How to Swim in a Crowded Pool: Dealing with a Saturated Market
Imagine a hot day and all you want to do is jump in the pool. You get your stuff ready, you head out, and when you arrive… it’s packed to the brim with everyone else who wanted to get a bit of relief. In my few years of running DSmithImages, I have noticed that is what the photography world is like. Every day… you have to swim in a crowded pool.
Anyone who has done just a tiny bit of research into photographers, whether you’re trying to get into the business yourself or you’re looking for one to photograph something for you, will know that the market is incredibly saturated. I’m talking on every level – from locally here in Tuscaloosa to across the country – more and more people are getting DSLR’s and trying to go into business for themselves. I remember being at an event, a candlelight vigil for tornado relief victims, and someone complained later about the abundance of people with DSLR’s and how the organizers should have forced people to be credentialed. I shook my head when I read that, but then I remembered… I was one of those people. It was a hobby long before I tried to approach things with a level of professionalism and a sense of “I want to make money from this”.
In my early days, I made a lot of mistakes in terms of my marketing approach. Everyone probably still remembers my overwhelming usage of “facebook promotion”, and, as I’ve said before, I will never apologize for that. I was trying to get my name out in whatever way I could. In this market and any market with a lot of competition, you have to stand out. People have to know your name. People have to remember you for some reason. My mistake was that I was being known for a lot of stuff other than my photography. Lesson learned.
I’ve scaled back that approach, but I still use social media to promote myself. I always will. As I continue to do this, though, I see more and more people launch a facebook page or a half-assed website thinking “I’m going to get me a bunch of clients!”. It just doesn’t work like that. When someone has dozens of options in not only Tuscaloosa but even more just down the road in Birmingham, why are they going to go with someone brand new with no work to show off? Speaking of which, I absolutely do market myself in Birmingham… and Montgomery… and Mobile… and pretty much every state I can. A beautiful thing about social media and this online world of ours is that I can communicate with clients across the country. If they want to bring me out to New York or Washington or Utah, well, more power to them.
The things that I do to stand out from everyone else, and not saying no one else does these things, all revolve around customer service. I will bend over backwards to try and make sure a client gets the products they want. I’ve always thought you have to be a pretty arrogant individual to tell someone, who is paying you money, that “We’re going to do things the way I want to do them… not the way you want to do them”. I tell every client this. It’s their wedding, their party, their portrait shoot, their whatever…. not mine. I also make sure all my clients get a speedy return on their investment, as opposed to waiting months and months to just see their wedding proofs. I don’t care how busy someone is… it should never take that long to get proofs back.
One thing I won’t do, however, is call myself “The best photographer in town” or anything like that… because I’m not. I’m far from it, and I don’t know if I ever will be. Anyone who brands themselves like this is telling a complete and total lie. You can’t hide behind Photoshop in this business. Your skills, wherever they may be, will be exposed. I’ll also never say, “I’m the only one in town that does this or that…” because I’m not. Like I said, there are dozens of photographers here in Tuscaloosa… I’ve got to be a pretty arrogant fool to think I’m the only one that can do a particular function.
And I know I sound like I’m ranting, but I do try to remain friendly with other photographers in town. I know several I can contact and bounce ideas off of because we believe in the advantages of networking. I’ve picked up wedding gigs because of it along with shooting a season of Alabama football, and I’ve helped friends get work as well. Some, though, I wouldn’t bother approaching on the basis that they’ve screwed over friends of mine or done other things that have told me, “They don’t play nicely with others”. I don’t play nicely with people like that so I don’t bother with them. We all are trying to make a living, though.
In closing, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve learned to simply be myself and not try to be anything else. My work speaks for itself, good or bad, and when you visit my website or see samples of my photos… you know what you’re going to get, and you know what you’re not going to get. As a result, I can live with swimming in this crowded pool better than others.