Focus is a word we are all familiar with in photography, but is the same true in business? The purpose of focus as it relates to photography is to keep what we want to see, and to draw attention away from the things that might otherwise distract us. The concept is almost second nature to many photographers, yet seems so foreign when you see how they run their business.
When I started out in photography I was like a kid let loose in a candy store. I wanted to try everything! Maybe some of this and a little bit of that…..oh…..and how about some of that! It was all so exciting and I wanted to try it all. After a while of partaking in the smorgasbord of gigs I had certainly built up some experience, but looking at my portfolio, you’d never know that. It was all a scrambled mess of incoherent images that served no purpose and followed absolutely no story. I went to that candy store and I overdosed.
Over time I began to build up a more commercial portfolio, aimed at people who could pay me to do what I loved to do. And thus a photography business was born. Except not really, you see, I was still on a bit of a sugar rush.
I thought I could tackle weddings, and actors headshots, and aspiring models, and dancers, and car enthusiasts, and food, and travel, and the list just kept on growing. I was getting work here and there, but at the time what was actually more valuable to me was experiencing all these different facets of photography. I quickly learned where I fit in when it came to the photography business. Some genres I lost interest in, and others I completely fell in love with.
As I began to discover my own personal path, I also began to drop certain things from my portfolio because I didn’t want to get hired for those jobs. It was tempting at first to accept every single paid gig I could. I was trying to go full time and the bills just kept on coming in the mail. It seemed so counter intuitive to just dismiss opportunities, but a funny thing began to happen. The more I removed the things I didn’t want to do the more requests I was getting to do the things I wanted to be doing!
There are several reasons for this.
To The Point
Many experts claim you’ve got 7 seconds to make a first impression. A firm handshake, a great smile, and a positive attitude can go a long way. Sadly your portfolio can’t do any of that. In order to maximize the effect your portfolio has on your potential client you’ll need to streamline your content. Instead of trying to throw all your work out there and hoping it attracts someone, focus your content stream, and target your market. By doing this your potential clients don’t have to wade through mountains of content that does not relate to them. In today’s world of online searching, relevance is king, and the best way to achieve relevance is through focus. Give your clients what they want and don’t dilute it with material they do not need to see. Furthermore, limit the amount of images you show from each project. If you only show your best work you can keep their attention on each image for a longer period of time.
When I began to say no to projects and clients who did not fit the direction I was headed in I had quite a bit more time on my hands. This might seem like a bad thing at first, but in fact, I had more time to take care of other important aspects of my business that were being put on the back burner. These were things that should never have been put on the back burner in the first place, but because I was spreading myself thin across so many different projects, I had no choice but to prioritize. Or what I then thought was prioritizing because I was actually holding myself back. Sure, my workload went down when I started to say no to potential clients, but I had more time to begin looking for the clients I wanted and more time to hone my craft taking on projects that were relevant to my chosen direction.
When I began to focus my business I was able to buy specialized equipment. Instead of having to use mediocre equipment and building a swiss army kit, I could instead afford to purchase key pieces of specialty equipment that allow me to do my job just a little bit better. No longer would I need an arsenal of 10 different lenses for 20 different situations. My camera body could be chosen based on the actual work I was doing, instead of one that would be “Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None”. Even my light modifiers are now far more specialized because I know exactly the situations I will be finding myself in.
I take marketing and advertising rather seriously. It is what I studied in school and I have always had a passion for it. I recall countless case studies I was given by my professor that dealt primarily with small business. Time and time again I would see how businesses fell into one of two groups. The first would be those that simply placed no value on marketing and advertising, and the second were those that did and spread themselves too thin.
As a small business you won’t have a large marketing budget. If you are the type of photographer that lacks focus and tries to appeal to 10 different markets, you’ll never have an effective marketing campaign. You will quickly dilute your already small budget, and how can you possibly compete with already established businesses whose budgets far exceed yours? If you focus your efforts on one or two markets your marketing dollars will go that much further. I would much rather spend $1000 on 1 market, then $100 each on 10 markets.
Combined, all this was proving to my clients that I am an expert, because that is what really happens when you focus. You put all your resources into fewer things and you do them better than anyone else. That is something every client wants from a business, no matter what that business does.
I wholeheartedly encourage you to explore all the facets of photography, I really do. It’s such an immense field with so much possibility; it can take quite a bit of time to find your footing and to know where you belong. Heck, I don’t even know if I’m quite there yet myself. But the sooner you embrace the concept of focus, and all your efforts pour into the thing you love, only then will you really begin to reap the rewards of what you sow.
Feel free to visit me anytime at Peter House – Commercial Photographer to follow our work. Till next time.