Perhaps it's only my opinion but I believe that one of the fastest ways to fail in business is to try to do too much, for too many people. Right behind that is producing a product that nobody wants, but we'll get to that beast later. When I talk with photographers looking to go pro, the first thing I ask them is what they intend to shoot. A solid 80% of the time their response is something like "well, some weddings, family portraits, maybe kids, and seniors too."
Then the remaining 19% are generally geared towards the commercial market, but with a similar sparse focus.
Oh, the 1%? They're the ones that come in and say "I'm going to shoot X, and nothing but X." It doesn't happen in my office very often.
The point I'm making here is that a massive portion of photographers seem to feel as if they should shoot any and every genre of work where they can make a saleable image. You can't really fault the thought process. We think that if we can take a little piece of all the pies that we will have more than if we snag a huge chunk of one. There is a flaw in this common stance.
To make the most you can of your career, you have to specialize, and in many cases hyper-specialize.
Think about it like this. Not too many years ago there was ONE guy you went to for hyper-realistic, almost illustrated images. Who was it? What about the fashion photographer always hired for his for incredibly polished and vivid fashion work? Who is currently the go to name for headshots?
Maybe you had different names in mind for each question, the point is still the same. You know them because of how well defined in their niche they are. You don't get there by doing a little bit of everything. You get there by being THE name people think of when it comes to the type of image they want. Is that to say that you can't shoot anything else? Absolutely not, just that you don't focus on, or market those things. Step one in getting ahead in this area is clearly defining your niche. What specifically are you providing your clients? What area of specialty?
This can be a very difficult thing to pin down. We are creatives and as such don't generally like to be pidgeon holed. However, I encourage you to look closely at your style and the things about what you do that you are truly passionate about. How do your personal beliefs and views fall in line with these?
I'll use myself as an example. My calling card is fitness photography. That's the genre of work I do. However, my niche is something more specific. I provide my clients a modern take on classic images of strength and beauty by choosing to ignore the stereotypical sexual approach. Nobody comes to me for T&A images because I don't/won't shoot them. So then we can say that my niche in the market becomes something like "fitness photography you can show your family." There may be a better way to say that, but you get the point. I want the people that want something classy. Spend some time determining the specific type of work you want to do.
With that set out there, we can move into talking about your target market. Although they often get used interchangably, target market and niche are not the same.
Target Market = the group of people or demographic you are serving
Niche = What specifically you are providing them? What area of specialty?
So using myself as an example again, let's break this down. I know the niche I'm passionate about now, so who am I going after? It could be individuals, magazines, fitness companies, gyms...anything in that industry really. Yet, I'm not going to be the best fit for every category. For instance, I love seeing my work in publications but they generally operate on the "sex sells" mantra that is counter to my niche. I won't be a good fit for at least certain styles of publication. When I consider that magazines are paying less and less for quality images, I can see that it may not be the best market to focus on for me. A small number of publications would use my work, and I wouldn't make much from the few that did.
We can break down each of the other options the same way. By asking ourselves which markets are already in line with our passions and beliefs we can begin to hone in on a target market segment that is not only a good fit, but one that we will love being in as well. Finding a good target market is a lot like dating. We approach it knowing pretty solidly the attributes in a partner that we don't want, and the ones we do. Think about your market the same way. What are you completely unwilling to put up with? What are attributes you enjoy or admire? Look deeper than "I'm not willing to put up with late payments." Do you want a client that micromanages you? What about someone that calls 5 times a day? Whittle it down into a picture of your ideal client. Then define your market using that ideal. I go after individuals and organizations that fall in line with my picture of a perfect client.
If you've looked at the books in the first segment of this series you will recognize this as the beginning of setting up what Michael Port calls "The Velvet Rope Policy."
The point is that we need to clearly define our ideals and translate that into a well defined niche and target market. By doing so we can allow ourselves to only take on the clients we fit best with, and therefore do our best work for them. It isn't possible to be at our best when we try to do little bits of everything that we can get our hands on. The statistic is that 20% of your clients will provide 80% of your income. So really, why bother with the 80% if they aren't within the ideal client image you've set up?
Am I saying that when you're desperate for cash that you should turn down work? Not exactly. I'm saying that the sooner you start seriously specializing and finding those right clients, it won't be necessary to take on the frivilous ones. We want to be happy working with the people that have chosen to hire us. We get there by knowing, pursuing and standing up for what we want from our careers.
As a bonus, when you are amazing in one area...people are far more likely to take notice. When you become known for that specialty, then it's time to branch out.
Doing so before then is counterproductive.