Why do I feel like I’m getting nowhere with my photography business?

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on July 6, 2015

in This is Life

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“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” ― Ernest Hemingway

You know how to kill a writer?

Put a blank page in front of him.

Same goes for your limitless options when it comes to creating art as a photographer – if you can dream it, you can shoot it.

But it’s hard to do anything when we’re presented with the option of everything.

You can do it all.

But here’s the rub: do you want to be busy or do you want to be successful?

I’ve wasted years spinning my wheels being very busy getting nothing (important) done.

I was trying to be a jack of all trades, a Renaissance man, a photographer who could solve any visual riddle.

Let’s argue that time is finite.

Let’s also argue that energy is finite.

So, a lot like money. Painfully like money.

Sure ’nuff: ever get to the end of the month and your bank account is empty, but you have nothing to show for it?

Where’d all my money go?

Where’d all my time go?

It’s easy. We do it all the time.

Now, how about that summer when you worked your butt off to earn enough money to get in on the big senior trip to Spain? Mowing lawns, doing odd jobs, spritzing produce overnight at the grocery store.

You had a specific goal. And every dollar you earned, but for the occasional soda to quench your thirst, you saved to put in that savings account or mason jar – you had a Why, it was a clear vision, and you knew if you worked your butt off you could make it happen.

Let me be clear:

Every time you divide your attention between multiple niches of photography, you are halving (or worse) your progress in each.

“I specialize in family, pet, church, non-profit, event, corporate, headshot, interpretive dance, concert, newborn, children’s, and industrial photography.”

Greg McKeown illustrates perfectly what I think of this in his book Essentialism:

essentialism1

Do you want to make minimal gains in a dozen directions, or huge improvement toward your most important goal?

Your definition of success is yours alone.

But whatever that definition may be, I submit that you will be happier and more successful in your art and business faster if you tighten your niche instead of widening the net.

Stop using a net and start using a spear – when you try to be everything to everyone, you’re nobody to anyone.

Don’t be a children’s, family, wedding, and “whatever photography needs you may have” photographer.

Be a children’s photographer.

Better: Be a black and white children’s photographer.

Better still: Be a black and white children’s photographer specializing in special needs kids.

Even mo bettah: Be a black and white children’s photographer specializing in portraits that tell the story of relationships between special needs kids and the parents, teachers and caretakers who love them.

You might be surprised at how tightly you can define your niche without leaving the realm of commercial viability.

Keep in mind: depending on your definition of success, you’re only looking for 52 bookings a year. Are there 52 parents, schools, and doctors in your market who appreciate the beauty of good black and white photography, who have or serve special needs kids and make up the loving relationships in those kids’ lives?

In this specific niche, maybe so or maybe no.

But the point stands that you’ll reach artistic and business success multiple times faster when you tighten up your niche and target market.

Consider the above tight niche.

Can you see how having a niche this tight immediately makes clear exactly who your target market is?

And can you see how this tight niche makes clear to your target market that you’re the perfect fit for them?

Just narrowing your focus, and your options, down this tight may be giving you very clear, specific ideas for business cards, logos, marketing pieces, marketing campaigns, books you should read, blogs you could read, photography techniques you could practice, maybe even specific images you’d love to make as a black and white special needs children’s photographer.

It makes clear who you could reach out to as mentors.

It makes clear what non-profits and local charities you could support with your art and a portion of profits.

And odds are good it will be vastly easier (and faster) to become the best black and white special needs children’s photographer in your local market – not in the whole wide world, but certainly in the world of your local clients.

Instead of drowning in questions and limitless opportunities, you suddenly have purpose, direction, ideal clients, specific and executable ideas.

The creative brain thrives when given boundaries.

Your path up the mountain of success becomes so much clearer when you know what value you’re creating and for whom.

How tightly can you define your niche?

Don’t worry about all the people who “won’t do business with you” because they don’t fit in your niche. Trust, if for example within your market you become the best young children’s portrait photographer specializing in vibrant colors and big personalities, you’re going to get more inquiries for family, maternity, newborn and other work than if you kept throwing a wide net instead of a sharpened spear.

Being the best in one niche makes you more attractive and more interesting to potential clients in every niche.

The benefits:

  • Tight niche, faster artistic and business development.
  • Faster development, better art and client experience, and better ability to communicate your value through marketing.
  • Better art and experience and better marketing, the more clients and testimonials and social shares and circle of influence and money you can command in the market.
  • The more exposure and social proof, the more your name is on the lips of influencers in every niche of photography in your market – and beyond.

This huge wave of success results from the ripple effect of your bravery in seeking out and serving your ideal clients, a tight niche of photography buyers who are the perfect fit for your art, experience, and personality.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou

Don’t let the fear of committing to a tight niche keep you from living out your dream and your life story as a professional photographer.

Next Steps

  • Pick your top five or 10 favorite photographers. Visit their online portfolios. How would you describe their niche? How tightly can you define the themes and patterns in their work? By way of colors? Subject? Theme? Story? Style? Pose? Wardrobe? Emotion? How have they niched down in their work to create differentiated art and experiences for their clientele?
  • Brainstorm session: get out your pen and paper. Let’s build out potential ‘dream niches’ for you and your business. For each niche, write it out layer by layer. For each layer, ask, “What’s the One Big Thing?” For an example, here’s how my brainstorm might look: Photographer > High School Senior Photographer > High School Senior Photographer specializing in exciting, personality-driven portraits of young thespians, dancers, and other performers; earning Likes and ‘Wows’ from friends and family through super-shareable digital images and Big Wall Art. You can do this for each potential niche you’d like to pursue. In the end though, choose the one that most excites and intrigues you, and commit to it. You can always pivot to a new direction later, but here in the startup phase, niche down and level up in your artistic and business growth.
  • My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I am truly grateful for your readership, and encourage you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
  • What’s the biggest struggle holding you back right now? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough today.
  • If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below or drop me an e-mail. I’d love to hear how you use these ideas to better your part time photography business!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael F July 7, 2015 at 10:48 am

Very powerful statement.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor July 7, 2015 at 10:59 am

Thank you Michael! I hope art, life, and business are treating you right!

Reply

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