I'd like to dedicate this blog post to examining some of the changes that are coming in 2013, and how we can embrace and use them to our advantage.
1. Your Competition Will Get More Rubbish. I got engaged recently. Which means that I'm now in the market for a wedding photographer. I have always liked to flick through portfolios of wedding photographers every now and then out of professional curiosity. But now I'm flicking through them as a potential customer, as well. Last night my fiancee and I had one of those flicking sessions from behind a few glasses of gin. And we both came to the same conclusion: there's not much stuff out there that we'd want to pay money for.
If you're a professional photographer, then yes, it's true - your competition has become more stiff in last decade. But has the quality of your competition risen? Not by nearly as much. And not by much more than that of any other business, be it a chiropractor or a plumber. As far as my casual search for a wedding photographer is going, I have flagged two Australian, one Canadian and a couple New York based pros whose work can be used interchangeably with the word "art". But all those guys have been around for decades - they were working long before this digital revolution came along. Most of the others I've come across just take snapshots, pump the contrast, add a vignette and hey presto! A wedding "professionally photographed". My point is - if you're just starting out and are facing a sea of competition, keep in mind that most of your competition is rubbish. Stay true to the artist within you, produce something remarkable, different and that is a work of love - and your competition will not be relevant nearly as much.
2. Your Competition Will Not Be Online Savvy... Yet. As a photographer, you're not just an artist. You're a businessperson as well. Some would argue that you should always think of yourself as a businessman first and artist second. I think they're equally important. But what's more important is this: any business these days is an online business. And most business owners are still trying to work out what this digital online business land of Wordpress, SEO, Adwords, branding, social media, website copy and online user experience is all about.
Most of your competition in 2013 will still be trying to either learn the ropes of online business or resisting learning those ropes, and hoping that they get some customer referrals through word of mouth, good fortune or through a stack of flyers they left in some cafe. Which is good news for you. You need to become an expert in the digital online business space or pay someone to be one for you. If you don't even know how to register a domain name and make a website which your customers will want to be on, this Free Step-By-Step Guide is for you. But that is just a tip of the iceberg. Start being a sponge for all great information about digital online marketplace. Read top marketing, Google, SEO and business blogs. Follow people like Seth Godin, Steve Pavlina, Matt Cutts and Michel Fortin. And avoid the so-called experts of the "make money online" niche. While they might teach you some semi-decent tips and tricks, they also tend to communicate from very scarce mindset, which will limit your vision and thinking.
3. Google Will Reward Value Creation More And More: A few years back, ranking in Google was mainly a game of spammy comments, good meta tags, spun article submissions, keywords in the URL and paying someone in India $10 per day to "build links" to your site. This year has been one of most ruthless for businesses whose online strategy depended on those tactics. Google rolled out a series of algorithm updates which axed search rankings that could have been a result of automated and grey hat SEO tactics. Instead it rewarded sites which contained socially relevant, socially liked and original multimedia content. I think in 2013 we'll see an acceleration of this trend.
If you're primarily driven by thoughts about how to "get links" and "get likes", you're not going to be competitive. You need to adjust yourself to how Google wants you to think in 2013. And that thinking is - "how can I create content that is valuable to my industry, a by-product of which might be "likes", links and traffic?" Subtle difference, but an important one. In the former one, you're driven by a desire to be a drain on the world. In the latter, you're driven by a desire to contribute to someone. The world is moving towards being a global community where people are contributing to one another, and Google is rewarding businesses that facilitate that shift.
In summary, the outlook is a lot better than you probably think - if you're light on your feet, are online business savvy and are driven by a desire to excel and contribute to others. And that's an important "if". At the end of the day, these changes are a reflections of bigger changes around you, and they're felt not just in the photography circles, but in every other business and every person's life. Next time you walk through your neighbourhood, notice that there are more and more shopfronts with "For Lease" signs. Notice that their failure was result of two things: trying to cling to an old bricks-and-mortar business model and an outdated value offering. If you're a photographer who still doesn't have a powerful online presence and are still insisting on charging a ridiculous rate for digital negatives out of fear that your customers might take them somewhere else to get them printed, how long do you think you'll last?