I hear from photographers every day, “But Sarah, I have so much competition in my market. I have to match their prices.” I’m dedicating this Joycast episode to forgetting the competition because what they’re doing is irrelevant to you. Think about it. Everyone has competition. Where there’s a Walgreens, there’s a CVS right next door. Where there’s a Target, there’s a Walmart next door. Where there’s one fast-food restaurant, there are many within a mile. As photographers with the invention of digital cameras, it’s never been easier for people to call themselves a professional photographer, and they’re everywhere. But here’s the secret: you don’t have to compete with other photography businesses in order to be the best.
How to Start a Photography Business That Makes Competition Irrelevant
Rather than letting the photography business competition get into our heads, freaking us out, making us believe that we have to do what everyone else is doing, we want to create a photography business that makes them irrelevant. I get it. So, I want to share a story about how I look at the photography business competition. When this happened to me it changed forever how I “compete” with other photography businesses.
I was a marketing director at a top local ad agency. We would create TV commercials or radio spots or billboards or direct mail or print ads. We would create the plan, and then I was the one that got to present it to the client. It was really fun to get all the graphics and present them to the client, but it also was stressful because I would never know how the client was going to react. But there was this one client that I specifically remember pitching to.
We presented to him, he loved it. He made a few changes. And then we went into production mode. So we went and we produced every single part of it. About a month later, I get the panic call of: “Sarah, oh my gosh, my competitor just put up a gigantic billboard on Wabash,” which is a main, super busy street in our market. And I had to reassure him that while billboards potentially could work for a specific business, it was never in his original marketing plan. It would have been counterproductive to rework his entire marketing plan just because his competition was doing a billboard.
The Truth Behind His Marketing “Secret Sauce”
It just so happened that later that year at a holiday party for the ad agency, I ran across the owner of the billboard company. I said, “Hey, I noticed that new board you got up on Wabash. That’s so cool.” He giggled and replied, “The owner’s niece started working for us and hadn’t made a sale.” It all clicked right then. He only did the billboard to help out the owner’s niece, not because he had some secret master plan that we were missing out on. When I told the others at the ad agency that on Monday, we all had a little chuckle. We realized it’s just reinforcement that we shouldn’t assume our competitors know what they’re doing.
We see those loud competitors everywhere and doubt starts to creep in. So we have to reframe that word and those doubts when we hear that word “competitor”. It’s easier said than done, but you can make the competition irrelevant. I literally don’t even use the “competitor” word in my vocabulary. It’s counterproductive– they don’t have anything to do with your business.
The Reminder for Photographers Worried About Competing with Other Photography Businesses
Here’s the bombshell: most of the cheap photographers in your market aren’t even making money. And some of them may not even need to make money. They may have a spouse who has a full-time job, and they’re just doing it for a hobby. Hopefully, you’re seeing my point, that if we make decisions based on what our competitors do under the assumption that they know more than what we know, we’re probably making a huge mistake. The bottom line is that you don’t have to compete with other photography businesses.
After all my years of working to help small businesses market and grow, I firmly believe this, and you’re going to want to write this down: You will succeed or fail in your business based on what you do, not what your competitors do. It’s about you. It’s not about them. I get asked every now and then too, is there such a thing as good competitors? Heck yes, there are good competitors all over the place. I have photographer friends who live about an hour from me. For years, they were five minutes apart. And both families had the boutique model. Both families survived on their income that came from those businesses.
Why It’s Not Bad to Have Another Boutique Photographer in Your Market
Was it easier to have two boutique photographers in the market instead of one? No. But they realized they were both training the market together to invest in wall portraiture. They were both able to have enough clients to sustain their businesses. So actually, there is extreme value in having competitors teaching the market to be boutique and invest in wall portraits.
So if you truly want to make the competition irrelevant once and for all, double down on boutique. Learn what it takes to have a thriving photography business, and how you can work part-time while putting your family first. Stop competing with other photography businesses. Become like the fine restaurant in your town that has loyal customers who happily return over and over. Customers who are thrilled to pay you. They feel like family. They gush on you every chance they get. This is the key to building the life you love, making a really nice profit and most importantly, putting your family first.