Scott Bourne wrote a great post today about protecting the integrity of wedding photography. He rails against those photographers who would massively under price their work. It is a terrific post and I could not have broken it down better: massively undercutting on price cheats the client, the industry and, most of all, the photographer. However, like it or not, what Scott describes as the state of the market is not going away:
Everyone who owns a camera – and that seems to be everyone period – thinks they could be a professional photographer. How many times have you heard “You must have a nice camera” after showing off a portfolio-quality image? We’re already battling a severely under-educated clientele. The client thinks ANYONE can do our job. We’re fighting mass competition and a public that doesn’t know better.
And, even more to the point: even if the market DOES know that quality costs, it won’t cost what it did yesterday and certainly not what it did three years ago.
I aspire, with Scott, to have everyone in the business of being creative properly value their art. However, I also do not believe that the way most creative businesses operate will be sustainable for much longer. It is just too hard to rely on the next project and constantly chase after new clients along with your ever-growing competition. Your lumpy cash flow will probably get lumpier and your profit margins squeezed ever tighter.
To survive, you are going to have to evolve your business model. You are going to have to figure out how to extend the life cycle of your customers and create an annuity business for yourselves. By annuity, I mean a sustainable, consistent revenue stream based on the core strengths of your creative business. It can be some sort of membership, consulting/advisory service or other ongoing stream. The annuity business can be to the trade or for consumers. The point is that the annuity will be the base revenue stream that will support the fluctuations in your core creative business. The annuity will also help you redefine how you price your core projects. For instance, if you create a membership, you can price your core project (i.e., wedding, large commercial project, corporate event, etc.) into that membership. By doing so, you might be able to shoot that wedding for $500, if you can assure yourself of a guaranteed stream from the client that far exceeds the $500 each year for many years to come.
In the end, you get to the same place – extracting proper value for your art. Creating your new business model to extract that value is going to take time, require you to take calculated risks and rethink everything you “know” about your business. As Seth Godin said recently: to affect change, you are going to have faith beyond any facts you are presented with. Just please remember: change is hard, progress a process and determination a necessity.