Think like a street cat

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Think like a street cat.

Are you a new photographer (new being relative of course)? To me, if you are in business 5 years or less, you are, in many ways, new or an upstart.

Think like an upstart.

“Whoa, Sal. What the hell is an upstart? I mean, I don’t want my clients to think I am new. They have to have trust and faith in my business.” Blah. Blah. Blah. Yeah, I get it. However, that’s not my point.

All too often, I see businesses struggle for all the wrong reasons. They start off hungry, willing to do anything for success like a hungry street cat and then they turn into fat happy house cats. No motivation. No willingness to take risks. Status Quo is the motto. Don’t rock the boat. Stick with what works.

Think about some companies you know of or have worked for in your life. I will reference my experience in corporate America. I spent 10 years at Microsoft. During my time there I watched a once nimble company turn into a corporate giant playing everything safe. During the early years of Microsoft, it was like the Wild West. Creative meetings, taking risks, trying new things, etc. You were incented and rewarded for those risks – there was no such thing as failure. We celebrated failure because it got you one step closer to success. Today, it’s different, they are motivated by Wall Street. I get it. It makes sense, but it’s not the path I want for myself or my business and neither should you. I will explain why shortly.

Microsoft started getting its ass kicked by upstarts like Google and Facebook. Why? These were companies that were willing to take risks, challenge the status quo, and just think differently. They were nimble upstarts. Facebook and Google, at the time, were disruptive to the status quo, challenging companies like Microsoft to innovate or die. So, here is Microsoft, this one time “innovator” getting its ass handed to it. Stock stopped growing for years because they couldn’t figure it out. Some companies never do.

If you are still reading this, you are wondering, “why does this matter to me?” Well, funny you should ask. There are massive lessons to be learned from this. In fact, it’s a huge part of how I manage my own team and businesses. We can not get comfortable. I don’t want to be the house cat. I want to be the street cat. I challenge my team to this every single day. I laugh, I honestly do, as I look at our competitors in every category we are in because they refuse to innovate. They are so paralyzed by the thought of a misstep or failing that they choose no action or worse yet, they just copy cat everything. That’s safe, right? I mean no one has ever lost their job or business by just doing what everyone else is doing. Right?

So, that brings me to my point. Today, everyone is a photographer. Competition is literally every where. I see studio after studio just opting to hand over the digital images with no sales process, no products, no prints or albums, just the digitals. Why? Because “everyone else is doing it Sal.” No. Not everyone else is doing it. I am not doing it in my market. And our studio is doing damn near 40-50 weddings per year. I work with a ton of studios we are mentoring and they are not doing it and their sales are at all-time highs.

If you are an upstart (remember that 5 year window I was talking about?), STOP THE MADNESS and think like an upstart. You have to want success more than you want anything else. Now is the time. Once you get comfortable, you will resist change every day. You have to take a chance if you want to have success with your business. You have to be that street cat. You have to be ready to battle for your next meal. Take the fight to your competitors. Stop letting them erode market share.

How? Should be your next logical question.

Here is what I want you to think about with your business and for the record, doesn’t matter what your business is. These are principals that can be applied to any business, any category.

Who are your top 3-5 competitors?

What makes them your competitor? Ah, this is tough for most people to answer. They know who they think their competitors are, but rarely do they know why. If you can’t answer this, then make time for yourself to think about this. It’s important you understand why they are your competitors – this will lend to how you attack them. Not everyone who is a photographer is your competitor. It doesn’t work that way.

Here is where things start getting interesting.

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What is your x-factor? What’s that thing that makes you better? Please, for the love of everything on this planet, do not say your photography. No one cares! I promise you. If the only difference between you and your competitors is your photography, you are going to kill your business. If you don’t have an x-factor, then you need to figure the hell out how you plan to make your mark in the world of business.

Using your x-factor, how are you going to out-maneuver them? We have to strike fast and hard before they can even respond to your efforts. How do we bring it to the attention of your potential clients that this is why you are better and here is why you should care? It’s that crazy thing called MARKETING. Say it with me… M-A-R-K-E-T-I-N-G. Marketing is not showing people your pretty pictures. While an important part of the process, we have to have messaging with that marketing. Educate clients. Bring to their attention the difference. Put it in their face why they should work with you. Bring the fight right to the door step of your competitors. Force them to acknowledge you by forcing them to act like a street cat. Think about something for a second and yes, I am sorry to pick on cats in this article, but hey, its relevant.

When you see a street cat do you try and pet it? Do you walk up to it and say “here kitty kitty” – no, no you don’t because you know it will rip your face off. And if it gives you that crazy street cat look – you sheepishly look away, you grab your kids, you hold on to your purse, and you run for cover because you are scared, scared that it might rip your face off.

Do you have a house cat? Can you imagine if you put your beloved fluffy fluff outside for one night after having their bowl put in front of them for the last 5 years every time they cutely say “meow?” No, your house cat would have its faced ripped off in the outside world.

Now, look, I will admit, I think I got a little carried away with my cat example, but I am sitting on a plane to London as I write this, and I have to admit, I have been trying to entertain myself. Ok, back to it.

Let’s bring it real world. Recently, two and a half years ago, we launched Shutter Magazine. Today, we have over 100,000 active subscribers. Yes, you read that right. Just this month, we took our digital fully multimedia magazine to print. In an industry that is pulling away from print, we are going after it full throttle. I am watching our competitors literally scramble to try and respond. They can’t and here is why. They have been doing things the same way for so many years it’s a near act of God to get the executives or management team to approve anything and even when they do, it’s proceed with caution. Shutter Magazine has been going at this hard core by taking chances, providing quality education not fluff, and using innovation to challenge the status quo. We are fully multimedia enabled in both print and digital. Every time they try and move we out maneuver them – we are faster, more nimble and more innovative than our competitors. Most importantly, I am willing to take massive risks to win. I am a street cat.

Are you connecting dots yet? Are you seeing how you have to start seeing the world and get competitive? It’s ok to want to win. It’s ok to be competitive. That’s a good thing. We can be competitive and not hate one another. It’s not personal. It’s business. This is why your competitors won’t give you the time of day. Ever try and have a friendly meeting with another photographer in your area – if so, then you know what I mean. They see you as a threat and this is the only way they know how to compete. This is good news for you – it makes your job easier. Compete on real world principles and you will watch your business flourish and remain relevant for years to come.

Now get to it, unleash that street cat that exists in all of you!

~Sal

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Think like a street cat

with behindtheshutter time to read: 8 min
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