Making Money in Any Market and Any Economy with Sal Cincotta
My company excels at the business of photography. We get it. I’m not being condescending. Business savvy is key to the growth and success of your business. You have got to constantly take the temperature of your business and the landscape in which you operate.
If you don’t take the time to do this, you run the risk of waking up one day to a business and economy that has passed you by. To make matters worse, you will find that your competitors have stolen market share right from under your nose while you were sleeping. Yes, sleeping at the wheel. Your business is your ship, and you have to navigate it through a minefield.
To craft a good business plan and build a successful business, you need to understand the competitive landscape. If you don’t understand this, you will constantly feel like you are reacting to market changes. You can’t run a successful business if you are always reacting to things. You need some vision and a plan of attack. That plan can’t be a feather in the wind.
It drives me bonkers when I hear any business owner say, “It’s the economy” or, “People in my area don’t spend money.” Let me get this right: Your success is based on the economy? Your success is based on the people in your area spending money? Actually, the problem is you. That’s right. Time for some tough love. It is in fact you. You are the single biggest obstacle to the success of your business. Stop blaming everyone else. Control your own destiny.
Let’s lay some ground rules.
First, everyone has money for what they want to have money for. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a welfare recipient or a multimillionaire. That’s reality, my friends. When you walk into someone’s home who says they have no money and you see a nice big flat-screen TV—well, they clearly have money for what’s important to them.
This is a key piece of psychology you need to wrap your mind around. It will prevent you from “feeling bad” for people when you are trying to sell them your services. My philosophy is you came to me because you want great pictures. Well, guess what? I am in the business of selling great pictures. Ding-ding-ding, we have a match. Stop “feeling” anything. Run your business like a damn business.
Here is something else to consider. Wall Street makes money in a down economy and in an up economy. Wall Street doesn’t complain. They keep making money. But you are thinking, Wait, we are not Wall Street. No, we’re not, but consumer behavior is no different. Yes, when the economy pulls back and spending tightens up, people are still spending money on things they want. The key is convincing your market that they “need” your product or services. Do any of us need a $4 cup of coffee? Probably not, but that hasn’t stopped Starbucks from record earnings.
We grew our studio during the middle of the recession. We hit record numbers in clients and sales. How? I can tell you we didn’t worry about what everyone else was doing. We didn’t say that people have no money. We took matters into our own hands. We knew that photographers were a dime a dozen. Pricing was all over the board, from the $500 shoot-and-burner to the $20,000 celebrity shoot. We had to carve out our own niche. So the question has to be: What can we do to stand out from the crowd? This applies to every business, not just photography.
Step back and ask yourself what you can do to stand out. Here are some things to consider.
- Who is the market leader in your area?
- What are they doing that makes them the market leader?
- What can you do to leapfrog the market leader? Product? Service?
- Where are you weak in your business compared to your competitors?
- How is your brand viewed in the marketplace? Are you on the low end of the market, midmarket, upmarket?
Notice that I didn’t tell you to copy your competitors or market leaders. That makes no sense. To be successful, you have to be forward leaning. Force your competitors to react to you rather than just copy everything they do. That’s a complete waste of time and effort. What makes you unique? This is the only way you will be successful, regardless of the economy.
Competing on Price
Want a surefire way to end up broke and out of business? Compete on price. You will run your business into the ground. Guaranteed. We are artists. We are not a commodity product. You are not Wal-Mart. Competing on price is a race to the bottom that leads to bad decision after bad decision.
Instead, compete on your offerings. Compete on the uniqueness of your product or service. If you see yourself as just a photographer, that’s the problem. Think about if a baker saw herself as just a baker. She would be, well, just a baker. But a world-renowned baker is operating with a different mindset, creating works of art, unique flavors and specialty designs. See the point here? Think like an artist, and you will never compete on price again. Why? Because what you offer is so unique, there is no need to.
At Salvatore Cincotta Photography, we do not compete on price. We are one of the most expensive wedding photographers at our bridal show every single year. And every single year, we book a shit-ton of business. I refuse to compete on price. If I did, we would cut prices in half. Instead, I offer high-end albums and service. Service starts the minute they contact us, the second they walk in the booth. Then I let my imagery speak for itself.
Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, I embrace my dramatic style of shooting and editing. This ensures my clients are crystal clear on what we do and why we are the best fit for them.
Price? That becomes a secondary or tertiary issue for them. They love our work and know they want to work with us. That’s all that matters to everyone. The sooner you realize this, the better. A typical wedding costs $30,000 and up. If they want to work with you, they will reallocate money from another vendor.
Stop competing on price and start competing on talent, quality, products and service. It will change your business and your life.
Investing in the Business
This is truly a vicious circle. You don’t charge enough, so you have no money to invest in the business. Marketing, advertising and subsequently sales all suffer. This leads to more issues. Now you don’t have time money to invest in training or the proper equipment, and so your images aren’t up to par. You don’t have money to invest in the right sample products to show the clients you don’t have what they should be spending money on or what makes your business better than your competitors.
You have got to break the vicious circle. Take control of your destiny and make the right investments. Smart investments. My thought process is anything that helps me increase sales is something I will invest in. I do this without even batting an eye. I know that an investment like this will have a tenfold payback over the course of a year.
Want a new product to show your client? Ninety-nine percent of the time, making that investment in a sample product will immediately pay off when your client buys it. For me, proof was in my upgrade to displaying a 30×40 canvas in my studio. We’d never sold one even though it had been on our price list for two years. We made the investment, made it a centerpiece in our studio, and the first client to come in after that purchased one.
Now we sell 30x40s pretty regularly. Why? Because we are showing this high-end product in our studio. If I’d kept telling myself I didn’t have the money to do it, I would still be scratching my head wondering why no one was spending money. I guess I would be one of those photographers saying, “My clients don’t want large prints—all they want are digital files.”
Lack of training is another thing that boggles my mind. We have an annual training conference called ShutterFest (ShutterFest.com). (Tickets are $99 if you register early, and up to $299 for a two-day event of shooting and learning.) The number of people I see on public forums saying they don’t have the money to go is truly laughable. Let me get this right: You don’t have $1,000 (travel included) to learn how to make $100,000? Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds?
If you want to have a successful career and business, you need to invest in it. Every successful business owner in the world knows this. It takes money to make money.
Success is not an accident. Success is not easy. Success is a result of hard work, an investment of time and money, and laser focus. I promise you, it can be done. Whatever your area of expertise, success can be had regardless of the economy or what your competitors are doing. Take some time to make smart logical decisions, not fear-based decisions, and you too will become the 800-pound guerilla in your market.
Go get ’em!