Since writing VisionMongers, I talk to a lot of photographers every year about business stuff. The frustrations, fears, and struggles are all similar. No one said this would be easy. As I recall, and it’s been a while since I wrote the book, I spent time trying to convince people not to go down this path, so when they inevitably did they did so with eyes wide open. Anyways, back to the conversation with photographers that seems to be on repeat right now, and the reason for this article being called what it is.
It’s easy to forget that people don’t have a natural need to buy photography. They have a lot of needs and desires, often impossible to tell apart, and most of them don’t include you as a defacto starting point. If you want to make it as an entrepreneur whose commerce revolves around your photography, that photography has to meet a need. It has to scratch an itch.
Forget for a moment how important all the other stuff is – the logos and the business plans and blogs. If you miss this or forget it, you’ll never get off the ground: for whom are you creating value? Whose itch are you scratching? Who are you serving? People have problems they themselves can’t solve. You can. That is the core of every business transaction. The deeper that need, and the more uniquely you can meet it, the more value you offer. Remember that when you market yourself. Because no one, but no one, cares if you say you’re an award-winning photographer. That scratches your itch, not theirs. Remember it when you negotiate, because they aren’t doing you a favour by coming to you, they’re asking you to help. The more clear you make that itch, and the more clear you make your ability to scratch it in a way others don’t, the more value you put on the table. Remember it in everything you do, every blog post you write, every social media sound bite you create. Does it teach them? Inspire them? Make them laugh? Give them something? If it doesn’t, it’s just noise.
Combining art and commerce isn’t mysterious. Find an audience you can serve. Find an itch you can scratch. And then pour yourself, heart and soul, into serving that audience and scratching the hell out of that itch. The rest is details. Not easy details, I know. And there’s a world of work involved in the search for the right audience and an itch that you scratch like no one else. But once you find it, don’t get sidetracked. Serve. Scratch. Repeat.
The best two questions you can ask every day, in this regards, are these: who am I serving, and how can I serve them better? Even if you’re not in business, they aren’t bad questions, because how you answer them is how you bring value and relevance to what you do, even if no money changes hands.
I believe a living can be made doing what you love, that now is as good as – if not better than – any other time in history to do so, and that people complaining that things aren’t what they used to be are missing out on astonishing (challenging) opportunities in the present. VisionMongers, Making a Life and Living in Photography, is available on Amazon and from other major booksellers, and though I wrote it and therefore lack any objectivity, I still think it’s one of the most honest conversations available on the subject.