The downtime. How to keep from losing your focus.

Sony A7Rii+ Contax 50mm f1.7

Every business seems to go through cycles. My business started the year off slowly then steamrolled through July with record breaking budgets before coming to a screeching halt in September. Now, before you start in, I know that photographers who blog are never supposed to talk about slow times, lack of billing, or any other chinks in our fictitious commercial armor but really, how honest would that be? We all go through the peaks and valleys of commerce. It's always been that way in the business, even though some of those valleys in this century were quite breathtaking....

The first few times the rug gets pulled out from under your feet can be panic inducing. If you've been growing your business year after year and suddenly you hit a dry spot where the e-mail is filled with spam but no missives from clients, and your phone only rings when your spouse calls to see if you can pick up some dog food on the way home from wherever you are, it seems the popular thing is to panic and expect the worst. If you react with panic you'll certainly not be able to enjoy the (unwanted) downtime that's been thrust upon you.

The logical thing to do (assuming your last five or six clients aren't suing you, didn't fire you from the project, or ask you to delete their names from your phone...) is to immediately catch up on all that marketing you thought you would never actually have to do. Send the cards and letters, create a well considered e-mail campaign and work hard on conjuring up some smart and effective content. That's the smart play. But once you've done that you need to consider whether the slow times are about your offerings (probably not if you have a consistent track record) or part of a bigger trend.

Right now we're in the middle of one of the most contentious and binary election cycles I have ever witnessed. Battle lines are drawn. Each side is anticipating some sort of apocalypse if their chosen candidate(s) lose. And my experience  in business over the years is that business hates ambiguity almost as much as it hates the unknown. In every situation I can remember, when something horrible and unexpected happens, the CFOs of most companies circle up the wagons, bury the gold in their own backyard and start paring away at external costs. The companies are waiting to see how everything is going to turn out. Will a new set of hands on the steering wheel cause a change in tax law? In international trade? In the making of war? How will those companies be affected? Who will win and who will lose financially?

With this in mind my gut tells me that big companies have taken their marbles off the table and are in a self-induced expenditure coma. Now, most people (those who have real jobs) will probably not feel any effect and whatever effect there is we can hope that it is short lived and will remediate itself after Nov. 8th. One way or another. But to the average art worker it means a bit of belt tightening as we are the first layer of the onion to be put on "hold" when sentiment turns fearful or confused.

I'm not particularly worried about the current slowdown.... yet. We've still got several big jobs slated for October and we'v still got some buffer from earlier. But I have learned that there's not a lot I can do to move people to buy when they are disposed to save. So, I try to remind myself to enjoy the downtime and not despair.

Here's my list of things I do, in no particular order, when I am becalmed on the seas of work:

Have lunch with all the friends I've missed having lunch with. Get more reading done. Walk the dog more. Finally memorize those dreaded Sony or Olympus menus. Visit the kid at college (I'm sure he'll love  that.....). Start visualizing your new career; complete with a regular paycheck. Work on your personal project. No personal project? Figure out what you really, really want to shoot.

Then shoot it.

In the end, if you have done your marketing and the world doesn't collapse under the stress of the American democratic process, this slowing will resolve (like 90% of the stuff people visit their doctors for...) and we'll be back at work in no time. If you spent the downtime in the corner of a dark room, rocking back and for and shaking nervously you might want to rethink your "small financial disaster" strategy.

According to everything I've read these slow downs happen a lot during periods of change. The people steering the boats stop more frequently to make sure they are on course. A bit choppy in the short run, clear sailing ahead.

(Please, I know we are all passionate about our politics but this isn't the place to go all partisan in the comments. The election will come to an end. Ambiguity will subside. Life will go on. Now, if only those black helicopters filled with fluoride and vaccines would stop circling my neighborhood. It's crowded in that airspace since I am also certain aliens from Alpha Promixa are also floating around up there with the ghost of Elvis). 

One sage person told me that all anxiety is caused by three things: Ambiguity, Indecision and Loneliness. Make sure you know what you are doing and then do it with friends. 

1 comment:

cfw said...

The "wait and see" attitude of businesses during an election year is also reflected in the stock market. Businesses and markets pull back because of uncertainty/ambiguity, then tend to return to normal after the election.

From the Vanguard Newsletter:

Uncertainty can drive up volatility in the financial markets, so it's not unusual to see sharper ups and downs in the prices of stocks and bonds in the run-up to a presidential election. In fact, Vanguard research using data since 1990 shows that stock market volatility has tended to increase in the 100 days prior to Election Day.
.....election-related stock market volatility tends to be short-lived and typically decreases once the markets have had a chance to digest the outcome. Vanguard Senior Strategist Jonathan Lemco thinks we'll see a similar pattern in 2016: "Despite the surprising nature of this election year, volatility hasn't exceeded normal levels for a presidential election year, and there's no indication that it will deviate from typical patterns after the election."