Customers or Competition?

As a professional are you more knowledgable of your “perceived” competition than you are of your customers and your own business? If that is the case then why are you shocked when your “perceived” customers go to your competition?

The photography business and senior business has gotten extremely competitive. I am grateful for being in a competitive business in the past. My wife and I spent ten years in pharmaceutical sales before becoming a full time photography studio. There is no doubt that you need to know your competitors (the real ones) and what you can offer that they don’t. But use your limited resources (e.g. time) to explore creativity, learn business, and promote yourself instead of obsessing over any competition.

As an entrepreneur and a small business owner there is nothing more important than the success and happiness of your customers. Everything else plays a role but nothing else is more important to the lifeline of your business than the exchange of a customers’ hard earned money for your services. That is how your business keeps it’s door open. If that fails then so do you.

Focus your efforts where they need to be focused.

Know your customers: Who are your customers? What schools are they coming from? How did they or their parents find you? What are they expecting out of a senior session?

I suggest sitting down and writing descriptions out of your ideal customers and target market. What’s important to them? Where do they shop? Where do they eat? Do they value photography? Etc. Now look back at the customers you are attracting. Are they anywhere close to the target market you want your business to attract?

I talk with other photographers at workshops and over email and they are often confused. They are pouring their hearts out to please customers that aren’t really their customers. The problem is that neither the photographer nor the customer knows they aren’t the right fit. Cutting prices, giving deals, and bending over backwards for someone that may not value what you do doesn’t ensure praise on Facebook, high sales, or great referrals. Make sure you interview customers at the same time they are interviewing you. A good fit is always a good start to a successful business transaction. I had a phone call from someone the other day who wanted to sell some great Nikon lenses. This person didn’t stop talking for 5 minutes about what a great deal they were. They were in great condition, fast, relatively new, etc. The problem is I shoot with Canon. Know your customers.

Don’t try to please everyone. There is a great quote by Bill Cosby that says “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Quit trying to be everyone’s photographer. You aren’t going to be…and you really don’t want to be. Not everyone is going to like you, your style, your business, your prices, or your work. And not everyone is going to invest in your business. If you know your customers and your customers know you then the experience will be smoother from both ends. Sometimes when moving to a different price point as your work, demand, and experience grow you loose certain clients and gain new ones. This is a somewhat normal process. People’s budgets and priorities are different. BMW and Mercedes dealers don’t get mad, frustrated, and jealous when someone goes to a Civic dealer. Both the dealers and customers know the right fits for their budget and their service. Don’t try to please everyone. But don’t ever give up trying to please the right ones.

Take a social media break!: Quit staying up late and obsessing about every new “Joe Blow Photography” that starts a fan page on Facebook. Can you control them? Can you control the customers they have photographed?

Look at your statuses and the things you post. Are they more geared to brag to other photographers or to attract new business? To a hammer everything looks like a nail. And to a photographer everything is centered around photography. But your customers, especially seniors, don’t get up and obsess over who started a new fan page, who got 6 PocketWizards, or who is hanging at a workshop with Suzy Superstar Photographer. Think before you post. And stop before you look on the fan pages of the 26 new photographers this month. Even if they are copying everything you do stay ahead of the game. It was Ray Croc who said “We can invent faster than they can copy.”

These are not easy things to do and may take some discipline and focus. Stay ahead of the curve and spend more time learning about your customers than obsessing over competition. Remember your competition isn’t paying you.

John Pyle Photography is a full time portrait studio in Columbus, GA specializing in High School Senior Photography. They are a three time national senior portrait artist (spa) winning studio.

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