Competition is fierce. Women are notoriously mean to one another. And in a female targeted industry like portrait photography, it’s no wonder we all get our feathers ruffled when the competition “steals” our idea, copies our work or seems to be killing it with clients while your phone is as silent as a death march. Ever since middle school and the dawn of puberty, it’s like our hormones decide to launch a full scale war on each other’s self-esteem. Why do we do it? I’m not entirely sure. It may go way far back to the days when competing for a mate meant the survival of our gene pool, and protection from predators. For me, middle school and it’s successor, high school, are something I never want to experience again—-where girls learn to be beatches to each other and implement competitive strategies that are just downright mean. As we mature, we realize how indecently cruel we were to one another, but the dust still manages to kick up once in a while, especially when we feel emotionally threatened. Nowadays, it simply results in women beating each others self worth down to a pulp and in turn, limiting our ability to succeed in a very competitive world. Top that off with a business model like photography that seeks to sell art works that we —our hearts, souls and minds— have created, and are deeply tied to our self-worth, and you have a recipe for a downward spiral of self-loathing. So how do you overcome the negativity of comparing yourself to the competition?
- Stay on your own path.
Stop digging around so much and stalking the photog down the street. Should you look once-in-awhile? Of course. Advising you to ignore the competition would be irresponsibly sending you the kiss of death. You need to know what’s happening in your market and stay on top of it. But checking so-and-so photography’s blog every week or putting a “watch” on their Facebook page is simply perpetuating your lack of self worth.When you decide which line at the grocery store to get into at check out time, what do you look for? The shortest line? The fastest line? The line with a bagger on the end, knowing it will move faster with two people working with customers? Oh yes! There are strategies to get out the door faster, but almost every time I pick the line I think will be a winner I am saddled with the slowest, clunkiest experience ever. And all I can do is get in a tizzy with myself about how the line next to me is faster and I should have picked THAT one. Little do I not see? The two people ahead of me have 3 items each and will be outta there in no time. Had I just stopped worrying about the line next to me, I might have noticed a beautiful opportunity ahead. It’s the same in business. Stress too hard about the competition and you’re likely to miss what will help you soar ahead of them.
- Keep Your Enemies Closer
The age old adage is true. Make “frienemies” with the competition. I mean that in the nicest, kindest way possible. Really. Make friends. Our industry is a tight-knit group and making friends with your competition not only helps you, it helps both of you. By knowing her business model, you can find ways to be competitively different than her and hence separate yourself from the competition. There’s plenty of business to go around and more often than not, the successful competitor down the street will not be able to handle all the inquiries she gets. So who will she refer the prospect to? Her friends of course. And if you happen to be tops on her list, then you get the client. The same goes in reverse. It’s called the Rule of Reciprocity. Do something nice for someone, and they’ll feel obligated to return the favor. By giving more than you get, you develop a beautiful friendship with someone who is in the same proverbial “boat.” And that is worth so much more than hiding your competitive secrets. Over 10 years in Bend, Oregon, I’ve made friends with whoever is willing. And some of those friendships have turned into diehard devotion. Devotion to women who have the same clients I do; women who would help me in a heartbeat should I need it and I would do the same in return. And with our friendship we respect each other’s business model, lift each other up and grow our businesses WAY faster, stronger and more confidently than we ever could have alone.
- Always Seek The Unique
Being an entrepreneur means learning to step back from your business and view it from 30,000 feet up. You have to see where it’s going, how to get there and what makes it special. Focusing on making your brand unique will differentiate you from your competition and help consumers make decisions to hire you based on what they like, not on the price. I’m a neutral, organic and soft newborn photographer producing artwork in a contrived studio environment. The photographer down the street loves color, outdoors and the “lifestyle” look. Neither one of us is better. We are just different and that unique selling point is what will help drive consumers to choose. Price is almost NEVER the deciding factor for a consumer. Only if they see the product as a commodity —-then they will go for cheap. So if you feel like you need to lower your prices to beat the competition, you’d better think again. Do you really want to be a “commodity” in your market? Maybe you need to focus on building a brand that’s unique and making your work stand out above the crowd. And as artists, our brand revolves very closely around us. Your style, your vision, your soul is what goes into your art. It’s your identity. When you are obsessed with the competition, it’s very easy for the/your identity to crumble. Each time we react to a competitor and try to out-smart, out-price, out-play, we lose ourselves and our sense of artistic voice. We risk doing serious damage to our brand when we make choices to compete that are not true to our own identity, and not true to our purpose. And a business that does not come from a place of authenticity will eventually die.
- Lift Up Other Women-Owned Businesses
We are all in this thing together. We are all struggling. We are all in the trenches and we all have little victories that inspire us to keep pressing on. When you promote other industry businesses, you are helping to create an industry that will thrive. I sell business tools and templates on my education site for photographers. Yet, I am constantly recommending Design Aglow to my students. I’m referring my competition? Yeah. DA is an amazing company with tons of products I can’t provide to my students. Heck, I buy their stuff too! I refer any and every business that can help my customers, whether it be a student or a newborn portrait client. Does it damage my business? Not. At. All. Actually it helps it. My customers love me more because I am truly devoted to giving them every resource I know of to help them succeed—-instead of only recommending my own. It’s called customer service, and putting the desires of those who support you, your family and your mission first. And when we as women do that, we will someday crush the glass ceiling, and work together to empower ourselves to be more.