Picking my poison. The most common advice for photographers embarking on a career is to specialize. Be a portrait photographer, or an architectural photographer, or product photographer. When you can, subdivide that specialty: don’t just be a portrait photographer, be a high school graduation portrait shooter, a fashion shooter, or an actor’s headshot shooter. Super-niche, because there are enough people interested in whatever fraction of the photographic world you choose to sustain you, and the customer wants to know they’re in the hands of a specialist. It’s good advice, and I think it applies to being a videographer as well.
Of course, I didn’t follow that advice as a photographer. But that’s largely because I didn’t start out trying to build a career as a photographer—I wasn’t paying the mortgage with that income so I could afford the lean months. In fact, I never made more than $1600 a month as a photographer, and most were closer to $500. I’m glad I chose that path; it gave me a broader base of work, and because I wasn’t in a hurry, over time I created a broader base of clients.
But this wasn’t a gentle stroll towards a client base. I needed a grab—the fastest, surest path to generating income while staying true to the types of shoots I found satisfying.
Pick a specialty
So here is step number one: you need to pick your niche. This comes before a business plan (though some would say it’s the first step of a business plan), your marketing plan, your website-- everything. Pick a niche that is both of interest and can generating income for you. Not for someone else.
What does that mean, exactly? The temptation is to pick the most attractive niche… what you really want to be shooting. Set that aside. Look at who you are right now: what field do you work in now? What hobbies do you immerse yourself in? Those are your best bets because you’ve got connections… trust in those areas. Don’t think, “wouldn’t it be great to make documentaries” if you’ve never created a documentaries. That’s your 2-year plan. Your today plan is to partner with potential customers that are already in your circle. Don’t rush this decision. You probably have more history to draw from than you think, and those connections have other connections.
You already work in your niche
I’ll repeat myself: examine your current business and your hobbies in order to find your niche. If you work at Dairy Queen, fine. The first company you should approach is Dairy Queen. Then boutique ice creameries. Then specialty deserts. Then specialty restaurants and major ice cream makers.
Here’s the misconception about picking a niche. You’re not picking the genre you’ll shoot for the rest of your career. You’re picking your first bread a butter clients. Branching out to other forms of videography is much easier when you have a body of work and a regular flow of income.
My work had been environmental health, specifically in chemical exposures that affect human health. Over the past couple of days I researched other agencies that do similar work. Those included companies that do almost identical work, and then expanded out to companies that do similar work. Even if I don’t know anyone at those companies, they’ll recognize and respect my agency. And they’ll treat my correspondence with professional respect. They won’t ignore any email or call, because they may end up in a meeting with me next month—even if they’ve never met me before.
I put together a simple Excel spreadsheet. The categories were:
Organization Type Contact Person Email Phone Address Outreach
My “identical” companies included competitors for my current employer. These groups did environmental health research and education. Then I added companies that did environmental advocacy and education. These included both small community based organizations and governmental agencies. On this list I also included my own company as a potential customer. I started with 10 names on this list, knowing that it would… should grow over time as I made more contacts. These included my company’s current competition; another company that had interviewed me for a position I didn’t get; another that was the colleague of a CBO I served on the board of; a government agency that had funded other projects for my company years ago; and a couple of organizations I didn’t really know. Out of these 10, the goal is to land 2.
Next time: conquering uncertainty
Next time: conquering uncertainty