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3 Simple Business Rules..
Michael Fischer, Photographer
Spencer | Ia | USA | Posted: 9:11 PM on 07.05.10
->> This thread got me thinking:

It's the one on wedding and sports photography business advice. I was going to just post a second response but decided to encourage more conversation and start a new thread.

Thomas Witte wrote:
"Once again, I'm NOT saying the sky is falling - as long as you have a plan in place and don't have the blinders on. This whole domino effect starts in the bigger cities where there is a surplus of photographers. Supply and demand rears its ugly head. In a tiny little town of 6028, you're sheltered from the cannibalism for a while. The worst thing you can do is stake your future earnings based on the current trends while ignoring what's occurring everywhere else because at some point, it aaaall trickles down."

This is one of the best business paragraphs ever written on Print it and post it over your desk because the very sharp Mr. Witte has just summarized the problem. Your challenge, if you're going to be successful, is to figure out the answers in your marketplace.

Amazing what a major economic downturn does, doesn't it?

Thomas, I have lived in a town of 12000 for a while now. One of things I figured out a looonnnggg time ago is that if you're almost intelligent and have any business in a smaller town, you can get a head start on finding the solution before the new reality eats you alive. BUT, you have to take the threat seriously. (I plead guilty to not always doing that.) If you live in a larger town, you still will see these things form. (I grew up in Miami, slightly larger than 12,000).

Even if you live in a big town, you'll have "turf" that you'll want to own. Whether it's commercial, whether it's wedding - whatever it is, you'll want people that are your target market to think of you first. That's a function of marketing and advertising

One of my favorite marketing quotes is: "When the elephants dance, it's the ants that get stepped on." Most of us, hell all of us are ants. You and I aren't big enough to take the elephants one on one, but we do have weapons. Here are three things to think about. They aren't the only things, but they are designed to get you to THINK

1) Be first. I can't stress this enough. Ants can move and zig zag a whole lot faster than a elephant.Use speed and be first with the new style, the new package for T and I, whatever. I cannot stress how important it is to be first in growing demand in your market. The first guy that understood how to use Groupon in the local market cleans up. The next guy... not so much.

2) Be different. If you offer the same thing as a larger competitor and you think you'll win strictly on price, I GUARANTEE you that you'll get your ass handed to you. Over the years I have written on the importance of finding niches. It can be your style that attracts consumers or clients, it can be what you're shooting or how you're shooting it. It can be how you market. No matter what - you have to stand out. Some how, some way. ANYONE who thinks you'll win based strictly on price should go reread "The Charge of the Light Brigade". Going head long into a superior force will just get you killed. If you want a example of a company that is different... can you think of one you know well?

How about Apple?

Apple has surpassed Microsoft in cap. value and they did it by being first AND different ( think IPod) and by being first to introduce something in the cool version ( Smartphones existed, but the iPhone was the first COOL one).

3) Understand business models. It was Van Clauswitz, a Prussian general, who wrote "On War". Like Sun Tzu, he knew superior size isn't a total guarantee of victory. In fact, a bigger competitor is often times very weak - if you know where to focus your efforts you can win. The military principle that I use from Van Clauswitz in marketing is this: "Find the weakness in the strength of the enemy and then attack at that point". That simply means that there's something that they don't do well and has value to consumers/clients.For the bigger competitor to counter my strength, he will have to change his business model. Let me give you a example. Go into a Wal Mart electronics department and ask them what HDMI input means. 95% of them have no clue. (High Definition Media Interface is the answer) For Wal Mart to address this weakness Wal Mart is going to have to hire people who can handle learning about this. This would mean they would have to increase pay. This would "break" their model. Does this mean if you sell flat panel TVs you can take all of their TV business? No, it doesn't. But it does mean you can peel off a layer that can afford to do it right as opposed to do it cheap and is looking for answers.

In my other business life I have to compete against competitors who have 100X - 1000x or greater size. Some of these folks are in trouble financially but since they are publicly traded have Billions in cash. How can you beat them them?

I use speed, I use unique promotions, I use anything I have to make us different. I leverage those areas that they are weak in and I make sure that the profitability is there overall.

There are guys on here right now that more than get it. They're quick, they compete with unique offerings and quality work and they make money and are successful BECAUSE THEY DO THESE THINGS.

It's impossible to take 40 years of sales and marketing experience and boil it down to several paragraphs. The idea here is to get you to think and comment and create some conversation. That's where learning occurs.

Make sense? Ask questions if it doesn't. Comment if it does.
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Jim Pierce, Photographer
Waltham | MA | USA | Posted: 9:57 PM on 07.05.10
->> Mike,

Great post!!! I was one that posted in your referenced post encouraging the OP (Gabriel) not to give up. Sports photography can work but takes time/work, like anything else as long as you have a passion for this.

I will take what you posted and learn and adpat especially rule #3... I need to think about this, Rule #1 and especially rule #2 are engraved in my model. Be different and offer what others don't and as I said in my other post do what the customers don't want to and get what they can't.

Just finished a baseball Tourney today that I covered the past 3 years... Did things differently this year and in one day beat all of the previous years sales by a large number, and with NO printing on site. Yes a Baseball tournament was a success!!!

Be different!!!!!!

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Michael Fischer, Photographer
Spencer | Ia | USA | Posted: 12:01 PM on 07.06.10
->> A response from a viewer at
I am not a member of SS, but I just finished reading your post on 3 business rules. You are spot on. I have 15 years experience in corporate management, sales, and marketing and during the last 6 years photography has developed from a hobby into a profession.
My model is simple and concise, I incorporate 2 of your 3, those being the understanding of business models and being different. It is challenging to be first, but I do offer something different from my competition.

I work part time in a lab/camera shop which allows me to get a good discount on equipment and I also get to see what others are doing. I also get to see what the end consumer really likes. Best of all, I am getting paid for my "education".

I see 3 major failures in sports photography. 1. Not embracing mom/dad with a camera. These are often my best customers and I encourage them to shoot as much as they can. I do this because this allows them to really understand how hard we actually work. When they sit down and process 800 pictures from a single game, they no longer balk at the price for a single photo. They also talk with the other parents and explain how hard it actually is, they are your best ally, not the enemy.

2. Business 101- I see photos taken by photographers with a lot more talent than I will probably ever have, but they can't balance a check book let alone create a proforma statement.
I know what I have to make to "keep the doors open". I buy used equipment and rent when I have too. I invest the profit back into the business and pay myself a meager salary. I don't even have a website(coming Fall 2010), but I am involved in athletics at the local level so instead of spending thousands on an ad campaign, I network and use my connections to generate business. It might cost me a cup of coffee or a couple of beers, but it is the best investment I have made.

3. Shoot for profit. Too many photographers skip over profit in search of fame. They want to shoot professional games that generate little profit, you have to check your ego. I was able to shoot an NFL game two years ago through a business connection. I have about 1200 picture of professional athletes that will generate very little profit. I don't even use the shots in my portfolio because the paying customers, mom and dad, don't really care, they want to see Timmy hit the ball. The experience of shooting that NFL game taught me exactly what I don't want to do. I don't want to be elbow too elbow fighting for position to get a picture that I can't even sell. I don't want to combat the 50 guys from SI to shoot the same picture. Instead, I shoot Timmy, and have great freedom to roam while doing it. Best of all, I help Timmy's mom with the settings on her camera and she buys my photos...


A couple of comments:

1) Being first is as simple as seeing a trend develop and offering it first in one's marketplace.
2) Clint is yet another T and I shooter who views the GWC as a opportunity and not a threat.

It's about building relationships, people. People buy from people they like. Look at GWCs this way: They are actually expanding the market. You're the upper end. That's a good thing.

Like Clint, I've seen plenty of people who had lots of talent fail because they lack business skills. This is why I am always telling the young ones majoring in photography to take business classes - and lots of them. I've seen plenty of guys with average talent levels make a killing because they have the business skills.

It is little consolation that you are a better artist if you can't support you and your family.

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Alex Menendez, Photographer
Orlando | FL | USA | Posted: 2:05 PM on 07.06.10
->> Michael,

Great thread. I wonder how many people here will read it all the way through?

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Butch Miller, Photographer
Lock Haven | PA | USA | Posted: 3:32 PM on 07.06.10
->> "1. Not embracing mom/dad with a camera."

Couldn't agree more ... I know of many youth sports action shooters that not only seek exclusivity contracts, they expect those contracts to be enforced to the letter of the agreement ... regardless if it is a parent or a competitor they feel are encroaching their "exclusivity" ...

for myself ... I can't see the benefit in alienating any potential customer ... doing so will always create more harm than good .... for most often, parents with cameras will come and go with the eligibility of their child ... it is rare that a parent will stick around long enough to be a long-term competitor ... actually I find these folks to be very good customers even though they can grab a very nice image from time to time, they really appreciate it when a seasoned pro can capture difficult images on a consistent basis ....
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Michael Fischer, Photographer
Spencer | Ia | USA | Posted: 11:47 PM on 07.07.10
->> Alex, you mean some members have no attention span?

All I can do is offer the knowledge. There's no doubt it's easier to complain than learn.

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Thread Title: 3 Simple Business Rules..
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