Tag Archives: management

Personal Branding Matters…

Visual Sage Michael e. Stern

Last week I spent an evening with Kevin Susman of Storm Cellar and his WHYMATTERS #personalbranding Workshop. Kevin runs Storm Cellar and is a brand strategist, filmmaker and guy who does things for corporations. He has taken his corporate expertise and reformulated it into a personal branding program.

Why was I drawn to this? Number one reason: Kevin is a photography client, we became friends as a result, have kept in touch and I like to support my friends.

Secondly, I’m always looking for an edge when it comes to the self-employment game, especially since I’m in the photo industry which we all know is as easy as tying shoes to become successful in and thrive at…

I know marketing is important. I know identifying your potential clients is important. I know a strategy statement is important. I know tag lines are important. On my own I wasn’t able to drill down in profound ways to understand and integrate these important moving parts.

After Kevin’s workshop that is no longer the case. The presentation was concise and entertaining. The hands-on portion was the kicker for me. We had to interact with others in the group. This is where I/we were able to flesh out the mysteries of what the hell we were doing…

I found it extremely productive and the end result has given me a clearer path to the far side of my career. I’ve been in this game for 32+ years so I’m no neeb. But we all need a little help and this workshop was dope!

Cheers!

 

Michael
The Visual Sage

The Fabulous Forum

August 27, 2013. I was on my 10th assignment for the Madison Square Company in New York. As the renovation of the Fabulous Forum proceeds, my archive is contains over 1500 images and with each new shoot, continues to grow. Here’s my gallery of 39 (so far) select images.

I love documentary photography because of the way historical photography instantly transports me to a place and time much like a favorite song does. Creating the historical record of what’s taking place at this storied venue will be important for future Los Angelenos and scholars. and it’s a lot of fun for me now. My client has mentioned more than once how much she appreciates my devotion to the project. No worries!

I grew up watching the Lakers, Kings and the circus at the Forum. Usually with my dad. Just he and I. As he’s been gone several years now, this assignment takes on more meaning each time I venture through the place documenting it’s current state. It saddens and thrills me simultaneously. Kinda weird. But oh so much fun.

Here’s my equipment-light location package:

time lapse photography package
Everything I need is in the box: tripod, speedlight, cameras, lenses, water, food, towels, flare shield and an iPad. (I look at previous shoots to match up camera positions for shoot-to-shoot consistency)

iPad on location at the Fabulous ForumI ain’t no spring chicken anymore and with all the walking up and down narrow passages, traipsing all over and around various construction detritus and equipment, it pays to be as nimble as possible.

Each time I set foot on the property I’m obligated to wear steel-toed boots, an orange vest, safety glasses and a hard hat: Michael e. Stern in saftey gearI bought a Lil Mule camera dolly for the express purpose of moving my camera in random, controlled patterns. Here’s what it looks like:

lil mule time lapse michael sternIt’s sweet. I’m glad I made the investment in one. Here’s my first test with it prior to taking out to the Forum.

How’s that for fun? Footage from the Forum to follow….

Thanks for reading.

 

Michael

 

Related Images:

Why Does It Cost So Much?

Money

 Why Does It cost so much? –or– Why don’t I own it?

 

Filed under, “If I had a nickel for every time I heard this….”

 Knowledge & Power

The education of commercial art buyers at the client direct level is awash in a sea of misinformation and self-appointed know-it-alls. Some days I see the advantage of having a personal firing squad.

 

Professional Photography costs X dollars because commercial licensing of intellectual property is a component of the service we sell.  Referring specifically to professional photography, we don’t make widgets. We don’t sell real estate. We don’t collect data and mine it for you. We do work on commission, we work at creating intellectual property in the form of visuals and it’s the intellectual property rights built into each and every photograph we build that provides us the ability to make a living wage. Licensing the use of intellectual property for your business or personal needs is part of our business model.

 

If one works in a situation where someone else carries the weight for you, (benefits, salary, retirement, etc.) then the idea of artists’ intellectual property rights may indeed be a mystery. Add in the costs of doing business, the need to make a reasonable profit and our pricing structure and you have our business model just about summed up.

 

It’s painful when we negotiate and end up not only having been denied our licensing rights, but maddening when those rights aren’t even acknowledged. It’s not a gift or an entitlement. It’s a right. Artists own their creative works unless they sign them away. It’s the creative-art-patent.

 

 Product vs. Expression

We do not create products. We create the expression of an idea. It’s custom designed to fit your needs and desires. If you’re willing to pay for it you can own our intellectual property rights by an outright purchase and transfer of our copyright. Not recommended of course due to the expense, but it ‘s available. I’ve sold it a few times in my career.

 

If you’re unable or unwilling to purchase our intellectual work outright then we’ll come to an agreement that let’s you license the portions you need and we’ll keep the rest. We’re then free (through our ingenuity and efforts) to look for other opportunities and revenue streams. Again, this is our business model.

 

When you purchase a home you are purchasing the property rights to that home and land. When you buy a DVD you own the physical disk but not its’ content. You’ve licensed the content for a specific use. Period. That intellectual property is the property of the creating party….movie studio or independent filmmaker.

 

I lose projects because ownership issues (my rights) drive costs past what seem like arbitrarily low budgets. Education about this issue is important to both sides so a mutually beneficial understanding is developed.

 

I’m not inflexible in my pricing either. I’ve adjusted with the state of the economy but it isn’t enough; a request for a quote came in: ten business professional headshots, retouched and ready to post online. The shoot was to be on location about 13 miles from my studio. I normally charge $600.00 a shot for volume jobs like this. But I wanted to see where the bottom was so I came in at the ridiculously low price of $95.00 a shot. I was crazy to let this quote out of my office but I needed to see where bottom was. But in fact I was too high! Some other knucklehead (dumber than me) low-balled the crap out of it after I already low-balled the crap out of it. That’s four low balls! And it wasn’t enough.

 

Now where’s that firing squad?

 

 And Yet There’s More

But it’s also something much more. More profound. More disturbing than at any other time in my career.

 

It’s the inability of individuals and businesses to accept that bargaining for these rights (or even the effort to understand and grasp the concept of ownership, licensing, copyright and associated costs) makes us crazy. Ready. Aim….

 

It costs more than you realize, or want to spend, or have been told is your budget to spend because it’s convenient not to think about what it takes to engage a professional who trades in the photographic arts.

 

The copyright law that protects every creative’s intellectual property rights includes photographers. And movie studios. And authors. And songwriters. And poets. And comedy acts. And TV shows. And professional sports leagues. We’re in good company and we aim to stay put.

 

So please listen when we tell you the proper way to license or purchase our intellectual property. It protects you from unauthorized use. If you use protected work that has been registered it gets expensive in a hurry.

 

But you know that right?

 Let’s Work Together

You don’t think I’m going to press my advantage if I catch you? Most likely I will. It’s about respect and acknowledgement of what our rights and protections are. Rights and protections we fight to keep in spite of what our government of the United States of Business tries to do. Daily. You have rights and protections that you want honored and enforced, company trademarks, patents and the like.

 

It’s a two-way street and today’s economic environment is no excuse for fostering an attitude that belittles the process, diminishes the relationship and adds to everyone’s stress level.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Michael

Nap Time!

Wow am I refreshed! I just woke up from my mid-day nap and I’m ready to put in another 6 hours or so of work today. Those of us who are self-employed have a much easier time when it comes to managing out down time. Can you imagine taking a nap in an office environment? Oh yeah I know there’s always those energy drinks to bring us back from the sleepy time. Not me. I want a nap. Give my brain a bit of time to recharge. Absolutely necessary for the daily tasks that lay ahead: shooting, administration, marketing, networking events, blogging, client touches, etc. Years ago one of the divisions at Disney (a client since 1982) put a cot, table and lamp in an unused office so that it would be available for those who needed it. As far as I know it never was because it didn’t last long. There was a stigma attached that if you napped you were lazy or just not the right fit for the culture. Phooey I say! Let the naps begin!

I regularly awake between 4:30 and 6:00 am most mornings. I used to fight it and go back to sleep but not anymore. One of the advantages of getting older is you choose comfort over style. And my comfort level is to get up when my clock says so and begin another productive day of self-employment. I’ll nap five to six hours later for about an hour and then it’s off again to the races. This idea of napping goes back to another post I wrote about knowing the times of day and days of the week when you are best suited for specific tasks. You can read it here.

As I wrote in the “Know Your Rhythms” post, I am hyper-aware of what I need and when I need it. If I ignore the signals that I need a nap I will not function at the high level I need in order to fulfill demanding and relentless days. What you ask do I do if I have a full day ahead and no time for napping? I go to bed much earlier than usual and if need be, take a caffeine pill to stay awake. I try not to take the pill and will try to catch a cat nap if I can. I have no shame about my need for downtime, I embrace its’ refreshing, cathartic effects on my attitude. It’s contextual however and if I can, I can and if not, I don’t.

Oh well there’s always bed time…(:())

 

 

 

Tuning Your Opportunity Radar

I was on the phone yesterday with the vice-president of photography operations for a very large company in New York. (I trust you can appreciate I keep their identity secret) They are on the verge of beginning a high-profile project in LA and I’m determined to be the contractor for their photography needs. The VP called me so we could get to know each other a bit. How did I manage to get this very busy person to call me?

I read the LA Times every morning when I’m in town. There is usually no shortage of stories about new business dealings happening LOCALLY. I emphasize locally because there is a lot of business to be had locally if one knows where to look. This particular story appeared in the LA Times in mid-summer. I could tell by the story that it would be a few months before anything got rolling. So I planned what I would say when I eventually (and hopefully) connected with the right person. As part of my research to locate this point person, I had to first locate the company contact info. Easy and difficult: for this company, it’s easy to reach the people who sell tickets, provide customer service, provide guest relations, etc. But nowhere on the company website were the relevant phone numbers listed. A Google search didn’t help either. But my opportunity radar kept beeping and I wasn’t going to ignore a good lead. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

I began by calling the lost and found office. (I was lost wasn’t I?) The person tried to be helpful and perused the company directory for me but after a few minutes of going nowhere fast I suggested the HR department as the place to go. But I was sent to another department by mistake. I assumed (wrong!) that I was indeed in HR and proceeded (after introducing myself) with my spiel.  After a minute the person who answered laughed and said I was in the wrong department but sent me to HR as a courtesy.

I introduced myself again, (third time’s a charm) stated my purpose and then went on with my pitch. After a few minutes it was clear that this person had no idea what I was talking about (neither did the others I might add) but kindly suggested that perhaps the VP of photography might be the right person. I was sent directly to this persons’ voicemail, left a message and within ten minutes received a call back. And it was the correct person to speak with. Bullseye! Right where I wanted to be.

We spoke for a few minutes (this was just an intro chat) but covered important ground. I made sure to ask questions about this person and how they came into the position of VP. It’s not all about me and my needs. It’s about their work, their needs and how I may be able to help them. This is my radar equation: tuning into the correct opportunities for the work I want to produce. I invest time into knowing what type of work I prefer to do and I sniff out those opportunities that fulfill the mission. Simple. Easy. Takes patience and a willingness to hang in there when all inquiries seem like dead ends. It’s a process.

I’ve been doing this sort of business development for years and have had my successes for sure. And this seems like one of them. I’ve also experienced failures but that is the game isn’t it? Win some. Lose some. Spend time with your family.

Good luck tuning your opportunity radar.

Michael

 

 

Related Images:

Without Risk You Become Irrelevant

I’m curious so naturally I hung out with the Curiosity. At JPL, Pasadena, CA.

 

I’ve been wanting to address the issues of failure, freedom and success for quite some time now. And the day has finally arrived. An SECP is compelled to learn new skills, take on new challenges and generally embrace the idea that learning and risk taking are inextricably intertwined and never cease. For example I seek out in-person and online events where I get to speak, teach and potentially sell products of my own making or that of partner companies. I attempt to do this in an honest, straightforward and humorous way. I spend many hours preparing materials and information and practicing the delivery of said materials and presentations.

The reason I do this: I’m dyslexic and was labeled slow in grammar school. I had tremendous difficulty comprehending what was being said and taught. My seat was moved to the front of the class. I was spoken to in a loud voice because it was clear I had a “hearing” problem. It was hard for me to endure teaching methods that did not work. Feeling humiliated added to the stress and frustration. An older brother however took great joy in teasing me about being a retard. (the acceptable word used back then) Ouch!

Thinking about my dyslexia and those school experiences moved me to see what I could do with the art, science and profession of teaching. I imagined my students (and anyone listening to me for that matter) as being dyslexic. This made me concentrate on the variety of ways information can be packaged and delivered. I strived to ensure my processes are clear, straightforward and broken down into easily digestible bits. This took years of practice, reading class critiques from students and administrators alike and professional development courses. A lot of work.

Does this take away from my time as a commercial photographer? You bet. Did I develop a new skill set, polish existing skills and insight into myself as a professional artist? Check that.

I love the process of being my own person. I’ll take on most challenges, go virtually anywhere to gain new information, knowledge and experiences that I then feed back into my business administration, marketing and sales roles. Similar to how I plow profits back into new equipment and training, teaching informs several aspects of my business and has enabled me to become an education/speaking expert in a particular market segment.

This constant searching for new ideas and experiences helps to keep me fresh and topical.

What are you doing? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

The best comment will win a signed copy of my book!

Thanks!

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

Thumbtack Marketing; It’s A Long Road


I am a professional photographer. I work for money. (usually) I need to get the word out. In as many ways as possible. Often. Thumbtack.com is one of the myriad ways I get the word out on a frequent and consistent basis. I have opted to pay a monthly subscription fee for job leads. It is reasonably priced and will pay for itself for a year with just one commission. For me it’s worth the investment. In my business. In my career. In my marketing partner.

Here is my listing on Thumbtack: I offer portrait, architectural, event and time-lapse photography products and services. Everyone has a story to tell and we’ll have a few laughs in the process. Expert photo restoration and printing services also available. I build photographs, I don’t take pictures.

When you’re self-employed, use all available resources that enhance your brand and services.

Good luck and good business to all of us!

Michael

P.I.E.

Getting 140 different personalities to buy into my vision using my P.I.E. experience.

As I’m waiting around for several thousand RAW files to convert to JPEG so I can edit chapter two of the eight chapter sequences of the time-lapse project I wrote about here, I thought I’d write about my personal approach to improving my sales techniques. I call this process P.I.E., or Practice Interpersonal Exchanges. What does this mean exactly? That is the purpose of this post.

I know a lot of SECP’s are loath to sell, ask for what they are worth or even manage their cash flow. (assuming they have one) I know that my profession is commercial photography but my business is selling. To that end I take every opportunity I can to practice interpersonal exchanges with store clerks, gas station cashiers, waitresses, students, executives, parents, kids, photographers, the list is by no means limited to what I’ve identified here and of course it also includes my clients. I practice speaking, during phone calls, emails and letters. I practice, practice, practice.

I’m good at what I do because I practice. A lot. I have a temper and it can project me in negative ways if I’m not careful. So I continue to practice and see every interaction as a way for me to work through my issues and in turn get closer to my goal of developing better patience and understanding of the other party’s point of view. A good thing to be able to do when it comes to selling oneself is the ability to look at oneself from a holistic reference point to see the entire whole and not just the task directly in front. Basically everything connects and deserves to be respectfully supported so that the foundation is strong.

By putting my P.I.E. into practice I remind myself of who I am and where I’m trying to go. This is a good thing.

Some of the areas I practice are: saying hello to a stranger and asking their name, listening appropriately after asking a question, listening appropriately while the person is speaking (it’s important to them don’t forget), saying their name back to them ASAP, thanking them for their time, speaking clearly and slowly when leaving any type of number in a voicemail.

One of the things I particularly like to do is to call attention to a job well done. A customer service rep on the phone, a waitress, a student, even clients get this treatment. I’ve even go so far as to call back a company to say thanks when something that has been promised to me comes through. The person is surprised and grateful for the recognition. Apparently this type of P.I.E. doesn’t happen to them very often. I am glad to oblige, it makes them feel good and I get better at speaking to others. And that is what selling is for me.

Are you ready for some PIE?