3 Photography Business Truths You Must Learn

Some of you will be nodding your head furiously while you read this—yay!

Some of you will be wondering what the heck I am talking about. That's OK.

I am pointing my piercing eye of Sauron at all of you.

Truth #1: Owning a wildly successful photography business has almost nothing to do with photography.

There, I said it. Whew. Now that we have that out of the way, we can have a real conversation that isn't bogged down by f-stops and bokeh. Don't get me wrong, my bokeh’s as good as the next guy’s, but I made a conscious decision to leave all that behind when I started 16 Hoops.

Being a good photographer is a given.

Anyone who doesn't already have a good portfolio has no business running a photography business (pun intended). Ergo, photography has (almost) nothing to do with running a successful photography business.

Make sense?

Here, together, we are terraforming a new world for photographers—a world in which paying your rent or mortgage doesn’t depend on someone’s pet project (or pet portrait).

Embracing Truth #1 will help you make the most dramatic transformation of your career.

I believe this. SO much, in fact, that I challenge you right now at this very minute, to stop reading about/talking about/researching photography. At some point, you will realize (as I did) that you are not a photographer. You’re a business owner. Luckily, owning a photography business happens to be one of the best jobs out there.

Together, we will shift you into a new way of thinking that helps you manage all aspects of your business—not just the point-and-shoot parts.

Truth #2: If you don't position yourself, you will fail.

Sounds dramatic, doesn't it? Good. It's meant to be.

The problem I keep seeing over and over again with this industry is the complete lack of actual expertise in the photography market, despite more “experts” than ever before.

Positioning is the practice of setting yourself apart from your competition. You need to show clients not just that your work is good, but that you have something special to offer—otherwise, you might just get lost in the noise.

Bad positioning is why good photographers can't charge what they are worth. It's why there’s someone down the street who is charging less and undercutting your lowest rates (for now). But don't worry: someone else will come along right behind that hog and charge even less. So the race to the bottom continues.

Why does this happen? It's because customers can't tell the difference between all of us. We all look 100% the same. We all have the same pinterest inspired templates, the same logos. We’re all using the same gear; we’re all donning the same hip leather bags (OK, I'm not gonna lie, those are kind of cool). We’re all shooting the same family portraits, posed casually in glowing fields at dusk (chunky jewelry? check), the same babies in cute knit hats all snuggled up on fur…should I go on?

That, my friend, is the opposite of positioning. That is lumping. You've been lumped. It’s no wonder clients can’t differentiate you.

Don't feel bad, though. Realizing you’re part of a non-positioned lump is totally normal. I know, because I've analyzed hundreds of photographers’ websites—including those who are successful—and even if they are positioned, they have no idea how to communicate that position.

And even if they are saying it, they are not using language their target audience will act on.

But without positioning and the hard work it takes, running a photography business can be a boring, confusing, sad state of affairs. And, given long enough, the struggle can be a path to failure and going back to your day job.

OK, you know you need to position yourself. So what does that mean? What does positioning look like?

Positioning means finding what’s unique or different about your business and making sure that difference comes through crystal-clear in everything you create.

It also means knowing exactly who you serve. Who’s your target market? Why do you want to serve these people? What do they expect from you, and how can you surpass those expectations to create loyal repeat clients?

Your positioning might look like this, in statement form:

“[COMPANY NAME] works with restaurants that want to bring more guests through their doors without relying on stock photos. [COMPANY NAME] produces mouthwatering food photography and showcases each establishment’s welcoming, relaxing atmosphere. Clients benefit from a complete visual library to use throughout their marketing efforts."

Super specific, right?

Proper positioning is hard at first, but we have our ways (for full effect, say that last bit with a German accent). Once you nail down who you serve and why you’re different (read: better), you should be able to name your price in the market.

You’ll gain incredible clarity and focus as a business—and then the sky is the limit. It’s pretty exciting territory, and it’s within your reach.

Truth #3: It's impossible to take your business to "that" level without professional help.

A logo from Fiverr and a Squarespace account does not an excellent business make. But hey, I get totally get it. You’re a photographer. You are not a copywriter or brand designer or ad agency—why pay more than $5 for a logo? Right?

Wrong. You saw that coming, didn't ya?

Let's revisit truth #1: you’re a business owner. What do real businesses do? They hire other experts to do all this stuff so they can rock their own expertise. Do you see doctors or lawyers or Coca-Cola or Nike trying to design their own logos or run awe-inducing ad campaigns? Heck no.

If you want to take your business to the next level, take charge as an expert in your own field, and make the hard decisions required. Bring in professional help. Even if you think you have a designer’s eye (which you probably do!), you STILL 100% need to hire another expert to help you get to that next level.

Just as you bring an expert perspective to your work, the folks you hire to help with your design and branding will bring their own fresh spin to your business. They can see your business from a perspective you can’t—simply because they’re not you.

I've learned over the past 18 months that it's really, really hard to do this next-step branding by yourself. Even branding experts hire other branding experts when they want to climb over that next summit.

Why do the Mad Men Ogilvy & Mathers of the world exist? To get this stuff done: the real stuff of building an amazing business so you can lead the life you want. 16 Hoops is the Mad Men for photographers. Let's do this.

PS. The fact that you’re even reading this…

…means you’re one step closer than the guy down the road. If all of this were easy, everyone would be a branding expert with a well-positioned business. But it’s not, and they’re not.

I challenge you to be daring and take that bold step where not many other togs have gone before—into the blue ocean waters of unbeatable positioning. And then cast a line to your raving fans and watch them hop right into your boat.