the state of the photography industry: a downslide, and what you can do about it

From our vantage point, here’s what we see:

More new photographers entering the business.

More “experts”--sometimes with only a smattering of experience--plying education and advice to newbies.

More photography businesses augmenting their income by selling products, ebooks, business guides, and design work often of amateur quality.

More photographers leaving the business, because of 1) low prices and low client expectations; 2) bad business practices; 3) the inability to stand out in an oversaturated market. (Notice how these correspond with the trends above.)

These are generalities, not absolutes. Every so often, a new photographer breaks this mold, entering the field with strong fundamentals, a desire to learn from quality teachers, and the will to transcend industry trends to create a client experience and a business plan with lasting value.

We want you to be this photographer.

Photographers that maintain consistently high quality, offer heirloom products, charge rates that sustain a living wage, stand out in marketing and reputation, and work hard to nurture a family of clients, will stay in business and elevate the profession.

Photographers that rely on an auto setting on their camera rather than skill and thus produce inconsistent results, shoot and burn photos to a disk without offering clients a tangible product, compete on price, and engage in “me too” marketing and promotion, will drive themselves out of business and damage the reputation of professional photography.

We choose not to be part of this downslide. Will you?

If you’re new to the business, your choice is simple: build your business’s foundation with the bricks of solid education, forward-thinking pricing structures, distinctive branding, and a thrilling customer experience. But even if you’re not “new” to the industry, you always possess the ability to remake your business in the image you wish to show the world. You may leave some clients behind, but they’ll be replaced with the clients you deserve.

Ask yourself this time-honored question: are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?

In other words, what are you doing--right now--to differentiate your business and safeguard your future? Here’s some advice, useful no matter how long you’ve been around, to make sure you’re traveling the path of long-term success:

Be wary.

This is not to say you should close yourself off from new products, new ideas, new people, or new ways of doing business. But one of the blessings of the internet--or curses, when you’re on the receiving end of a blistering Yelp review--is the ability to research ANYTHING. Is there a workshop you’re dying to take? Check out your favorite forum or social media groups for honest, is-it-worth-it feedback. (Tangent on forums: again, some of these are more worthwhile than others. Are preferred vendors and their affiliates shilling their wares on the boards, or are you truly in a space of constructive conversation?) We’re proud of all the good things photographers say about Design Aglow products, in part because our years of experience afford us a particular insight into what’s truly useful for our customers.

Is the new copy of Photoshop 9.7 really going to help you sell more photographs? Doubtful. What about the latest app/widget/whoosit that promises to double your sales if you just download to your iPad/install it to your Facebook page/e-blast it to your clients? We’re rolling our eyes just thinking about it. Maybe it works; maybe it doesn’t. But slice through the hype to think critically about whether this expenditure of your hard-earned money will help you make more money down the line.

Zag. Always.

Think hard: when’s the last time you saw a photography logo that truly stood out?

We thought so. Because they all look the same.

Zagging--or going the opposite way from the zigging crowd--is a process, one that has to happen every day, and in every decision. When everyone in your market is selling a DVD and sending their clients to Costco for prints, it’s hard to justify why you don’t just hand over your digital files. Being different requires self-control, discipline, and confidence. It’s easy to follow the herd; it’s also really easy to go out of business when you’re identical to every other photographer in town.

Narrow your eyes.

This means several things. Block out what’s in your peripheral vision so that you can concentrate; keep your eyes on your prize, whether it’s more money, more family time, or more creative freedom. “Narrowing your eyes” also means narrowing your focus, to photograph what makes your heart pitter-patter, and figuring out a way to make that your livelihood.

Because let’s face it: running a successful business often means making ruthless decisions about what will move you forward. And forward, away from recent trends, is the only way that our industry will survive.

* This Design Aglow article originally appeared in Lemonade and Lenses magazine. Feel free to link and share!

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