As a creative professional, it’s hard for a lot of us to think of what we do as both a business and an art. Sometimes photographers only want to acknowledge the art side and just hope that it’s sufficient enough for them to make it by as a business.
But even if they’re super talented, this type of thinking will only take your business so far. The reason artists compartmentalize business and art is because how they might feel about business. Business feels like an isolated venture, centering around profits, greed and no genuine concern for the consumer. As a result, some artists won’t charge enough or market enough, fooling themselves into thinking that it’s all a slimy cause. What’s worse is that a lot of artists say, “Well, if I’m really passionate about what I do, does it matter if I get paid?”
At the core of all of this thinking is excuses. They’re excuses to understand what business actually is. And it’s excuses to do hard work.
There’s a quote by Adam Smith, a Scottish economist and philosopher during the 18th century, that says, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
What does this mean?
He’s saying that while the butcher, the brewer and baker are making product for others, they’re making it out of self-interest. But Smith goes on to explain how this self-interest actually turns into a relationship that’s collaborative and provides MUTUAL benefit. When you think about starting photography, you’re doing it because you find passion in it. That’s a self-interest, but your passion and skill also happens to be something that benefits others.
The byproduct of this collaborative and mutually benefitting service or product is profitability.
Without profitability, you can’t care for yourself, you can’t care for your business and you can’t care for the very client that seeks your services. Profits help pay for the costs of doing business so you keep running. Profits help pay YOU so you can focus on what you do well AND focus on what clients love about what you do. Profits will also help you continually make products that improve the lives that use your services.
Essentially, you can’t have a profitable and meaningful business without genuinely caring about the specified needs of the consumer and yourself.
So, how do you have a meaningful and profitable photography business?
For you as a photographer, this means that in order to create a business that’s meaningful for you and your clients, you have to understand their needs really well.
When we think about why people think sales are gross. We think about telemarketers, door-to-door salesmen and car salesmen. They either come unannounced or they’re selling something we never asked for or need. What’s worse, they’re usually pushy, can’t take no for an answer and just won’t leave.
Part of the problem with this type of sales is that they fail to understand the genuine needs of the client, and are only concerned about the sale and profits. To create a business that’s meaningful, you want to understand your clients well. This means understanding what they’re looking for and what their concerns are.
You’re not going to force photography on people that don’t ask for it.
A profitable and meaningful business is something that is collaborative and mutually beneficial at the core. It’s not one-sided and only driven by profits. Instead, it’s people-centered.
This goes back to what artists like to say about “passion”, which is, “If you’re really passionate about what you do, you wouldn’t care about being paid.”
But no one says this to doctors or lawyers or car mechanics or office managers or Walmart or whatever. This is because, deep down, artists are insecure about being paid because they don’t know if others recognize the same value as they do.
The truth is that there is value in art, including photography. So, recognize that your meaningful work should also mean getting paid.
Artists often feel guilty about sharing their work with others because they don’t want to come across as pushy, but remember the example I gave about telemarketers and door-to-door sales people? Those folks arrive unannounced, sharing products we never asked for.
Communicating your value should not be the same way. You’re not going door-to-door and you’re not going to cold call random people. If you did – then, yes – you’re absolutely being pushy and annoying. But you’re not going to do that.
Instead, smart and meaningful marketing is about sharing the value of your services to people that genuinely want it.
When you identify your ideal client, understand them well and communicate your value and purpose well – you will have a business that is not only meaningful but profitable as well.