Sunday, 16 August 2015

How to Deal With Competitors and Copycats

Having been a photographer and speaking to photographers every day via my prop business, I know that photographers worry a lot about what their nearest competitors are up to.

I’ve been in that exact same boat.  Obsessing over what was happening on my competitor’s website and facebook page.  WHY did that client book her and not me?  HOW did she get all those likes on her facebook page?  Was it because she was cheaper?  Was it because she was better?  Oh no, look, she’s just said she’s got a busy week booked next week and can’t take any more bookings … on and on it went.  I was punishing myself, tying myself up in knots worrying that I wasn’t good enough to call myself a photographer.

And the whole time I spent worrying and stalking and venting in Facebook groups … guess what I wasn’t doing?  I wasn’t concentrating on my own business.

Now that I am removed from that situation, I can look back at the work I was producing and hold it next to her portfolio and I can see that we were totally different in style.  Yes we photographed children and weddings, but our work was almost opposite in appearance.  

Neither of us was better than the other, we were just different.

People who loved my work would not be likely to book her as their photographer, just the same as her clients who loved her style would not choose me as their photographer.

If this sounds all-too-familiar here are a few things to bear in mind and remove all that unnecessary anxiety and negative, confidence-sapping energy from your life.

1. Your competitor isn’t going to go away.  

Even if they do, there will always be another photographer working locally to you. 

In my very small local town there are 5 hairdressing salons within a half-mile radius.  Two of them have only one shop between their salons.  They have all been there for many many years, and all of them always look busy.  And you can absolutely guarantee that all of them rely on repeat customers and don’t worry obsessively about what the hairdresser down the road is doing or what they are charging.  They keep their training up to date, they keep up with current trends and they all take care of their customers.  

2. Are they genuinely your competitor?  

Do you know that you are losing business directly to them?  Or is it the nagging voice in your head convincing you of this? 

Rather than blaming your rival for your loss of income, ask what changes you can make.  Nobody is responsible for how successful your business is other than you.

Do you consider them to be your competition because they are cheaper than you?

The one reason I see given over and over again is “she only charges £30 for a disk of images - how can I compete with that?!”  And the truth is, you can’t.  But do you really want to?  Why is your competitor charging so little?  You have no idea what their business model is - what their overheads are - what they are happy to earn for their time. 

Last year I wanted to get a “white ink” tattoo.  I looked on Pinterest and really, really wanted one.  I asked my friends who had tattoos where they could recommend I go and was given a list of tattooist’s names.  My next step was to look at websites to look at their work, how many artists they had, what their studios looked like.  Once I’d narrowed it down to tattooists who looked like they would be a good fit for me, I rang all of them and explained what I wanted.  Nearly all of them I spoke to weren’t really interested in what I wanted, they just gave me their prices and asked when I wanted to come in.  Except one.  She told me they wouldn’t give me a white tattoo because they don’t last very long and she didn’t want me to be disappointed in 5 years’ time.  She said I should come in to the studio so I could chat some more.  She clearly knew what she was talking about and didn’t just want to take my money. I was so impressed with her honesty and her concern for their reputation that I ended up having not one, but two tattoos with them, even though they were the most expensive studio on my list.

So.  Would you rather have a client like me that did some research, put my trust into you and wasn’t really that bothered that it was going to cost me more than I had anticipated?  Would you rather be the studio that impresses their clients because you are an expert in your field?

Despite what that nagging voice in your head might be telling you, price is not always the way to compete with business rivals.

3. Be you. 

It’s very difficult in any kind of creative endeavour to not be influenced by other artist’s work.
There is only one person who ever invented the cake-smash idea for a photoshoot.  There is only one person who can say they were the first to wrap a pregnant lady in a piece of silk fabric and have it flowing in the air behind her. 

In my new area of creativity - making photography props - I make rompers and hairbands and tiebacks and crowns and dresses; producing the same type of product all the other prop vendors are.  But none of them are making MINE.  None of their rompers have been made with my personality, and my creative vision.  They do not have the same (messy) pile of fabrics or flowers or lace that I have that make me go “oooh, that works well with that colour”.   So even though we are all making props, and probably selling them for the same price, we all offer our own unique ideas and products. 

If you find someone appears to be copying you, tell yourself that they can never produce the same images that you are, because they haven’t been taken by YOU.  Their client hasn’t had the same experience yours have. 

Remember how I chose the tattoo parlour based on how they made me feel over and above all the other studios I spoke to?

4. Accept it and move on.

Whilst it is important to monitor what your competitor is doing - they are working in the same field as you after all, accept that you are both trying to appeal to the same target market so in all likelihood you will both be producing similar work.

It doesn’t matter if you are a photographer, a tattoo parlour, a hairdresser, a wedding cake maker, a florist, a business coach, running a shoe shop or a coffee shop (you get my point?) you will always have some kind of competition! 

Concentrate on making your business perfect for your clients - not theirs.

5. Work together

Woah there.  Did I just actually suggest you befriend and work together with your arch nemesis?

How many enquiries does your business receive that, no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to convert into bookings?

Now ask yourself why that may be.

Most likely it’s because your business just didn’t appeal to that particular client. It probably wasn’t personal (which is what the voice in your head is trying to tell you), it may have been down to price, it may have been down to they just didn’t love your work enough, it may have been any number of reasons.

Now ask yourself whether your competitor has the exact same problem?

Of course they do!  So if she is receiving enquiries from people who aren’t a fit for her business, and the same is happening to you, you are both sitting on a database of cold contacts.

So why not swap that database with each other?

Chances are, both of you may get bookings from each other’s cold contacts!

I hope you enjoyed this article and can stop listening to that negative inner voice worrying about what everyone else is doing!

Recommended further reading :

How To Stay Ahead Of Competition And Copycats, Nathalie Lussier

The Pain Of Getting Copied, The Girls Mean Business

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