A few weeks ago, I sat down with a fellow photographer for a coffee. She shared her challenges.
I know I need to narrow down my niche and become a specialist in one area.
I want to make more money taking photos, but it’s so competitive everywhere.
I’m worried that I’ll lose out and offend people if I say No to a particular type of work.
So far, so conventional. I’ve heard a similar story so many times from so many people.
Then, she asks a question.
Do you just do branding work?
I said, ‘No’.
Surprised by my answer, she said: Hang on a minute? What do you mean?
I have a small number of long time clients who still call me for other types of work that I used to do, and I continue to do for them. I’m a branding specialist, yes. But I still do other types of work for “special” clients who continue to make significant contributions to my revenue.
When I eventually became a branding specialist, I didn’t suddenly say ‘good-bye’ to all of my beloved clients just because they didn’t need a branding specialist at that particular time. From that time forward, I simply did not take on new clients who were not ‘branding’ clients. For me, the relationship is more important in this instance, especially for great clients. I enjoy doing the work for them whatever that might be.
When she heard my reply, she was visibly relieved.
Then came the second question.
How can I pick a niche? Do I just pick one and go for it?
Not so fast.
When I began my career as a photographer more than a decade ago, I tried various genres of photography, but only about four years ago did I decide to focus on branding. It doesn’t have to take that long, but I didn’t know back then what I know now.
So my advice is to only pick a niche when:
- It’s an area you love to work in because you find it fulfilling.
- Your work stands out in that particular genre.
- You can charge double or triple the rate of your other work and be able to raise that rate regularly.
- And of course, you’re able to continue with that genre over and over and over again.
You may wonder how we could charge double or triple above our standard rate. By and large, this is where your personal brand comes in.
The Personal Brand I speak of here is a unique blend of your experience, skills, knowledge and other people’s perception of all that is you.
I was able to settle on branding because I have:
- Over a decade of training in (Fine) Arts
- More than twenty years of experience in digital media/marketing
- Years of experience in graphic design production for print and digital
- Years of experience in online education and user experience design for large corporations
- Professional project management qualifications and years of experience in managing large scale projects
- Twelve years experience photographing people, including five years of runway and fashion show photography.
They are just some of the relevant background that immediately came to mind. But the skills and lessons learned during those years naturally influence the experiences my clients have with me when I’m dealing with them, in conversations and coaching and the ways in which I market my work.
I have always been a generalist before I became a specialist.
Becoming a specialist and being perceived as such by others provided many other opportunities such as speaking at events, being invited to panel discussions, being hired as a strategist for large institutions, and publishing a book (hopefully soon!).
Being a specialist means I get to provide more value in the same amount of time.
If my calendar is too full with bookings and client sessions, it’s time to raise my rate.
As a result, I have a somewhat enviable lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong. There are days when I work long hours. But that’s from my own volition, and I enjoy it.
So a final word. You may continue to work across multiple ‘genres’ until you find a spot where you can see yourself really focus in while closing doors to other areas. It is worth it, and that is what I coach my clients to do. However, it is never done arbitrarily for the sake of niching or to make ‘more’ money. It is approached mindfully and with great care.
After all, it is a long game that you want to enjoy playing.