Tag Archives: Career

Entering New Territory

During the past few weeks I put together an RFP package for a government contract. It was submitted on August 22, 2012 at precisely 2:45 pm. How do I know this? I hand delivered four, 3-ring binders, 24 pages each. It was due by 3pm on 8/22/12 and although I hadn’t planned on it going down to the wire, it did. Added a bit of stress to the process but it was a tremendous learning process. And for that I am grateful. And if I get “the call”, my reward will be doubled.

This is something I’ve always wanted to do and when the opportunity came up to do so…I initially hesitated…and then went for it. Why did I hesitate? Because it was a 39 page document that had provisions: scope of work, qualifications needed, insurance requirements, references, affidavits to be notarized amongst other to do items that were required prior to submittal. An onerous task, time consuming, costly and thought provoking in that I kept asking myself,  “how the heck do I fill this stuff out?”

I submitted as the prime contractor and I’ve brought in subcontractors to help out with the parts I cannot do as well, specifically aerial photography. Why was this proposal interesting to me in the first place? Let me go back a step or two to set this up. As a state certified micro-business I am given certain considerations on government contracts. A federal mandate that 30% of of any contract must to be awarded to the sector of small, minority and disabled veteran owned businesses puts me in select company. I am certified at the state and city levels. I’m a member their vendor networks and when interesting contracts come up, I have the option of pursuing or passing. This was one of the good ones IMHO.

I read the RFP (Request for Proposal) three times to fully comprehend what the requirements were. I began to talk with potential partners. Out of these talks a list of questions was developed asking for clarification of specific aspects of the RFP. This list was submitted as part of the RFP process. After receiving the answers it begins: fill out the documents in the RFP as well as gather up sales information, insurance documents, and scour through my archive to find the most appropriate examples of what was called for in the portfolio portion of the package. My photography is the area where I shine brightest but it gave me pause because I had to think about the flow and strength of my work when submitting to people I’ve yet to meet and may never. (it’s a distinct possibility)

I culled through hundreds of photographs: landscapes, portraits, political campaigns, my time-lapse project for The Huntington, etc. Spent dozens of hours deciding which photos made the first cut and then deciding how they might work together in the required portfolio. Mind-numbing effort but necessary and I got to do all the work myself! I also spent time learning more about the ZERO carbon footprint flying machine covering the aerial portion of the RFP.

Simultaneously I’m gathering the required documents, double and triple checking that they are filled in and out correctly, making sure the grammar and syntax are correct and so on. I never would’ve been able to complete this portion without the incredible help of Ms. Molly Moran, a thoughtful and smart writer with a particular expertise in RFP’s.

The documents and files are gathered, I spend $250.00 on four notebooks, 100 pages of document holders, 100 sheets of inkjet paper and seven ink cartridges. Printing 14 image files, burning and printing one CD, printing seven text files times four, plus assembly takes six hours. Oh and in between I make a trip to the notary to make my affidavit official. I am a beat dog by this point. And I still have to hand-deliver. Both of my printers run out of ink at the same time, (with 7 prints to go) I am now in overdrive mode: I shower quickly, dress, drive to store to buy more ink, (cartridges eight and nine) print, sleeve, load and hop into my car (which is almost on empty, oh great.) for the 35 mile trip to the client’s office. Mostly freeway through downtown LA. Traffic and idiot driver central. Oy!

Luckily I there is very little traffic, I arrive early, turn in the four notebooks, get a time-stamped verification and drive back to my office, with very little traffic. Who knew the traffic gremlins would take the afternoon off? I am humbled and grateful for this learning experience.

You may be asking yourself why subject oneself to this form of abuse? Four reasons: the government never seems to run out of money, the intellectual growth I’ve experienced through this process, the people I’ve met (did I mention Molly?) and the knowledge gained about how I’m perceived by other experts will prove to be invaluable….

A process I highly recommend.

Michael

Related Images:

Make the Most of Opportunities

 

I entered the 5th year anniversary artists contest held by the copyright alliance a few months back. My video won in the multi-media category. As part of my winnings (feelings of satisfaction and a happy client), they offered to interview me for their blog. As an SECP, I jumped at the chance to talk about my favorite subject: me! All kidding aside, always look for opportunities to spread the word about yourself, your thinking and your work. And why not? If you don’t have an agent (I let my rep go, a good story in itself and it involves Marilyn Monroe) and your mom is too busy, then it’s up to you.

If you don’t grab opportunities to promote your brand then what are you doing working for yourself? Hoping for the best? Hoping magical thinking will takeover and you’ll have everything you deserve? When was the last time that happened? I live by the credo of putting good karma out to the world and doing good things for people. It always come back to me.

You may be thinking so what, the Copyright Alliance is not a big organization. That’s true. They’re only five years old and don’t command the world stage like the Zuckerberg-led copyright rip off team at Facebook. But the Copyright Alliance is a large organization compared to what I’ve associated with in the past. I’m able to  capitalize on their SEO juice which will immediately add to my credibility as an artist, educator, author and speaker. My global reach steadily expands every time another organization focuses their attentions on me, what I’m about and what I have to say. In other words my world is growing, my influence is growing, organizations are recognizing this and more easily connect with me in meaningful ways.

As I’m now going for very large and complex contracts (involving multiple photographers) with huge agencies, this method of building my background profile gains in importance. It adds up and makes it easier for me to pry open new opportunities for my business model. This is my multi-pronged goal. To create more business. For myself. And others who connect with me.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

 

Kwit Ur Bitchin’

As many readers know, I find value in spending time managing my presence and forum contributions on LinkedIn. The positive feedback I receive tells me that people appreciate my input. And the strategy is working. What strategy is that Mr. Stern? The strategy of building up credibility, contacts and opportunities for my photography, education, public speaking and training businesses. I’m a member of several groups, some in the photography industry and some not.

It’s amusing and annoying that so many folks start off a topic bitching about the lousy state of business today, either their own or their industries. Business is always bad and always good…for somebody. That’s the way it is now and has been since I hung out my first shingle some three decades ago. Who said it would be great? Or even good? No promises is what I remember being told. Talent was no guarantee. Business savvy was no guarantee. Doing all the right things was no guarantee. Hard work was no guarantee. Persistence was going to be really helpful however. Blend all five together and eventually success will show up. But will it stay? Again no guarantees.

My own story is that I was so caught up in becoming a successful commercial photographer that I didn’t plan or even think about managing success once it arrived. After three straight GREAT (’94-’96) years I began sliding towards lower sales, lower prices, lower profits and lower income. The slide backwards picked up speed until like the ending of Thelma and Louise, I went right off a cliff. I was overwhelmed by the wreckage…..lost business, income and confidence in that I began to feel I didn’t know what I was doing and that I didn’t belong in business as an SECP. (self-employed creative professional) I then went back to my business plan hatched in 1989…multiple income streams. Mind you I had been in business for 10 years at that point in time. And had multiple income streams set up. I didn’t tend to my business and my business died.

Multiple income streams are the hedge against business fluctuations. However you label it, it’s the same; have more than one source of revenue. Period. The concept is simple. It’s the execution that makes us nuts. And that’s where I screwed up. I forgot to listen to my mentors and I forgot about the beauty of the multiple income stream model. Getting back to success was imperative.

If all you want is to just shoot..well unless you’re supremely talented, supremely lucky and supremely positioned, you’ll need to generate multiple income streams…or do something else related to the industry to keep your name in the game.

As the title of this post says… Kwit Ur Bitchin’ and do something about your situation….PLAN!!!!! Spend time to imagine your future and the industries future and where you see yourself in that future. Think about and develop contacts throughout the industry…manufacturers, educational institutions, book publishers, bloggers and the like. Get your name out there. Become the acknowledged expert, a force to be reckoned with and sought after. There are so many opportunities today to make a name for yourself there is NO EXCUSE not to be successful. Read up on trends, practice your craft, talk to other shooters, develop a new technique, a new vision, try something you haven’t done yet. I got into blogging while writing my first book. My co-host and I have been producing a podcast for over a year. I spend time learning about the art and science of SEO.

Get nervous. Jump into the abyss. Or get eaten alive by those who are doing what needs to be done. And mind you has always needed to be done. Why am I militant? Because I’ve failed before. Three times since I started in the industry.

Several times a week I shoot (whether I’m paid or not), go to events, make contacts to meet people and exchange ideas. This informs my work and my process. Blog, teach, keep up with clients, friends and other contacts. Mind your resources (investments, cash, etc.). And plan, plan, plan. E. H. E. Endless hours of effort.

It takes consistent and persistent effort. Often it seems like WTF, it ain’t working, I’m not working, what do I do? But the multiple income stream system works if you do. Complaining is not action. No one but your mother wants to hear it. And sometimes not even her.

Plan your work and work your plan. Have faith. Put out good karma and good vibes. Put forth your best effort and you will be rewarded. The trick is you don’t know when it will break for you. Success is not on your schedule, it’s on its’ own. You do have to prepare for it, expect it and embrace it when it arrives. In whatever form it takes.

If you do as I have suggested you will become successful. And stay successful. Unless you’re that dumb. Or lazy. But if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place, so your good (:())

Believe and you will be. I’ve lived this credo since my college days and it has gotten me through several dark stages of my career. Look around you, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for anyone: corporations, governments or individuals. We all have our turn in the barrel. Learn how to roll with the punches, how to be your own best friend. Learn how to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

Most of all stop feeling sorry for yourself and be the provider of your own success.

Good luck to you.

Michael

Sensing Business Opportunities


One of the joys of self-employment is searching for new business. I dedicate part of each week to searching out opportunities that others miss. This is a good thing because the misses of others creates easier selling opportunities for me.

I subscribe to the LA Times. The business, sports, valley and calendar sections contain stories about persons, events and companies. Every edition. Somedays there are so many juicy opportunities, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

I’ll read a story, article or interview and inevitably some idea gets ignited: I’d like to photograph that. Or: I’d like to be the go to photographer/creative force for that company. Starting to get the idea? sometimes the opportunity just scream out at me and sometimes I have to let the story percolate for a few days. Usually something will strike me and I just go with my instincts. Which brings up the other side of this process: I have trained myself over the years to listen to that voice in my head as to whether or not something is worth pursuing. As I have really honed this over the years, I’m rarely wrong about moving forward. Sometimes I’d rather hand the actual shoot off to another photographer because it’s the smell of the hunt that really gets my blood coursing.

I’ve never counted the total number of deals I’ve negotiated over the years but I’ve just made contact with a major learning institution here in LA about producing time-lapse, virtual 360° panoramas and real-time videos for a major event happening over the summer. Read about it in the sports section, page two, a favorite haunting ground of mine.

I did an online search for a number, made a call talked to a person who redirected me to the decision-maker. This person liked my pitch and I sent some work samples and links. I received an email back indicating that my work is indeed what they’d like to have produced. I was then asked to keep in touch and as summer nears, we’ll meet to discuss further. Sweet!

That’s all I wanted for now, to see what the temperature of my idea is and their timeline for needs.

In these instances, the newspaper is like a marketing company to me in that they have pre-qualified the buyer.

Been doing it this way for years and I believe part of the success is that they don’t expect a pitch for business to come in this way. Sort of a backdoor entrance if you will.

In this day and age we have to be inventive in how we gather and qualify leads. Our careers depend on it.

Good luck!

Michael

Noisy. Dirty. Hard. Dangerous. Awesome!

I’m not talking about politics in D. C. I’m talking about construction work. Specifically the Asian Gardens do over project at The Huntington Botanical Gardens where I’ve been commissioned to produce a series of time-lapse video sequences as well as one grand movie. As I’m helping my client fulfill the mission of The Huntington: documentation, education and preservation, my work will be archived for generations to come, posted online and potentially associated with a book project. I’m blessed and the happiest I’ve been as a pro-shooter in many years. Good times right now.

Today was particularly special because it was a boyhood dream come true. The two fixed position time-lapse units were online, I shot real-time video via a dolly track system, but the pièce de résistance was my rover unit put in position to capture the planting of a 4 ton 20 foot tall tree that was excavated from one spot on the grounds and moved to its’ new home near the tea house. I used a 16mm lens so you know I was close.

The backhoe, the crane truck, the transportation vehicle, the noise, dirt and general commotion I was witness to thrilled me. I had to be present for the majority of this sequence because the danger of chains snapping, crane malfunction, damaged camera or getting hurt was real. And real close. I was accepted by the crew. We were specialists doing our jobs: crane, backhoe, foreman, photographer, landscape architect. They were there working this tree into the ground and my work will provide the historical record and context for this event.

This serves the mission of the organization and all are appreciative of the amount of effort I’ve put in and continue to put into this tremendous project. They’ve made numerous comments about what my work means to them. They have asked me to speak about my experiences as part of their docents’ training. I use this feedback to motivate myself (even more than I am) to explore new ways to capture and produce this project. They’ve acknowledged the amount of hours I’ve put in and have mentioned that I may not feel like I’m compensated enough. There’s some truth to their perception but only a little bit. I’m having a ball.

When I’m out there to set rover for the day, I get to see the sunrise in arguably the best garden spot in the US. Observing the specialists that have come here from Japan to do their thing here has been like watching a painting being made. Layer by layer. Color by color.

I am a happy man.

Michael

Success is not the goal…..

…improvement is the goal. It seems to me  that all the coaching, selling, negotiating and business tips, (mine included) that we dispense with great abandon are usually about achieving success. I think that what we really should be doing is giving advice on how to improve on whatever shoot, negotiation, sales call, etc. we engaged in previously as the preferred and less threatening method for developing a path to success. For me, this process has been going on for years.

Improving oneself leads to success, growth, power, clarity and confidence. The goal is improvement. Success will follow. Guaranteed. Gradual, steady, persistent and consistent improvement leads to success. The equation is that simple. I think a lot of people wrongly believe that success is paramount and that they have been lead down this garden path by the cottage  industry of life and business coaches prowling around online, in workshops and seminars. They’ve been putting the cart before the horse, generated huge profits for themselves and have saddled up customers to take their advice. I wonder what the success rate is for these do-gooders?

I’m all for your success but I think about it differently. I take the gloss off the sales pitches, solutions and the like. My philosophy about what makes a successful photograph (small steps made correctly) carries over to my idea about how my daily routines and processes can help move me in the direction of success by enabling me to improve slightly every day. Think about what this approach means? 5-7 days of slight improvement times 4 weeks time 12 months. That’s a lot of success!!!! Put you in the previous paragraph and see how it feels.

Even the inevitable setbacks won’t negate a years worth of incremental improvement. Too slow you say? I say enjoy the ride and along the way have a cup of joe and smell the roses, spend time with family or whatever it is you want and need to do as your reward for the incremental improvements and inevitable successes that form the heart of your career.

Good luck!

Michael

Dream Your Photograph….

Dream On!

then photograph your dream. This quote is my version of the famous Vincent Van Gogh quote: “I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.” When I first came across this beautiful bit of motivation, it helped validate my dreamy pre-visualization creative process. In my opinion I think we all  possess the ability to dream creatively but us creative types seem able to access the insights dreams provide easier than left-brainers.

I discuss pre-visualization and it’s importance to my creative process in chapter one of my book, “Build A Better Photograph.” Here’s a taste: My pre-visualization technique takes a serpentine path. The creative process pulses, breathes, and moves through me. It flows with passion, anger, joy, love, desire and fear. Add your own emotions to this list. An “image hit” informs the emotional responses I feel after experiencing one of these stimuli. I feel my response to the person, to the action, to the food. This is how it begins.

Process validation is a necessary component for artistic growth. Artists whose work I admire is one metric I use to gauge my growth as an artist and my place in the industry. I define validation as this: you share similar beliefs with someone who you know and respect. When you measure yourself against this persons talents or accomplishments, you feel more secure in your thought processes and abilities.

What are you dreaming of?

Be Selfish and Volunteer Your Way to Success

A sampling of the days session

September 8, 2011 I volunteered once again to photograph those less fortunate than myself. I did the same thing back in 2009, when I was not getting enough photography assignments (or other work of any substance) and my monthly cash flow was shall we say….inadequate. Thank goodness for my other income streams: investments and real estate.

Volunteering is a way for me to give rather than receive, it feeds my soul. I receive many benefits from volunteering: I meet new people, I get to practice my interpersonal portraiture schtick, lighting ratios, RAW processing, color management, retouching, JPEG compression and emailing skills.

The sum total is that I become enriched. When paying projects do come my way, because I’m prepared, I know exactly how to handle anything that comes up. With personal style and professional confidence.

Over time the good people I help, help spread the good word about me. I’ve received recommendations on my LinkedIn profile and many heartfelt emails. It feels good. Over time the sum total of my efforts drives my credibility to ever higher levels. This in turn leads to more business and art opportunities that allow me live life on my terms.

Isn’t that what we’re all after?

Be selfish and volunteer.

It will do us all good.

Michael

Related Images:

Thy Muse Is Challenge

Tidepools

I’ve a muse to inspire push and motivate. As an SECP (self-employed creative professional) I want to get my bubbles of influence (creative, financial, relationship) out further and farther (or farther and further?) Every project I work on, every email I send, every letter I write, every negotiation I undertake, every sales presentation I make, every personal relationship I have present a challenge of some sort. The challenge is my muse.

Challenge calls to me like the Sirens. If I don’t approach each challenge wisely however (as the Sirens hoped for), I may not crash but most likely will not have the expected outcome. I’m always down for seeking new and unfamiliar ways to channel this muse to help me accomplish my goals. Do I always succeed? Of course not. But I do succeed enough to propel me, my family and career forward.

For instance, during my current time-lapse project I’ve worked out ways to photograph the subject to make it more interesting. Some of my ideas: fade in and fade out to convey the passage of time, zoom in, zoom out and pan while manually shooting a burst of frames. The end results are cinema type camera moves within a still photography time-lapse. My client is pleased with the result and this had led to discussions about future time-lapse projects. This of course encourages to think up new ways to increase the the value of the overall project for all involved parties.

Another challenge on this project; how to get the specialists (carpenters, roofers, plasterers, foremen) flown in from Japan to accept me. I wanted to be able to place my 2nd and 3rd cameras in locations of my choosing. These locations while great for my purposes may not be ideal for them. How to respect their boundaries, achieve what I want and come together for the sake of the project?

I’d planned to give prints as gifts near the end of the project. But after reviewing  the first days take from camera two (set inside where the carpenters were working), I noticed the carpenters had posed during a few of the exposures. One silly, one serious and one group with all of them. How great is that? I didn’t know they had posed. Once the camera was set, I leave for several hours, came back to retrieve the camera and leave again for my office. I discovered their self-portraits during my edit session. I remember telling them the camera was set to make an exposure every 90 seconds and that you could hear the sound of the shutter. I didn’t think anything of it. It was left up to them to act. They did. And I responded in kind.

     

                 Just for fun….

This simple gesture on both sides has resulted in a bonding of sorts. Subsequently they have suggested spots for camera placement. They are also very careful to ensure my cameras don’t get disturbed during its’ daily cycle. Challenge met and conquered.

I urge you to find your muse. In whatever shape it comes to you. Embrace it. Get to know it. Learn how to apply it to advance your goals.

Good luck.

Michael

Self-Employment Society

I’ll be teaching one of three classes at my local community college this coming August. It’s an adjunct (contract) faculty position and I’m pleased at being selected. I’ve been teaching at a variety of educational institutions since 1987 and like photography, teaching is a calling. I’ve made a living at both for years but I wanted to call your attention to a trend that’s been building for years. The three classes are being divided up amongst new adjuncts. A full time person has left and the vacancy is being filled by adjuncts. No benefits, no sick days. No long-term commitment on the part of the school. I date the start of this trend to the beginning of business globalization back in the 80’s.

We’re becoming much more of a society of part-timers, double and triple jobbers, independent contractors and the self-employed. Gone are the days of full-time employment, full time benefits, a lifetime pension and straightforward and honest company executives. We have to make our own careers. This trend has been reported on by various media; The collective employment culture is evolving into one that uses non-traditional employment methods to get society’s work done. I say this because I’ve experienced it and continue to experience it: In addition to this adjunct position, I’m waiting to hear from a major player in our industry about an offer to work with them on a contract basis, filling a position that a full-time held previously. No benefits. No pension. No long-term commitments. Easy to get into. Easy to get out of. As long as the contract rate reflects my costs, (health care, taxes, overhead,etc)  I’m fine with these kinds of employment situations. I’ve been working this way for years, I’m an SECP.  I’m concerned for all of you who have not experienced being self-employed. On a good day it’s great. All the other days, it’s tough. You work hard every day and yet you don’t make money every day. Like I said. Tough. Yet it’s where we’re headed so you better warm up to the idea and get ready to play. I’ve been blogging about this since 2008. Go here. Here. Here. And here for a taste.

Business save money when they use contract people. Businesses save in salary and benefits. Part-timers don’t get as much pay nor do they receive benefits. Contractors should and usually do get more per hour so they can contribute to their expenses. When negotiating such a contract, don’t forget to figure that when an employee works for a company, the hourly rate they “earn” is approximately 1/5 of what they actually cost their employer. In addition to the hourly rate there are payroll taxes, social security taxes, benefits, 401k plans, insurances, etc. that are factored in. You need to factor these in too or else you will not thrive let alone survive. I’ve been factoring in these costs from day one and 30 years later, my investments are five times higher than the average working stiff. Booyah!

Do yourselves and your families a favor and begin the process of figuring out how to monetize your expertise and creating opportunities for such expertise. Success is a process not an end result.

Good luck and let me know how I can help.

Michael