Your Photography Business: Competing with the Legitimate Hobby

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As mind boggling as it may seem, there are people in business for the sake of being in business. They enjoy the photography, the people, and the work. They have made the effort to be legally compliant and are legitimately formed and operating as a business. And they will undercut you every time.

Let’s just get this out of the way. Photography is a frustrating industry. Modern technology is a blessing and a curse. Not only does every potential customer have an adequate camera in their pocket, but any aspiring photographer can buy a camera that does almost all the work for them.

Social media is a cheap and cheerful place to drum up business. Beginning photographers flood the feed with cheap, cheaper, and cheapest pricing in an effort to grab attention and make some sales. The fact that someone pays them for taking photos is proof they have really done it. They’re in business. They’re a pro!

Never mind that they’ll finish the year with little or no profit. Believe it or not, as far as some photographers are concerned, that does not matter.

In business to be in business

As mind boggling as it may seem, there are people in business for the sake of being in business. They enjoy the photography, the people, and the work. They have made the effort to be legally compliant and are legitimately formed and operating as a business. They just don’t necessarily make the effort to evolve.

Photography is one of those things you can build into whatever you like. For some, it’s a part time income opportunity – a side hustle. For others, it’s a career, either as a business operator, freelancer, or staff photographer. There is, however, that third type of photographer I just mentioned, the photographers in business to be in business.

I like to call this third type the legitimate hobby. The legitimate hobby is a version of the side hustle, minus the need for profit.

We need to accept that some people actually run “legitimized hobbies” rather than businesses. Intentionally. This isn’t a livelihood, it’s an occupation. The two aren’t necessarily the same thing.

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Side hustlers take up part time work to increase their income. They may start out with modest pricing, but they certainly don’t want to stay at the bottom of the heap. They enjoy the work, but their main motivation is to make money – a livelihood.

Many people begin a part time business as a step toward a full time career. This logically requires progress, in both their photography and business skills. The objective is to evolve into a successful professional photographer.

For many up and coming photographers, it’s frustrating when yet another part time beginner enters the market. These less experienced photographers come on the scene with more of the same, offering more work for less money. These beginners soon realize that this isn’t a viable strategy. They either improve their offer and skills or find other ways to be truly competitive at a profitable price. Otherwise, they become one of the hefty failure statistics that plague the photography industry. Either way, the status quo soon balances everyone back out.

They say no to the status quo

Because the legitimate hobby is not interested in the status quo, it never evolves. It doesn’t have to. If you investigate, you’ll probably find that there is another source of income somewhere.

Let’s face it. Chances are there’s a street somewhere in your community filled with art galleries, boutiques, and jewelry shops run by the spouses of doctors, lawyers, and other financially secure family members. They’re not in it for the income. As long as they cover their expenses and make enough to keep themselves classified as a business, they’re content. They don’t care that they’re putting the artist down the street out of business. They enjoy owning a shop, socializing, and getting out of the house.

This describes a huge number of camera slingers out there who will use their “nice camera” to take snapshots and call themselves photographers. They’ll do it as long as they enjoy it and someone pays them. Just like the stereotypical boutique, these photographers are in every community. They always will be.

So how do you compete against the legitimized hobby masquerading as a business?

Ironically, the thing that makes the legitimate hobby so frustrating is also its greatest weakness. Without evolution, nothing much changes. The same customer experience, the same bargain basement prices, the same quality of work. There is nothing innovative. They are trend followers, not trend setters. They will continue to take the same mediocre photos.

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With no motivation to grow their business, they see their customers as just another part of the assembly line. Followup is minimal if at all. The money’s in the bank and it’s on to the next mini session or cheap promotion.

Because they seldom work to improve their work, your goal should be to widen the gap between their work and your own. The photos you take, the customer experience you provide, the authority, expertise, and reputation that you build become the product that is uniquely you.

Finally – and this is critical – never, ever compete with the legitimate hobby on price. Because they are complacent toward profit, they can easily bleed you to death without even trying. Do not fall into that trap.

The solution is evolution

Photography is an easy business to start, but a hard business to sustain. New photographers enter the market every day and that won’t stop. Whether it’s the side hustling part timer, the all in full timer, or the legitimized hobby, they will always be there. The effort you put into your own business will keep you ahead of the pack.

If part of your discouragement is looking at those competing photos and seeing your own work, that’s a sign that it’s time to evolve. Raise the bar. Create something that someone wants to pay more for.

Once the gap between your work and theirs is big enough, you will hardly notice them at all.