This is episode 1 in a new podcast series, called “Head Shot Monday“. Aimed at dealing with the personal and mindset issues that affect the professional photographer, the goal is to get you thinking in more depth about professional photography and your specific role in the photography industry…
“What do you do for a living?” It’s a question we hear all the time at networking meetings, or whenever we meet someone new.
What’s your answer?
Of course, I can’t hear you, but I’m guessing “professional photographer” is the most common reply.
But is that all we are? Is it so easy to attach such a simple label to the breadth and depth of what we do as photographers?
It’s a disturbing thought, really, when you think about it, or at least it should be.
The struggling photographers, who happily wear this simple badge as the sum total of who they are and what they do, are doing so because they’ve accepted this deceptive simplicity.
In short, they fail to see that they’re actually part of a much bigger picture.
One where they could be a whole lot more successful…
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What Does The Label “Professional Photographer” Say About You?
It’s one thing for others to have preconceived notions of what a professional photographer is, and I’m sure that could be a great topic for a whole podcast all by itself, but for today I want you to think about how you apply the label of “professional photographer” to yourself and how it affects your day-to-day business.
As you’ll see in a few minutes, I suspect it can be especially useful to pay attention to how closely we think we fit that very simple label.
So, let’s start off with the label itself: “Professional Photographer”
For most people, it means someone who creates photographs for others in exchange for money – they earn a living, or at least a part-time living, selling the fruits of their photography expertise to others.
But how can the blind acceptance and adoption of this simple definition affect our behavior and approach to the business?
Perhaps an example can help.
It’s Monday morning, and Jane, who sees herself through the simple lens of being a professional photographer, wakes up and gets to work.
Her goal for the day is to find some new clients. Things have been a bit lean recently, so finding work is definitely a high priority.
She sits at her desk, and wonders how to start. The phone is silent, there are no emails apart from some unwelcome spam in her inbox, and her website looks quite lonely.
Never mind, there’s always Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or Twitter to drive some traffic, right?
Maybe the search engines will send over a few people too.
She checks out the website and starts looking for things she can change to attract more visitors, or just keep the ones who do come. After a few minutes, she decides that adding some new photographs to the home page, or writing a blog post with 20 images from that last session might do the trick, and now she feels busy.
Except that she isn’t. Not really.
Sure, she’s busy doing something, but she’s not busy – at least not in the way she wants to be.
After lunch, she has a brainwave! Hold a promotion! Let’s offer some mini-sessions at the park – that’s bound to bring in some business!
She hurriedly throws together another blog entry, creates a page on the website where people can book a session, and then launches the campaign with an excited status update on Facebook that says:
“Don’t forget to book your mini-session with us! 50% off the session fee, and a free 8 x 10 with every order! Spaces limited!”
With a deep breath and a smile, she sits back to wait for the inevitable flow of bookings…
… and waits…
But nothing happens…
All because Jane sees herself only by the label of “professional photographer“…
Can you imagine how stressful and full of fear her life is?
This leads to all kinds of problems:
- Accepting any job that comes along because it means money…
- Forever tinkering with the website, blog, and social media profiles …
- Constant “me-based” postings on social media…
- Prospects who don’t “get it” about her business…
- Clients who moan and complain about her fees…
- Lack of confidence or ability in closing the sale…
- A frantic search for answers that don’t exist…
- Getting caught in “blind leading the blind” peer groups…
- Being compelled to implement emergency marketing…
- Feeling obliged to offer sales and discounts…
The list goes on and on…
The Power Of Three
Before this situation gets any worse, I want to introduce you to a different way of seeing what we do.
It’s what I call the “7 Levels Of Business“, as shown in this diagram:
The concept itself is pretty simple. There are three overlapping circles, like a Venn diagram, representing the three major roles we play as professional photographers:
- Business owner
Considered in isolation, our role of business owner is quite simple. This is where we envision the goals and objectives of the business as well as deal with all the day-to-day operations, the accounting, studio management, employees, our suppliers, and all those other things that right-brained photographers usually dislike so much.
Viewed on its own, it’s purely an administrative role, having no real bearing on our final products.
The role of communicator, again taken by itself, is fairly simple. With no other considerations this includes the jobs of answering the telephone, dealing with emails, or posting on social media – literally anything where our business has a connection to the outside world beyond our business boundaries.
The job of photographer should be pretty self-explanatory. In its purest form, this role simply means we create images and photographs through a process of capture and post-processing.
The Power Of Seven
So far, so good, but what happens when we start to combine some of these roles together?
This is where the real magic happens!
In addition to the three basic classifications, there are also three places where two of those three individual roles intersect, and then there’s one very special place where all three of them come together in the center.
That gives us a total of seven ways in which we can view what we do, and I’ve labeled the other four for easy reference:
- A1: Business Owner – Communicator
- A2: Business Owner – Photographer
- A3: Communicator – Photographer
- 0: Synergy
Let’s take a look at these in turn, and what they mean…
A1: Business owner – Communicator
There’s a word we’re all familiar with that perfectly describes the combination of business owner and communicator…
We’re combining our business goals and objectives with something very powerful to create this new entity.
But first, we have to realize that a magical thing happens when we combine the role of communicator with either of the other two.
Suddenly, we actually need something meaningful to communicate, and that something is who we are, what we stand for, our business persona, the reasons why we do what we do, and our passion for it.
When we combine the power of communication with these new-found ideas in the pursuit of our business goals, we have a very powerful form of marketing that connects with our target market in a very visceral, meaningful, and long-lasting way.
We no longer have to resort to hype, fancy sales talk, gimmicks, or manipulative Jedi mind tricks to convince people to work with us.
Now, we can naturally attract the people who resonate with our own business values, who will almost fall over themselves to work with us.
A2: Business Owner – Photographer
Next, combining the goals and objectives of being a business owner (i.e. to make money) with the fruits of our labors as a photographer results in the role we usually refer to as:
We’ve created the photographs, or agreed to do so at a future time in the case of wedding photography for example, and now we need to make money by completing the transaction with the client – by closing the sale.
Many photographers get nervous in this role, and for good reason – there are lots of potential dangers here.
First, we risk mistakenly thinking that our photography will sell itself, which it won’t. Next, we can fall prey to the fear that we “have to sell“, which can lead to all kinds of business mindset issues and an overall lack of confidence.
The answer is to allow the objectivity of the business owner element of the combination direct the transactional part of the process, while still allowing the emotional aspects of the photographer persona to shine through.
When used together in harmony, we’re sure to end up with a good sales result, and it won’t even feel like selling at all.
A3: Communicator – Photographer
This is where most photographers seem to place themselves for the majority of the time, whether consciously or not, because it feels the most comfortable, and is what we’ve come to know as:
Sadly, you can’t run a successful business if you remain in this mode all of the time, even though it is critical for success.
The secret weapon here is that the way you tell the story is unique.
No one else can tell the same story in quite the same way you do. Send 100 photographers to a wedding and you’ll get back 100 different ways of recording the event, each with their own merits.
Sadly, too many photographers settle into the comfort of this role, while ignoring or neglecting the importance of sales and marketing, resulting in a business that shows obvious talent but is forced to close because they can’t attract the right clients, or have poor sales when they do.
The small area in the center, where all three of these essential roles converge, is an amazing place, and what I’ve come to call the point of synergy.
Suddenly, critical mass is achieved, and we create a vibrant business that functions like a well-oiled machine on every level.
To those on the outside, it can seem a bit larger than life.
Sometimes, we hear people talk about photographers who’ve attained this enlightened state as having had a large amount of luck, that they live in the right city, that they must be blessed in some way, or that they just have a lot of the right connections.
Perhaps some of those are true in small measure, but the real answer is that they’ve reached the zero point, the point of synergy – that central spot of harmony where the three major roles in their business have come together in mutual support.
When that happens, everything is amplified, and the whole is definitely much greater than the sum of its parts.
Combining the skills of photographer, business owner & communicator result in a powerful synergy… Click To Tweet
The Synergist Professional Photographer
Let’s imagine a typical day in the life of such a photographer…
It’s Monday morning and Jennifer wakes up and gets to work.
One of her goals for the day is to find some new clients. Although she’s been busy lately, her targets for the next month still need to be met, and her business still needs to grow.
She sits at her desk, and spends some time catching up on her business statistics, some inspirational reading, taking some time to study what others are doing, what’s working and what’s not. Like a well-trained doctor, her finger is on the pulse of her business.
The phone rings but she lets the voicemail take it – she’ll deal with the phone enquiries later on at the planned time. Her inbox has emails that need answering, so she makes a quick pass through those to prioritize them for action later.
Next, it’s time to connect with her family of clients on social media, interacting with them like she might with friends at a party. No mention of sales or promotions here, just pleasant conversation and meaningful connection.
There’s an article she wants to post on the blog later this week where she wants to feature one of her recent clients, so she takes the opportunity to prepare that and schedule it to be posted at the appropriate time, as she knows tomorrow is going to be busy with photography sessions.
Checking her marketing planner, she notices it’s time to send out the monthly newsletter, which she’s already prepared in advance.
Then there’s a session or two – relaxed, enjoyable, full of fun and laughter!
In the afternoon she holds a sales presentation scheduled for a previous client, during which she’ll talk passionately about the photographs she created because she’s so in love with what she does and the joy it brings to her clients.
At the end of the day, she does a quick review of where she is, what needs to be done tomorrow, and has her eye firmly on her long-range goals.
Life feels good…
Are You Jane or Jennifer?
Who would you rather be – Jane (struggling through every minute of every day), or Jennifer (busily running her business and enjoying it at the same time)?
Hopefully, you said the latter of the two.
Perhaps it’s time to take a look at how all of these roles fit into the way you see yourself as a professional photographer.
That simple label suddenly seems too small, doesn’t it?
Let’s Hear Your Thoughts
The “Head Shot Monday” podcast is designed to make us all think (myself included here) about some of the deeper issues involved in running a successful photography business.
These are not easy topics, and there are many perspectives and opinions.
I would love to hear yours… so go ahead and share them below.
The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
"Anyone can write a blog post, but not everyone can get it liked thirty-five thousand times, and not everyone can get seventy-five thousand subscribers. But the reason we've done these things isn't because we're special. It's because we tried and failed, the same way you learn to ride a bike. We tried again and again, and now we have an idea how to get from point A to point B faster because of it."
Three short years ago, when Chris Brogan and Julien Smith wrote their bestseller, Trust Agents, being interesting and human on the Web was enough to build a significant audience. But now, everybody has a platform. The problem is that most of them are just making noise.
In The Impact Equation, Brogan and Smith show that to make people truly care about what you have to say, you need more than just a good idea, trust among your audience, or a certain number of followers. You need a potent mix of all of the above and more.
Use the Impact Equation to figure out what you're doing right and wrong. Apply it to a blog, a tweet, a video, or a mainstream-media advertising campaign. Use it to explain why a feature in a national newspaper that reaches millions might have less impact than a blog post that reaches a thousand passionate subscribers.