Friday, March 25, 2011

Don't Be a One Trick Pony, Business Basics Article 2

Don’t Be a One Trick Pony! Business Basics Article 2

OK. We’re going to dive right into controversy. One of the most common teachings I hear in workshops and professional photography seminars (and I guess even books) is that to be successful a photographer must concentrate on one thing. This teaching suggests that the distractions of different genres, for you and for your potential clients, will take away from your hero business and that therefore they should be discarded or at least hidden.

I disagree. Here’s why.

For any small business, the single hardest thing to do is attract new customers. We all get that, right? We crave a phone call and when we have a meeting we have butterflies and when the customer calls and says, OK, let’s go, we have this little ‘yippee’ impulse that wells up from somewhere deep in our souls. This is also, obviously (and increasingly), true for professional photographers.

Once they have attracted a customer, most small businesses do anything they can to keep the customer. CPAs send out reminder tax prep documents and newsletters, even small retail stores continue to market products and services to their past clients. The reason this is important is because the customer who has purchased your services is the holy grail of all marketing opportunities. These are people who have shown through their actions that they both value professional imaging services AND value YOUR eye. If they have done this once, there is a strong likelihood that they will do so again. I’ve never understood the practice of saying to a client, ‘oh, I’m just a wedding photographer, I don’t shoot portraits.’

OK. Now I’ve done it. Some of you actually just got a little mad. Right? I get that. Remember yesterday’s post. There are no absolutes. These ‘business basics’ are general perspective. As Malcolm Gladwell so effectively describes in his book, there are outliers. There are a few studios in any market who are able to just shoot what they want. They have developed a clientele and a business model (with very high pricing) that allows them to be choosy. The problem is that what works for them will not likely work for you. A small business too focused on doing only one thing will likely fail. Another problem is that a lot of smaller studios look up to these ‘more successful’ folks and so these folks are asked to teach seminars. They logically preach what works for them. Smaller studios pattern themselves after that and fail, likely because the demographic/psychographic target market for that level of service in any market is quite small and already being served. (by the guy/gal teaching the workshop!)

If you study marketing and product theory in college you are likely exposed to a model called the Boston Consulting Group Marketing Matrix. (BCG Matrix for short). This is a quadrant model, or one large square divided into four smaller squares. See below:

Using the matrix is pretty easy. The top right corner (?) is called, ideas. These are products into which you may be investing money or time but which do not drive any revenue. The top left corner is Stars. These are products into which you are investing money and time and they are high growth revenue products. (though not necessarily your top cash producers). The bottom left corner is called Cash Cows. These are products that generate income, but they are also products into which you are not investing large amounts of money and time (you’re milking them for cash). The bottom right corner is reserved for dogs. These are products that you are not investing in and which also generate little or no cash. (typically products you’re trying to sunset).

Any very healthy business will have products in all four quadrants. If you are a diverse photographer, you may have family portraits down in cash cows, weddings up in stars and boudoir in ideas. (as an example). This mix is good and it helps you understand what to do with a product in each segment. “I can shoot family portraits in my sleep. I really don’t like to do them anymore but my clients keep calling.” Perfect! Invest as little time as possible in this business, but make sure you’re milking it for the most possible cash! “I’ve shot a few senior sessions and I have an idea that I think could really make these a big money maker.” Great! Make sure there is a viable market for your idea and then make sure you are investing the time and energy it will take to turn this into a Star. Have a product that takes time and doesn’t make money. It’s a dog. Stop selling it and be guilt free.

The matrix can work in big categories like that or in smaller ones. Break down your physical product catalog into each of the quadrants. Make sure you have some stars, (albums or large mounted prints?), some ideas (high end photobooks), and some cash cows. (prints). Take the dogs out of your product catalog.

Then understand that a client once can be a client for life. Put time and energy into figuring out the various life cycle points when your products will once again be attractive. Make sure they remember you. Stay front of mind for them for any of their photographic needs.

This needn’t be time consuming. Pick one of your favorites from their original gallery and send it to them with a nice note about how much you loved your session, in email with a link to your site. Then, make sure your site describes all of the different photography services you provide. I have to be honest here and say that I don’t understand photographers who have a site for weddings and a site for portraits and a site for commercial and a site for this and a site for that! Why? Because your customers aren’t smart enough to be able to figure out that you can actually do more than one thing? Or because you are worried that they will think you aren’t smart enough to do more than one thing? Or is it because whatever web environment you’re using gets piggeshly slow if you have more than one thing?

What if you contract a consumer for a wedding and their mother or father runs a company and they want some commercial work done? If they come to your site and see only weddings what do you think they’re going to do? If you’re lucky they’ll call. If you’re not they’ll search ‘Commercial Photography services’ and find the person down the block. They already know they like you. They like your work. Are you really in a place where it’s ok to send them down the road when they want more? (If you are, stop reading now and go have a cup of coffee! I’m a waste of your time! But only if you are reasonably comfortable that it will always be this way). And what if the next year she wants to do a boudoir shoot for her husband or she’s already done that and the attendant side effect is pregnancy?

Ok, you’re saying, look Jim I can’t always do all these things. That’s fine. You can also be a referral source for other photographers in your community. The point is that in any case you want the option to say no. Your customers will understand that you are busy or that you are unable to serve them in a certain circumstance, but they’d much rather call someone you recommend than fend for themselves on Google. And you want them to call you because that also gives you a chance to chat. You’re a touchpoint. Make that conversation great every time and you will remain front of mind for their future needs. Give them a great referral and you are their resource for life.

For any successful small business it is a much healthier proposition to think of every new customer as an annuity rather than an event. Every one is a gem. Work to serve them for a lifetime and you will build a business that rides through the ebb and flow of economic change. (and a business that will likely have value when it’s time for you to retire).

Assignment: Take some time and really think this through. Scribble out your own BCG Matrix and write your products in. Think about how you treat each one. Are you investing too much in your cashcows or dogs? Do you have any ideas or stars? What about customers you’ve served. Are they in a place where they want more services? Will you be the person they call? What have you done to make sure that is so?


Amy Yanover said...

Thank you for these enlightening posts. I really value your opinions and it's great to hear why not everything the 'rockstars' preach is gospel!

Jules Bianchi said...

Can't WAIT for you to come speak at our PUG next month!!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Jim! Thanks for taking the time and energy to post this. For me, really enlightening and a bit of an epiphany (as I detail in my own blog at Just wanted to let you know it effected me and I appreciate it. :)


Ron Dawson said...

Great post Jim. Definitely makes you think. The teaching I hear most often, which I don't know is the same as what you've heard, is have a brand that sells one thing, but that doesn't mean you can't do more than that one thing. So, if you're a wedding photog, that is what your brand should be about (you could group family portraits with that). But if you also do pets, real estate photos, head shots, seniors, commercial work, etc., don't sell them all on the same website, etc. Separate those brands. You gotta admit, selling to a Fortune 1,000 is different than selling to a bride.

My take is, do it all if you like, but market them differently.

Jim Collins said...

I disagree .... I think a successful brand should be able to carry a business and I think a client is fully aware that a service may serve more than one market. The time and energy most photographers who espouse this type of thinking put into managing all of their online brands would be much better spent cultivating the client relationships which are the true key to success...

The services need to be marketed differently as a commercial buyer is not going to find a photographer on The Knot, but a photographer needn't have 5 websites to operate in five different spheres.

IMNSHO :-) Great to chat with you Ron!

Jim Collins said...


You're welcome. Hard to believe that I could teach YOU something ... But glad you found some value in it nonetheless.


Anonymous said...

Really? Sheesh, it sounds like my personal brand could use some work on perceived humility. In truth, I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by clients, friends and partners who teach me new stuff every day.

Jim Collins said...

Jeff! It was meant as a compliment. You've forgotten more about this stuff than many will ever know. (As is amply demonstrated by the many successful photographers who credit you for their success ...)

Sorry for the confusion.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for clearing that up. Your respect is very important to me (there, I said it.) And its funny, I think the same about you. Hope to see ya soon.


ShaunAustin Gordon said...

Interesting stuff Jim. I can respect an open minded approach to a market that has been preaching specialty trumps generalist. I commented on Jeff's blog that I hope to find the middle in this. I still believe that there is power in specializing and my clients appreciate that. I also believe in Ron's point that they should be branded separately. My middle in this is that I specialize in what my bride wants. I just am (in your words) smart enough to manage them once they become a client. If their parents have a company that needs some corporate head-shots they can't help but think of me because I blew their mind at their daughters wedding. I also got to know the parents through the involvement in the wedding so I made sure that they know that I am capable (smart enough) to photograph other types of things. I want my clients to know that I am smart enough to shoot other types of work but I prefer to be smart enough to market strongly to them as a bride. Picking a wedding photographer is an emotional thing for most brides. I don't want them to have to sift through a bunch of baby, senior and family portrait photos to see the few wedding shots that I have on a confusing site. My .02

Michelle Walker said...

Wow. Now I'm REALLY confused! In Vegas I was lucky enough to share a cigar and time with Jeff (the marketing master) Jochum. Do you remember, Jeff? You made me cry. I have spent so many years developing my "brand" to great success. But now??? Now sucks. I work 10x as hard to get less clients. What I've always done no longer works. I am taking a risk here - exposing my vulnerability, but I really am confused. ONE THING or GENERALIST? One website or five? I am fighting hard and willing to try anything. Honestly, Jim... your concept "feels" better to me than trying to find my ONE THING. What do I do now? Stay tuned... it's sure to be a bumpy ride!
Michelle Walker
(415) 235-5400