7 lessons in rehabbing a photography business

Monica Sigmon and Michael Taylor share hard-earned insights

Professional photography is an ever-evolving enterprise. Success requires an ability to adapt to changing markets while staying true to your unique vision. Monica Sigmon, M.Photog.Cr., and Michael Taylor, M.Photog.Hon.M.Photog.Cr., API, F-ASP, of Sigmon Taylor Photography learned this lesson firsthand as they refocused and revitalized their Williamsburg, Virginia, portrait business after a downturn during the financial crisis of the late 2000s. Here, they share some of their most valuable insights.

• Work backward. Begin with the end in mind by framing an idea of the business you want to have eventually. Then work backward to create a business built toward that vision.

• Know your competition. More important, know who isn’t your competition. If you run a high-end boutique studio, there’s no need to worry about losing consumers to a lower-priced shoot-and-burn photographer. Those consumers will never be your client because they’re driven solely by price while you’re seeking clients who want a boutique experience and quality print products, for example. Different business models have different clients, and you don’t want to waste time chasing consumers who don’t represent your target client.

• Take responsibility. It’s not the economy. It’s not the cheaper photographer down the street. You are responsible for your successes and your failures. When you accept responsibility, you can more effectively chart a course for your future.

• Believe in your product. If you believe that everything you do is about providing something priceless for your clients, then that sense of value is projected to your clients and represented in the products you deliver to them.

• Exude confidence. We all have crises of confidence, but keep those moments to yourself. You have to display confidence to clients and present yourself as the expert you are. No one else is going to do that for you.

• Don’t undercut yourself. If you start your business by undercutting competitors’ prices, you’re really undercutting yourself. It makes it that much more difficult to raise prices to a sustainable level later on. Remember: Start with your end goal in mind.

• Stay the course. Many photographers want to jump in quickly and then switch gears later. That is much more difficult than building a solid foundation and growing consistently and intentionally. It takes time and hard work to build a business the right way, but it pays off down the road by earning you a profitable and sustainable career.

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Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.