Tag Archives: marketing

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

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?

 

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:

My Competition is My Past

Knock Yourself Out

As part of my daily duties as a professional photographer and self-employed businessperson, I evaluate multiple aspects of running my business: finances, investments creative mojo, technical understanding/practical application, sales, marketing, interpersonal skills, pricing, vendor relationships, likeability factors and more.

It never ends. I’m not complaining. Just explaining what I do to keep my oarsmen in the correct rhythm so I head in the direction of my business and career plans. No easy task. I’m distracted and bore easily. How do I do it then? For 30 years I’ve worked on these duties a little bit at a time, just a few at a time, slowly. I learn and absorb the process, knowledge and practical applications on my time frame: slow and steady wins the race. For example: as a professional photographer I feel it’s my responsibility to look critically at my work on a regular basis and ask myself what can I do better than I’m doing now? More thoughtful approach to my lighting angles? More awareness of my contrast ratios? More competent lens/aperture/shutter speed selection criteria? I want to keep pushing my quality until there isn’t a single location lighting situation I can’t handle. Lit or not I want to conquer all  technical and creative situations. This is my goal. It’s beyond my grasp. I may never arrive at the level my sights are set on. But my constant evaluation process will move me in that direction. And I will always improve. You see, I’m competing with myself, not anyone else. This flys in the face of the conventional wisdom that states you compete against like-minded small businesses.

If photographers are different and offer different levels of quality, creativity and customer service, then how can I be in competition with anyone but me? I am aware of who’s in my market. Sure. I’m aware of what others charge and what issues others have regarding running their careers and lives profitably. This isn’t to say I don’t learn from the success and mistakes of others. I do. Frequently.

But I compete with my past. With my performance from yesterday. From last week. Last Month. Last Year. My competition is my past. This logic keeps me focused on the goals I’ve identified, sane and relatively stress-free.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

2011 Rose Bowl Time-Lapse of Fireworks Show

July 4, 2011

Here is the sequence I shot last night. I rendered the frames out at a much higher rate than I thought I would (10 frames per second vs. 2 frames per second) and I like it. The challenge was finding the right tempo music. Garage Band had what I needed. Enjoy.

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

35,000 Frames Later

I began a new time-lapse project this week. At the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA. 16 weeks of 9 hour  days, one frame every two minutes. Additionally I’ll shoot four specific daily sequences of the project as it progresses. What is the subject of this project? The re-assembly of the first Japanese tea house built in the US post WWII. how did I get this job? Having the correct keywords in my site header, the right SEO and the right amount of effort to make sure it all works together.

I ordered a custom-built weather proof housing with state-of-the-art electronics, a new camera and lens combo and software to run it all. Sweet. Getting to spend money on new stuff is a gas. The photos give you a sense of what my installation looks like. All I have to do with this is walk up, unlock the download station, jack into the system and suck up the days shoot. Simple. Efficient. Profitable.

To get to this point I did my research, found the right fabricators, made the right deal, received the right training and programming, deployed in the field and ran a day of testing under shoot conditions. This is what separates the low-ball hacks from us pros. Knowing what needs to be done and doing it..without fail. As often as possible. My track record is up near 100%. What’s yours? The game is afoot!

Michael