by Ron Pybus Published 01/09/2006
Research your community
In the last article we looked at what you want from professional photography. Now we turn to the other side of the coin by finding out what the customer is likely to want and where you can fit into that need. This is an area of business development that is often skipped. It is surprising how often there is a mismatch between what the photographer is providing and what potential customers want - and then photographers wonder why they are not making enough money. Miss this research at your peril!
You need some basic facts about the area in which you wish to base your business. You need to know the competition, the catchment population, the potential spend of people on non-essential goods and services, the range of disposable income available to people in the catchment area and how far they are prepared to travel.
This can easily be divided into: desk research - facts that can be checked on the computer; statistical research - facts that can be obtained from various authorities; market research - factual information about customer needs, wants and desires; and finally observation research - looking around at what is offered in the community, what infrastructure exists in the catchment area.
Let's start with observation. You have probably walked around your town and seen everything, but have you looked at it from a business point of view. Where you are reading this article, probably in a room, without turning round, describe to yourself EXACTLY what is on the wall behind you! Were you able to describe the detail accurately or had it become so normal that it just melted into the background. It is the same with living in a community - you look - but you do not see!
The viability of a community can be assessed by the range of shops, the frequency of change of ownership, the number of vacant shops. At one extreme if the High Street is scattered with charity shops in reasonably prime positions and there are vacant shops to let, it is likely that the disposable income level of the community is low. If on the other hand there are several quality shops such as Marks and Spencer, Monsoon, Gap, Next, etc and only an occasional shop to let which is only vacant for a short time, then disposable income in the community is likely to be high.
Next you need to establish a catchment area. Ideally your local Chamber of Commerce, Business Link, Town, District or County Council will have information on travel-to shop patterns. They will be able to give you a good idea as to how far people travel to your community to spend disposable income.
Total populations of local communities and even detailed breakdowns can be obtained from the census - held in local libraries. Your local education department will be willing to provide you with locations of schools, pupil numbers, etc and your local registrar will provide a list of places solemnised for weddings.
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