I’ve been wanting to write about how I found my niche in this industry, and how you can find yours, for a long time. This series will be four parts long: Part 1 – Preface to finding your niche || Part 2 – Why specialize? || Part 3 – How I found my niche || Part 4 – Finding yours!
As I mentioned in the first part of this series, what I’m sharing with you is just my experience. Your experience may be totally different than mine. But since I was able to carve out a very specific piece of the photography industry for myself, I wanted to share how I did that, and why I think it’s a marketing strategy that works incredibly well.
Today I want to talk about why exactly I think it’s important to specialize, and to do that we first we need to define what I am referring to when I talk about “your niche.” Almost everyone specializes in a broad way – you’re a wedding photographer or a family portrait photographer or a photojournalist. But when I talk about a niche, I mean something smaller within the broader category of “wedding photographer.” So yes, broadly I’m a wedding photographer, but specifically I’m an elopement photographer. It’s what I love, it’s what I’m good at, it’s my jam. That is my specific specialization within the wedding photography industry. “Wedding photographer” isn’t a niche – but elopement photographer is. “Family portrait photographer” isn’t a niche – but birth photographer is. “Photojournalist” isn’t a niche, but war photographer is. So throughout this series, when I talk about your niche – I’m referring to that tiny, specific thing that you LOVE to photograph and want to keep doing over and over and over. And hopefully by the end, you’ll know how to attract those specific clients.
So The Why. Let’s get to it. Why is specialization important?
I live in New York City – a place full of photographers who are beyond incredible. It is very intimidating. If you are starting a photography business here and you market yourself as a general “wedding photographer,” you are just going to be 1 of 100,000. If I google “New York City wedding photographer,” I’m not even on the first 15 pages. There are a bajillion of us in this city. (Quick shout out to my friend Laura Pennace who showed up on page 3 for that search result, by the way. Go, Laura, go!)
You don’t want to be 1 of 100,000. Nobody will ever find you. You’re just another wedding photographer in New York City. Or the Bay Area. Or Omaha. Or [insert your town here]. Who cares. Clients don’t, that’s for sure. You’re not special. Sure, you can take beautiful photographs, but so can this person and so can that person… You have to set yourself apart from all those people somehow, and you have to offer something that the rest of those people can’t/don’t.
So why can’t you just set yourself apart with your pricing? Because that’s really bad for our industry. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be the person who undercuts everyone around you. Then your niche is the “cheap” photographer. And yeah, maybe your calendar will fill up, but you will be exhausted and your work will suffer because you’ll have to take on two or three times as many clients as everyone else to break even. It hurts you, it hurts clients who deserve a quality product, and it hurts other photographers. (And you don’t want to hurt other photographers – we’re all in this together. I promise there is enough work to go around – even within your niche.)
When you specialize in something specific, you are going to look infinitely more attractive to clients looking for that specific thing than a photographer who has a similar style and maybe does a little bit of that niche, but doesn’t specialize in it specifically. For example, someone wants to have their birth photographed, and they come upon two people whose work they like – same style, same level of talent: one photographer specializes in births – it’s all over their site, they’re marketing for it, blogging about it… that is their thing. And maybe they’re a little more expensive, but clearly they own that birthing photography niche. The other photographer has done some births too, but there are also a million other things on their site – kids, weddings, seniors. Who is she going to go with? The one who specializes in births, that’s who. Even if they’re a little more expensive. Because you know they know exactly what they’re doing – they’ll know where to stand and what to expect. The other person could probably do just as good a job, but they just aren’t owning that birth photography niche. And you’re not going to gamble on someone for a once in a lifetime moment. (At least not the clients we’re trying to attract aren’t.)
Clients looking for that specific thing will just find you way more attractive – you’ll know how that event works, you’ll know exactly how to price for it, you’ll know the flow of the event and what to expect better than someone who doesn’t specialize, and you’ll instill way more confidence in your clients. They won’t be thinking, “I hope the photographer knows what comes next.” They’ll trust you so much more, because they know you’ve done this tons of times and are the expert. I think it’s better to be seen as the expert in one thing, than seen as someone who can do a pretty good job at a lot of things. But that’s just me.
Finally, specializing is just really really good for your SEO (search engine optimization), and that really helps if you’re in a big city or wide region. I never thought I’d ever get a client from Google when I started out, and now all my clients come from Google or referrals. I don’t have to advertise anywhere. Even though I live in one of the biggest cities in the world. I definitely don’t come up when you search “New York City wedding photographer,” but I sure do come up if you google any variation of “New York City elopement photographer.” I know a lot of people don’t think it’s worth the time to focus on their SEO, but if you have a specific niche, it’s definitely worth the time. Working on my SEO ended up saving me so much money in the end because now I don’t have to advertise on wedding blogs anymore. So that’s money that I was spending each month on marketing that can go toward another facet of the business.
(Side note on SEO: SEO really takes six months to a year to start paying off in a significant way, but it will pay off big when it does. I don’t think it’s worth hiring someone to work on your SEO, by the way – you can learn and implement all that stuff yourself. I didn’t know anything about it when I began, had never heard of SEO – but through research, I was able to implement a lot of things to help the site, and I never had to pay an SEO consultant or anything like that. A lot of people want to sell you on things you don’t need, claiming it will help your SEO, and I think it’s unnecessary. Just research, research, research. You can do it!)
I also want to say that specializing doesn’t mean you have to give up photographing all those other things you love. I don’t market myself as a family photographer or even an engagement photographer at all… I only market myself for elopements. And yet I still get to shoot lots of families and engagements. People are still going to contact you about other things they want you to photograph. I straight up say that I no longer photograph big weddings anymore, but I still get inquiries all the time from people hoping I’ll make an exception. And it’s nice to have the option to do one if I want. Success attracts clients – of all kinds. So specializing doesn’t mean you’re going to have to give up all those other things you love to shoot. This is actually something we’ll talk a little bit more about the in the final installment, so hang on.
Honestly, I could have come up with probably ten more reasons why you should specialize, but this post is getting a little out of hand as it is. I hope I’ve given you some things to mull over, and as always, feel free to leave questions in the comment box. Next week, I’ll be sharing my personal story on how I ended up in this little niche of mine.