We recently spent the evening out with a good friend. He’s also a photographer who owns a senior portrait studio.
As we were leaving the restaurant and walking to our cars, I noticed his right away.
It was a Porsche.
There is nothing particularly noteworthy about that, except that he’s a photographer.
I was surprised that a photographer could afford a Porsche.
Especially since he’s the sole breadwinner for his wife and four children (two of whom are in college).
As we were driving home that night I was struck by the fact that this was even surprising at all. If he had owned a computer business or a web design agency I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.
Yet here was a photographer who is very successful with high school senior photography. And he’s not on the speaking circuit selling to photographers.
Conventional wisdom in the industry is that photographers don’t make money. Why is that so ‘accepted?’
Nothing exposes this industry-ingrained belief more than the often heard mantras of “I bet he makes all his money from workshops or selling to photographers.” Or “She probably has a husband that supports her.”
When I hear comments like this, I know that the person saying them is struggling.
I also know that if someone has a struggling photography business that they aren’t making money selling to photographers either. Despite how it may appear on the outside.
Why? Because if they couldn’t sell their own photography services, then they aren’t going to have much luck selling to photographers either.
No matter what business you are in, you need to attract people to that business and entice them to purchase by offering them something valuable that fulfills a need of theirs (realized or otherwise).
If you are not making money in photography, it is most likely a ‘brand’ or ’sales’ or ‘product’ or ‘value’ problem. What it isn’t is not having enough people who are willing to pay for professional photography services.
It’s not easy, but there is plenty of opportunity. However, it’s going to take some work and the willingness to embrace a mentality that is very different from the ‘norm’ in our industry.
And why is it that so many photographers care how another photographer is making their money? There are many avenues of success for a business, and just because a photographer sells something rather than taking photographs doesn’t make them any less legitimate. Or make them a sell-out for expanding their business.
There’s nothing wrong with ‘selling’ your expertise. Most artists share their expertise in some way and develop additional streams of revenue. Professional chefs create cookbooks and have tv shows. Personal trainers sell books and videos to reach and help more people to get in shape at home.
Establishing yourself as an industry leader does actually lead to getting more photography clients.
It’s only a problem to sell something where you don’t have skill. Many photographers who want to sell things would be better off selling to the amateur market instead of the pro one. The amateur market is much bigger, and their skill set is a better fit for it.
Oftentimes people don’t spend enough time learning their craft (or becoming an expert in an area of their business) before trying to turn around and sell to others. And that includes having enough skill to provide services to your clients.
I don’t care what you do or sell, but no matter what it is you will have to get good at it first, and that takes time.
Trying to sell something before you’ve fully developed the skill is not going to get you very far. Whether you want to photograph clients or hit the speaking circuit – there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but you’ll need to master a skill first. And that doesn’t necessarily equate to number of years in business. Perhaps you were an accountant before you got into photography, and now you teach other photographers in that part of their business.
What I can tell you is this: In all my years in this industry, almost no one has gone out of business because there wasn’t enough demand for professional photography.
Photographers struggle because there isn’t enough demand for their work or services.
Outside the industry there are so many small businesses popping up, especially eCommerce ones who are in desperate need of good photography. They either need to hire someone or learn the skills themselves.
We overlook that because we think it’s easy. Like you, those small business owners are also strapped for time. Think of how long you spent learning something knew, and how long it took you to get really good at it. There are so many business owners who would love to hire a professional photographer.
When I look at the websites and businesses of most photographers who are having trouble getting clients, I can tell you it’s a value problem.
They aren’t able to create demand for their work due to one or a combination of the following:
It could be a Branding problem
There are a lot of photographers who are doing great work, but who cannot seem to book enough clients.
It could be an Image or Skill problem
Are your images at a level that can attract a high-end client? Are you making any of these mistakes? Even skilled photographers can get this wrong.
It could be a Sales and Marketing problem
One of the biggest reasons that websites aren’t getting results is the lack of good content and information. Many assume that potential clients will simply be ‘wowed’ by their images and hop right on the phone to book a session.
But it doesn’t work like that. This is something that I’ll be talking about in a future post, so keep an eye open for it.
The Dog That Didn’t Bark
The ‘dog that didn’t bark’ is a metaphorical phrase that comes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Silver Blaze. In the short story, Sherlock Holmes solves a mystery of a famous racehorse that disappeared by looking at a key piece of evidence that ‘wasn’t there:’ A dog that didn’t bark during the night.
Holmes was called in after a long search by multiple investigators who were unable to solve the crime. The police were quick to blame the trainer, even when they were literally staring right at the evidence to the contrary.
Holmes solved the case by looking at what wasn’t there. By observing and looking past the obvious.
The lesson here is that oftentimes we hold biases that can sometimes make us blind to other possibilities, simply because we accept them as true.
It is so common within the industry to hear that the reason so many photographers are struggling is due to digital cameras, and how easy it is for ‘anyone’ to call themselves a photographer. And that people don’t value professional photographers or understand what ‘good photography’ is.
We hear those things so often, and they are talked about so much, that we simply accept them as fact without really questioning or considering other reasons, or what’s really going on.
It’s no longer enough to be just a photographer. No one cares that you have a ‘passion’ for photography, or that you’ve spent years training and pouring your heart and soul into creating beautiful portraits. They are not willing to invest in you simply because you know how to operate your camera.
In today’s world, people are looking for something beyond a picture taker.
The good news is this: If you’re ready to look past conventional wisdom, you can pinpoint the reasons for your lack of clients (or sales) and do the work needed to solve them.
Because branding, sales and skill are very solvable problems.
Having trouble getting senior clients? If so you’ll want to check this out.