If you chase every type of customer, you can end up not knowing which way to turn. Wedding customers, family portrait customers, high-school seniors, social event organizers, business headshots, real estate customers, retail web sites, consumer publications, corporate customers, commercial customers, academic institutions, etc. Who gets your attention? Everyone?
You want as many customers as possible but do you want your customers to be wide and flat or narrow and deep?
Having a wide and flat customer base means that you do many different types of photography to appeal to anyone and everyone. This type of customer tends to make only occasional or relatively small purchases.
A narrow and deep customer base means that you do certain types of photography that appeal to a specific type of customer. Customers in this category tend to make more frequent or high-price purchases.
A flat customer might sometimes become a deep one. For example, a company that hires you for the occasional business headshot might start to use you for all their other photo needs. This will happen only if they think you can meet those needs. But there are two caveats:
1) Narrow and deep customers seek narrow and deep photographers. To rephrase that: when big-money photography is needed, customers will look for expert photographers rather than a jack-of-all-trades. Expert photographers tend to charge more and the customer expects it.
2) You will never “graduate” from low-paying to high-paying jobs for a particular customer. The economic level at which you start your business relationship with a customer is usually the level at which you will stay. So if your flat and wide customer decides to become deep by hiring you for more work, they will expect the same pricing as before.
Narrow it down
Your number one job is not to make photos but rather it’s to make customers. A small photography business doesn’t have the time or resources to chase everyone.
A common metaphor is the sales funnel.
If you think photography is a numbers game then you need to make your funnel very wide to catch as many potential customers as possible. You go wide by shooting anything and everything and/or by charging relatively low prices.
But if you think that you can’t provide all photo services to all customers then you would make your funnel narrow at the top. Target only specific types of customer. You would try to market yourself as the photo expert for these specific customers. You would also have higher prices because (i) pricing is one way to make your funnel wide or narrow, and (ii) experts are expected to charge more.
Retail photographers often try to develop a deep customer base, for example: wedding photography, baby pictures, family portraits and high-school seniors. All of these use a similar skill set to fulfill the photo requirements that a family might have.
Corporate photographers do the same when they target business customers, for example: business portraits, business conferences, annual reports and public relations. These use a similar skill set to fulfill the marketing needs of a business.
Note that “skill set” is not about equipment. It’s about knowing and fulfilling customer expectations. A retail customer has different expectations than a corporate customer. A $1,000 customer has different expectations than a $100 customer. (And it’s very important to remember that a $100 customer doesn’t often have different expectations than a $1,000 customer.)
The point is that it’s not about being everything to everyone but rather it’s about being relevant to the type of customer you understand most.
What type of customer do you understand most?