What is your ‘and’ ?

Professional photographers have spent the last few years struggling with the reality that their industry has changed. Amateurs are struggling with how to make a career of the new-found opportunities in photography. The answer for both is discovering your and.

It’s not just the photography industry struggling to find success. Writers, designers, accountants, retail stores, and businesses at every level have found success in this challenging economy.

Technology has lowered the barrier to entry and learning curve for many disciplines and industries.   Consider the publishing industry.  Anyone can be a publisher. The local newspaper spends a lot of money to print words on the byproduct of dead trees to provide information you saw  yesterday on Yahoo.  Why write a letter to the editor with the slim chance it will be published when you can freely and instantly comment on our favorite blogs and social media sites?

Borders bookstores across the country are liquidating everything because you can download your next book to an e-reader  at midnight from the comfort of your bed. Many book publishers, who have resisted keeping up with the times, are not far behind. It doesn’t take much effort to publish your work and sell it to the world via Amazon, Google, or our own affiliate program.

Consider the last time you went to a print lab to process your photographs. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  If you want to learn how to do just about anything, open a browser and ask Google.  As we all know, millions of people have asked Google how to be a better photographer.

So, what’s the good news in all this?

The photographers who are surviving this transition are the best in the world at what they do.  They are the top 10 percent and many of them are purists.  They make a living solely as a photographer. The rest of us need to add the and to our job title.  The and will help you create a niche that you can dominate. If done correctly, the and will make competition irrelevant.

Now and in the future most photographers will be a

  • photographer and writer
  • photographer and designer
  • photographer and teacher
  • photographer and videographer specializing in a particular niche

There may be only a small community of people who need or desire your specialized service.  Ten years ago, this would have been a problem.  It would be too expensive to research, solicit, and cater to such a small group around the world.  Today, the Internet and social media have removed this barrier.

Technology is producing opportunities at incredible speed.  It was just a few years ago that I wrote about e-paper (The Next Revolution and The future of Visual Media) and how it would change the way we read the news and interact with the world.  One of the major results of this technology is the iPad, one of the hottest products on the market.

What specialized services can you offer using the iPad?  I have no idea what your and will be.  I can tell you that I think of at least five or more good ideas every day.  I’m sure you do, too.

The key is to remember (keep Evernote at the ready) and then act immediately.  If you don’t act now, it will be just another idea you see someone else doing a few months or years from now.   If you are uncertain, test your idea on a smaller scale before a big launch.

Think of all the companies that have not invented anything, but are hugely successful because they combine existing industries, technologies, philosophies or concepts. There is no need to list them all here, business books are littered with over-used examples. To give you an idea, think of  Zappos, Apple, 37 Signals and Southwest Airlines.

Warning: Combining price or service as your and is the quickest path to failure.  Being the cheapest option doesn’t work.   It’s a race to the bottom of going out of business.   Service is fine to include in your business plan, but if you need to tell everyone you have great service, you probably do not have great service.

The and is the foundation and future of a creative professional’s success.  I work in a building full of creative people.  Many of them are designers who have a nice D-SLR camera and a couple of Alien Bee lights in their office. For many, this is their and.  If they are going to hire you, offer something they can’t do.

Everyone must start with core talent.  This is your strongest skill.  Never stop learning and challenging yourself to improve your core skill.  Once you have great skill, start to develop your and. Look for patterns of need. Sometimes you will find your and by accident.  For many, it will take some research to find a niche.  Some people have multiple ands, but I recommend you start with one and build.

Your new career is not the job you had before the digital revolution and economic crisis. If you discover your and, you can make a living doing what you love in this economy.

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