I've noticed there has been a lot of moaning and groaning going on in the wedding industry lately about how over saturated the market is with wedding photographers. It's true -- there are too many wedding photographers. The main reason is because digital technology has made the price of entry into the profession attainable to so many. The truth of the matter is -- I'm one of the "newbies" who has benefited from this change. I started my business 7 years ago with a used $1,000 Canon D60 (pre-10D). I don't think I would have made the leap if I had to shoot film. There just would have been too many obstacles to getting my business off the ground. So I'm part of the influx of photographers who are over-saturating the market. Because I'm part of the influx, I've never known any different. The entire 7 years I've been in business there have always been too many photographers. It's the norm for me and unless something else as huge as digital technology changes the course of history, it's going to continue to be the norm. So I haven't wasted time thinking about it. I've just focused on myself and making my business and photography the best it can be.

So there's too many photographers and that's not changing any time soon. What do you do to compete? The only way to make your business successful in an over saturated market is to differentiate. Ian Baugh over at Queensberry albums recently wrote, "If you can't think of five things that differentiate you, there's probably only one. You're cheaper." Ouch! I read that and thought -- I better get cracking! I definitely don't want to be a photographer who is differentiated from my competition by being low priced. Thus, goal #63 was added to my 101 in 1001 list:

63. Come up with at least 5 ways I am and want to continue differentiating my business

This was harder than I thought to do. Which is not a good sign for me. Differentiation is not just about being better. It's about being different. So often I think we as photographers look to other photographers who are further along on their journey and we observe and learn from them. While this can be helpful, we need to fight the urge to simply copy them. Or try to be like them. Or to look at our competition and just try to be a little better. Instead of being a similar yet slightly improved version of the guy next door, why not differentiate yourself in such a way that the client who would want to hire you is completely different than the client who would want to hire him? Or come up with an innovative business approach, idea or product? Businesses who differentiate in this way are more successful than those who use the "copy yet improve" method because they tap into a completely different market.

As I write this I'm feeling convicted myself. It's WAY easier said than done. And I've spent most of my time and energy working on improving the efficiency of my business, the quality of my photography and the experience I provide my clients. None of these things are unique to me -- most every photographer is focusing on the same goals. So thinking of ways I can not just better my business but differentiate it, is something I am going to try to focus on more in the future.

But in talking with some of my clients and others I trust who know me and have observed my business for some time, this is the current list I've come up with of ways I am and want to continue to differentiate myself. These are things that I am told I do well and also things I have worked to improve over the years:

1. post-wedding speed of delivery to clients, vendors & venues
2. relationship/connection with clients: i.e. taking them out to dinner after engagement shoot; investing in the relationship
3. consistency of level of photos throughout the wedding day - prep, portraits, ceremony & reception
4. character -- sharing a lot of myself on my blog which promotes trust
5. leader in the industry -- speaking at conferences, teaching workshops, sharing generously on my blog
6. clean, classic & consistent post-processing

Now, I'm not delusional. I know that there are plenty of other photographers doing some or all of these things. I also know I'm nowhere near perfect at them. But in talking with the clients and trusted colleagues who said these are things that come to mind when they think of my business, I did feel a sense of satisfaction. Because they're the same things I've been focusing on and working hard at building into my business for the past few years. Even though they're not all that unique to me, I've been able to build and sustain what I consider to be a successful and fulfilling full-time business on them. The next step for me is to take it to the next level -- differentiate myself in even more unique and different ways.

Key to all this is not focusing on all those other photographers "out there" who are inundating the market, but to focus on yourself. What makes you unique? What can you do to make your business different from the next guy? Ten years from now there will still be too many wedding photographers. Will you be one of those grumbling about it, one of those put out of business because you don't stand out, or will you be thriving and busy working to continue to set yourself apart?
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