Monday, July 25, 2011

Beat the Competition By Outperforming, NOT Underpricing - Part 2

In the first part of this article, I talked about how so many of us got into the industry because of our love of photography and the desire we had to create beautiful images with our cameras. It was so completely enjoyable, we may have even thought we'd do it for free! (Sadly, by under-pricing, many photographers do work for little or nothing.)

While desire, energy and passion are great, those qualities alone will not be enough to make you a successful photographer or run a profitable business. You must set yourself apart from the competition. Many photographers realize this, but few actually understand what it means.

In this segment, let's discuss how to put some distance between you and the other photographers who are competing for the same dollar. Since we know don't want to slash prices (and profits) to achieve this, we have to find better methods. Not surprisingly, almost all of them are centered around education.

Last time I talked about some of the biggest mistakes I made, so this time (just to prove that I wasn't a total idiot) I'll share some of my best decisions.

  1. Become an active member of professional associations.
    This is easily the single smartest and best thing I ever did; my only regret is that I didn't do it sooner in my professional career.

    - Why it was a great move: Membership in professional associations - specifically PPA and my state and local affiliate groups - provided me with the resources I needed to position myself as a professional studio. Especially now, in a market where every digital SLR owner prints 250 free business cards online and brands him / herself as a "professional", membership in PPA and affiliate groups add an extra level of credibility and accountability to you as a professional.

  2. Take full advantage of the opportunities offered by these associations.
    When I said to become an "active" member, I mean get involved. It does you minimal good to pay the dues and not take advantage of the benefits, educational and networking opportunities that these memberships offer.

    - Why you should "go for it all": This is where I really started to blossom. When I began attending meetings and seminars, not only did I learn from the presenters, but it seemed I learned equally as much from my own colleagues who were in the very same room. Here were the very people I was thinking were my "competition" sharing their own tricks and secrets with me, the new guy! I couldn't figure it out. After accepting an invitation to visit a nearby (within 2 miles of my studio!) colleague, I asked why they were sharing all of this information with me. His both response surprised me and stuck with me to this very day. "If I help you learn the proper way to run a successful business, we're not really competing with each other. We're just raising the bar for photographers everywhere and showing the public what they can expect from a professional studio." No matter which group I got involved with, my experiences were similar.

  3. Challenge yourself by entering print competition.
    I know, you're thinking "I don't need to enter print competition. Why do I care what another photographer thinks? My work is just fine!"  The truth is, if I had a dollar for every time I've heard this, I'd be wealthy. (And that's just from my former business partner!)

    - Why you should enter:
    The truth is, participating in print competition IS scary, but it will ultimately make you a better photographer. Seeing the work of other photographers and hearing the critiques of experienced professionals will give you ideas and background on what makes a great portrait. Seeing the actual image and listening to the reviewers' commentary often drives home the need to step outside of your own comfort zone. Print competition has challenged me to stretch my personal limits and has made me a better photographer.

  4. Roll up your sleeves and get involved.
    A number of years ago, a photographer friend was telling me about a new member in their group who had come to him with the complaint about the group being "cliquey". The member went on to tell him "I really don't know what to do . . . it's almost as if there's a secret password to get to know people." My friend smiled and replied "Well, there is sort of a secret phase. To meet new people, walk up to anyone who's busy and say "How can I help?"

    - Why you want to do this: Did you ever notice how some people walk? They avert their eyes downward or only look straight ahead as they walk. While they end up getting to their destination, they often miss all of the wonderful experiences around them along the way. The same is true for your involvement with any group. Roll up your sleeves and help take down equipment after a seminar. Don't worry about making a long-term commitment or being elected president. Simply hang around after the meeting to help put away chairs, roll up cords, whatever is necessary. I guarantee people will learn your name and you will instantly become better acquainted with a greater number of people.

    If the group goes out afterwards, join them! Grab a bite to eat, or have a soda or a drink and join the conversation. Some of the best learning experiences happen outside of the actual classroom and who knows . . . you may even make a new friend or two. Some of my closest friends are people I've met through professional photographic associations.

  5. Step outside of your comfort zone by pushing yourself to achieve new heights.
    Become a Certified Professional Photographer. Work toward a PPA degree. Set a goal of creating one new image per session by not following the same "mental checklist" you always use.

    If you're feeling really adventurous, single out one area where you feel really proficient and participate in a discussion or <gasp> give a program on that subject.

    - Why?: Why not? it's all about learning, growing, paying it forward and setting yourself apart from the crowd.

David Grupa, CPP, M.Photog.Cr., AFS-MNPPA owns David Grupa Portrait in Maplewood, MN. A true believer in the power of professional associations, he is a Past-President of both the TCPPA and MNPPA and serves PPA members in Minnesota as a Councilor. In his desire to "pay it forward" in the photographic industry, he founded Camp David Photographic Education.

1 comment: