Sunday, 22 September 2013

Networking with your competition

There  is an old saying.

'Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer"

Well my local business competition are not my enemies and to be honest I get on with all I have met. Networking with other photographers has been a key part of my business. I do no advertising other than my web site but my phone rings pretty regularly with work. I pick up work from other photographers regularly and (depending on the job) do it in my name, do it in their name, second shoot for them or provide a sales/print system for them to shoot into.

Networking has also created opportunities to do jobs which would have been too big for one of our businesses on its own. Pairing up allows us to compete with even bigger businesses.

How do you go about networking? Google and have a look who is close to you. Check relevant on-line forums and Facebook groups  for posters who are close to you and engage them in conversation. I have yet to meet a single photographer who does not want to talk :-)

Are there any meetings or training sessions being run in your local area? Always worth having a look at these as it is nice to see which of your local businesses are prepared to invest a bit of time outside their working day in developing their skills or network.

I have not found breakfast clubs or other generalised networking groups to be particularly effective. All attending are  usually looking to gain more clients (just like you are) but should any have a bit of work for you there is a reasonable chance they will also want 'mates rates' as you are networking buddies.

Ever been asked to help the competition out of a tight spot? This happens every so often and the harder headed would say 'let them sink' and then next time their client may come to me. I have found that saying 'let me help' has borne a good return in jobs passed my way.

Networking can be your cheapest and most targeted advertising. It can also be enjoyable. Meet a like minded photographer every 8 weeks or so for a breakfast/lunch and you will qucikly be having a breakfast/lunch meeting with a different photographer every week and it will be costing you about £15 a week. Not a bad price to pay for your marketing and a lot more enjoyable than giving it to some SEO company.

There is a secondary benefit to networking. One day it could be you who is not feeling well or has run out of media or has just mislaid your assistant. A quick phone call and you will probably have a solution. I now have semi-formal agreements with a couple of photographers to cover for each other in emergencies.

So, yes, you do need to remember that you are competing for business but you don't need to kick each other in the process. On the contrary, you can compete and still work together when and if you need to.

Maybe don't sell your printers

This is going to be a bit controversial but when you want to replace or upgrade your printers put the old ones in storage or use them as back up printers. One of the elements that makes event photography different to many other types of photography is the ability to print on-site. The printers used to do this are usually good quality dye sublimation roll fed printers and are not cheap. Buying one is usually a considered investment which needs to pay for itself in a timely and reliable manner.

Most photographers will have a good selection of cameras and  other kit which is common to both event photographers and general photography. The one thing most photographers do not have is a dye sub printer.

The general cost of entry for someone wanting to add event photography to their photography business has fallen quite significantly over the last 10 years. Very good new and second hand cameras, lights, laptops etc. are readily available and at very good prices when compared with the price of similar equipment even 5 years ago.

So, we have these good quality printers which can produce great images and last for years and then you decide to replace one and sell it to someone who can promptly start competing with you. Your new competition wont have the same experience you have but will now have a printer which has cost between a third and a half of the price of your new one. You have just equipped your competition. For the £400 to £600 you will get for the second hand printer you are helping someone take a piece of your business. Would you sell a good chunk of your business for £400?

You cannot stop someone competing with you  but you certainly don't have to help them to do it.

After all the above I sold my printers!!
A change in the business and a change in general direction for myself meant that I no longer needed a small container load of dye-sub printers. For the time being I have kept one printer which will allow me to service the smaller jobs currently on the books. I may just keep it as it is convenient to be able to produce a quick sample print sometimes.

Update to the update:
I now have three printers but no real intention of getting any more any time soon. An opportunity to develop a part of the business in a way I had not seriously considered required a dedicated printer. So, I'm now back to a small pile of printers. A lot smaller pile than I had but still a pile more than I had envisaged not too long ago.