Photography is a service-oriented industry. Services are only worth something where there is value created for someone else. What is the definition of value you might ask? Value is something that adds something positive to your life. From what I've seen, I believe this is where many photographers fall short in terms of business. They fail to grasp that it's not just about you. It's about serving others.
I have a (former) photographer friend that spends a great deal of energy and time ranting and attacking anything that doesn't fit his outlook on the world. He gripes and bickers about why other photographers don't retweet his comments on Twitter for example. Yet one look at his feed shows that it's filled with political rants against anything that isn't far left, memes that contain offensive content, and anti-photographer hostility. He says that photographers who focus their social media efforts on photography content are "dumb". Where's the value in that? To fly off the handle over perceived slights such as not retweeting him recently is crazy. That is such a trivial matter in life that I can't even believe that I'm sharing this story but that's how he thinks. Which gets back to my original point. If you want people in this genre to engage with you then you have to create value for others and know your audience. Blaming others for your lack of success is counter-productive. Look in the mirror and take an honest look at yourself.
I'm going to share some ideas and common ways here that create value for others. There's always room for innovation and I'm sure the next great value-add is something I'd never even considered before. When it inevitably does happen I plan to keep an open mind toward it.
Ways to Create Value For Others
- Share knowledge - I recently watched a YouTube video where a relatively inexperienced photographer revealed his income streams which enabled him to become full-time a year ago. Whether or not you choose to follow his path it's commendable that he's sharing this info publicly because it's useful information for his audience which consists primarily of photographers. Predictably, my friend chose to mock and deride this content as a reason why photographers are getting led astray these days. While this content clearly didn't add value for my friend, he failed to grasp or care that it might add value for others.
- Create products - There are countless post-processing software, plugins and tutorials these days. The reason why people seemingly create so much of this is because it adds value for others. Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are arguably the greatest example in this industry of creating value for others through products.
- Create services - Photo workshops, assignment photography, wedding photography, etc... are all different ways to create value for others through services.
- Be inspiring - Inspiration can take many different forms. You can be a charismatic speaker for example. Or you have a background that others can relate to which allows you to connect on a deeper level. Colleen Miniuk for example offers all-women's photography workshops which provide a safe and comfortable learning environment. I think that's a fantastic way to inspire others.
- Uplift others - You never know when you come across someone that might be having a bad day or having a tough time in life. Sometimes all it takes is something positive in their life to turn things around. Being negative is not the way to uplift others and may just make their lives worse as a result. Depression and suicide are real problems across all aspects of society which is only amplified during this COVID-19 pandemic. For many, photography and art is an outlet. Let people enjoy it. Day-to-day life has many stresses and tribulations. Creating value results in positive outcomes.
- Help people - This is my primary focus. I help people identify and choose artwork which helps adds value to their life. The value there is in not just creating a quality product but providing quality service, answering questions in a timely manner and being helpful to my clients and prospective clients. Sometimes the value is in simply having the right art at the right time. Other times that may entail dozens of communications to ensure that the client is making the right decision for themselves. Good client service is making sure they make the right decision for themselves, not merely what's best for you. Sometimes what's best for you might be diametrically opposed to their needs. Bad service is someone who knows that and still pushes forward anyway.
As you can see from all of the examples I've provided here, there's no one-sized-fits-all approach to creating value for others. However there are obvious ways to create negative value for others. I firmly believe that creating value for others is the only reason to have a public presence. Anything else is a waste of time and energy.