2.11.2015

Does marketing really work or can I just be better than everyone else and skate by? I mean, "I'm an artist...."


I can easily think of a number of ways to enjoy a really nice lifestyle and still have a full time career as an artist. The most effective way is to inherit lots and lots and lots of money. That way you can buy the gear you want and go long periods of time (years?) without having to worry about cash flow or income from outside sources. Another good avenue for people like freelance photographers is to have a spouse who is deeply committed to your career dreams and who has a highly paid, professional job that has nothing to do with creative services. My favorite spousal careers would be neuro surgeon, cardiologist or plastic surgeon but a partner in a law firm or a major hedge fund is always an interesting prospect.

While you won't live like Steven Meisel or Annie Leibovitz or David LaChappelle you can still make a decent artist's existence with a spouse who works for state government or in the education field. What you'll lack in breathtaking income you'll partially make up for with good health insurance plans and long term security.  Indulgent, hardworking parents are also good to have around.

But let's assume that you don't fit into any of these situations and that you have rent/mortgage, car payments, the desire to eat food and enjoy air conditioning in the Texas Summers or heating in the New York Winters. You want to be a "professional" photographer or videographer but no one is calling on the phone, texting you with work or even e-mailing you asking for a bid. Now what do you do?

Well, you could try marketing. You could try actually selling  the promise of your abilities to create great content to businesses that desperately need it. Businesses digging themselves out of stock photography hell who need good stuff to differentiate them from all the other companies in their sectors.

After a rough recession there's a tendency to keep doing the things you did when the economy was slow. Like sandbagging the windows in case of food riots or deciding that clients will never spend real money again and decide to start lowering the quality of your lifestyle to compensate. Hello spam. Hello Walmart.

I have a friend who was having a long business dry spell. The thing that didn't make sense to me was that he is a top level videographer with an artist's eye. He comes complete with university degrees in art and other smart stuff. His reel is astoundingly good and looking at it constantly makes me feel like the beginner I am but he was getting nothing. Not even requests to bid.

I asked him my favorite questions from the advertising years: What's your ongoing marketing like? When's the last time you revised your website? Are you sending along e-mails and regular mailers to past and potential clients? Who is your target market? What's your most profitable market? And, the best of all marketing questions: "Who would you like to do work for and what would you like to be doing for them???"

His website was dated and he didn't like sending people there. He hadn't done much marketing other than a few small e-mail blasts. And the entropy was starting to destroy his spirit. I asked him to totally revise his website and put all of his best work on it. He did it. The current website is gorgeous and so cutting edge that several of my website designer friends who work for cutting edge tech companies called me to praise it and to say they were working on similar styles which they perceived to be "cutting edge."

The new website is beyond good. I'd hire this guy to be my permanent web designer.

So then we took the next step which was to craft an e-mail campaign to reach out and show off the work; the site. I insisted that he craft an individual and separate e-mail for every current and past client and only do "clump bursts" to the community at large and people on his side of the business.  Last week he was nervous about the mailing and still seemed a bit.....defeated. What a difference a week makes.

We met this morning to follow up and he was beaming. He'd gotten bid requests. As we had coffee he got several texts including one that basically said, "If we can hit this budget number we're ready to go!" He reconnected with a huge, out of state client who has mighty budgets and great taste. He's gotten dozens of congratulatory e-mails and now he's back to work. From purgatory to happy in a week.

The next step will be the follow up. I've given him a couple of weeks to write, cast, edit, produce and prepare a 60 second piece to wrap his follow up marketing e-mail around. The e-mail will link to the new video which will be embedded in his very cool site. The only problem I can see is that he might get too busy in the short term to do this next assignment on time. But I'll ride his ass to get it done because I like his work and I want to see him do well. He's also a great guy. Tortured artist. My favorite kind.

What's in it for me? I need to do the exact same thing for my business and every word out of my mouth to him about marketing was aimed directly at me too. Here's where I can be so stupid, I know good marketing works I just take it for granted when I'm busy that I am busy because people love my work so much. Then it slows down and I realize that I need more than good work, I need golden bread crumbs that show the good clients the path to my work. They have to find the work and remember that they need it before anything happens. And that's the role of marketing.

Would have been easier over the years with a trust fund but we can't all win the genetic lottery. At least I got the good looks and talent....(sarcasm strongly implied). 

8 comments:

Mike Rosiak said...

I'll read this tomorrow. But I gotta say - I really love the photo. Nothing like a good laugh before bedtime.

Anonymous said...

What a refreshingly different (not a word about Nikon or Olympus) and delightfully upbeat post for a change. ;)

Maybe it's just me, but sometimes I wonder why is it that it's pretty easy to help others in their marketing efforts, but when it comes to our own endeavours, we sort of get bummed out before we even get started. Sounds like the guy in the story was like that, too, before he got some outside help and a kick in the derriere.
Why is it easier to market others or other products than ourselves or our work?

RichardEby said...

Lordie, Kirk, that photo made me laugh out loud!

100 thanks for posting it!

-Richard-

Anonymous said...

Anon above makes a good point.

But it's easier to help others than ourselves on this sort of stuff because you're not risking rejection yourself. While the chances of being told you're awful might be slight, the fear of it can be disproportionately high.

Mark

GNapp Studios said...

The perception of quality always beats the reality of quality.

Old Gray Roy said...

A lucid, rational explanation of why I never, ever wanted to be a freelance professional photographer. (Swimming is a sometime, inexpert, enjoyable activity as well).

Kirk Tuck said...

Old Gray Roy--- I think it's the same in every single business---if you are the owner. But the challenge is one of the reasons I love the business. It's always the same and it's always different.

Joe Gilbert said...

I'm sure this one hits most people in the "10" ring. Reminds me of David Maister's famous line" "We know what to do but we still don't do it".

Great post!

BTW: I've relocated from Baton Rouge to Missouri and am starting again, almost from the ground up.

Joe