Getting back to work. The part I hate.

Canon 5D mk2.  20mm f2.8

I love sitting here writing blogs.  I get to talk about anything I want and I get to "discuss" with those who disagree.  I love walking around the city on a brisk day, the wind pushing against my ski jacket and making me squint a bit. The feel of a familiar camera in my hands.  I love having a leisurely lunch with Belinda, or one of my friends.  I love the reticent thrill of jumping into the water in the outdoor pool at 7 in the morning while a bold north wind tickles my bare skin.  I love those dark mornings when temperatures in the 30's bring a frothy cloud of steam just above the surface of the pool.  And I love the warm glow of the water with the pool lights lit and the sky still purple and deep blue.  I love the bite of a good cup of coffee and the richness of an afternoon cappuccino.  I love checks that come in the mail.  On time.  And I love curling up on the couch with my dog and a good book.

But there's one aspect of being a photographer that I hate more than anything.  It's the marketing. Plain and simple.  In a one person business there's nothing worse than having to continually sell yourself.  In fact, all the things I listed above are just ways I procrastinate about dealing with the big elephant in the room.  The fear of actually trying to engage new clients.  Think about how lucky the marketing people are at companies with products.  They have something real and substantial to sell.  It may not be the best product in the world but a good salesperson will find a convincing combination of selling propositions that makes even a mediocre product sellable, at a price point.

On the other hand, a freelance photographer is selling himself.  He can point to previous work and a track record but the product he'll produce for the future client hasn't been created yet.  And the future client will have to take a leap of faith that his choice of photographer will be able to pull off making just the right image in just the right time frame.  At some level we're in the business of making (and hopefully keeping) promises.  And that's a tough sell.

We can point to a track record but imaging is a moving target and just because you could do sharp and perfect yesterday doesn't mean it's relevant to the distressed and retro aesthetic today.  I could talk about decades of experience but that's a two edged sword as it instantly puts me into an age group that's anathema in today's markets.  I could trot out my books and talk about my industry expertise but that muddies the waters.  Then, instead of being someone's "go to" photographer, I send the mixed message that my business is about writing and publishing and marketing that product.  The bottom line is that I have to show the work I've done and I have to present myself in a way that makes people want to work with me.

And that's scary.  Have you ever tried picking up the phone and telling a stranger just how great you are while at the same time trying to convey that you're just one of the guys and you'd love to work with his team and have a jolly time talking about an assignment over a cold beer?  It's tricky.  Really.

So I've done my New Year's procrastination.  I've worked on the mailing list.  I've had my designer design some 5.5 by 8.5 inch four color over four color postcards, with an image that's proven to be popular.  I've sent out some e-mail blasts with links to some custom galleries.  But now it's time to do the real work.  The heavy lifting of my business.  It's time to strap on my most congenial personality and start making the cold calls.

Reality?  No one makes it in this business without venturing into the real physical world and shaking hands with the people who control the assignments and write the checks.  You have to meet them.  You have to show them your stuff.  You have to show them that you'll be good to work with.  None of the other stuff really has the horsepower to close the deals and push people to commit.

So, I've loaded up the iPad with various portfolios that I can conjure up at the drop of a hat.  I've had my designer create a nice "leave behind" piece.  Now it's time to stop writing this blog.  Drop into my comfortable chair.  Strap on the earphones and microphone attachment to my phone and start dialing.
Notes in front of me on my screen.  Deep breath.  One more sip of coffee and then.....it's game on.


Jan Klier said...

Yep, gear makes absolutely no difference if you haven't sold yourself first.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

I would consider it an absolute honor if I could get a portrait of myself by Kirk Tuck. And that's not because you photographed Michael Dell or other high profile CEOs (tho that might help in certain groups). No, it's because you are one of the few portrait photographers who really care, and know what they're doing. That is the impression I get from looking at those images you post here from time to time, many of which leave me speechless. After Yousuf (who sadly isn't amongst us anymore), who could do the job better than you? I wouldn't know; really.

About those procrastinations: sure, we all know these. In my case, it helps if I try not to think, but to jump right in. But by now you've done that already, so not even here I could give you any advice.

Broch said...

Wishing you a prosperous 2012!

Rene said...


As I read this entry, I felt as if I was reading something from my own life it rang so true. I caught myself substituting the words "health care" for photography all through it. At a couple of points in my career (now retired), I spent several years as a consultant in that field working with primary care organizations on operations issues. I HATED selling myself and, truth be told, I would do anything to procrastinate and get out of it. Eventually, just like you, I would sit with my list, my notes, my earphones and microphone and start dialing.

Jim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim said...

I sympathize. I HATE marketing and even after participating in a seminar on how to market myself I have the same problems you describe getting myself into gear. I wish you successful (and painless) contacts.

James Weekes said...

The people in sales departments also live for selling. I have friends who are in sales and they love the challenge and making the sale. They are of a different mindset, selling is their art. One of them told me that he'd freeze up solid if he ever had to take a photograph for a client. I had an awful time selling myself for weddings and portraits.

As for you're being a salesman. If you are so bad at it, how come I want that Olympus OM so much that I can taste it?