The Future of Professional Photography - and how to survive it.
This has been a wild roller coaster ride for me, and most likely yourself as well if you've been a pro photographer for very long.
DSLR cameras, long the standard of the professional photographer have plummeted in sales. Many believe this is a direct result of falling sales for the photographers who buy these cameras to make a living or those who hope to make a living out of their hobby.
I see three types of buyers for pro or prosumer digital cameras whether it's DSLR or Mirrorless.
- Working pros upgrading or replacing gear in their ongoing business
- Those just entering the field of pro photography and plan to make a living at it
- Those who just love photography as a hobby but want and have the budget for good gear
So if sales of these cameras have dropped off the roof it follows that those three buying groups are soft.
It's easy to believe hobbyists have been largely lost to the ever increasing quality of smart phone cameras. Make no mistake, these cameras are surprisingly good. Yes they have drawbacks but for the vast majority of hobbyists it's more than fine.
But for working pros, or those hoping to become working pros, smart phone cameras are not the issue. Sales to paying customers are the issue.
I believe those sales have been increasing soft over the past 6 years due to three influences.
- The way people use images in their lives.
- Declining popularity of family picture walls in the home
- Perceived value of quality photography
If photographers can't make sales then they have to move on to find other income (a job). As studios and photographers fail, the constant flow of entry level photographers wanting to enter the field thins as well.
So with all three segments of the pro/prosumer digital camera market soft, it's no wonder why the camera manufacturers are in trouble. Some are saying that Nikon won't survive this existing market. Canon and Sony have other divisions of their companies that will keep them going, but reductions in their camera divisions seem likely.
So is this the end of professional photographers? Probably not. But to say that there has been and will continue to be a shrinking demand is an understatement.
For the past 6 years I've watched as studio after studio has fallen. My own included. I watched how my business, and many others went from 6 figure studios, to wondering where the next customer is coming from.
But on the bright side, I believe the blood-letting has largely subsided. Already most communities have seen a drastic reduction in the number of working pros in their area. IN the community where I live there is only one "Studio" remaining that is in actual commercial space, and that's only because they owned the building for many years before they moved into it.
All the other pro photographers in our area work from their homes, and that's perfectly fine. They keep their expenses low and keep the profit in the studio by not paying it to a landlord.
The working photographers left have survived and even thrived by developing their craft and their marketing. The day of the poor to mediocre photographer is over. You must have all of the following.
- Excellent photography
- Superb marketing
- Strong sales skills
- Outstanding work ethic
- Good personality
And so on...
There is a market for professional photography. Believe it. Successful photographers have learned and adapted to the reality of today and long ago forgotten about the unrealistic dreams of the beginner. They survive, make money, and have a good time running their businesses without the stress of worrying about money and sales.
Instead of worrying about sales they invest their time into making sales. People will not beat a path to your door just because you exist. You have to find them and sell to them.
Imagine a stream of potential customers walking by your front door like they might in a busy mall. Only a small fraction of those people might be interested in your photography. An even smaller group are prepared to pay for it when they know they have somebody in the family who will do it for free, a smaller group who will buy from you but can't afford to pay a lot, and an even smaller group who have both the desire and the ability to pay a good amount of money for your service.
So we have a pretty small market to appeal to. Imagine those people all wore big red coats so we can see them in a crowd. All we need to do is run after them and talk to them right?
Well sort of. We need to appeal to that group of people on multiple levels. What are those levels? Well, lets profile them.
When you finally get your face in front of them their going to judge you in the first 3 seconds. If you don't "look" the part you'll get dismissed immediately. As a close friend of mine said one day," every day I go out looking good, smelling good, and feeling good".
So looking good and smelling good is easy enough, but feeling good might be a challenge if you're worried about money, sales, family, the economy, politics, or whatever else is on your mind. Be clear minded and have confidence in yourself, your photography, and your business. If you have doubts about yourself then learn to over come them. If your work is genuinely good and no just your mom and friends telling you it is, then what are you worried about. If it's not, stop immediately - get a job - learn your craft - and start over when you're really good.
So how do we reach this small market segment so we can get our face in front of them? Turns out they don't all wear big red coats so we can pick them out of a crowd.
First lets look at income level. There was once a time when the middle class had enough disposable income to spend reasonable amounts of money on photography. With the middle class being decimated over the last decade, this isn't as true as it once was. So do we need the rich then? Well sure. That would be nice. but that's not all. What we need is people with disposable income. It's no good if they want your services but can't afford to pay you.
So people with a job right? Again that's part of it. But with the vast majority of workers on minimum wage or working 2 part time jobs just to pay the bills that won't really work either.
So business owners then? Partly, but just owning a business doesn't mean success. Many business owners are just as strapped as minimum wage earners. So we need to find those with more disposable income.
Our target market might be a business owner, they might be a working professional like a Doctor, Lawyer etc, they might have money in the family, and might might never know where their money comes from. What they have in common is disposable income. And people with extra money tend to do certain things, buy certain things, go to certain places, attend certain functions, and other identifying traits.
You gotta IPM before you can IPS
A lot of people talk about IPS (In Person Sales) and rightfully so. It is a critical point in your business. But before you can sell your products to them you have to first get them in the door and this is through marketing. And the most successful marketing is IPM (In Person Marketing).
You can drain your bank account dry with social media marketing. You can spend your days building Facebook and Instagram followers and these will work....eventually. But that's more like throwing a fishing line into an ocean and hoping to catch just the right buyer. What we need is to zero in on our market as if they were wearing a big red coat.
We need to get in front of their faces as if by accident but really by intention. How? Just buy my $2400/month course for all the secrets - 🙂 lol - No, not really. I'm going to tell you everything right here and now and for free. No sales pitch.
I believe in the old fashioned way of sharing ideas without holding a hand out for payment.
So let's get in front of some faces. Here's a real life true example that's happening right now in my local community. The local professional theatre center is holding a fund raiser. Their hurting badly in the finance department. They will be holding a special dinner and all of their patrons will be invited. They'll raffle off some prises donated by local companies to raise money for themselves.
I got an invite to donate. But if I didn't get an invite I'd simply phone them up and volunteer to donate - but as long as I can go to the dinner myself and have a chance to describe my prise in front of the audience.
So generally, what segment of the general population are patrons of the theatre? Could it be it's the very people we're looking for? You betcha. So I donated a free $800 session which actually costs me about $150 in materials. That's much less than the money I spent this month of Facebook advertising.
I did NOT give away a free session in the hope of selling other materials - that ploy is getting more and more tawdry. I'm giving them the shoot - the hair and makeup and either a small album or a 20x30 wall portrait - Free. And I plan to blow them away with quality and experience. Why? Cause chances are they will be talking to others in their same demographic for years to come.
This is me getting in their face instead of hoping to attract their face to me.
So the list can go on with Hospital fundraisers, Heart and Stroke foundations, Cancer Associations, Lung Associations etc. etc. If there's a fundraiser going on - be in it.
Other face to face opportunities include:
- Chamber of Commerce events
- Trade Shows
- Professional associations
- Networking groups
- Clubs and Charities
So great. We got our foot in the door, but what happens next is all you. You've got to talk to people. you can't be shy in a corner. Introduce yourself, start conversations, be knowledgeable about your community and current events, learn an elevator pitch, but don't toss it in their face. Look for an opening in the conversation. It doesn't always come up for you, but know it when it does.
Now here's the deal. Once you've landed a new customer, you've got to hit all of the other bullet points. Your work has to be strong - your place of business has to look professional - you've got to be professional every step of the way - you've got to make it a positive experience every step of the way. The customer should feel confident in you and your business, and by the very experience know that this is going to cost them some money.
If you get the right people in the door and give them the all pro experience, price will not be the obstacle you're probably facing now.
There is no low ground in the market anymore. There is almost no middle ground in the market. They've been wiped out. There is only a high ground. Let's fight for it 🙂
As photographers we need a place to talk. Talk about marketing, sales, quality, image critique and all of it out of the prying eyes of our customers. We need a place outside of social marketing where we can spill our guts and support each other.
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