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The Fine Art Photography Business - Part 2 of 2
Text and photography copyright © Alain Briot. All rights reserved.
One of the great myths of business is that opportunity knocks. Opportunity does not knock at your door, you have to bang on the door yourself and keep knocking until you get in.     Richard Branson

Prelude

This is part 2 of a 2 parts essay. It starts at section 6. Sections 1 to 5 are featured in Part 1.

6 - Donít Get It Twisted

Improving the quality of your work improves - drum roll - the quality of your work --- surprise! Improving the quality of your marketing improves - drum roll - the quality of your marketing --- second surprise! In other words, they each affect what they are supposed to affect. Working on your photographs increases their quality and has no direct effect on your sales. Working on your marketing increases how much money you make and has no direct effect on the quality of your photographs. To be successful you need to work on what you want to affect. If you want to improve the quality of your photography, work on your photographs. If you want to improve your sales, work on your marketing.

My problem was that I got it twisted. I thought that I would improve my sales by improving my photographs. I believed there was a relationship where there was none. I had to straighten my understanding of the process.

While creating better photographs is important, doing so will not increase my sales. To increase my sales I needed to work on my marketing, not on my photographs. This understanding is applicable to any product. All we need to do is change the terms being used:

Improving your product improves your product. Improving your marketing improves your sales.

Pushed to an extreme this process can lead you to fame or fortune. On the one hand, if you focus on improving what you want to sell, it will lead you to create the perfect product or service, be it photographs, clothes, bags, cars or any of the multitude of things one may want to sell. Your product or service will be equal to none. You will receive accolades and awards, you will be praised for the quality of your work and people will envy your technical skills. However, you will most likely remain poor and you will forever wonder why riches did not follow the professional accolades that came your way.

On the other hand, if you focus on improving your marketing it will lead you to create the perfect marketing system, one so attractive and convincing that people in huge number will come to you and purchase what you have to offer. You will then have the luxury of controlling the volume of sales by the price and of deciding how much you want to work and how much money you want to make. You will be able to control your income by creating new products and marketing them. At first your products or services may not be the best, and you may even know of better products out there, but if you reinvest some of the money generated by your superior marketing skills to improve it, you will, in a short time, have a product that others envy. It may or may not gather awards, depending on whether awards matter to you, but it will sell continuously because of your marketing.

Eventually, both product and marketing need to be improved. However, they need to be improved equally. The mistake I made was to improve my product constantly while totally ignoring my marketing. The result was a great product that few people knew about. It was also a product for which no buying incentives were given.

Over time, by focusing on improving both your marketing and your product, you can have it all: a fantastic marketing system, a product that your clients desire, and a product + marketing package that your competitors envy. For these reasons I recommend that, unless you want to remain poor, you focus first on your marketing and second on your product. Improving your product requires money and only by generating sales will you have access to this money. However, improving your marketing requires little more than study and planning, and for this reason a great marketing system can be constructed with relatively little money. Start there, then use part of the money to improve your product. Doing so will make you even more successful because product improvement is expected. There is more to be gained financially from improving a product over time than from offering a perfect product right away.


Monument Valley Dawn

7 - How Digital Photography Changed the Game

When asked why I became successful I say that digital photography made me wealthy. It did because when I started my business nobody was selling digital photographs. Photographers were afraid of what was then a new medium and one unknown to them. There was a lot of criticism levied against digital, such as the fact that digital images, the most significant being that digital photographs were not as good as film photographs, that digital prints would fade, that digital images were manipulated. All this, plus the fact that the technology was in itís infancy and that few people were able to create professional results consistently with it, meant that digital was pretty much out of the question for photographers making a living off their work.

I saw this very differently. To me, digital photography was a fantastic opportunity. It was a chance to do something different from what everyone else was doing. In fact, digital photography was the only viable opportunity available to me. In the film world all the Ďslotsí had been filled in and hardly any room was left. People had made a name for themselves in all the major areas, be it publishing, print sales, workshops, tutorials, stock sales, shows, etc. While it would have been possible to try and compete with them, doing something new in a medium that had been around for a very long time was challenging and costly. On the other, with digital doing something new was easy. In fact, doing something new was inevitable because everything had to be done. The medium offered a wealth of new creative and business possibility, but hardly anyone paid much attention to the it and few were professional trained it its use.

One of my assets was that I was coming out of a university ĖMTU, Michigan Technological University- for which, as part of my PhD studies, I had created the first digital photography course. This course was so cutting edge at the time that my syllabus had been published by Harper Collins in a publication titled ĎDigital Course Compendiumí the purpose of which was to offer examples of how digital technology could be used in college-level classes. I had also been creating digital prints for 3 years when I started by business, and felt very comfortable that these prints not only excelled the quality of film-based print but offered me more control and a far lower cost of production.

One of the most important assets in regards to this last point was that with digital printing I could make a single print, test the market to see how well a specific image sold, then make more prints if the image was successful or retire the image altogether if it was unsuccessful. On the other hand, film-based photographers who made chemical prints, had to make a large number of prints to get a competitive price. They could not make a single print without incurring very high cost of production and were therefore limited as to their market testing abilities. Facing no such limits I was able to test the market continuously and assemble a best-selling collection of images in less than a year, a process that would have taken me 5 years or more if I had been doing chemical prints.

Today digital processing has become the norm and chemical prints have become a niche market rather than the standard approach. Digital photography and processing have massively lowered the cost and difficulty entry barrier to selling photographs. As a result many who could not afford the expenses associated with film based photography are not able to create, print and sell photographs created digitally. Being primarily hobbyist who do not need to make a living selling their work, these amateurs compete essentially on the basis of price by underpricing established professional photographers.

Today, no artist desiring to make a living selling his work can compete with amateurs and photo enthusiasts who do not need to make a living selling their work and who offer their work at ridiculously low prices.

In order to compete and make a solid income you have to offer more than those who do not need to make an income and do things that amateurs do not do. If you donít do anything different from these amateurs you will either earn as much as they do or earn less than they do. Either way you will not make enough to have a successful business, or a satisfying income.

8 - The disadvantages and advantages photographers have to contend with...

Here is a short list of the disadvantages professionals face and of the advantages that can give them a competitive edge over amateurs:

Disadvantages:

  • Low entry barrier to create photographs and offer them for sale
  • Inexpensive cost of digital cameras, printers, software and consumables
  • Price undercutting by amateurs who do not need to make a living selling their work
  • Amateurs willing to give it away for free or sell it for very little money (no professional can compete against free products)
  • Amateurs willing to be published with the only reward being having their name mentioned. This approach is worthwhile to some amateurs because they have no intent on making a living from photography but getting credit gives them an ego boost that is often more satisfying than being paid.
  • Amateurs willing to not declare their income, or declare only part of their income.

Advantages:

  • Creating images demonstrating a unique personal style rather than a generic style
  • Creating images with powerful message and vision instead of superficial interest
  • Acquiring business skills
  • Acquiring marketing skills
  • Acquiring mounting, matting and framing skills or using of professional mounting services
  • Offering large and very large print sizes
  • Being able to offer a professional shipping service (delivering orders on time, packing artwork professionally, etc.)
  • Offering solid warranties (money back, framing, fading, etc.)
  • Offering customized and personalized work
  • Offering a solid after sales service
  • Focusing on quality and not quantity
  • Offering professional customer service
  • Gaining leverage
  • Being a member of and being involved with professional organizations
  • Being published in respected professional publications (not just self-publishing)
  • Gaining a good reputation (integrity, peer reviews, etc.)
  • Working with respected professionals

    9 - How Artists Are Perceived

    I had to face another problem besides not being familiar with marketing. I also had to deal with how artists are perceived by customers, galleries, art buyers, art publishers and others because these perceptions worked against me as an artist in business and affected my relationships with customers. Over the course of my career I discovered that artists are seen by many people as being:

    • Bad business people
    • Poor if not destitute (hence the term Ďstarving artistí)
    • Looking for an easy way to make a living - not hard workers.
    • Passive. Preferring to let things be rather than take action when necessary.
    • Easy to take advantage of when negotiating. For example willing to negotiate down to nothing to make a sale.
    • Wanting to be liked and accepted at all cost even if this causes them to lose money or engage in bad business practices.
    • Not operating their business as a business.
    • Not knowing the cost of doing business or the cost of producing their work.
    • Not making rational decisions, business or otherwise. Sometimes going as far as having a child-like attitude.
    • Having unrealistic expectations for their work.
    • Unable to reach win-win compromises. On occasion preferring not to do business rather than reach a win-win compromise.
    • Unaware that their behavior is causing them significant loss of income.
    • Unwilling to stand up for themselves.
    • Not interested in making money.
    • Feeling guilty about making money.
    • Willing to change their policies to please customers even if doing so is detrimental to them.
    • Willing to do everything customers ask even if this means wasting money and time.
    • Afraid to be taken advantage of, a belief that often makes artists defensive and suspicious.

    Certainly, having these character traits is a serious problem because they result in business practices that are detrimental to the realization of a solid business income. For those who have them the outcome is the incapability of running a business successfully over a long period of time.

    However, while these character traits are present in some artists, they are not shared by all artists. Personally, I believe I did not have most of these character traits. I knew that because I could prove these assumptions false through my actions. Unfortunately I had to expect people to think I had some, if not all of these characteristics.


    White Sands Dawn

    10 - The Positive Characteristics of Artists

    I realized that I needed to watch out and be ready to act and defend myself against these assumptions. As I contemplated my options I realized that myself, as well as other artists, are not just filled with flaws. Artists do have qualities that can be used to succeed in business. These include:

    • Boundless creativity
    • A genuine passion for their work
    • Not driven solely by the desire to make money
    • Attention to detail
    • Uniqueness
    • Thinking outside the box
    • Desire to talk about their work
    • Willingness to try new things and take chances
    • Personable and willing to talk about their work
    • Enthusiastic about their work and life
    • Visionaries

    11 - Approaching Business Successfully as an Artist

    From these reflections I concluded that to be successful as an artist one has to watch out and counteract the negative character traits listed above. The way to do this is to:

    • Understand how artists are perceived and what risks this entails
    • Know what your weaknesses and strengths are
    • Remedy to these weaknesses by behaving like business owners when doing business
    • Use your strengths to compensate for your weaknesses
    • Be active. Donít let others take advantage of you.
    • Take control of the selling process
    • Get rid of the guilt artists associate with making money and with marketing their work
    • Let go of the artistís obsession about getting praise for your work
    • Let go of trying to be accepted at all costs and of being friends with everyone you meet. You have to say no at times and if that makes you unpopular with some people so be it. Thereís no way around it if you want to make money
    • Hire an accountant to do your tax return and the complex aspects of your accounting
    • Hire a marketing expert and schedule regular consultations to check how well you are doing]
    • Acquire salesmanship, negotiating and marketing skills
    • Have a great product priced adequately
    • Be willing and able to attract customers and convince them to buy your products or services
    • Do not change your business policies to make a sale
    • Do not do everything people ask you to do
    • Take control of the selling process
    • Get rid of the guilt artists associate with making money and with marketing their work
    • Let go of the artistís obsession about getting praise for your work
    • Let go of trying to be accepted at all costs and of being friends with everyone you meet. You have to say no at times and if that makes you unpopular with some people so be it. Thereís no way around it if you want to make money
    • Hire an accountant to do your tax return and the complex aspects of your accounting
    • Hire a marketing expert and schedule regular consultations to check how well you are doing]
    • Acquire salesmanship, negotiating and marketing skills
    • Have a great product priced adequately
    • Be willing and able to attract customers and convince them to buy your products or services
    • Do not change your business policies to make a sale
    • Do not do everything people ask you to do

    12 - The Advanced Marketing Fine Art Photography Mastery Workshop on DVD

    If this essay whetted your appetite and you want to learn how to sell your photographs successfully, take a look at my new tutorial: the Advanced Fine Art Photography Marketing Mastery Workshop on DVD. A special offer for 20% off, plus a complete detailed description are available at this link: www.beautiful-landscape.com/Articles-DVD-Marketing-Advanced-SPO.html

    Alain Briot - NPN 2054

    Comments on this instructional nature photography article? Send them to editor@naturephotographers.net.
    Members of the Nature Photographers Network™ may log in and leave their feedback in the comments section below.

    Alain Briot creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops and offers DVD tutorials on composition, conversion, optimization, printing and marketing photographs. Alain is also the author of Mastering Landscape Photography. Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style and Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 3 books are available from Amazon and other bookstores as well from Alainís website.

    You can find more information about Alain's work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to Alainís Free Monthly Newsletter on his website at http://www.beautiful-landscape.com To subscribe simply go to http://www.beautiful-landscape.com and click on the Subscribe link at the top of the page. You will have access to over 40 free essays by Alain, in PDF format, immediately after subscribing.

    Alain welcomes your comments on this essay as well as on his other essays. You can reach Alain directly by emailing him at alain@beautiful-landscape.com.


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