The photography business is a competitive world that seemingly becomes more and more crowded everyday. That’s why it’s difficult to get most successful photography business owners to take you under his/her wing and show you the way to the promised land.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a mentor who has already carved-out a living in one or more photo market segments over a lengthy time frame and is willing to fill your brain with invaluable information (or maybe even set you up within their personal network of buyers, clients and connections).
But don’t be surprised when you start asking other rabid phodogs “how to make it,” they break into hysterical laughter and run in the other direction screaming, “barbarian at the gates, barbarian at the gates!”
Sure, I’m exaggerating a bit, but there’s so much competition out there that even the most generous-spirited among us are forced to hold onto their trade secrets like Gollum’s ‘precious’ until they’re old enough, rich enough or lazy enough to finally toss you a table scrap.
As for me, I suppose I’m somewhere in the middle of the alter ends of the ‘secrets-to-success-in-photography’ spectrum. I’m not going to necessarily lower the drawbridge and give you the keys to the castle, but I’m normally more than happy to help you design your own key.
Part of the reason is because I’ve been fortunate enough to have absorbed the wisdom of some fantastic mentors during my early years of the learning curve. But believe me, I’ve also had my fair share of run-ins with gollum-like creatures wanting to crush my creative spirit…and it’s not a nice feeling.
In retrospect, those latter experiences taught me as much about the realities of running a successful photo business as the kind-hearted mentorship — it’s a phodog eat phodog world and it’s up to you to make sure there’s enough phood left in the bowl to eat at the end of the day.
Rarely will you get a scrap thrown your way and if you’re too lazy, slow or self-pitying someone else will gulp it down without a second thought.
There’s been a big push somewhat recently in academic and professional business communities regarding the notion of broadened ‘information sharing,’ much due to the rapid exchange of info via advanced technology, but also because of tighter economic circumstances globally.
More-or-less, the belief is that individual businesses, as well as the greater societal domain benefit on higher levels from knowledge exchange than from hoarding information in hopes of gaining competitive advantages.
This mentality has arisen in large part due to the ‘knowledge clusters’ found in regional areas around the world leading to economic prosperity for multiple firms and theoretically increased consumer choice in the marketplace (think Silicon Valley).
How does this concept apply to your photography business?
You will need to develop strategic networking approaches that are equally inclusive & welcoming to potential clients and professional contacts alike, while simultaneously safe-guarding your competitive advantages necessary for sustainability.
Never disclose your break-even rate…never let clients know what your margins are…never diclose your client network to the competition…and if anyone ever asks you for the keys to the castle without offering anything worthwhile in return, swallow the key.
Do I sound less like a freedom loving creative artist and more like a shrewd business person? You’re damn right and that’s the hard choice you’ll have to make in order to create longevity for your photography business against the flood of new amateurs, hobbyists and budding pros looking to eat your phood.