David Hakamaki: Turning Challenges into Opportunities
Location, location, location. It's a mantra of real estate agents, but it applies to many other types of businesses. Photographers in very rural areas, for example, can have more difficulties in building a client base than urban/suburban photographers. However, David Hakamaki of Cutting Edge Photography has found a way to turn those rural, small-town challenges into opportunities.
David turned his studio in Iron Mountain, Michigan—with a population of only 7,500 and the closest city 70 miles away—into a hot spot for a variety of clients. It took trial and error and a business mind, but his studio has exploded in growth and profits over the last 10 years.
Taking the Photography Leap
With a degree in business and economics, David started out with a traditional nine-to-five job. He did photography strictly for self-gratification (and for friends' and family members' requests). But in 1986, he submitted an image to a travel publication and it was published! That got him thinking: Could photography be something more?
"Being business-minded, I started looking at what I would need to do to actually run a photography business," recalls David. He took classes to ensure he knew the technical details and started to look for paid work…and the requests kept coming in. So when David decided to move his family to Iron Mountain and found a home with space suitable for a home studio, he saw it as a sign. He took a leap of faith and never looked back.
Growing with a Business Mind
"I wanted to do this the right way, so I joined PPA and all the associations that can help photographers," David adds. "I still have a big notebook in my office, filled with all the notes and ideas from my first photography convention and the years since."
David took those ideas and tweaked them for his own situation to build up awareness and clientele. He knew that he would have to adapt to his small-town rural locale. "Living in a small town limits specialization," he explains. "I found that diversification into (and monopolization of) several specialties was my best option. Yet I didn't want to copy someone else's style or look, so I used various ideas as inspiration and put my own spin on them. That's what makes my images mine—they are all created in my head."
He also took a smart approach to trial and error—while he wasn't as selective in the beginning, he always analyzed the jobs to see if they would end up generating a profit. If a certain type of business was not paying off, he would stop offering that service. Ultimately, he found that high-end weddings, high school senior portraits and youth sports were his most profitable endeavors.
Creating the Hot Studio in the Area
Learning his best product lines were just the start of David's growth. "My studio is now the hot, desirable studio, thanks to comments on Facebook and other referrals," says David. What brought about those referrals? He constantly worked on excelling at his craft and providing stellar customer service, all leading the customer to walk away thinking of the great experience he or she had. And his commitment to trying out new ideas only helped.
For instance, this spring he started providing a "Live Viewing" aspect to his portrait sessions, allowing immediate viewing of images on a tablet device like an iPad. He plugs his wireless adapter into his Nikon D4 (with wireless capabilities) and dumps the images directly to his iPad for the parent, friend or sibling of the subject to see. "The energy of these sessions has elevated astronomically," he says. Picture a prom shoot with girls were huddled around the iPad squealing. As David adds, "Needless to say, they're all coming in for their senior portraits now."
However, different approaches are needed for different specialties. That's why David focuses on efficiency during his youth sports shoots to placate impatient coaches and lots of kids. He's gained 70 - 100% of the youth sports market in his area due to his consistently great images, great products and quickness. That adaptability puts him in high demand.
A Photographer's Growth Never Ends
"Some ideas fail miserably; some are life-changing," David adds about all the new things he tries in his business. "That's why I keep learning and growing by going to conventions and gathering as many ideas as I can. That's how I make this work."
From educating himself and trying new specialties to incorporating projection sales into his sales sessions, David has raised his sales averages well above many similar rural, home-based businesses. Although he now works with major national companies, such as a television program on the Sportsman Channel, he still thrives on the bread and butter of his business: the local jobs.
"Most importantly, I have been able to understand what the client wants because they are the ones paying the bills," says David about his success in this challenging locale. "I always remember that I'm a businessperson; I ultimately provide what the client is looking for."
Currently one of Simply Color Lab's Senior Dream Team members, David also speaks at photography conventions and meetings across the country. To learn more about his work and his studio, visit http://www.cuttingedgephoto.net/#
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