Tag Archives: karma

5 Habits Of Success

My 3D scan of a baby raven

As I’ve transitioned to the education, public speaking, writing and consulting side of the photographic industry, I’m surprised at the lack of basic professional business skills (common sense skills) that early-career (and often mid-career) artists frequently lack. Actually this phenomenon is not exclusively an artist issue but since that’s my big thing, for purposes of this post, it is. Following is my very short list of professional business practices you must master and adhere too if you want to be taken seriously and have leverage when negotiating.

1)    Always do what you promise to do, without excuses or procrastination, in a high-quality way and always as promised. It’s OK to exceed a promise but never under-deliver. The bad rap (of being unreliable) is very hard to separate from, once attached.

2)   Always communicate in a professional way. Be fanatical about typos and grammatical errors in all correspondence sent out. You want your audience to consume only the best from you. This devotion to excellence directs a positive light onto all that is you. Think of it as the foundation of your marketing and branding regimen.

3)    Education is a daily process, be in a constant state of learning. I learn something everyday from parenting, gardening, being healthy, being mindful, minding my business, etc. It’s almost impossible not to be able to extract some kernal of knowledge from your daily existence. Don’t discard any experience without first vetting it for that hidden kernal.

4)   Take care of your emotional state. This is perhaps the most difficult for me to manage on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try. Getting quality rest, eating healthful food, play time and someone to talk to are a few of my techniques.

5)   Learn financial management. Spend less than you earn. Tough to master, but the long-term payoffs are sweet. Define what you want and what you need. If you can’t pay cash can you really buy it? I don’t make a purchase until I have the funds already available. I look for no-interest financing options and then make sure I pay it off within the allotted time. I can always pay it off if need be. I appreciate the power that comes with this knowledge. Get in the habit of saving, anywhere and everywhere you can. Don’t be concerned with what your friends make, be concerned with how frequently you pay into your future by spending less today.

This very short list is intended to get you thinking about the topics. If you don’t begin mastering these basic habits, it’s my opinion that you’ll struggle to develop and maintain long-term life and career success.

Be well and good luck in your pursuits!

Michael

Give To Get

Breaking waves At Cabo Pulmo. Baja, California.

I home school myself many hours per month listening to tele-seminars, watching and participating in webinars and watching videos at ted.com and 99%.com. These presenters have helped me become better SECP. I’ve been putting a lot of effort lately into promoting, my expertise in self-employment, sales, pricing, financial management and deal-making. All centered around the creative person seeing themselves as professionals, not surviving artists but thriving artists managing their opportunities better then they have before.

My reason for this post: my family and I attended a Memorial Day BBQ on Sunday, good company, good food and several rounds of Guitar Hero. Also in attendance was an artisan and his family. This fellow is one of a handful of persons who does what he does: expert restoration of wood, stone, concrete and most anything you can think of when it comes to 100 year old homes. We spent a lot of time talking about his inability to generate the income and lifestyle he prefers over the one he has. He listened to me speak on the topics listed above and later wrote me: “I went to bed early with a headache (migraine) undoubtedly because I recognize the truth in your message and don’t feel I have the solution just yet. Years of self-neglect, self-denial, self-deprecating humor to compensate for the initiative to improve this part of myself…. You are the right counselor to meet at this point in my career development. An artist with the right skills to share, to end my cycle of continued poverty. You have pointed to the solution, but I’m gonna need a road map to lead me out of the woods.”

Further on he writes: “I’ve thought for the longest time that the “starving artist” was a natural way of life, just the nature of things that comes with this choice of career. That unless some arbitrary and lucky occurrence of the art critic “building a bandwagon” for other art critics to jump on would be necessary to become a Jackson Pollock or phenomenon within your own lifetime. This might  still be true to some degree. But I think I can be a better advocate for my skills than I have been, and perhaps arrive at a better place than the upside down turtle waiting for a savior.
Thanks Again Brother, I think my lucky occurrence was talking (and listening) with you on Sunday. Maybe there’s a new book building in this “Dinner with Andre.”

I didn’t realize how hard I’d struck the nerve. This is what I’ve been training for of course, to help others with my message. Another great gift came out of this encounter, we need help and advice in restoring/repairing several areas of our 100 year old homes in Pasadena and this artisan made us an offer: Your time would be valuable to me, and I’m not sure how I can compensate you. Maybe I have something you need, perhaps a barter arrangement?

How about that? By putting myself out there, the universe supplied the answer. I will always give to get.

To  your self-employment success.

Press Your Advantage

Late afternoon light and Peggy.

Keeping up with a blog is a huge responsibility and one that I take seriously. Looking for topics is ongoing and stressful. Before I head out for a bike ride this morning (to relieve some stress), I realized I had a great topic for a post……

Since my book has been released, I have purchased several dozen copies from my publisher to give away to friends and to sell at speaking engagements. I purchase my book at a discount from my publisher and I then either resell at a profit or give copies away as a promotion. This works fine but even at a discount, plus shipping I’m still out of pocket several hundred dollars for each order I receive. It is a cost of doing business and I do get to deduct the expense, but it’s still real dollars going out right now and if I can minimize this outflow, I should.

Well it just so happens that for whatever reason, Amazon has dropped the price of my book to the point where it behooves me to buy from them instead. Plus, free shipping. How crazy is that? The savings I enjoyed on the order placed this week is substantial and I’ll be doing it again. And since it’s a sale from Amazon, I’ll get my royalties on each book purchased from the publisher. Crazy again!

I not only save money on the purchase price, I make money on the royalties. I am making money on both ends of the transaction. Granted I’m not buying a condo in Maui just yet but it’s the idea that’s important here.

Press your advantage when the opportunity presents itself and you’ll begin to generate multiple profit centers for your business.

Good luck.

You Are Entitled To As Much As You Make Yourself Worth Part 2

My first impressions of downtown Chicago

To continue from part one of this series, I will now discuss a bit about how I work with my vendors. But first I’d like to back up a bit and talk about the chain.

When it comes to the lab products portion of my business, I am a vendor to my clients and a client to my vendors. I am the middle link in this chain. My clients try to get the best (lowest) price from me, I try to get the best (highest) price from them. My vendors try to get the best (highest) price for their goods and I try to get the best (lowest) price from them. This is how I define the chain.

An order comes in from a client. If it’s something I prefer to do myself then I charge my usual prices for custom made lab products. However if the job is so large or I am too busy to handle the job myself, then I out-lab the job. For some the conventional wisdom is to “make your money shooting, not in handling lab work”. I am suggesting another way of looking at the situation: if it goes through my books, if I am at all responsible for something, then I make money on it or I don’t want to have that responsibility. With this mindset, I can generate several profit centers on each job I accept. The markup on prints, the markup on supplies (tape, glue, seamless, props, etc.) are generally accepted business practices, (and they work great) but I take it one step further.

I work with my vendors to give me a better price than they might otherwise offer. How do I do this? I ask. It’s that simple. I have a 50-50 chance of getting a yes just by asking. I have 0% chance if I don’t ask. So I ask. If nothing else I get to practice my speaking and interpersonal skills. If that doesn’t work I offer to pay by check (this saves the merchant credit card fees). If that doesn’t budge them, I offer to pay in cash. Still no deal? At this point if I trust them, I offer to pay cash at the time of ordering. When I offer this, I really trust my vendor  because I’m taking a bigger than normal risk. Hey, no guts, no glory. I usually have a client advance in my pocket when I offer this, so I’m playing with house money. This is one way I mitigate the risk.

There have been numerous times when I have “earned” up to 70% off the vendors usual price. You heard right folks, 70%! For me, no job is too small and no profit is too large. I’m in business to thrive, not survive, and there are times when I don’t hit my profit goals for a job, so it all works out over time. I’ve been lucky in this business and at other times it’s just plain hard work and never quitting on a deal.

In the end my clients are happy (they got what they needed), my vendors are happy (they got what they needed) and I’m happy they’re happy. As the middle link in the chain, it is my single-minded focus that all parties involved in a transaction are satisfied they did business with the right person. And that’s the way it’s worked for me for the past 30 years.

Michael

Help Yourself By Being Interviewed

The view from my son's tree house

Do you realize how many sites looking are looking for content only the wonderfulness of you can provide? I have been highly motivated during my career to get the word out about me and my photography talents: direct mail, phone calls, sales calls and presentations. That morphed into voicemail, email and websites. The current trend is to give away some of your “stuff” via webinars, blogs and teleseminars. These gestures give potential clients the proverbial lick from your ice cream cone. If they lick and like then they may bite. And this means new awareness for you and what you offer and possibly you’ll be able to turn that awareness into sales.

If hosting your own webinar series is too scary to contemplate there is also another way: sites that will interview you because you are the expert in your field or at the very least you are good at what you do and have something to offer others in the way of advice by relating your experiences, both good and bad. I took that approach with my book and since it’s release I’ve been doing interviews, public appearances and podcasts! Very cool stuff.

Jitzul is just one of the websites willing to interview you about being a creative professional. Take advantage of what Ryan and Alicia are offering, an online archive of the experiences of artists the world over. When the interview is over you can link to it, send others (potential clients) to listen and perhaps people looking to know more about you will see the link in their search engine results. If you’re selected, listen to some of the others already on the site and practice your diction, articulation and think about how thoughtful your answers and commentary can be.

Good luck!

Michael


You Are Entitled To As Much As You Make Yourself Worth

From my Bone Daddy series

“You are entitled to as much as you make yourself worth.” Douglas Kirkland spoke these words at an APA event I attended in the early 80’s. Right then and there I realized how powerful that statement was and I’ve been applying this credo to my business negotiations ever since. It’s a great mindset.

I keep this statement in mind when I set fees for services rendered, prices for prints (and other lab products) and when I negotiate with vendors:

Number 1: Fees and Prices. It’s important to know the intended use (or uses) for your work. This important step can easily overlooked when negotiating, what with the excitement of being asked if you’re available for a project and all that that entails. There is no good excuse for not asking this question. Practice if you must but develop the habit of asking, “I’m flattered at being considered for your next project, please tell me what would you like to use my work for.” Their answer will have a profound impact on the fee. I charge based on the licensing usage, the length of time the license runs and my expertise.

My expertise is this: I deliver results. I deliver high-quality images every job. I don’t settle for good enough. This approach drives up my value in the marketplace. I am an expert, I honor my commitments and I deliver quality results every time, regardless of project circumstances. I’m a detail oriented person. I work with vendors who perform their services or make their products to the same high standard. These are areas I’ve refined to a degree that makes me (more often than not) the most expensive provider on a project and yet I often get the job. In the back of my mind I know what it costs me to live every month. I query my network of friends in the business to ask them how they would price a job similar to the one I’m quoting. I go to trade shows, read books and articles to appreciate how others price their work. I take all this into account and come up with a number that sounds right for me and how I view myself as a working pro. A bit intuitive sometimes but I am a creative type.

Lastly I put my price through the grind test. If I can do the job without grinding my teeth and muttering under my breath, than I have structured the correct price for me to do the job with a smile on my face and a light in my heart. If I believe I’ll be a grinding my teeth, than I need to rethink my fee for the job at hand. I suppose one can characterize this an aggressive business tactic but you’re in the business to thrive, not survive.

“You are entitled to as much as you make yourself worth.” Thanks for the inspiration Mr. Kirkland.

Part 2 coming soon……

Parlaying Sales Through Good Karma

Camera Girl

Camera Girl

So today’s entry is about leverage, more specifically how to parlay one job into the next. For this discussion I will review one of my latest projects, a group portrait for Disney Animation Studios. Read the Group Portraits and all that Schtick entry to get some background info on the actual shoot.

As some of you may be aware I had an ongoing business relationship with The Walt Disney Company from 1982 through 2001.  During this time I maintained excellent interpersonal relationships with about eighty different buyers throughout the company’s many divisions. I produced quality work for them, on time and with the gratitude that comes with being self-employed. They had chosen me to work with them and I was grateful. I generated a lot of good karma during this time. For a variety of reasons (9/11 being one of them), it declined and eventually stopped in early 2002.

Let’s forward to 2008. My teaching career is starting to decline (low student enrollments and the recession) so to take up the slack, I head back into the photography business more or less full-time. I have an agent, Wendi Kaminski who has been working with me to develop new work. I’m also working it on my end and have been getting back in touch with some of my past Disney connections. Slow going for sure but I am finally getting some traction. A professional colleague was booked for the group portrait but became unavailable when the date changed. So who ya gonna call? Exactly.

I was mentored early in my career by three different men, a photographer, a software engineer and a sales professional. The photographer told me that you have to put it out there in an honest and positive way and that karma will bring good things back to you. You cannot dictate the time or place, but it will find you as that is how the world behaves. At the time, being young and impressionable (as opposed to being old and impressionable), I bought into his philosophy hook line and sinker. This belief system has served me well. I have seen it work for me many, many times and I have seen it work for others.

In this instance when this colleague called me I was surprised, touched (that he would think of me) and not really surprised at all. I had been thinking about how to get in touch with some of these past Disney clients and this golden opportunity opens up before me. I look at my photography assignments holistically and in this case, I saw that if I could split this assignment into two separate photographs, I could send this second photograph to another division and perhaps develop a new contact and sale. I was also compelled to look for an opportunity to sell to another division because out of professional courtesy I agreed to not solicit my colleagues’ client for additional work. But nothing was said about other buyers/clients within the company. This second photograph was of the building by itself. After running the files through an HDRI Photoshop plugin, I printed it and sent it to the correct person within the division of Disney that handles architectural photography.

He was impressed and as of this writing, asked me to call him on Monday so we could talk about the photograph I sent and the potential for getting an assignment or two from him. He is the decision maker and the one person I needed to meet in order to get new work.

There is always  a way to parlay one good action into another, but you have to think first and act second.  And persevere. Until the people I’m trying to sell to say no and tell me I’m wasting my time, I see every contact as a sales opportunity. These opportunities  are always present, it is up to you have to bring them alive.

Sort of like Frankenstein only not as scary.

Do good work out there and don’t let others impede your forward motion.

Cheers!

One Self-Employed Success Measurement

sword

These days, one of the tasks I relish is when former students who are now in the workforce (as self-employed individuals), reach out to me for advice. They are finally experiencing what I mentioned in a class lecture. At the time they may not have listened well enough or perhaps it had little relevance for them at the time. But boy do it ring bells now!

One such story I wish to relate here: that of a former student and recent graduate of Brooks Institute who was lamenting how she was a “complete bust” (her words, not mine) on a self-assigned ski photography shoot. I wrote back to her with this note of support: (more or less)

“Even though you say the ski photographer gig was a complete bust, in fact it wasn’t. It’s not uncommon for folks new to being self-employed to focus only on a narrow range of how success is defined. You may not realize it yet but you learned a tremendous amount about yourself, your perceived value in the marketplace, how you interact with people and how they respond to your professional presentation.

This information is in your head, now it is up to you to retrieve it and use the information efficiently. I spent quite a lot of time training myself in this discipline and I can tell you the rewards are invaluable. But you must train to get to this state of mind.

It’s hard being self-employed, it even harder to make money being self-employed and the hardest of all is doing it for decades while supporting a family. Talk about tough.

Don’t get discouraged, success will come if you truly want it and are single-minded in succeeding, no matter what curve life throws and it will throw all kinds of junk at you.

Good luck.

Stern