How to Start a Photography Business: Creating the Business Plan, Part I
Sometimes, statistics can be scary. If you were to search for success rates for new photography businesses, you would find that the vast majority of them fail within the first two years. I’m not sharing this information to dissuade you from starting your own photography business, but rather to emphasize the importance of putting together a plan (or reviewing your existing plan) before launching your business. What statistics can’t show is how many of these businesses failed despite having a business plan or a quality product. My guess, the majority.
In this article, the first of a three-part series, I’m going to share with you an excerpt of our Complete Photography Business Training System. We will discuss three out of ten steps for creating a photography business plan.
1. Select A Focus
When you hear the words, “select a focus,” I know that many of you just starting out in photography are probably going to respond the same way that we did, with anxiety and hesitation.
Like the rest of you, we didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into a single genre. We felt like we would be losing clients and opportunities. We were also confident that we were good enough to compete across multiple genres of photography. Shown above are a few examples of our work in different genres of photography.
In short, we were wrong in many ways. That feeling was leading us exactly down the path of most resistance.
It’s important to realize that in selecting a focus you aren’t just focusing on the type of photography. Selecting a focus defines who you’re going to be competing with and which market that you’re actually going to be marketing to. When starting a new business, your time is extremely limited, especially if you’re planning to do this part-time. In addition to everything you need to do when starting a business, trying to market your product within multiple genres of photography is near impossible.
On top of that, you have to compete with the quality work of other photographers who are already 100% committed to specific genres. It’s a challenging task to say the least, not only from the marketing and business administrative sides but also from the artistic side to produce quality work that matches or exceeds your competitors’ work, especially when all of your competitor’s time is going towards one specific genre and even subgenre of photography. For example, wedding photographers who focus purely on film versus more dramatic imagery as shown below.
This example shows that even within a niche or genre, we can compete within a particular subgenre. Competing in multiple genres is equivalent to trying to start up a business that opens its doors competing on multiple fronts.
To illustrate, imagine a startup trying to compete against Amazon. Amazon started as an online bookstore. Their initial goal was simple, to sell books. Today, Amazon does so much more than that. They’re competing with Netflix. They have their own data services with Amazon Web Services, which now makes up a large component of their business. On top of all of that, they are a retailer selling just about everything. Amazon has their hands in so many areas. If you tried to compete with Amazon during the beginning stages of your business, where in the world would you even begin?
Coming back to photography. There are far too many genres to take on all at once. Choose one particular genre: weddings, families, high school seniors, and so on.
Choosing to take on multiple genres means choosing to compete with every competitor who is 100% focused within each niche. Simultaneously, you are choosing to attempt to market to each of those genre’s target markets.
Instead, spin up one business, get that wheel successfully turning so that it runs on its own and generates a healthy profit, and then spin up another. It’s far easier to maintain momentum then to start it. Focus all of your efforts on one genre to gain business momentum before moving to another.
2. Research The Market
Once we’ve selected our focus, we need to research the market. This is where knowing our focus is key because we want to research one and only one market. It’s a time-consuming process to not only do the research but then to put in the work of creating all of the marketing assets.
Narrowing down your focus will also narrow down your list of competitors. It all starts with keyword searching your genre (e.g. wedding photography). We want to look at who is competing within our focus and area. The simplest way to do that well is to have a well-defined focus of our own.
Hop onto Google or any online search, and type in your genre and location as shown in the image below.
Remember, if we are trying to compare multiple genres/markets, the research alone becomes far more daunting a task.
3. Identify Direct Competitors
From our search results, we’re going to identify and create a list of our direct competitors. These are people who operate within our genre and offer a product similar to our own. Now, I understand that we all think our own product has no substitutes. However, think of this exercise from your clients perspective. While your style might slightly vary, to your clients, your wedding photography is likely similar to that of your competitors.
There are plenty of people in our price range or within the target market who are offering a product with a quality level that’s difficult for consumers to differentiate; here’s what I mean by that.
As consumers and non-professional drivers, most of us can differentiate the difference between a Honda and a BMW. That is a simple differentiator and we wouldn’t generally compare those two cars. We wouldn’t look at a Honda Accord and compare it to a BMW 5 Series and say, “Hey, the price is $20,000 different.” We know that the comparison doesn’t really make sense. Most of us can understand that level of differentiation because it’s a significant differentiation. But, we might have a harder time being able to tell the difference between Mercedes and BMW. For example, the equivalent Mercedes that competes with the BMW 5 Series will have very comparable, comfortable luxury features. Without personal bias, the typical consumer would be unable to tell a significant difference between these two cars. In that way, BMW is a direct competitor to Mercedes and an indirect competitor to Honda. A Honda Accord will not fulfill someone’s need to own a luxury car.
Think of your photography product the same way. When a client can’t substantially differentiate your work from someone else’s, the only thing left to compare is the price. When the price difference is significant on a product that is substantially perceived as similar, consumers will always choose the cheaper option.
By the same token, if you are a bright and airy fine-art film photographer, it’s safe to assume that clients can differentiate your work from another photographer who shoots dark and dramatic portraits. In other words, a photographer’s dramatic images will not fulfill a client’s wants for bright/airy filmic imagery. Even if you are both in the same genre of photography, you are indirect competitors. However, another photographer within your genre offering a substantially similar product would be your direct competitor, which we will discuss next.
To Be Continued
We will conclude part one here. While we are here, we’d like to give you a couple of the takeaways that we included in the Complete Business Workshop Series on SLR Lounge.
If you’d like to download our S.W.O.T. template or our Executive Summary, you may download it for free by subscribing to our newsletter below:
If you enjoyed this article, please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear any other thoughts that you have.
Otherwise, be sure to join us next week for part two of this article.