Standing Out From the Crowd with Sal Cincotta
It’s always hard for me to write for the July issue without reflecting on the journey we have had at Shutter Magazine. Those who have been here from the beginning know that Shutter and ShutterFest came out of nowhere. The photography education space is a very crowded one. But we knew what everyone else knew. The powers that be were getting too comfortable and content. Education and speakers were getting stale. We all knew it, but no one wanted to talk about it. Not to mention, the industry was going through massive change in its demographics. Once dominated by males, the industry was changing. Women were making their way into the industry by the busloads. This created both chaos and opportunity in the industry.
There is opportunity everywhere. With this opportunity, Shutter Magazine was born. Six years later, here we are. ShutterFest is without a doubt one of the most loved photography conferences out there. Again, born from opportunity.
Shutter and ShutterFest do something really well: They stand out from the crowd. They are different. They are in your face. They make you stand up and take notice. The question you should be asking is: How do I apply some of these guiding principles to my own business?
Assess the landscape.
The first thing you have to do with your own business is assess the current landscape. Who are your competitors? You have to spend some time on this one, and it’s no easy task. We often get trapped in who we think our competitors are versus who our customers think our competitors are. A true competitive analysis reveals a lot to you about your own business. You might think your brand is super high-end only to find out that your customers see your competitors as low-end brands. That’s a massive problem for your brand, and not one that is easily fixed. Perception is reality—and in this case, your brand is perceived as low-end. This might explain other issues in your business.
Looking at the competitive landscape tells you a lot about your brand, but the most important thing that will come of this is an opportunity report. Where is the opportunity in the market? You might find out, like we did, that clients want more than digital files. I am constantly in a state of shock at my local bridal shows when I see how many photographers either don’t offer albums or offer complete shit when it comes to albums. They have convinced themselves that clients don’t want product, but our own research with high-end clients has shown us that they do, in fact, want product. More than that, they want a complete solution from us, and they are willing to pay for it.
Instead of copying everything our competitors do in our local market, we looked at the needs of our clients. This is a mindset for your business that you must adapt in order to be successful.
Who cares what your competitors are doing? Sure, we need to be aware, but that can’t be our driving force. We have to look at the landscape and the gaps in it.
Look for gaps.
There is gold in them there gaps. Where there are gaps, you will find tons of opportunity. Gaps always signal to me that clients are looking for something that is not currently being filled. This is where most businesses fall short. They are so stuck in their day-to-day that they can’t see 10 feet in front of them. This is a huge trap for you as a business owner. Gaps are where opportunity lives.
You have to start asking questions once you understand the market. What do clients want? Where are they not being serviced? Where is the opportunity?
In my local wedding market, I saw tons of gaps in the market. Wedding clients wanted a high-end luxury experience. This concept, 11 years ago, flew in the face of all the local conventional wisdom. The local wisdom was convinced it was price. Lower your price. That’s what clients want. Wrong. Clients want digital files. Wrong again.
This was a result of businesspeople doing a horrible job of assessing the market needs and looking at where their competitors were failing. Instead, they all started doing the same thing: lowering prices and offering nothing but digital files. Today, more than 75 percent of the people I started with 11 years ago are gone, straight up out of business. It’s sad because there were a lot of very talented photographers who are just horrible businesspeople.
Identify your strengths.
Once you identify the gaps—or, better stated, once you learn how to find the gaps—you will have reached a new level of awareness. This is a skill. Today, I can find gaps and opportunity in nanoseconds. I see them everywhere. It doesn’t mean I can do anything about it, but I see it clear as day. My business, your business, Starbucks, Nike—I can see opportunity all day long.
Everywhere I go, I am looking for opportunity. You have to hone this skill. There is a lot of estimated guessing, gut instinct and experience all wrapped up into this, but you have got to be a student of business, all business. What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? Where is there room for improvement?
The next part of this is to identify your own strengths. Just because you find a gap in the market doesn’t mean you can do anything about it. One gap in the world we live in is time travel. Have you ever wished you could go back in time and change something you did? I know I do. I could probably charge a lot of money giving people the opportunity to right that wrong. Maybe they married a horribly selfish and insane person who wreaked havoc on their lives. Good news: The Sal Cincotta Time Machine is here to let you fix your past mistakes.
Hopefully you get my point. Opportunity without skill is a nonstarter. The key is matching the opportunity to your strengths or potential strengths. Can you learn the new skill? Can you hire someone with the skill needed?
In the world of wedding photography, this was where we stepped up. We knew people wanted more: more service, more quality, more tactile products. We worked with vendors to come up with products that were unique. We adjusted our marketing to highlight why these things were important. We were able to raise our prices and create more separation in the marketplace. Today, Salvatore Cincotta Photography is a premier brand in the St. Louis wedding market. That was no accident. It’s a direct result of the exercise I am teaching you here.
Remember, match your strengths to the opportunity, and you will find gold.
The place most businesses fail is in how they execute the work. Talking a big game is not enough. You have to get your ass up and do the work. It’s not going to do itself. Artists are notoriously lazy. I have never seen anything like it. Talk, talk, talk.
And the best is when they get all indignant about how hard they work. No, sorry. You are not working hard enough. That’s reality. If you want to be in the top 10 percent of 5 percent of successful businesses in your market, then I have some news for you: You need to work harder and longer than any of your competitors. There is no “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” I am super busy. My daughter has dance recital today. Stop making excuses and execute.
To get where we are today, we have prided ourselves on working longer and harder than any of our competitors. I love it. It’s a high for me and my team to know that we can come up with an idea and execute it quickly and efficiently.
You have to become addicted to winning. Yes, my fellow artists, winning. Not hugging each other. Not talking trash in your forums about the new photographers. Not blaming the world for your failures. Owning your shit. Owning your failures. Owning your laziness. And doing something about it!
The world is yours. I promise you, there is nothing but opportunity out there. No matter where you live. No matter how small or large your community. Opportunity is smacking you in the head. There is only one way to take advantage of it: Execute.
That alone will make you stand out from the crowd and soar to new levels.