The community is an old concept that has taken on a new importance in all of our lives. The term is now applied to not only the town or region we live in, but to everyone we are “connected” to and to some extent all their connections as well. For the first part of this discussion we will take look at your personal community as it applies to your photography, more specifically your pool of potential clients.
To really get a grasp on this question we must first define your community. We have talked about specialization in the post Developing Your Personal Style. Now, how does this fit into the community you live in? For any of us, but especially those who are just getting started and are in search of a personal style, taking a realistic look at what the needs are in your area should be the first question. The answers you find should direct your work. Larger markets have more to offer as well as more competition for it, but will also allow you to focus and support your “specialties.” To succeed in smaller markets, you may have to expand your focus as well as the area you market to.
The digital has expanded our communities. Depending on your focus, you can now draw clients well outside of your physical location. If travel photography is your passion, the world is your community. If you’re willing to travel for your niche and go to the client, you’ll face very few limitations. If your passion is studio photography, you will have some limitations, at least at first. This is where I started, and I kept my community local for the first few years. As I made a name for myself, and my style started to emerge, my community began to grow. I found clients who were either open to and had the budgets to send me places where rental studios where available, or they came to me. It helped that my location was a very popular destination. If you don’t have this sort of advantage and are not willing to relocate, you may want to rethink your specialty or add other niches that will keep the revenue steady as you build your personal community.
Developing a multiniche approach requires more work. Unfortunately, as more and more photographers specialize, the harder it is to approach clients with a broad brush. A specific example may sound something like this: An art buyer does a web search looking for a fashion photographer. Your website showcasing your talents in fashion, food and tabletop photography comes up in the search along with a load of photographers who shoot fashion only. It may seem ridiculous, but there is a good chance that you will be overlooked. You may seem desperate, or the buyer may believe that you lack focus. To prevent this scenario, you should approach each of your specialties as a separate business and community. Create separate portfolios, marketing materials, business forms, and websites for each of your specialties. This should also transfer to your studio. Keep the décor generic.
The good news is that as you build your communities and prove yourself, the clients that regularly come to you will begin to accept you as you are. When this starts, you can then think about letting your communities merge. The mixing may (as it did for me) open up new avenues and bring in more work.
The most important thing is to be realistic when you look at how you match the community you’re in or want to become a viable part of. You must also define your focus for growing your personal business community. The merging of your talents and your community is one of the keys to a successful photo business.
Next up will be part 2 of this community series: networking.
As always, I look forward to your thought and comments.