[by Jenna Close]
Until fairly recently, the bulk of my business came by way of clients from the solar industry. Then, two things happened that forced me to change my way of thinking. First, the solar market bubble completely burst. Many of my clients went bankrupt or were swallowed up by larger corporations, and the personal relationships I had developed disappeared as the parent companies appointed new leadership. Second, everyone that survived intact reacted by tightening their purse strings. Inevitably they sought cheaper (or in some cases free) options for their photographic needs. This really sucked at the time, but it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I needed to immediately consider new markets in order to survive. Truthfully, if I had been actively thinking ahead I would have been doing this all along.
The first thing I did was make a plan. I identified which markets I was interested in (in this case, high end industrial clients), and researched their art buying methods. While the solar industry was primarily a B2B marketplace, many of my new target companies used ad agencies. They hired photographers skilled in managing large productions and a lot of their ad campaigns involved composites or significant post-production. They also relied heavily on video, and most of the photographers whose work embodied what I was aiming for also had motion represented on their websites.
The second thing I did was start putting together a body of work that represented the kinds of jobs I wanted to book. I began learning video and working on some personal motion projects (many of which will never see the light of day). Because this was a new area for me, I also researched contacts I could hire if the video request was outside the scope of my comfort range. That way I could do my best not to leave money on the table or be unprepared to provide what appeared to be a common need for that particular market.
Third, I began targeting clients and finding ways to meet them in person. A few local portfolio reviews were a useful start, after which I felt I had gained enough insight to request meetings with other agencies that seemed like a good fit. I still believe that even with all the myriad tools for getting your work out there, nothing is as potent as a face to face conversation. It has always had the highest rate of return for me.
So far, the change has been positive. Motion has made up about 40% of my work this year (compared to 0% two years ago) and the projects I am booking are right in line with my goals. My only regret is that I didn’t start thinking this way BEFORE it was absolutely necessary. The lesson I learned from this experience is that even if you are comfortable where you are, thinking in broad terms about the future is imperative. Rapid change is the new normal and constantly playing catch-up is difficult. Reacting to circumstances that are already happening can be necessary, but getting into the habit of innovative thinking is best.
Jenna Close is a solar energy…er…industrial photographer in San Diego, CA.
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