Here is the typical photography career:
Stumble into it because you take great photos (degree not required, but bonus).
Get lucky by having friends hire you first, then slowly widening to a larger audience.
Sit by the phone (or email).
Send out an email template. get hired (or wait).
I’m oversimplifying to a degree, but this is essentially how it works and has worked for a long, long time.
How do I know?
That was my wedding career from circa 2003 to 2016. I never had to work to get clients. I did styled shoots that got wild publicity, I did the occasional wedding show and networked loosely with planners, florists, venues, and DJ’s that I liked.
But most of my success came from “FIRST. BEST.” I entered first and best and held that well over for over a decade.
This old business model won’t work now for any photographer, including me.
FIRST doesn’t exist with 150,000+ professional full time photographers. These are people who call themselves Professional Photographer on their tax returns - imagine how many in your own market do not. And everyone is good (best) now.
Take a look around at the sea of photographers all doing the same thing and expecting different results.
So why do talented, smart photographers still do this and hope for different results?
It’s because they/we are distracted by small tasks that constantly interrupt the REAL & DEEP WORK we should be doing.
This new economy requires, no demands, innovation.
If you don’t innovate your photography business model, you will fail.
Sounds scary. But it’s meant to be an exciting call to action rather than a doomsday cry.
How do you innovate? With DEEP WORK.
I’m sure a few of you have seen Cal Newport’s TED talk on this subject (check out another article on this...). But don’t watch it (distraction!). His book Deep Work is far more engaging. Get this book.
The first step toward doing deep work is simple.
Set three GIANT goals for your business.
Determine what work must be done to reach these goals.
Eliminate all or most of everything else.
Let’s break it down.
1. Set 3 Giant Goals
These are not small goals. Small goals will not innovate your business model. These 3 goals should make your heart skip a beat. One possible set of 3 goals for a hypothetical mid-size town photographer could be…
Move my family to a larger OR more lucrative market (see what I mean…heart skip a beat!).
Re-brand as a luxury brand.
Gross $200K next year.
Some other goals could be...
Stop all advertising and do in person networking only.
Make the switch to luxury IPS.
Become a freelance photojournalist with National Geographic.
Start a magazine for photographers.
Photograph only what I love and am good at.
Focus on high end Jewish weddings.
2. Determine what work must be done to reach these goals
Using our hypothetical photographer who decides to move above. Here is some DEEP WORK that could be done...
Dive deep into Luxury Brands around the world. What do they say, what do they feel like, how do they market? What kinds of products do they create?
Study high end luxury markets around the country (Scarsdale NY, Rhinebeck, Maclean VA, West Palm Beach FL, Rolling Hills CA, Belle Mead TN, Darien CT, Scottsdale AZ, Cary NC, Newport Beach CA, Wellesley MA etc…). Which two or three could be potential new homes for you?
Get a loan or save enough to make the move and open up a studio.
Start photographing work for your portfolio that will start to build this kind of higher end clientele (you don’t need to wait until you move to do this).
Take a course on IPS for the luxury market.
3. Eliminate everything else.
This part should be easy, hypothetically.
Stop photographing anything that doesn’t move you toward this goal.
Stop the endless tweaking of your brand and website. You can’t tweak a broken system. It requires destruction and evolution.
Stop spending any time on social media or other distractions that doesn’t move you toward this goal.
Stop…stop…stop…ANYTHING that doesn’t move you toward this.
When you start thinking and acting this way amazing change can happen. It takes work and some internal re-wiring of old bad habits that bore deep tracks in your psyche. But it can be done.
Or you can just keep doing what you have always done and expecting different results. Ahem. How’s that working for ya?
It’s time to get off the distraction hamster wheel. Be bold. Do the DEEP WORK required - if for not other reason than NO ONE ELSE IS DOING IT - WHY NOT BE THE ONE WHO DOES.
It’s the only way to stand out in a sea of look alike photographers all doing the same thing.
You are not everyone. Prove it.