13. Thanks, good pointers. Food for thought and good points from Jean.

  14. The key in these hard times is to get an online fan base.. Use facebook, MySpace, Flickr, online wedding forums ect... This is were your future clients are.. Best part is that it is FREE advertising. Turn yourself into the brand (your photog buiz..) It is a lot of hard work.. Even flyers left at bridal ware shops in return for recommending them on your website and linking them, as long as they are of a professional standing. I am in the process of starting my Photog buiz ATM.. Framing Pixels Photography! OK not the best time to do it I know.. The reaction I get from Professional Photgs.. I See it in there face. "Not another Wannabe PRO photog.." I have a passion for photography that is why am promoting to do some weddings for next nothing to get a portfolio out there. Not good for the Other PRO photogs in my area, But you gotta start somewhere! Thats what a Market economy is..

  15. Great information, thanks for taking the time to write this.

Leave a Reply