In saturated markets such as photography, you have to pick what you are going to compete on. What is it that makes you different? Why would a client want to hire you over the hundreds (thousands?) of other photographers out there. There seem to be three main ways with which a freelance can compete – price, service, and skill. But how does one choose what to compete on?
How you choose to position yourself depends on where you want to end up with your work. Let’s take a look at each of the three points and why you might choose to compete with them.
Price is dangerous to compete on. There will always be someone who is willing to work for less than you. Also, once you start lowering your prices it is hard to justify raising them with repeat clients. Competing on price might work well in the short term but it stunts future growth and locks you into a lower market segment. This is fine if you have a high turnover high volume business (think a Sears photo studio) and content with continuing to do the same thing, but not so good if you are trying to get bigger and more interesting commissions.
Another way to compete is by offering better service. The idea is if the process of working with you is smooth, simple, and easy, then clients won’t mind paying more because they know they can trust you, rather than someone who might be cheaper but will be a pain to work with. This is great because on a small scale (such as freelancing) providing good service (turning images around quickly, being available on short notice, reply to emails immediately) doesn’t cost you anything extra other than perhaps a little time.
As freelancers we are selling a service, our skill at providing that service – be it photography, design, or whatever – directly affects our income. The problem is that there are a lot of people with high skill levels. You have to be unnaturally talented to standout on skill alone. Another issue is that because you are just starting out, your skill hasn’t been proven in a commercial context so you will most likely still have to compete for jobs against those at a lower skill level (and they are probably willing to charge much less).
As I mentioned before, it ultimately comes down to where you want to end up, specifically the type of clients you want to have. Some clients want the cheapest and don’t really care about the quality. Others don’t care about the price and just want the best – quoting too low might actually mean you don’t get the gig. In the end, a combined approach of competing on both skill and service is ideal.
It might be a little harder to get started, but once you get the ball rolling you’ll be happy that you didn’t shoot yourself in the foot by pricing really low. Also, it is much easier to retain clients that are willing to pay for your skills and service, you will develop brand loyalty. On the other hand, if you’re competing on price, there is no loyalty. The client who wants to pay the least, always wants to pay the least, and there is always someone who is willing to charge less.
Please let us know what you think is the best way to compete and why.