Monday, May 4, 2015

Finding the Sweet Spot

It’s been about 15 months since I started Hurricane Images Inc.  I’d worked on occasional projects for years, and my pictures appeared in publications and brochures, but I didn’t consider myself a professional (rightly so, skill-wise).  Even when I took the plunge in 2014 I still didn’t fully qualify.  Over the last couple of months I feel like I’ve started to find a sweet spot, financially-- a magical place where my skill, portfolio, and asking price have aligned.  It’s not as much (financially) as it could be-- and not all of the work I do are in the zone-- but my hire-to-rejection ratio as increased significantly.  And I think there’s a sweet spot for everyone, regardless of skill level.

Finding your sweet spot means you hire more often, learn faster, and take reasonable risks that don't put your reputation in danger.

The question of whether to work for free is debated endlessly online, in part because everyone thinks there’s just one answer. In truth, there’s not even one good answer for one single person.  When you’re just starting out, the marketable quality of your work may be right about zero; similarly, if you’re transitioning into a new genre of photography you may benefit from greatly reducing your fee (or offering a free session) to build your portfolio and gain experience.  Free shouldn’t be a dirty word.  There’s a $$ sweet spot for your work, and it can vary based on your portfolio.  I don't, for example, in genres like "event photography" because I'm rarely excited by the project and my portfolio is strong.  It needs to be a money-maker.  I will slash my rates to work with a fashion designer who has lined up a model and MUA because the images-- and relationships-- can be more valuable than the money.

The common advice is to specialize as narrowly as possible to be successful.  Be a wedding photography (who maybe offers engagement sessions) or a headshot photography (who may also do portraits) or a product photographer (who may shoot food as well as jewelry) but don’t try to be more than one.  I don’t adhere to that advice.  I consider myself a people photographer, which means everything from headshots to weddings, fashion to editorial.  I am a better at some of these than others (and I have fuller portfolios in some versus others), so my prices reflect that.

Many working photographers say that when they raised their prices, they actually increased the amount of work the got, and I believe them.  But it doesn’t mean that’s true for the world at large.  Photographers who raised their prices and their work decreased went out of business-- only the successes get to tell their story.  Next year, I’ll probably have to raise some of my prices, too.  I won't do it across the board; I'll raise prices in a few genres.  Doing so will most likely reduce my business and knock me out of the sweet spot.  But the advantage will be that charging more will put more pressure on me to produce superior work, and with a little luck I’ll be able to find my zone again.

How will I know it’s time to bump up?  When my portfolio for that genre  is so full that new work doesn’t really change people’s impressions, and when I just don’t have time for all the sessions.

My one bit of advice for any “growing” professional:  Shoot above your price point.

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