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How to Find Economic Opportunities in a Tight Market


In an earlier article written for Red Dog News, I discussed the opportunities the current stressed-out economy offers professional photographers. Yes, opportunities.

The nub of the article proposed that, while the demand for commercial and fine art photographers has contracted over the past eight months, this has paradoxically created both short and long-term opportunities for those who make an effort to identify them. The challenge therefore is to develop new, opportunistic strategies. Simultaneously, many of your competitors will fail to adapt, leaving the field relatively open for those who do.

The two keys to expanding your business and sales are Assessment and Strategy. This article focuses on one means of assessment.

The Challenge
The challenge is to abandon the comfort and familiarity of the business forest and move to a vantage point where you can explore the proverbial trees of opportunity. Make no mistake about it, this is a significant challenge. Whether an independent business owner or a Fortune 500 company, the ability to make meaningful periodic competitive assessments is critical to growth.

Why is it so challenging? Returning to the forest and the trees analogy, what you see is skewed by your experience and comfort zone, blinding you to new and abundant opportunities.

The following two examples are intentionally obvious to make the point. This scenario is based on a commercial photographer's business. With a little adaptation, it easily applies to those making their living selling fine art photography.

Photographer, Alan Brightlight, has been reasonably successful for the past 10 plus years. However, since January 2009 his income has been declining at an alarming rate. He has talked to colleagues, clients, friends and his spouse, but gained little useful advice. He reads magazines and blogs, but still finds himself searching for direction. He's considering taking on a second job and the thought of it makes him ill.

Alan's commercial work is somewhat diverse, but he makes the majority of his income photographing automobiles. Consequently, his studio is now too often lacking a subject for his talent. He also creates architectural photographs of new buildings for the realtor.

Yet, Alan has a host of collateral opportunities without making additional investment in equipment or skills.

Before reading further, take about two minutes and jot down what you think they may be.

The Assessment
Ok – two minutes having elapsed, I'll now show you one of several ways in which Alan can begin to identify his opportunities.

We/he/you begin by listing the obvious ones:
What are automotive related – as this is his strongest suite in his portfolio

  • Car-related: car clubs – detailers – custom paint shops - race-tracks
  • Other car types: sports cars - funny cars – dragsters – Indy - NASCAR
  • Similar to automotive: motorcycles – motorcycle clubs – race tracks – detailers – custom shops, etc.

From the above we can create an Options Tree for automotive relationships, looking like this.

Automotive Related

Allen's Architectural Options

Architectural photographers are masters of perspective and lighting. This talent easily carries over to other related subjects when new construction has “left the building.”

  • Mansions and estates —These are built and sold during the worst of recessions with realtors demanding high quality interior and exterior photos
  • Resorts – their glossy photo brochures are key to attracting
    new clientele
  • Bed and Breakfast —similar to resorts, they need exceptional photos. They also present some of the most challenging work. Working with an interior designer not only opens additional doors of opportunity, they can enhance a room’s appearance, complementing quality photography.
  • Hotels, Inns and Resorts— Vacation brochures, travel agency counter displays, ads demand eye catching appeal photographically.
  • State Travel Bureaus. In a depressed economy, every effort is made by State Governments to boost their visitor counts with advertising and publicity photos.

A second opportunities chart will begin to uncover more options

Begin by putting a paper table cloth on a wall. Use it to add new possibilities as you think of them. The more spokes radiating from a single hub, the more closely related the opportunities. These can be the gold mines.

Critical to the success of this process is to physically map out the options. If you just do it in your head you will miss many opportunities. The visual aspect of the chart is its just as valuable as the thought process.

The Biggest Challenge
Generally, the biggest limitation to this process is yourself. First we have a hard time identifying and prioritizing our options. Then we are challenged by preparing the collateral material to introduce and sell ourselves to new customers. But the greatest challenge of all is to bravely break out of our comfort zone, plunge in, and DO IT!

By no means is this an exhaustive discussion, or the only processes for identifying new work opportunities. It is, however, the basis for thousands of success stories evidenced in previous economic crises. Hopefully, some of you will say: “Aha” and run with it. Others will want to know more or need help. If you seek assistance, find someone who has extensive experience in marketing and business development. Ideally, they will also know the photography industry.