In any industry, it’s important to have a good understanding of your competition. This is especially true for new photographers who are just starting out in a very saturated industry.
There’s a lot to learn once you decide to start a photography business. There are also a lot of places to get the information you need and knowing where to look can be overwhelming. One of the easiest, and most helpful sources is actually right in front of you. It’s your competition.
Even if you consider yourself one of the smartest people on the block, you should not neglect market research. The good news is this isn’t as dry as it sounds. The even better news is that you can save yourself not only more time than you spend, but frustration, money, and tears. There’s a saying that knowledge is power. The knowledge you get from your competition is truly powerful for your business.
One of the most important steps in building a successful photography business is identifying and studying your competition. In this article, you’ll learn:
- Why this is important
- Steps you should take to identify your competition
- What information you’re looking for, and
- How you can use this information to create a strategy for success.
Finally, there’s a gentle word of warning about how not to use what you’ve gathered.
Why it’s important to identify and study your competition
In any industry, it’s important to have a good understanding of your competition. This is especially true for new photographers who are just starting out in a very saturated industry. By studying your competition, you can gain valuable insights into the market you are entering and identify ways to differentiate yourself from others. You can also gain a better understanding of the needs and preferences of your target audience, and develop a unique value proposition that sets you apart from others in the industry.
Studying your competition also helps identify gaps in the market that you can fill with your own unique services or offerings. This can give you a competitive advantage and help you stand out in a crowded market. By identifying what your competition is doing well and what they are not doing so well, you can also gain valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t in your industry, niche, or area. You can avoid the mistakes others have made and exploit a weakness in healthy, rather than destructive, ways.
Steps to identify your competition
Now that we understand why it’s important to identify and study your competition, let’s talk about how to do it. First, it’s important to understand that not everyone selling photo services for money is your competition.
Your goals, niche, and intended business model will help you narrow the list of photographers in your market. Simply put, your competitors are those after the same buyers you are.
Three steps to help identify your competition:
1. Decide the type of photography you will offer.
2. Determine what type of people you want to sell to.
3. Create a list of photographers whose photography attracts those same people.
In other words, once you’re clear on your niche, your ideal client, and what options that client has in the marketplace, those other options are your competition.
How to actually gather your list:
Once you’ve determined the photography on offer and the clients you want to attract, you can get to work fine tuning your list. These methods will help get you started.
Research online directories and marketplaces
- Online directories and marketplaces like Google, Yelp, and Professional Photographers of America (PPA) can be a great place to start your research. Look for other photographers in your area who offer similar services to yours, and make note of their pricing, services, and customer reviews.
Attend industry events
- Industry events like trade shows, conferences, and networking events are a great opportunity to meet other photographers in your area and learn more about what they are doing. Take the time to attend these events and talk to other photographers about their business and services.
Ask for referrals from colleagues and friends
- Ask for referrals from colleagues, family, and friends. Don’t be afraid to ask other photographers and people in related industries for names and feedback. They may be able to recommend other photographers in your area who you may not have found through your other research methods.
Use social media to your advantage
- Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok can be a great way to find other photographers in your area. Use hashtags and location tags to search for other photographers who offer similar services to yours.
What to look for once you have your list
The information you can gather may vary, but pay attention to five basic areas:
2. Services offered
4. Marketing strategies
5. Customer experience
What are the similarities between photographers?
Do they offer similar pricing and services?
Are there noticeable differences and if so, can you try to understand why that might be?
What positive and negative impressions do customer reviews point out?
Another helpful bit of information is the length of time they have been in business, and the amount of experience they’ve had in the industry. Much of what you’re studying is the result of experience and proficiency you simply may not have yet. It’s important to know how this factors in with each photographer and consider this when you begin to compare your own five areas.
Using your research to create a strategy for success
Once you’ve identified your competition, and studied the five important areas, it’s time to use this information to create a strategy for success. From studying your competition, you should be able to:
Differentiate yourself from the competition
- Use the information you’ve gathered about your competition to identify ways you can differentiate yourself from others in the industry. This involves everything from the colors and elements of your branding, to the photographs you take. This could include offering unique services or packages, targeting a specific niche market, or emphasizing your unique style or approach.
Set appropriate pricing
- While a lot of your pricing is dependent on covering your expenses and making a profit for yourself, there are other factors to consider. You still need to be sure you’re priced for your market as well as your overhead and skill. Use your competition’s pricing to set appropriate prices for your own services. Make sure your prices are competitive, but also reflect the value of the services you provide.
Develop effective marketing strategies
- Look at your competition’s marketing strategies to develop your own effective marketing strategies. Consider what has worked well for them and what hasn’t, and use this information to create a marketing plan that resonates with your target audience.
Identify potential business partnerships
- One seldom considered benefit of studying others in your market is the ability to identify potential business partnerships. Many established photographers hire subcontractors or temporary associates for some of their client work. Another opportunity is referral networks for inquiries outside another photographer’s niche. Consider partnering with other photographers in your area to offer complementary services.
Finally, a gentle word of warning
Identifying and studying your competition is an essential step for success as a new photographer. It can help you understand market trends, set appropriate pricing, differentiate your services, develop effective marketing strategies, identify potential business partnerships, and find gaps in the marketplace that you can take advantage of.
It is meant to be a strategy. It is not meant to be a shortcut.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your competition has already done the work for you. You wouldn’t be the first new photographer to see a system that seems to work, and think it will work for you, too.
The objective is to learn from your competition, not to steal from them. Do not be tempted to simply duplicate the message, style, and work of another. Photography groups are filled with posts from photographers lamenting how the latest photographer in their town has simply copied their business from website to work product. Not only is this unethical and potentially illegal, it is a fast track to failure.
Simply copying what someone else has done will never let you find your own style, voice, and loyal customer base. If you start out as a counterfeit, you’ll never be a brand.
Instead, commit to understand the reasons your competitors do things the way they do. Create strategies that align with your goals, values, and the reputation you want to build.
Ultimately, neglecting to research your competition can put your new photography business at a disadvantage, while taking the time to understand your competition and develop a strategy around this can give you a competitive edge and increase your chances of success.