Build a Diverse Client Base to Increase Your Bargaining Power

Write this down and post it near your phone, or print it as a label and put it on your cell phone where you can see it before you answer any incoming call:


When you’re taking a call, you absolutely must not think, “This may be the only assignment opportunity I get for tomorrow” — or this week, or even this month.

You must tell yourself that it’s just one incoming request, or you will find your fee structure, rights demands — and ultimately, self-esteem — slipping away.

The Power of Diversity

Your negotiating power comes from the presence of real or potential alternatives. If you don’t believe in your ability to find alternatives, you will be at a distinct disadvantage when called for any assignment.

That’s why diversity of a client base is one cornerstone of success for any photographer.

A talented photographer friend of mine has just one client; that’s right — one. He’s a freelancer, and he relies soley on them for his work.

Sure, it’s a high-profile client. And yes, they have sufficient work for him (for now.) But he’s left himself vulnerable to lose his entire business in an instant.

How do you avoid this kind of risk? By building a diverse mix of clients across a number of specialties.

Specialization is Overrated

I know that many photographers argue in favor of specialization. Perhaps, for some people, portraying the family dog is a calling.

The truth is, though, that everyone from Ansel Adams to Bill Allard has shot plenty of images in genres other than what they are known for. I’ve lost the image of Adams doing an outdoor school portrait I once had, but when I saw it, it changed my views on specialization. Even Annie Leibovitz shoots corporate portraits for the right price.

If you ask me, “Have check, will take picture” is an underrated business strategy. And it sure gives you a lot more leverage when you take that call from a prospective client.

4 Responses to “Build a Diverse Client Base to Increase Your Bargaining Power”

  1. I could not agree more. I shoot everything from Fine Jewelry Ad campaigns to Editorial portraits, Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, Food, Cars, Fine Art and more. I love the diversity and challenges.
    I do however have separate web-sites for each of the top 3 money makers for our studio. If I had all that photography in one web-site, it would be confusing to potential clients and dilute my brand. I have an extremely diverse mix of clients that refer me jobs in any number of directions. I send out a lot of ships, some come back in a week, some in a year, but eventually they all come back into port carrying a great mix of treasures.

  2. Exactly my feeling. Having started my career in photojournalism and spent 16 years as a staff photographer for leading newspapers, covering everything from breaking news to executive portraits, sports, fashion, food and events, I feel I'm utilizing this experience in every commercial assignment I now execute for my clients.

    As a photojournalist/press photographer, you have days with 10-15 different assignments. You walk into 10 different spaces and have to decide, in minutes, how best to light them. You run into 10 different kinds of people, and have to talk with them (in 10 different ways) to let them shoot you or help you get the shot. You experience more than your average share of equipment breakdowns, and realize the importance of backup. You learn to improvise, or lose the shot.

    Moving into commercial photography, I decided NOT to specialize in one specific area. Sure, there are topics I love shooting more, but at the end of the day I simply love creating images. So on the business side, my diverse portfolio allows me to maintain steady (more or less) income even if one area is down, and on the creative side - I'm utilizing ideas I use in one area to bring some fresh ideas into another.

    At the end of the day, photography is a language, using tools such as composition, light and color to convey a message. I believe a photojournalist's diverse experience prepares him/her to use those tools in a wide variety of situations, to reach the visual goal he/she set for the image they are about to create.

  3. A former boss's photographer husband had a poster that showed Ansel Adams taking the school class picture.

    The poster had something to do with great photographic truths -- and I wish I could remember the details.

    But I do remember the caption for the class picture photo. It said, "Even Ansel Adams had to make a living."

  4. ^The poster you are referring to was put out by a photographer named Ted Orland. He probably still sells them.

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