Economic Pressures and Your Photography Business

With all the doom and gloom around about the economy it is a good time to reflect on its potential impact, strategies to work with it and make it a positive for your photography or related business.
When an economic crisis hits, the natural reaction is for business to rein in its expenditures and that usually means a drop in marketing and advertising budgets, reduced spending on new equipment and software and, if one is not careful, a self-fulfilling depression. Yet a careful read of the literature shows that there is a bright side.

There is lots of experience with downturns, recessions and even depressions. It is not clear just how bad this one will be. But in all prior ones there have been businesses that have, from a sound base, expanded during the negative times. These businesses know that when everyone else is pulling back from marketing that it makes their own marketing efforts even more noticeable and they get a bigger impact from a given dollar spend.

The key is having a sound business to start with. If you have the right systems in place, a decent cash flow, control over costs and some money in the bank, then you can do well. Business still happens in the worse of times and the issue is whether you can exploit it. Now you may have to be a bit creative, but isn’t that what our business is all about?

There are things you can put in place to help:

  • Have a careful look at your costs and look for ways to trim any, such as find better phone or Internet plans;
  • Seek ways to expand your market reach;
  • Look to diversify your sources of income, such as moving into stock;
  • Maximize PR opportunities, by doing a competition, charity work, donated services, a strong personal project with good PR potential, etc;
  • Make sure your website is up to date exciting, and keep it so;
  • Seek to increase your marketing activities in smart ways.

Also be open to interesting solutions. As one example, as well as publishing Digital ImageMaker, we also design websites for people, especially photographers and other creatives. With the fall in the Australian dollar against the Greenback, a website done by us is now about 40% cheaper. That means a full content management system based, complex website is amazingly cheap to do, and you get to deal with people who speak English, well our version of it. We are working on one such site for an American photographer as I write this. This is but one example of finding a positive out of something that could be seen as a negative, the relative fall of the Aussie dollar. For Australians reading this, we are still very reasonably priced, since we don’t charge the 10’s of thousands of dollars that many do for a complex site. We got the development of those well worked out in doing DIMi and the 100 or so similar sites we have done for ourselves and others. I’ve written elsewhere about website strategies. Whenever things have been a bit slow we have used this time to work on our own websites or develop new ones. A website will not automatically bring you a lot of business, but it is a key part of an overall approach to doing so.

As an economic slowdown starts to bite, you may find you have more time on your hands as the work slows. This slack time is not a time to be idle, as this is more likely to make you depressed. Rather it is a time to dust off that equipment you haven’t used for some time and try something new, work on that personal body of work and do some planning about upcoming work or the future work you want to do. In other words, keep busy. There are always more things for a creative person to do than they have time to do, so now is the time to dust off some of those tasks you have not had time for. To borrow an analogy from nature, an economic downturn is like winter. It is not the end, since we know spring will always come. Rather it is a time to recharge, to sharpen our tools, create new life, and get ready for the spring.

Remember something that is key: economic downturns upset the status quo. This means that if a strong competitor has dominated your local market, for example, a downturn can actually apply pressure that you may be better prepared for than them. Part of this is psychology: a successful competitor may feel too comfortable and thus just pull back their efforts, feeling safe to do so. But part can also be economic: you don’t know how much they have borrowed to finance their growth in the past, to pick one example, and thus how much room they have to cope with reduced cash flow. As we have all seen recently, businesses that look great from the outside can be on quite shaky ground.

Don’t get this wrong: the economic downturn can certainly be very bad for your photography business, but it need not be. Much depends on you, your approach and the foundations you have to build on. A low overhead home-based business, for example, may be in a much better position to cope than a heavily financed street front operation and a street front business with multiple sources of work can do much better than a more tightly defined one.

Put a good team of people around you, such as your accountant and lawyer. Keep your chin up and look for opportunities. They are everywhere.

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