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Author Topic: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?  (Read 1791 times)

ejmcompany

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Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« on: November 18, 2017, 10:24:56 PM »

I would like to pose a question to those who are making a living as photographers only. In business I hear a lot about specializing in one genre and this being a key to succeeding. I am considering getting out of the corporate grind and going to photography alone for my income. (I know I know I hear see the eyes rolling thinking I'm nuts)
Are you shooting everything from portraits to weddings to events and anything that pays, and showing all of these things on your website? Or do you think it is better to show one genre on your website and avoid trying to be all things to all people? I already generate part of my income shooting yet nothing near what I need to go it alone at this point. I have experience shooting everything from sports to portraits to events and even weddings so I could go in any direction if need be. So l am looking for your expertise and experiences that helped to develop and maintain your business.
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Farmer

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2017, 01:30:33 AM »

All businesses need something to survive - a competitive advantage.  Something that you can do that others can't do or can't do as well or at the same price point or as quickly etc.  As such, the answer to your question will be "it depends".  It depends on your core competencies, your competition, and your market (and perhaps other things, but these are primary).

Others who shoot professionally will provide you with more specific insights into the industry from their perspective which will be valuable and critical, but all businesses must ultimately meet the criteria above as the fundamental basis to being viable.  If you can answer those primary questions, you will be well on your way to providing meaningful answers to your more details questions and to taking the advice of others in context and perspective such that it will benefit you.

In essence, why will someone pay you money instead of someone else?
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Phil Brown

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2017, 06:37:41 AM »

It depends on your circumstances.  If you specialize, you're likely to have to keep working to expand your market reach if you hope to grow.

We focused mostly on the local market, and especially selling photos that didn't exist. I.e., being paid to take photos rather than marketing existing photos.  For one thing contract work pays HUGELY more than print or stock sales. For another, with time people were coming to us for photos rather than us having to chase them. Sure, over time we became a source for prints and stock and licensing, but as an outgrowth of meeting clients' need for unique photos.

As to your specific question about specialization, yes we did so. Serially.  :)

We started out with one specialty, but continued to develop new ones to grow our business rather than trying to hammer more and more photos through the same market knotholes.  That guided equipment purchases sensibly and helped us determine when we needed new gear, even forecast pay-off schedules, and to budget for them. Over time we amassed a huge array of field, location and studio gear, but always after laying aside fixed portions of our revenues for retirement, vehicles, real estate, replacement gear, insurance and daily living.  That allowed us to retire very nicely, with the sale of our commercial building on top of our retirement accounts to significantly improve our standing. 
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douglevy

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2017, 07:59:57 AM »

The short answer is yes. I like the rare disease analogy.

Picture you have a rare disease. You can go to the doctor who sees ONLY patients with this rare disease, he's an expert. OR you can see a doctor who has seen a few cases, but also does dermatology, obgyn, pediatrics and eyecare. Who would you rather see?

If you have a site that shows weddings, corporate, families, babies, headshots and food, you're going to have trouble moving beyond a certain ceiling of lower paying clientele - art directors and photo editors aren't going to hire a photographer who shows all of those on their site - they want confidence that if they hire you, they know what they're getting. I think the best long term route is to pick 1-2 areas to really specialize in, and be THE guy in your area for that type of photography. Be the ONLY option and the best option and I think you'll do better long term.

-Doug

BrownBear

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2017, 09:47:18 AM »

The flip side is the value in demonstrating versatility. 

Our largest industrial client saw and liked my wife's wedding photography, ultimately hiring her and spending over $10k on photos from the elaborate event. His gift to the bride and groom in succeeding years was an annual 30x40 portrait of their one and only offspring. Meanwhile his recommendations of my industrial work netted a long sequence of contracts in other industries, which also netted contracts for scientific, event, advertising, product and process photos. 

If your diverse work is known and respected, happy clients will come to you for their other photo needs as well. They have nooooo problems seeing your other work, and in fact are more likely to recall it and come to you when those needs arise, rather than taking a chance with an unknown photographer.  An added bonus is that in addition to contract photography and the subsequent licensing, they'll come to you to fill their stock needs.
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framah

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2017, 10:32:28 AM »

Remem
ber the old saying of being a one trick pony?

You don't have to offer EVERYTHING photographic, but try to be really good in more than one type. That way when one style is sagging the other one may just save your business.

My primary business is framing and my secondary business is fine art printing... which usually needs to be framed.
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Sharon VL

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2017, 12:57:50 PM »

Mainly, you have to be a good business person and a good salesperson. If you are good at both of those, you can succeed.

BobShaw

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #7 on: November 21, 2017, 03:38:51 PM »

The analogy given by Doug Levy is a good one.
He left out though that the Specialist medical practitioner charges a lot more than the General Practitioner (at least in Australia). Often about three times.
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DougDolde

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #8 on: November 21, 2017, 05:17:21 PM »

Better advice: Don't quit your day job.
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ejmcompany

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #9 on: November 22, 2017, 01:35:38 AM »

Lots of interesting feedback. It seems some have succeeded by specializing and others with a broader base. I value both sides of the equation. Your views are appreciated....
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douglevy

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #10 on: November 22, 2017, 10:36:23 AM »

Also none of this means you can't DO other type of work, just don't show it off. A few years ago the largest job I shot was a product job. Am I product photographer? Nope, not for a second, but it was a 2-day shoot that paid 2 months of bills. Shot it, delivered it, didn't show the photos to anyone.

-Doug

Slobodan Blagojevic

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2017, 12:14:34 PM »

... I have experience shooting everything from sports to portraits to events and even weddings so I could go in any direction if need be...

This, right there, does not bode well for your future (photographic) career. While i support the advice to specialize, you should specialize in an area that you'd have, as Phil (Farmer) said, a competitive advantage. And a minimum necessary requirement for that is that you yourself have a talent/passion for that area. You can not go "in any direction," as it would mean you yourself do not know which direction you want to go. As they say, "if you don't know where you want to go, any road would take you there." And often it is not about want, but about urge.

The only way you would survive with an "I can photograph anything" business model, is if you are the only photographer within 100 miles of your local community. Then you can shoot their weddings, their babies, first soccer/baseball/football practice, senior portraits, homes for sale, passport photos, etc.


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Martin Kristiansen

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #12 on: November 22, 2017, 12:50:47 PM »

Find an industry that is on the up. Pointless making any efforts in an industry that is struggling. The glamorous sides of photography are often over traded and there is frequently pressure on prices. Not sure whatI have said constitutes a specialization but I see it as specializing in shooting what pays the bills. It had worked for me for three decades.
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Dinarius

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #13 on: November 23, 2017, 08:20:02 AM »

Agree with most of what has been said above.

Fifteen years ago, or thereabouts, a shoot would have (for me at any rate) ended with the delivery of transparencies (with an added markup for their cost, on top of my photographic fee) to the client/designer/art director.

Up the line, there would have been scanning, colour correction, Photoshop tweaking etc..etc..that I wouldn't have been involved in.

Now, for the most part, I do all that.

But, my equipment (including computer hardware/software) costs multiples of what my analog gear cost.

Yet, ironically, as someone pointed out to me recently, the advent of social media (FaceBook, Instagram etc.) has led to what some have termed the "democratization" of photography. Everyone is now a photographer, and this mindset has permeated professional photography to some degree in that "good enough" has replaced "good", if that makes sense.

It is now far more difficult to stand out from the crowd, particularly in any people-related photography areas, because everyone is at it.

So, yes, specializing is more important than ever. But, even though I do most of the work (as noted above), on vastly more expensive kit, I make less than I did when shooting film.

Film was bloody hard work. You had to get it right in-camera, and a Polaroid was the only indication you had done so (in terms of being able to show the client).

Digital costs a lot and is wrongly perceived as easy - but the "social photography" "snap-shot" look has permeated almost every area of the business, and it is now tougher than ever, I think.

D.
« Last Edit: November 23, 2017, 03:51:23 PM by Dinarius »
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Rob C

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #14 on: November 23, 2017, 03:07:58 PM »

Dinarius had it right.

I would add another point more basic, and closer to Slobodan's: unless you are driven by the urge to be a professional photographer, why in hell try? And to be driven, I can't understand anyone not at the same time being driven by what's perhaps even more powerful: genre. The desire to be a photographic GP strikes me as an unbelievable starting line. I can see people ending up there when the real thing fails to materialise for them, but as a starting point, kicking off sans dream?

As a hobby, you can do all you want to do and not have to worry about paying the bills.

Rob
« Last Edit: November 23, 2017, 04:43:45 PM by Rob C »
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Dinarius

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #15 on: November 23, 2017, 04:03:09 PM »

One last point...

No one would pretend to be a plumber or an electrician.

But, because of the apparent “cost free” and “instant” nature of digital photography, I have been asked (in the past) to shoot for little more than what the plumber would charge to unblock the client’s toilet, despite having, probably, 10 times the plumber’s kit in $ terms.

In addition, in the new media age, people have absolutely no idea of the value of the multiple use of an image, because they see images dispersed everywhere (FB etc.) at zero cost.

Thankfully, I’ve made a buck in this game, and in my late fifties, I’m not going to fight for crumbs with eager and hungry 25 year olds. But, I wouldn’t like to be starting out in this game, I think.

D.

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Rob C

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #16 on: November 23, 2017, 04:47:02 PM »

One last point...

No one would pretend to be a plumber or an electrician.

But, because of the apparent “cost free” and “instant” nature of digital photography, I have been asked (in the past) to shoot for little more than what the plumber would charge to unblock the client’s toilet, despite having, probably, 10 times the plumber’s kit in $ terms.

In addition, in the new media age, people have absolutely no idea of the value of the multiple use of an image, because they see images dispersed everywhere (FB etc.) at zero cost.

Thankfully, I’ve made a buck in this game, and in my late fifties, I’m not going to fight for crumbs with eager and hungry 25 year olds. But, I wouldn’t like to be starting out in this game, I think.

D.


"No one would pretend to be a plumber or an electrician."

In Spain, there are many expat Brits who make money from folks unable to speak the local language by pretending just that!

;-(

Rob

ejmcompany

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #17 on: November 26, 2017, 03:01:14 PM »

Once again thanks for all the feedback. I am well aware of the status of the current landscape in the market. Yes I know everyone is a photographer and the market has changed dramatically. I also know many still thrive in the business. The question I posed was "Should one specialize or shoot multiple genres and advertise as such"? A couple of you touched on your own experience and that is what I am looking for.
The fact that I said I could go in different directions is because if I had to specialize, I am able to do that. If one thinks that makes me lack passion for one genre and I will fail, that is laughable. I love shooting landscapes as well as portraits and sports. Currently I am well know in one genre and could simply go that route, however I do wonder if potential clients are turned off by seeing a photographers website showing everything from Weddings to portraiture to sports, to events, to babies ect? I appreciated one response that mentioned not showing everything, yet doing things like weddings without advertising it, just by referral. Maybe I should have posted the question, "Do you advertise all the genres you shoot on your website, or only one or two? Will clients take seriously and large scale landscape for sale on a website that also shows weddings and events? I understand being good sometimes will make you zero money and being very average with good marketing will make money. I know everyone on here sees this, so I wonder how people sell themselves successfully as a photographer?
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JoeKitchen

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #18 on: November 26, 2017, 03:17:24 PM »

As some have pointed out, unless you live in a remote area with little competition or not enough clientele in one genre to support a business, like in Alaska, yes, you need to specialize.  This is especially the case if you intend on doing any commercial photography.  Why? 

In reality, people are hiring photographers today for their vision.  It is nearly impossible to develop a vision that can be applied to all genres; different genres demand different shooting techniques.  Therefore, if you try to shoot everything, you will spread yourself too thin and never really develop a vision that is distinct.  Even if you happen to develop one in a particular genre, if you continue to work in all genres, you will likely confuse people and they will not notice it. 

Furthermore, if you intend on working with advertising agencies and PR firms, you will not be taken seriously if you shoot weddings and events also, or at least show that on the same website.  This may not be fair, but it is how the business works.  Don't try and come up with clever arguments on why I may be wrong or how you could manage it; it won't work.  You will be known as the guy who shoots weddings, so far as art directors are concerned, and just be ignored. 

Last, even if you don't care about having a style and still want to shoot everything, it just won't work.  If you don't have a style and a particular speciality, you are pretty much going after the work that does not need one, the projects where the ADs need a handful of generic images.  You may think there are a decent amount of projects that fit this description, but with so many inexpensive stock agencies that provide a large selection of images for an AD to review today, in real time, they are nearly non-existent anymore.  It is easier, cheaper and faster (which is cheaper) for ADs just to find the images they need at [pick any one of the dozens of stock sites] then ... to search for three photographers, bid out the project, set it up, have it shot, retouched, etc.

My advice, pick a genre you are truly interested in (I shoot still life and architecture, which is still life at a greater scale), look at others work, and shoot and shoot and shoot. Pound the pavement, get gigs, put your all into them regardless of how crazy or disinteresting they may be.  In five years you'll have a style and then you'll start to get noticed by the better clients. 
« Last Edit: December 02, 2017, 10:50:16 AM by JoeKitchen »
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Sharon VL

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Re: Do you need to specialize for your business to succeed?
« Reply #19 on: November 26, 2017, 07:34:13 PM »

Once again thanks for all the feedback. I am well aware of the status of the current landscape in the market. Yes I know everyone is a photographer and the market has changed dramatically. I also know many still thrive in the business. The question I posed was "Should one specialize or shoot multiple genres and advertise as such"? A couple of you touched on your own experience and that is what I am looking for.
The fact that I said I could go in different directions is because if I had to specialize, I am able to do that. If one thinks that makes me lack passion for one genre and I will fail, that is laughable. I love shooting landscapes as well as portraits and sports. Currently I am well know in one genre and could simply go that route, however I do wonder if potential clients are turned off by seeing a photographers website showing everything from Weddings to portraiture to sports, to events, to babies ect? I appreciated one response that mentioned not showing everything, yet doing things like weddings without advertising it, just by referral. Maybe I should have posted the question, "Do you advertise all the genres you shoot on your website, or only one or two? Will clients take seriously and large scale landscape for sale on a website that also shows weddings and events? I understand being good sometimes will make you zero money and being very average with good marketing will make money. I know everyone on here sees this, so I wonder how people sell themselves successfully as a photographer?

We have separate websites and separate business names for our architecture and landscape businesses.

Where we live, great wedding photographers make a LOT of money but I don't have the personality to succeed at that. A lot of people here do wedding photography/beach portraits/engagements/family portraits and have a great business. But all those fit together very well. There is not a market for sports photography here - when we do that, we do it for our own pleasure. So a lot depends on what market you are in. It would be nice if there was a local photographer you could talk to.
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