Monday, January 2, 2012

My Sage-Like Advice to Aspiring Photographers

Hey Peeps,

I'm excited over the number of you who enjoyed my NYE post, and I was overjoyed with the talented panel that I had to interview.  

Then, I realized that I should reflect on the questions posed to these wonderful artists and see what MY take on them are based on my own experience.  

So here we go:

1. What is the single biggest mistake made by beginning photographers?

I really tried to think of the "single biggest mistake" that an aspiring photographer in the bizz could make, there are just sooooo many of them that not one truly popped out from the rest in my mind.

So after careful thought, I came to the conclusion that the BIGGEST mistake would be not learning from all of the mistakes that you WILL make.  

There is no foolproof escape from f-ing up in any business or venture.  But the best advice would be to continually learn from those moments and find what works best for you in order not to repeat them in the future.

2. What should be your top priorities in the photography business?

Man, these were so easy when I didn't have to answer them myself, lol.  

Okay, number one is what I stated above - learn from your mistakes.  

Number two is to keep it simple; but keep it specific.  This is something that I learned later on in my work(sadly).  It is way too easy to drown in minutiae.  So when you plan things out, just keep it in a simple structure - but have each piece of that structure as specific as possible.  

Just as an example:  I wanted to Q&A a panel of photographers for my NYE blog.  That was my objective.  So I quickly write up the measurable steps that would get me from here to there.(Measurable steps are crucial but specific moments through the workflow of any project that are small enough not to get overwhelming or tedious, but exact enough that you don't lose direction.)

So my steps would be something like: 

  • make a list of questions
  • create an email/FB message that would explain what my request is to the photogs in question
  • create a list of potential photogs to approach with the idea
  • send email/FB message
  • start preliminary blog write-up while waiting for responses
  • collect/proof-read/organize answers from photogs
  • complete blog draft
  • send each contributor link to blog for advertising/promotion
  • promote blog until post
  • post blog
Now this list seems simple(it was actually simpler the first time around that I wrote it), but you can also see the steps are very specific - they can't be vague or it doesn't give you a direction to go.  These steps must be actionable or they are useless.  

Of course, there are other - more specific things that you pick up on the way as you are moving through the workflow - like include your questions in the request email/FB message to save yourself(and the contributor) some extra messaging - it is easier for the other person to respond in one single email instead of saying they will do it, then they have to wait for your response.

The third thing I would say is work smarter - not harder.  There are so many ways to do this it almost creates MORE work.  

You can outsource work that isn't your thing, like accounting, post production, administrative duties, etc.  

You can watch at how many things you have on the go;  if you plan out your next year - that's great, but don't focus on October right now if it is January.  Focus on the current 3 months at most, and when January is over - forget it.  Focus on February, March & April now.  

Like I said, there are so many things you can do - it almost seems like more work to create them.

3.  What is your best advice for dealing with the stresses that come with running your own photography business?

I would have to refer to the previous answers for this one, plus additionally - get rest.  

No matter what.  I know, I know, there are "big and busy things" going on that you need to be on top of.  Sure, do that - and only that.  Don't come home from your "big and busy things" at 2am and stay up until 5am surfing online for things that truly won't help you on your next "big and busy thing".  If it can wait for tomorrow, then let it.   Also spend time with family and friends.  I don't think you got into this business to burn yourself out into a drooling mass in a rubber room; so cut it out, stop being such a moron and rest.

4.  How do you know what to charge for work?

I hate this question.  But what can I do eh?  It's valid, in fact, it is a crucial aspect to your businesses success.

First, what costs you money that your bizz uses?  Cell phone?  Work space?  Car?  Internet? Webpage?  Prints?  CD's?  Gas?  Insurance?  Gear?  Time?

Well let's put together the monthly expenses first: cell, work space(or rent), internet, webpage, car, insurance to start.  There's your business monthly expenses.  These are merely the cost/month to keep your business running.  

Then there are momentary costs(things that cost money not on a scheduled basis, but on a moment-to-moment one): gas, prints, CD's, gear, time.  These costs are based on each and every gig you get; the more gigs, the more each of these increases.  

So now that the business is taken care of, what about you?  Are YOU going to make a living now that your business is such a well-oiled machine?  Well how much do you want to make per month?  per year?  You might want to make it rich in a year(good luck to you) or you may just want to keep the bill collectors at bay and have a little left over for some new gear.  Throw that in there as well. 

Now before you start calculating anything else, you have to figure out WHAT you want to work.  How many days a week?  How many gigs a month?  This is needed to figure out how much to charge for each job you get.  

Relate this number to the previous costs and there you go.  Hopefully it is a reasonable number - hopefully it is really reasonable.  That way, you have room to increase your profits with higher prices as you grow.

5. How do you balance home and work life?

I really have to agree with some of my panel that there is no such thing as life/work balance.  

No matter how hard you try, you will always be in the middle of the conflict between those two if you try to work both at the same time.  

Be present for each one independently of the other.  Focus on work when working, focus on family/friends when living. 

Also remember that you do this for a living.  Work to live;  don't live to work(although this job can be invigorating at times).  But keeping work and life separated with clear and defined boundaries will make all the difference in the world, keeping your mind focused on what you need to do in the moment and your blood pressure within a healthy level.

6. If you could write a message to yourself to when you first started out, what would you tell yourself?

Hahahah!  I would tell myself the same things that I just told you, PLUS I would send myself the advice from the panel of my NYE blog, maybe some cash to help out with purchasing gear and tell him to enjoy the ride - it won't be boring.


Michael Carty
Michael Carty Photography Email

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