I’m feeling inspired by a fabulous after dinner talk by my good friend and fellow photographer Martin Hogeboom in Germany earlier this week. In his talk entitled ‘What’s not in your camera bag’ Martin discussed the essential toolkit needed to become a successful photographer. The talk was from the perspective of a commercial photographer but many of the attributes Martin identified relate to all aspects of freelancing and self employment. Martin inspired me to write this 10 point personal toolkit of a successful photographer.
1. Stay positive:
The first thing that is needed is a great deal of positivity. Effective photographers take responsibility for their actions and results. I call the mindset ‘staying above the line’. With possibility or above the line thinking there really can be no excuses like; ‘I’m too old, I’m too young, I have the wrong camera, I need more lights, I’m too busy to get out and market myself etc.
2. Work hard:
Being successful and effective at anything takes hard work and determination. It’s no easier being a business owner than it is being an athlete. It is tough. To get the work done will take motivation and passion. Not just for the photography but for business too. I find passion is a vital motivator for me to get the hard work done.
3. Work Smart:
If you love what you do and you work smart you can have a life too. Get organised… Create 90 day plans and daily lists. Don’t try and remember the things you need to do. I’m hopeless at that. I have to write them down to get them done. Trying to remember and subsequently forgetting key tasks generates unnecessary stress in life. Self organisation has been one of my biggest weaknesses in life and one I’ve not been able to overcome alone. I now have Blaise my excellent PA to keep me in check and to manage my diary. Don’t try to do everything yourself. It can’t be done without sacrificing your life. Outsourcing your post production, book keeping, cleaning, diary management, marketing and telephone answering could well free you up to become a photographer. If taking pictures earns you a fabulous day rate then I suggest that’s what you should do three or four days a week.
4. Avoid the non essentials:
Stay on track, keep focussed and don’t get sucked into time wasting with unnecessary activities like chit chat on Facebook or Twitter. If these are part of your marketing strategy then test and measure their effectiveness carefully. Facebook can be a brilliant tool when you connect with your customers. However good old fashioned face to face meetings with potential customers or your marketing network may well be far more effective use of your time. If necessary, delegate. I rarely touch Facebook, I leave my FB pages to Blaise or Laura to manage as and when required. Twitter on the other hand is my direct access route to several thousand of my customers. It keeps my brand profile alive and is a time effective way to drive traffic to my blog and my website. I reward my blog visitors with free valuable content and that in turn generates a trust and respect for my goods and services.
How do you reward your potential customers when they visit your website? How could your website be used to generate trust for you and respect for your products? I like to start any creative journey with questions like these. Once I identify the need the solution comes fairly easily.
5. Know when to stop:
Be efficient with your time and avoid what is often called ‘perfect brochure syndrome’ It doesn’t matter if you are designing a brochure, a website or shooting a portrait. Get the job done well and understand it can always be better, no matter what. I’ve yet to see a perfect website. Take a look at the websites for CocaCola, Microsoft and British Airways, three of the worlds leading brands and ask yourself is there scope for improvement. I’d say so.
I spend most of my time as a photographer correcting mistakes. I shoot a test frame, I correct the exposure and then shoot another, I correct the pose and shoot yet another frame, I adjust the framing or expression and take a fourth picture and so on. Sooner or later I will have reached the moment where I am unlikely to improve the picture by shooting more frames. Recognising that point is so important to me. Sometimes it’s my first frame but rarely my 20th. In the time it takes to try and improve a flawed photograph I could have taken a couple more set ups, productivity is important for me when I’m shooting because I sell albums of pictures and the overall quantity of keepers is important to my bottom line.
6. Be Unique:
Specialise and develop your style to work in a niche market. No one ever became great by being average. Average is where the worst of the best meets the best of the worst. ‘The cream of crap’ as some entrepreneurs say.
I’m often asked; “How can I be different? I don’t want my photography to be mainstream like everyone else”. My answer is simple start from within. The way you see the world is reflected in the life around you. Let the colours and designs you find attractive and surround yourself with be a stimulus. The way you decorate your house, the car you drive and the clothes you choose to wear all make up your uniqueness. If you live a mainstream life you will most likely create mainstream pictures. The products you design and the images you shoot will probably look in keeping with your own home or studio too.
It’s easy to confuse mainstream with bland. The Beatles, Abba, Coldplay and Adele are all mainstream, unique and brilliant. They are all distinctive brands and easily identified by their sound. It is more important to be unique and to become a recognisable brand than it is to avoid mainstream.
7. Find your passion:
By working smart and working hard at the things you love you can have both passion and money. Many people settle for one or the other, like starving artists or desk job workers. You can have a richly rewarding life if you work hard and smart at what you are passionate about. No one says it is easy to become successful, it’s not. It takes a lot of very hard work but with the right passion the work is immensely rewarding. I love photography, I love business and I love working hard at what I love doing. A favourite quote of mine that Martin Hogeboom reminded me of in his talk is “The harder I work, the luckier I get” by Samuel Goldwyn
8. Get personal:
A statement of truth – Clients do business with people they know and like. First impressions count. How does your website communicate how wonderful you are? How well do your potential customers know and like you after visiting your about page?
According to Yahoo Finance, 55% of your communication effort comes from body language, 38% from the tone of your voice and just 7% from the words you speak. Therefore I would say that video is the obvious tool to use as it can depict all three. Behind the scenes footage of a client shoot showing your rapport and like-ability will definitely make a difference to your conversion rate. Jasmine Star is one such photographer successfully using video to promote themselves as a brand. It’s powerful stuff.
Friendliness, empathy, realness and fun all contribute to like-ability. I happen to struggle with the listening bit so I still have to work hard at that. It is often said that the best way to ensure that people will like you is to be like them. When I’m asked ‘how can I get access to better clients” I answer ‘be like your ideal clients’. If your ideal client is smart, has a clean car, enjoys horse riding and golf you know where you are likely to meet them.
9. Be remarkable:
Be a consummate professional, an expert and focussed on your specialisation. Be the best. If you can’t quite be the best reportage wedding photographer, then perhaps be the best reportage wedding photographer that shoots in a widescreen cinemascope format will do. There’s always room for a niche market or specialisation. Being a specialist will mean you need to use the word ‘No’ quite often. No is one of the most powerful words in business. Focus your passion, business and marketing effort on what makes you special. Your uniqueness. Forget about trying to be like the others because you will have to compete on price.
10. Be creative:
Don’t settle for mediocrity or just copy the work of others. Spin up a new take, a new style of image that you can call your own and keep reinventing yourself. Settle on a style that is so distinguishable and gorgeous that your customers will come far and wide to pay you handsomely for it.
Photography is not a route to financial wealth for most of us but it can deliver us a richly rewarding life and a great deal of happiness. Stay positive and make it happen.
PS: Martin Hogeboom’s website is well worth a visit.