6 Tribal Laws That Affect Your Photography Business

I recently wrote a post 13 Ways To Make Sure 2013 Doesn’t Suck For Your Photography Business. I’ve been doing a lot internal planning with my own business for 2013, and I used that post as a trigger for all of you to start thinking about what you want the New Year to bring into your own lives. In order to stick with that theme, I’ve decided to run a “13 Days Of Photography” feature throughout December to help provide you with a ton of ideas and tips on things you can do for your own business starting on January 1st. Here is 6…

“I’m really wondering what to do next year. My business has never recovered from what it was a few years ago. I try and try, but I just can’t find the clients who are willing to spend what they used to. I’m struggling to stay in business and I just don’t know if it’s worth it anymore. People want different things today. They just want digital files to share on Facebook, they don’t care about wedding albums or large portraits above their fireplace. Maybe I should shut my doors and do something else.”

I hear this story again and again from photographers all over the world.

And in many ways he is correct.

What is happening in today’s marketplace isn’t the same as what happened a few short years ago. We don’t shoot film, we shoot digital. We don’t need photo albums, we have our iPads. We don’t need to print a 4×5 to send to relatives half way around the world; we share it on Facebook and they see it instantly.

Times have changed. Which means we must change too or get lost in the shuffle.

Its like selling buggy whips in the era of horseless carriages. If the marketplace is changing and you don’t change with it, you will be put out of business.

Finding Your Tribe

One of my favorite books by Seth Godin is Tribes. A tribe links a small group of people to an idea. It creates a movement. And it is lead by the one person that foresees the change and decides to do something about it.

Will photography go away? Nope. Never. In fact its bigger now than it has ever been in the past.

Yet today’s technology has made “old time” photographers obsolete.

Which means as an industry, we have to find new ways to structure the business and move into a new direction. Seth Godin explains it best; it’s worth the watch. Then use these six steps to help you create your own movement.

Find a group that’s disconnected

This is the easy part. Photography doesn’t exist like it used to. You’ve figured that one out, right? Now its time to look at it in a whole new way. What can you do differently? What can you do to reach out to people that still love photography, yet want something in an entirely new way?

Change the rules

Average won’t cut it. People share “average” all the time. I can shoot every second of the day with my iPhone and share average pictures with anyone, anywhere in the world. Why would I pay for average? I want something new, something different than what I can create on my own. I want the WOW factor before I’m willing to invest money in it.

Narrow the focus

I talk a lot about niching on this blog. When building a tribe, it goes beyond niching. The narrower you can focus in on who your exact customer is, the more you will succeed. Nope, it isn’t “any family that wants a portrait”. It needs to be super focused. “Family portraits of families dealing with autistic children.” If you have the knowledge and patience to deal with someone with a severe form of autism, understand the patience needed to create a beautiful family portrait in an environment that won’t cause duress, your name will be passed around this tribe … fast.

Tell a story

You can’t sell with generic statements and average copy. The world today is set up for stories – the more you tell, the more potential you will have. Which is better:

“We specialize in creating portraits for families with autistic children.”

“Travis was a special child, the love of their life. Yet the one thing missing in his 12 years on earth was a family portrait. They tried. But Travis became agitated every time he entered a studio. He loves familiarity, and the new sights and sounds of a studio always brought him to the edge as soon as he entered…

A story that continues on like this, describing the entire experience with Travis and his family will win over hearts across your marketplace every time.

Lead the way

In today’s world, there are leaders and followers. If you want to find success in the photographic industry today, you have to be a leader. That doesn’t mean looking at what photographers have done before you and “copying” their styles. It means learning from them and embarking down your own path. Pick up the skills and the knowledge, then use that to blaze your own trails.

Find the true believers

Finding people with a need is easy once you look closely at what you like to do, and what is missing from an already crowded community. Once you find that “thing”, use it in everything you do. All of your marketing, all of your communications, all of your resources and tools should focus in and show specifically what you do.

Can a photographer that specializes in families with autistic children photograph a family without? Definitely. And as friends refer friends, you’ll probably do your share. But you won’t market for those. Those will come from your raving fans you’ve built by being on target and true to your message, over and over again.

Above all, remember you don’t need a marketplace of “everyone”. Instead, you need a small tribe of raving fans that love you and believe in you. If you’re goal is to focus in on the one “trend” for the New Year, find your tribe, market to them well, and get ready for the best year yet.

I’m looking for WOW photographers. Think you’ve got it? Know someone that is changing photography as we know it? I’d love to hear about them. Please give me your stories in the comments below.


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