Define Your Niche Market
What's unique about you? Do you have any direct competition? When we were in the wedding business, we started out and we wanted to have weddings with people that could afford us. Then, we realized we didn't like shooting weddings downtown in big cathedrals because they were dark and there were a lot of rules about how to photograph them. So we decided that we were going to become the mountain specialist in Colorado because we love being outside, we were acclimatized so that we could work at high elevations and it's where we really shine, it was the kind of images that we wanted to create, and once we said, "Okay, we are the Colorado mountain specialist." Then, we had a specific thing. We didn't really have anybody, though, it's competing directly against us. There were people that did mountain weddings, but we knew every single area of Colorado. When somebody called us and said, "Hey, we're getting married in Aspen. "Do you know any neat places to photograph around there?" "Well, of co...
urse, we have like 30 different areas. "Let me show you some images "and see if this is what you have in mind." See how when that customer calls me and says, "I'm interested in a wedding." And I'll be, "Oh my gosh, "let me show you what we've done up there. "I love Aspen." It's a very different feel. Do you have any direct competition? And if you do, what do you do to better serve your client? What can you do better than anybody else? These are the questions to ask yourself as your coming up with a marketing plan. So do you have a competitive advantage? One of the things in mountain weddings, besides us knowing really unique off the beaten path locations, is that we could access places that our competition couldn't, we're rock climbers. If we needed to get a shot looking down, we could rappel down a cliff, set up an anchor and get the shot that we needed to. We have a unique set of skills that allow us to do things that our competition can't. We can kayak into really remote areas and get the shot that nobody else can get. Do you have a competitive advantage? And just as importantly, do you have a competitive weakness? What is our weakness? We're only in one place for three days at a time. That's a pretty big obstacle. How do we figure it out? We plan our sessions six months to 18 months in advance. So I have a way around it, but imagine running a business where you don't have a location. That's kind of hard to get a client base. So we don't have clients based in Colorado anymore, we have clients based in North America and beyond. That's our base. We've turned that weakness into a strength, but it took some doing and some thinking. So what is your strategy to overcome any weaknesses? Be aware of it, find a workaround. That's the thing about this business. It's you got to know you're going to fall down a million times in this business. You got to just keep being creative and thinking around problems and coming up with a new solution. You can't just keep beating your head against a wall saying, "Oh well, this doesn't work for me, so I guess I'm done." You've got to say, "Okay, this is really hard, "but here's a way around it." And that's the difference between the businesses that succeed and the businesses that fail. You just keep picking yourself up again and again. I have scars on my knees from falling down all the time. Here's what you have to do. This is part of your really, really important things to do. Here's a way to think. I always go through classes, and there are some really important things that I want to do as soon as I'm done with the class, and here's my strategy for dealing with that. I make a salsa list. Hot, medium and mild. I usually make it in the back of my notebook. I'm a pen and paper kind of girl. So the last page in my notebook, I make my salsa list and I have my red list, my red hot salsa. These are the things I have to do this week as soon as I'm done learning. This information, these are the things that I have to do now. Then, I have my medium salsa. These are things that I want to get done in the next month. In my mild salsa is the stuff that I want to accomplish eventually. As you guys are making notes on this and making your action plan to do everything that you're learning in this class, put this at the top of the red hot list. What is the gist of your business? Has to be 140 characters or less. That's about a sentence. What is the gist of your business? What's the essence? Can you do it in three words? Mine is inspiring adventure as a family. Can you see my images with those three words? What is the gist of your business? The more concise, the better. It doesn't have to be three words, but it needs to be about a sentence. You're going to use this message again and again and again, and you'll refine this message over time. Red hot, get this one written down right now. It's going to be on your website, it's going to be in all your marketing materials. It's super important. Then, if you need a few more words to really capture what it is that you do, you can have an expanded message, but every single word in that expanded message needs to mean something to your clients. I always put this through what I call the sifter. So I sift it out and the really important stuff stays in the bowl. As you're writing your expanded message, I want you to look at every single word and say yes or no, is it important? So the As and the OFs and the THEs. Those don't really count. But the big words, they better be meaningful and they better drive people to what you do to create a picture in their brain. So you have the gist message, 140 characters. You have the expanded message, two or three sentences. Not much more expanded. Something you could say to someone in 30 seconds or less. Then, hopefully, once you've gone through the sifter, you will have a few keywords. Family, adventure, inspiration. Those are my keywords. I use them in my tag line, I use them in everything, we hashtag them on social media. So what are your keywords for your business? What does it look like? This is your hot list on your salsa to-do list. Get them done this week, you can do it. Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect, just 80%. You'll refine it over time. We talked about this a little bit earlier. What are the features of each of your products? I'm going to come back to this because this is really important again. We thought about the products and why we liked them and why we fed our style earlier. Now, it's time to put some specific features for each of the products that you offer. Some of the features could be the materials that they're made out of. Some of them could be the size and the weight and the shape and all of that, but there are other features like made in the USA, or better yet, hand-crafted in your studio if you do things like that, or it could be environmentally friendly, or it could be some kind of exotic material that only you offer. What are those features for the products that you've chosen for your business and why is it important for your client? What are the benefits of each of those things for your client? Photography is kind of a nasty environmental process. It's not super environmentally friendly. But if they see that we are taking the effort to work with materials that are the least toxic materials available, they see that we value that as a company. It doesn't have to be your value, but that's just an example. So how did these features benefit your target client? Is it something that's archival that's going to last for 100 and plus years? What is it about the product that you're offering that benefits your client? Then, how are these features and benefits better than your competitors? Going back to what we spoke about earlier, the product offerings, I would recommend that you choose no more than five. Because if you have 100 different product offerings, to write down all of your features and benefits it's going to be really hard. It's going to be really hard for you to remember all of your products if you have that many. When we think about our business, we have acrylics, we have metals, we have wood, we have canvas and we have fine art prints, five. Okay, and albums and cards, seven. That's it, though, and we've been doing it a long time. That's our entire product offering. Can I write down the features and benefits of seven different things? You bet, that's an afternoon project, not a big deal. It's something that's accomplishable. Then, can I talk about how these are better than my competitors? Well, I can if I've done my homework and I know who my competition is. That's the tricky part, know your competition, know what they have to offer and know why you are doing things better than they are. Because that's really what you have to do to sell yourself to your customers. They're going to call and say, "Oh well, I talked to John down the road "and he's offering an eight by 10 for $40. "Can you match that price?" "Well, of course not, "because everything I do is made on bamboo paper "that's environmentally sustainable. "It's better for the Earth. "It costs a little bit more, but it's worth it." Maybe that's an answer that works for your business, maybe it doesn't, but you'd better have an answer. Now, you talked about your target client, you've researched your competition, you've written down the features and benefits of your product. Now, what is it that you want your client to do? This is super-duper important. If you don't know what you want them to do, they definitely won't do it. What specifically will they buy? When we talked earlier about your pricing and your sales strategy, you need to have a specific path. Through your product offerings to get them to your target sale. Again, we're going to reiterate that here. Specifically, what do you want your client to do? For me, I want them to go have an adventure with us. If it's a portrait client, I want them to invest at least $1,000. I would prefer that they invest $2,000 or greater. Then, this is what I think they need to buy because this is what I think we offer best to our clients. So what do you want them to do? What do you want them to buy? And then, how do you find those clients? You go to where they go.
So once you find your unique niche, would you recommend focusing on that only and that alone or as you're just starting, do you continue to offer many types of photography, events and weddings and portraits and how does that choice affect your brand?
Absolutely. There are some immutable laws of branding. What it says, there's one called the law of expansion and one called the law of contraction. What it says that as you expand your brand, it dilutes your brand. As you contract it, it strengthens your brand. What that means for photography is you need to pick one thing and do it really, really well. I heard this as a new business owner, and I was like, "Well, we just quit our jobs, we have a baby on the way. "We just bought a house. "I can't focus on one thing "because I really need income "coming into my business right now." So those first three years, we did everything. We did weddings and seniors and portraits and babies and commercial and head shots and house shots for realtors. We did anything for anybody that would call us. We didn't make any money. Partly because we didn't know our numbers, but also because we were a jack of all trades and master of none. The year that we got a grip on our numbers was also the year that we decided we were going to focus all of our energy on doing weddings. We were going to become wedding specialist. Did we still do those things? Those other things, portraits and seniors? Of course we did, we needed the money. However, every message that went out of our business to our buyers was all about weddings. They were the images that showed on our website, they were the things that we talked to our clients about, and that was the direction that we invested all of our marketing dollars. I can tell you from personal experience that if you really focus on the thing that you want to do the most and you brand your business as that type of specialist, you will find far more success right off the bat than if you take anything that'll come in the door. Of course, do you need to pay your bills and do you need to make money? Yes, do you need to do that maybe expanding your photography a little bit? But definitely focus all of your attention and all of your effort on building the one thing that you like to do the most.
Steven Cook said, "My practice is more commercial. "Food, lifestyle for business." So I guess more on that business to business. Any advice for marketing identifying who that target is or how that relates to what they look like, who they are? All those questions that we talked about.
Absolutely. Again, I think you can do a lot of online research for this. Who are the people that are using the images that are similar to what you want to create? Who is that buyer? Instead of looking at a specific person demographic, you're looking more at company demographics. We're looking at that in our commercial division as well. We're looking for adventure, gear, manufacturers. We want to align with brands that we connect with. As we're looking at this, we look for brands that support the things that we like to do, they support the values that we believe in, and then we reach out and connect to those specific people. You can go through the same series of questions. What are their values? What are their interests? Who are these companies? You just have to put a company name there instead of a person name there. Companies all have personalities. At least if they have a solid brand, so you should be able to identify and connect with that brand personality just like you would a person for a target client.