On being authentic in business

Instead of sharing a session in this blog post I want to talk about being authentic in business and not copying others. I’m writing this post for the benefit of other photographers, so if you are a client and you’ve come to see some pretty pictures please scroll down to see all of my recent sessions. But please feel free to read on if you’re interested!

In the last couple of years I’ve discovered the text from my website and some of my marketing ideas being copied on other photographers’ websites. I always feel frustrated when I see it, but then I chat to my friends and family about it and normally they say something like “don’t worry about it …you’re always booked up months ahead so why let it bother you?” or “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” And I’ve then just put it to the back of my mind and got on with things. Life’s too short after all.

But then this week I discovered another photographer had taken the copy from my mini sessions promotions and put it onto their own blog. And I mean literally copied and pasted it! And again I felt annoyed and upset. And then I realised why I feel like this when I see someone copying. Because it’s not fair. It’s cheating. And they are cheating themselves as well as me. I’m not one to court controversy, and I hate confrontation. Which is why I’ve had to think twice before writing this. But I’ve seen photographers ruined by social media when they are caught out (the photography industry is very close knit!) and I don’t want to see it happen to anyone else. I want to make it clear that this blog post isn’t directed solely at the person I emailed this week. They wrote back an apologetic email saying they will take the offending page down, so there are no hard feelings there. I’m writing this for anyone who has ever copied anyone in the past or is tempted to do it in the future.

Let me just give you a bit of background. I’ve spent over 5 years running my photography business, and although it is now a successful business, it didn’t start that way (as businesses rarely do!) I had never worked as a professional photographer or run my own business. I had spent 11 years working for big companies in advertising/media. And starting my business was a HUGE learning curve. When you run your own photography business, you’re not just shooting and editing. I would say that’s only about 20% of the work. The rest of the time you are the marketing director, IT manager, secretary, accountant, receptionist, packaging manager, social media expert and I could go on! So the first few years of any business are spent working really long hours while you try and figure all of this stuff out with not much to show for it (apart from expensive camera gear!)

I have spent hours upon hours with my head in marketing and photography books and through lots of hard work (and trial and error) I have learnt what works and what doesn’t. Like most photographers, I had to work hard to find my own style and my own way of doing things. Finding ways to stand out from the crowd whilst still being authentic. Although my marketing ideas may look simple, they aren’t written in half an hour. They are taken from weeks of researching with my clients what they want and how it could work, then spending hours fine tuning the copy and the package. So when I see that other photographers have just copied and pasted it onto their site, hopefully you can understand why I find that so disheartening. It just doesn’t seem fair for me to put my heart and soul into something for someone else to then just copy and paste it in seconds.

I always try and help out other photographers as much as I can through mentoring, running a Facebook group for lifestyle photographers, and always answering emails that I get from other photographers. So I’ve never been a closed book and I’m happy to help people when they ask for it. Which is why it makes it even more disheartening when people just copy.

When people copycat others, all of our businesses start looking the same. So when prospective clients look at our websites, it looks like we’ve all just copied each other. So not only is it not fair on the person who put blood, sweat and tears into coming up with ideas and writing the copy, it’s not fair on our clients either. They can’t tell who is being authentic and who isn’t. Also it affects our Google ranking. I have spent over 4 years tirelessly blogging at least twice a week to build my ranking on search engines. But Google doesn’t like duplicate copy, so when someone copies my text we both drop down the rankings. Very frustrating when I’ve spent many many evenings sat at my desk preparing blog posts when I could have had my feet up with a glass of wine!

Through all of the marketing research I have done, I’ve learnt about something called modelling. Modelling is where you are inspired by another business or person, you take their ideas and you ‘model’ them. That is you make them your own and add your own voice to them. You make them better. Plagiarising is something very different. That is when you just copy and paste and idea without any thought on how to make it your own. There are very few new ideas in the photography industry anymore (or any industry come to think of it). But we are all different, and it’s about taking an idea and making it your own. If you want to read more about modelling vs copying, check out Social Triggers blog post about it here. Or watch Marie Forleo’s video all about it here.

When I see a great new idea from another photographer, of course I too get that feeling of ‘oh I wish I’d thought of that’ but instead of it letting bring out ugly jealous feelings, I let it inspire me to do something different. So when you see something that inspires you, please don’t just copy it. Let it inspire you to greater things. How could you model it and make it your own? Imagine how much more satisfying it will be when the bookings start coming in for an idea which you came up with by yourself rather than just copied.

I think the one most important thing you need to do to be a success in business is to be authentic. People can smell a fake a mile off.  If you copy someone else’s wording on a few of your pages, but on other pages you don’t, your website will look and sound inconsistent. And consistency is also key to a successful business. So please don’t fall into the trap of feeling jealous looking at other peoples’ businesses and ripping off their ideas. That’s a slippery slope and believe me you will be caught out eventually. If you find the temptation too strong, then just stop looking at other photographers’ blogs and social media. Or be inspired by other industries and model what they are doing instead.

Before you do anything in your business stop and think about if it truly reflects who you are. And if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. I promise if you stick to this philosophy you’ll be much happier and your business will be more successful.

Phew, that was all a bit deep for me…I’m used to just posting pretty pictures with a few words about the weather! But I hope I have managed to communicate what I wanted to. Even if this blog post stops one person from copying someone and makes them more authentic in their business, then it will have been worth writing.

I’ll leave it on a light note with this quote from Oprah:

“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.” Oprah Winfrey

Thank you for listening to my thoughts on this. I promise my next post will have lots of lovely photos and not be so deep (or long!)

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Showing 10 comments
  • Juliet McKee

    So very well said Vicki. As you know, I have had recent problems with a photographer basically stealing my images and passing them off as her own. It is utterly sickening and as you say it’s about time people starting up woke up and realised this industry really is very small. It’s so much more rewarding to be original. When you consider the years we have spent building our business I doubt you or I would have had it any other way. There are no short cuts to success, blood sweat and tears indeed!

    • Vicki Knights

      Thanks for your comment Jules. Yes you make a good point, unfortunately there aren’t any short cuts!

  • Kirsten Mavric Photo

    Perfectly written, Vicki. It’s a real issue now with the internet being so accessible.

    • Vicki Knights

      Thank you Kirsten. Does seem to be rife at the moment!

  • Michelle Fox-Reynolds

    its horrid to think people can do this and so easy for people to copy and say just cause they got a real nice camera can shot weddings etc, Steal not only clients off yourself but also clients are mis sold photos that are not to same quality as they might have seen. so sad x

    • Vicki Knights

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Michelle. x

  • Helen

    Great article Vicki. I have suffered for a long time with a persistent copycat. I have succeeded in channelling my frustration and anger into upping my game and always being a step (or two!) ahead. It has spurred me on and I’ve reached further than I would ever have managed otherwise!
    I strongly believe in the words of Herman Melville
    “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation”

    • Vicki

      Hi Helen, someone else just commented on this old blog post and it made me spot yours which I obviously didn’t see at the time. I’m so pleased that you channelled your frustration into upping your game, a much healthier thing to do! Thanks for taking the time to comment and sorry it’s taken me 2 years to reply! :-)

  • Jo Temple

    Hi Vicky, I just popped onto your site as I am currently going through a branding and marketing course and I was stuck on a question “How would you feel about your pricing if you were to pay someone to do the same?” I’ve always loved your style and always thought, if I needed to hire a photographer Vicki Knights would be the one I would choose :) So…… to get myself really involved in the question and to answer it authentically in order to empathise with my client (which is what the majority of the course is about) I headed to your site. Then I came accross this blog and it couldn’t have resonated with me more! If only people knew how important authenticity is. Us humans are pretty switched on and can smell if somethings off a mile away! To think you can get away with it is just madness. Also, not being true to yourself and not leading with your own ideas and passion is the route to failure and unhappyness, not just in business but in life aswell. Thanks for writing this. I too have had people use my images as their own and it’s terribly frustrating!

    • Vicki

      Hi Jo, thanks so much for your comment. I’m very flattered that you would choose me to photograph your family! What is the course you are currently doing? I’ve always been a bit addicted to branding & marketing courses! I’m glad you liked this blog post, it was 2 years since I wrote it but I still stand by every word!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment,
      Vicki

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