Having Competition Will Make You More Money: It’s Science!

Having Competition Will Make You More Money: It’s Science!

Well, technically it's economics but let’s be honest, proclaiming to the world “It’s Economics!” just doesn't pack quite as big of a punch. You probably haven’t heard that competition is good for business since (if I had to guess) your high school economics class, but most of us probably weren’t paying attention anyway. No offense Mr. Holt… The whole idea that competition increases your business is a super backward concept but when you break it down, it actually makes a lot of sense. As a photographer, I am going to explain this as it pertains to the photography, but the whole idea works for any industry out there.

When I first started out, saying I was the low man on the totem pole was a bit of an understatement. I was a small fish in a seemingly never ending ocean of amazing photographers. My work was sub par and my competition was growing at an exponential rate, or so it seemed. I could have very easily given up when things started getting tough (or rather didn't get easier), but I loved the idea of becoming a professional photographer so I stuck with it. I started studying successful photographers, not only trying to figure out why their photos were better than mine but also what made them successful business people. Here’s what I found out.

All it takes to be a successful photographer is to not be complacent. What I mean by that is don't just be as good as you need to be. Strive to be the best! Look at your competition and try to be better than they are. I feel very lucky to live in Nashville right now while the city is growing so quickly. There are countless numbers of amazing photographers here and the fact that they exist only encourages me to want to become better myself. If I don’t step up my game I won’t get any jobs. It's really that simple. Having competition forces me to be a student of my craft, always learning new techniques and trying new ideas.

Headshot of Nashville Realtor

Headshot of Nashville Realtor Erin Krueger for Nashville Real Producer Magazine.

Let me explain my point with a real world example. Imagine just for a second that it’s a couple months after the holidays and a bunch of people just got new cameras. They’re all excited to start their journey to becoming a professional photographer while you’re sitting at home scared they're going to steal your business. Here's why you shouldn’t worry...

As an experienced photographer, you charge (x dollar amount) for a headshot but you don't want to raise your prices because you’re afraid you’ll lose clients. You think that all the up and coming photographers are saturating the market so you decided to take to Facebook (or similar) to express your concern about how “photography should be left up to the professionals” or something equally arrogant and idiotic. In the meantime, those new photographers have also started charging (x dollar amount) for their headshots. This is good because those photographers who you thought were saturating the market have now set a new baseline for the price of headshots in your market. Provided you’re not a complacent photographer (see above) you can now increase your prices, keep your clients and probably gain even bigger ones. You may lose a few clients because they don't want to pay more for a premium service, but are those really the types of clients that you want? I know I certainly don't have the time to bend over backward to please a client that doesn't want to pay me what I’m worth.

happy couple in the wedding issue of Brentwood Lifestyle Magazine

A photo for the wedding issue of Brentwood Lifestyle Magazine.

I am fully aware that increasing your prices can be a risky move but a business never became successful by playing it safe. Sometimes taking risks is exactly what you need to bump your career to the next level. Trust me, I struggled for a long time with whether or not I should quit my steady job to become a photographer full time. When I finally committed to that, I was afraid of losing clients so I said yes to every job and worked my ass off for little to no money for years. It wasn't until I realized that the clients I wanted to work for actually paid for jobs based on the value I put in my own work. I stopped being the guy who did everything for (x dollar amount) and decided to give myself and my work actual value that could be appreciated by the kind of clients that were willing to pay for quality work.  

To wrap everything up, make sure that you are being a proactive photographer. Don't be afraid to go after clients even if you think they're out of your league. Nothing is free and if you have that mindset don't be surprised when another "less deserving" photographer steals your clients right out from underneath you.

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33 Comments

Shelby Garriga's picture

Very true! Healthy competition makes me work harder! Great article, Jeff.

Chris Adval's picture

Not in all cases. I know in my area its who you know, relationships. A photographer in my city has 30 years head start and those relationships are forever going to be there until they retire. In my area, people flock to the lowest price service and hope for the best possibly quality. Just constant price wars. Nothing at all "luxury" or premium.

Therefore it's important for us to build our own relationships as well. That photographer didn't start out with 30 years of relationships. As Jeff suggested in the article, let the others battle it out on price while you set yourself apart. Don't just be a commodity.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Relationships are super important but you definitely have to be able to back up the "who you know" factor with quality work.

Chris Adval's picture

Not sure about that honestly. Nobody wants to admit this publicly but a lot of photographers who flourish with clients are the ultimate networkers, extroverts, and social masters, are not always having the obsession of having quality work and self-improvement in their artistic craft. Because their craft is speaking...sales, networking, etc. That is what hooks people into buying a service that is over supplied in a market. This will sound like an ahole comment but a lot of photographers in certain areas have very different/outdated styles, especially in rural/suburban areas. In bigger cities like NYC, Philly, LA, etc. Modern is what is supplied. I live in the rural/suburban areas so vast majority you see in styles is from the 80s at least to 90s. People buy them. Not just cause it is much cheaper and easier to produce but its with people they know. Everyone has a camera and the first thought to find a "pro photographer" is to find someone who has a "pro looking camera". At least in my area, that is how it is defined by the vast majority. Granted they're not my clients, but no doubt that is what the majority of buyers and suppliers of the market is like in my area. Now if I said my quality out weighed everyone elses I'd sound like a cocky jerk, so let's just say I do classify my work as the most modern in the region for the specialties I shoot. As for quality, it is on the eye of the beholder. I classify quality as producing modern work of course.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

I do agree with you when you say that people in the smaller markets don't know what quality work is and of course I don't live in a small market so I don't deal with that first hand. I think it's just important to not let your work fall below your own standards just because other people who are stuck in the 80's and 90's are getting a majority of the work. Again, I know that this might not be the case in a market like yours but just because someone can network their ass off and convince another person to hire them doesn't mean squat if they deliver crappy photos. That's a great way to get a one time client by not sustainable business.

Richard Berry's picture

Dude, I'm going to get into your face now. These are nothing but excuses. Everyone of us deals with these same issues. The difference is, attitude. Some of us find away around them. I just started my architectural photography business the first of the year. I can use all the excuses that you said. But I have a different philosophy. I believe that when we are given a dream we are also given the means to make it come true. And Chris, I believe you can make your dreams come true too. Seth Godin talks about the price war. He said it's a race to the bottom and in the end, nobody wins. Race to the top instead.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Love this Richard! You have an amazing outlook and I can tell you have passion just based on that short paragraph. Good luck with everything and your business moving forward!

Richard Berry's picture

Thanks

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Thank you Shelby!

Fumiya Sawa's picture

Couldn't agree more!

Jeff Carpenter's picture

To be honest I really expected more people to disagree with me on this haha!

Anonymous's picture

Okay... I'll partially disagree. Competition doesn't NECESSARILY make you more money; it does, however, provide incentive to become a better photographer which, also not necessarily, can make you more money.
Of course you knew all that but I wanted to give you an opportunity to rebut. :-)

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Haha thank you for the opportunity and I suppose one of my points of the post was just to make sure that people didn't blame others for their inability to land clients. The photography industry can be tough but that also makes it exciting!

Anonymous's picture

In general, people forget that life is dangerous (nobody makes it out alive!) but, yes, that makes it interesting and sometimes exciting. I feel sorry for people who have to endure the results from being undercut but, if they can hold on, quality always, umm usually, well...sometimes wins in the end.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

There are always exceptions to the rules but for the most part, if you put the work in, you'll get rewarded. I've definitely been undercut before, but as I stated in the article, those clients who choose to go for the cheaper option aren't always the type of client I want anyway so it all works out in the end.

Just read your new article. Very inspiring man! I'm stuck in the situation that you mentioned where you couldn't decide to quit your steady job to become a full time photographer. I work on tour as an audio technician and love it but, I only started photography 8 months ago but I'm considering doing it full time. My friend is a professional full time touring photography for a country artist and offered me a job full time as a touring photographer. Your article just helped me make my decision.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

That's awesome to hear! Follow your passion and as long as you stick with it, you will do great things!

I'm going to have to go ahead and say that clients are becoming increasingly more concerned with the price than the quality these days. So while it may drive you to get better, most people are working harder for less money now because there's too many people and trying to underbid to get the job is common now.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

some clients are definitely more concerned with money over quality but there are definitely plenty of clients out there that are willing to pay a premium price for quality work. It sucks being underbid for a job but the only thing we can do is move on and find another gig.

My personal dealings are with commercial clients in the fashion world. This is affecting people at the top of the game even. Meisel, Liebowitz, Klein, etc... All taking massive pay cuts. Day rates are a fraction of what they used to be. Clients all crying about only having a low budget and trying to milk you for whatever they can because they know the next person would be happy to have the job if you don't comply. It has nothing to do with marketing to a target market better. It has to do with clients creating competition for less pay because there is an oversaturation of "photographers" now. And they care less about quality and more about quantity now because of media outlets like instagram.

Nicole York's picture

That's when you need to know who your target market is and do a better job marketing to them ;)

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Solid point Nicole, marketing to the correct audience is huge! In my case that becomes a little difficult to do because I own a media company that does pretty much all forms a visual media. We tend to spread ourselves very thin at times. I wouldn't recommend that if you want to keep your hair haha

Chris Adval's picture

Competition doesn't always incentivises photographers to get better. That is only if the buyers see the value in craft than prices. Granted this varies in geographic areas, but in mine, its the dollar value. Price wars wins the race. Nobody but me offers something above the standard photography service, at least in my specialty senior portrait experiences.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

You're absolutely right, geography plays a huge part! In my market there is a lot of corporate clients that I can go after that are willing to pay more for premium services. I understand that not everyone has that luxury but sometimes you have to adapt your style in order to get those jobs that other photographers may not be going after.

I completely agree that competition makes you better.
I live in fear that I will deliver work that is just ho-hum. I hate looking at so-so images and I am always trying to figure out how to make things better.
Even if I don't get hired I want to feel I did the best I could at all times.

And the plain truth is that if you are satisfied with where you are you will get bored pretty fast or you will find that the goal posts moved....a lot.

Jeff Carpenter's picture

That is exactly right! I'm so glad I live in a market where I can be pushed to get better by other photographers. I grew up in a small town and all the photogs that are consistently working there are happy with their work being just OK because they get the jobs anyway. They're not forced to get better. Also, their clientele is used to sub-par work being the standard so it's kind of a catch 22 for people in that situation.

Jacqueline Neuwirth's picture

Hello, I was wondering if you would share what brand of lighting you are using in the Apollo modifier in the top photo of this story and if you are using any deflector plates for the main light. Also, can you share your lighting set up for the Realtor shot, was that one or two lights? thank you!

Jeff Carpenter's picture

Hey thanks for reading Jacqueline! In the title image I was just using a single Yongnuo speedlight inside the Apollo Orb. The Orb has a silver reflective surface inside of it and you shoot your flash into it to create a nice soft light. As for the realtor shot, I was using the same modifier camera left. The sun comeing through the trees acted as a hair light. Hope that helps!

Richard Berry's picture

I think the issue that is being overlooked here is what Jeff said in the last two sentences of the next to the last paragraph. It is the value that WE see in the work we do. Our customers also see it too. That is why they'll choose us instead our the lower priced competitors. I'm just starting out with my business and I felt I should set my prices just a little lower than my competition because I have less experience. After reading this article, I now know that my clients won't see my lower prices as someone who has less experience but as someone who doesn't value his work as much as the other guys do.