From the Blanton Museum.
It's a new year and it's time to hit the ground running and do the art and the business we all know we have to potential to do. I made a point to get back into the office on Friday the 2nd and turn on the proverbial taps. I left a lot of stuff un-done last year and I'm out to make sure that my inherent laziness doesn't give me pangs of regret down the road.
I like to have a few layers of plans in front of me when I ramp back up after the holidays. I didn't ignore my swimming and walking so I don't have any of the usual goals that seem to get tagged into the New Year. I don't need to lose any weight or get more exercise. I'm already eating healthy and getting to sleep on time. The plans I need to work have to do with better time management, being better at following through and completing tasks that are important to me.
It's so easy to let the minutes and hours of a day drip by. There's always someone who is fun to talk to and would love to meet for lunch. There's always someone to have coffee with and grouse about the state of whatever. And, of course, there's always time to check in with our favorite five or six blog sites or websites and when we look up from "researching" (which generally means following endless links to more endless links down to the molecular level of information) we discover that another hour or two has slid past and we're no closer to getting that personal project of shooting nudes or portraits or landscapes started, much less done.
We know we need to reach out to our clients, personally, but it's so much easier to endlessly compose and worry an e-mail blast to death rather than really taking the risk involved in getting connected.
I've mostly ignored my actual photographic business in the last year and luckily for me it's sailed smoothly along on its own momentum. But I know that won't last so the first thing I started working on was a plan and schedule to actually promote and advertise the creative content and the services that I offer. My business is most profitable when I can do a mix of large and small projects and when I can also pepper in event photography that generally gets done in the "after work hours" parts of the day. That would include weekend gala events, evening business and fundraising dinners and corporate customer events.
To get the right mix I need to continuously advertise portrait work (the smaller projects I like the most) and I need to do this as a separate function from the kind of marketing that is aimed at bigger projects. The markets are different. The top tier of the portrait (head shots, environmental portraits, etc.) is the corporate enterprise client and professional services clients (attorneys, medical practices, architects). We reach these people with a combination of postcards and e-mail promotion as well as a weekly reminder presence on LinkedIn. We send out marketing to potential customers but our most important marketing goes to past customers since they will, potentially, constitute our word of mouth clients. I met with my graphic designer (Belinda Yarritu) this morning to discuss postcards.
The second half of the mix is to reach out to advertising and marketing people for the projects that become part of a company's marketing and communications. These projects include both printed and online capabilities brochures, website content projects, corporate image library assignments and direct advertising campaigns. We generate separate post card and online materials for them. The images and the messages are different. We aim at the big picture and talk about visual branding with these folks because that's what they do.
In addition to the still photography I'm working harder at doing more video production work this year. I'm partnering with more people and learning to let go of some parts (editing? music?) in order to become better at my core strengths but also to offer clients better and better products. Video is a much different marketing target than stills because it requires from me and from clients a bigger commitment of time and resources and it's harder to re-do if something doesn't gel correctly. In this field a good "reel" is half the battle and that's something that comes from a blend of self-assisgned, aspirational work blended with real client work. Sometimes we have to show clients what can be done before they know they want it and need it. We've got a mix on the calendar already. The next step is to find the best ways to get the work in front of clients.
Collaborating with a good editor and shooter as well as a good sound person takes a lot of the stress off interviewing, directing and concepting, but I'm finding that some of the secret sauce is in the bidding. The more roles I can share with others the more I can handle. I guess that's what they mean by team work.
I'm pretty sure I understand the business side. It goes like this: Make work that people want to use. Bill for it. Do it. Share the successful results with more and more clients and potential clients. It's always the motivation to keep moving the whole circus along that often goes AWOL. Making a calendar for the year, and putting marketing signposts in, goes a long way toward making the journey smoother and more automatic. Giving my designer six images with which to make six different printed greeting cards means I'll have some momentum staring at me every time I open the filing cabinet door and realize I have stuff to mail out, and should be doing it at least every eight weeks. Getting the designs and printing all done at once makes it more consistent and uniform and saves time. Getting it all out over the course of the year is always the goal. But at least if I've already spent the money in advance to do the design and the printing I can depend on a certain amount of guilt to help get the stuff out the door.
But the real tough part of getting what I want out of the time I have is doing the personal work I really want to do. Not the stop gap stuff that we do just to click the shutter in the business down time, but the real stuff. The trips that get planned but somehow the time never gets taken and the tickets never get purchased. The interesting personal portraits that never get booked. The Greyhound bus trip across the Southwest that you'd love to do, with a battered, old camera and one backpack but can't seem to pry enough time out for. The film you want to make about lost love and living unencumbered that seems so impossible to put together and shoot. The secret to all of this is to set a schedule and make the time. If you are like me you'll end up having to prioritize because there are so many things you want to do. But so what? Set the priority. Jump in.
My big personal goal this year is to write the follow up to the first Henry White novel. I'd like to have it ready for my birthday at the end of October. I think I can do it. But I'll have to find the discipline to write whenever I can take my hands off the reins of the business.
But whatever you do try not to make the mistakes I've made in years past. Don't anesthetize yourself by buying more and more gear and rationalizing that the purchasing process is part of the creative process. It's not. Nor is the equipment research. Nor are the arguments about which camera or lens is better. Speaking from experience I've found out the hard way (over and over again; I'm a slow learner) that the experience or the process or the actual immersion in doing your art is the only important part. It underlies the business, the happiness and the feeling of accomplishment that makes everything work. Whatever once in a life time gear you are looking at now won't even be a memory in two or three years. But whatever you've gotten done, and done well, you'll cherish for a long, long time.
It takes more than planning. At some point you have to push the button and get it started.
1. Shoot more
2. Sell more
3. Write harder
4. Figure out how to make a movie from the first book (or get someone else to do it)
5. Connect more. Locally. Regionally. Globally.
Things I'm trying to avoid?
1. Shoulder injuries
6. Sitting around the office thinking about stuff
7. Lost opportunities
8. Time spent covering the same ground over and over again
9. Clients and associates who waste our collective time
What are you doing differently this year? How will you move your art and your projects forward?
The biggest fear any artist should have (if artists need "fear") is of getting too comfortable.