We have talked about the benefits of creating a niche for yourself in previous blog posts (3 Powerful Reasons to Get Over Your Niche Phobia). Many small business owners are open to it in theory but resistent to it in practice. At Provendus Group we believe to our bones that niche marketing is the path to delivering a superior product or service to your market and greater profitability for you.
Provendus Strategist Alicia Caine learned the benefits of creating a micro niche first hand. In the interview below, Alicia shared with me how she built a highly profitable photography business, earning three times the average fees that other photographers were bringing in.
Donna: Alicia, you currently coach photographers to build high income photography businesses that also honor the passion and creativity of the photographer. But before you became a coach, you built your own highly profitable photography business. How did you get interested in photography?
Alicia: Truthfully, I needed to work, and photography was the only skill I had at the time that I thought I could make money at. I had the equipment and resources, and entry into the market was easy and low cost, so I decided to go for it.
Donna: What challenges did you face when you first started?
Alicia: Because of the low barriers to entry, there was a lot of competition. Plus, I had just moved to a new community, so nobody knew me. I needed to figure out how to be heard and seen. Also, for most people, photographers are considered luxury, not a need. It was important to be seen as something valuable, unique and different, so that clients would want to hire me.
Donna: How did you figure out how to stand out?
Alicia: First of all, I was highly motivated out of necessity. I was the mother of young children and I was the only source of income for my family, so my time was precious. I knew that if I could create a niche and become known as the best in that niche, I could command higher prices, which would enable me to make more money while working less – giving me more time with my young family. I started by specializing in photographing babies and children. And I kept narrowing down my specialization, until I became known as THE baby photographer in my area.
Donna: How did you figure out that photographing babies was the best niche for you?
Alicia: I paid attention to which clients were bringing in the best profit margins, and were the easiest to market to. I found that the parents of babies gave me the best referrals. Pregnant moms usually have friends who are also pregnant, and there’s urgency around it because they are about to have a baby. I also found that they were spending much more with me on purchasing photographs after the photo shoot. I knew I couldn’t serve everybody, and the smaller sales were killing my profit. I had to focus on the clients who saw the value of my work and were investing more money in the portraits of their babies.
Donna: There must have been other photographers in your area who were also photographing babies. How did you distinguish yourself?
Alicia: Most photography studios didn’t take babies under 6 weeks old. I specialized in photographing babies who were 3 days to 11 days old, so I was doing something unique that parents wanted. My sessions were longer – 3 – 4 hours vs. 1 hour. Most studios couldn’t or wouldn’t do that. So I decided to create a niche where I would travel to their home, spend time with the baby and the family, and get wonderful candid shots. It was more convenient for the parents, and produced a better portrait.
Donna: This sounds much less efficient to me. How did you make spending 3 – 4 hours in a session plus travel time profitable?
Alicia: My pricing was higher. My clients saw the value of what I was doing, so I was able to charge a higher session fee of $350 vs. the typical $100 session fee for a studio shoot. Plus I didn’t have the expense of maintaining a studio, since I did all of my work in my clients’ homes.
When I started charging higher session fees, I discovered something else. Psychologically, if someone is willing to spend more on a session fee, they are also willing to spend more on purchasing finished products such as photographs, albums and canvasses. I noticed that other photographers who were charging lower session fees had lower average product sales. So a photographer charging $100 for a photo session was getting about $1,000 worth of product sales. But when I narrowed my niche and started charging $350 for a session fee, my average product sale also grew to $3,600 – $4,000 per client. It seems I was pre-qualifying my clients with my session fee.
Donna: You have actually written a book about what you discovered about pricing.
Donna: What would you recommend to a photographer or other business owner who doesn’t currently specialize but wants to create a niche?
Alicia: Start by understanding your own unique gifts and talents. What feels good to you and your soul? Who do you work best with? What comes naturally and easily when you market your products and services? As a mother of very young children myself, I naturally related to my clients, and that created a greater connection to what I was doing.
Once you determine a niche that feels good to you, ask yourself where can you further stand out in that niche. What can you do better than anyone else in your field?
Donna: What would say to someone who is afraid that specializing will limit their sales?
Alicia: Being a generalist is very different for branding and sustainability. A generalist will not command a higher price point. Marketing is harder because you are trying to reach a wider audience. You will have different obstacles.
Carving a niche is more profitable and feels better to your soul because it honors who you are. But it can also be lonely because you’re different from everyone else. You need to know your value system. If you don’t like to be a lone wolf or stand out from the crowd, then niche branding is not for you.
Donna: You don’t do any professional photography today. Why did you decide to start coaching photographers to help them grow their businesses?
Alicia: In developing my business, I discovered that I love being a leader, helping others in their businesses. Other photographers were coming to me and asking how I was doing it, and if they could pay me to help them with their pricing. I found I loved working with them and it made sense for me. I actually loved the business side of photography more than the camera side, so it was a natural transition for me.
Donna: You’re clearly an entrepreneur at heart.
Alicia: Yes, it courses through my blood!
Donna: Do you believe this same advice applies to any business?
Donna: Knowing what you know now, if you could go back and do something differently, what would it be?
Alicia: I would not have questioned my gut instincts so much. I spent a lot of time asking others to validate my ideas before pursuing them. I would have run more with my own value system.
Knowing your value system is so important. You need to honor yourself as an individual, honor what is in your natural DNA. Ask yourself how you can utilize who you are to a greater capacity.
Donna: How do you incorporate this concept into your coaching?
Alicia: I start all of my clients with personality profiling. We evaluate your weaknesses and strengths, where you shine and where you struggle. We assess what you are currently doing and whether it is in alignment with who you are. I help you understand yourself better. We often try to conform ourselves to what others want us to be, instead of being who we are.
Donna: Why did you decide to become a Provendus Growth Strategist and become certified in the Pumpkin Plan Action Guide?
Alicia: I’ve read the Pumpkin Plan several times and I’m a big fan. The strategies in the book are completely aligned with my own business methods. Becoming a certified Provendus Strategist gave me credibility in reinforcing what I was already doing in my own business and with clients. The Pumpkin Plan Action Guide gives me a framework, a step by step process, and a system to take my clients through to consistently achieve their business goals.
Alicia Caine is an author, business strategist and mother of 7 living in Fort Worth, TX. She works with the creative entrepreneur creating a lifelong love affair with their business by focusing on a specialization that positions them as the expert and authority in their marketplace and industry. She’s obsessed with business educational books, wearing Lululemon, shopping at Trader Joe’s, eating fish tacos and using gummy vitamins as her excuse to eat candy in the name of health.