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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

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:

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

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

Keywords & SEO, Playing Well Together Part II

In the previous post with the same name I promised to let you know if I got the job….

It took a bit of negotiating (completely normal), but we came to an agreement on scope and budget. As a gesture of good will, I threw in a video interview. I’m sure this will go a long way in building the relationship with this client. Step two was to collect the deposit check, order the custom-built time-lapse housing and meet with the contractor who will set the pole into the ground and run power. As of this writing, I have the check ($$$$), ordered the housing, camera and lens but I’m waiting for the contractor to return my email…..

I’ve had a reality check with this new client: their priority scale is calibrated differently than mine. My business is dedicated to providing superior customer service. To that end I’ve sent emails, made phone calls and have generally tried try to get them to work with me in reaching their goal of beginning this project on their suggested start date. In order for me to help them reach their goal however, I require a deposit check. Without the deposit check I cannot order the time-lapse housing. This special housing requires ten days lead time (for fabrication, de-bugging, delivery, set-up and final testing). The check was delayed by two weeks, the housing was delayed by the same two weeks and that has pushed the start date back to who knows when.

I’m not as concerned anymore because I have the check and expect to pick up the housing early next week. The ball as they say is in their court.

Keywords & SEO, Playing Well Together

You are but a speck in the vast internet sea……

 

Keywording, meta tags and SEO work. I received an email last week. It was a request for a quote to produce several time-lapse videos. A four month (possibly longer) time-lapse project. Video inserts also requested. I was stoked. After setting up a meet and greet, I prepared my talking points and began research into weatherproof housings. We’re in the budgeting process. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I was told an online search was performed for professional time-lapse and that my name was the only name that showed as a professional photographer of time-lapse and it was at the top of the results page! Spot number one. It’s good to be the king. All the other results were for time-lapse gear and youtube time-lapse movies. I know this to be accurate because I checked out the results using the same keywords they told me they input. Very cool indeed. Take that traditional marketing. Zap! Pow! Not to say traditional marketing is useless, it isn’t. Being diligent however with my keywording, meta tags and SEO, definitely gave me a clear advantage in this unusual situation.

The takeaway here is to really think about your keywords, meta tags, SEO strategies, the text on your website (especially the landing page) and not using flash to run your information. Takes time to learn, apply, measure and refine. The effort is worth it. And if your competition is doing so and your not…guess who gets more opportunities?

Michael

Keep on Learning……

Learning to shoot out-of-critical focus images

I picked up two new tutoring students this week. Both of them are educated, successful, have resources and are ready to take in the information and expertise I have in photography, Photoshop, printing, computers and thinking creatively.

Why am I blogging about this? Because my pursuit of knowledge and my desire to provide others with knowledge has been the huge driving force in my life for ten years. Teaching at public and private schools was my first stop. In 2008 (when our great economy got pulled under by stupidity, greedy banks and flaccid politicians), I lost all of my teaching jobs and have had to be creative in pursuit of helping others.

That’s where tutoring comes in. It took some time to find a core group of like minded students with as strong a desire to learn as I have to impart information. I am humbled and grateful.

Keep on learning you all.

Don’t Burn Your Bridges, You May Need Them Later….

Lake Tahoe Pier-2006

 

Of the many aspects about teaching that I’m fond of, the process of reaching out to companies and asking for review copies of their products is up near the top. To date this has worked so well that I’ve become expert at asking and receiving. Of course I offer something in return: my expertise in reviewing said products and my loyal audience who have grown to trust my judgment when I bring the information to them. Everybody wins. It’s actually a great system.

I’m happy to report that I don’t burn bridges as a matter of course, (you won’t get very far being self-employed) What happened yesterday bears repeating: I reached out to a company to ask for review copies of their entire product line. (how bold of me, but if you don’t ask you don’t get) I heard about this particular software from a woman who attended the Los Angeles Photshop User Group monthly meeting during which I presented my compositing work, thought processes and business approach. Anyway the marketing person from this company calls me in response to my inquiry.

She wanted to know a bit more about my show’s philosophy and why I want their product for my show’s product showcase segment. We chatted a bit and found out that we are on the same page when it comes to education and training. She liked my ideas for presenting their products and offered to send me download links and serial numbers straight away. (she did)

We ended the phone call with her asking me if I remembered her… Can you say GULP? She and I met when we worked at Brooks Institute. She left in ’06 and I’ve not taught there since ’09. (low enrollment = no classes for adjuncts) Oh well. Get your own radio show.

One can only imagine  the outcome had there been no bridge connecting us…….the conversation would have had a decidedly different tone. (if she had responded at all)

Be well.

Michael

Create Your Own Opportunities

Opportunities Await!

Last evening I presented my first ever webinar. This moment (and opportunity) was  a long time coming. But I knew it was coming. I planned it that way. I created this opportunity for myself through mindful thought, careful effort, professional persistence and indefatigable follow through. The comments from last night’s program can be found along the right side of this page. You bet I will turn this into more opportunities, more press and more income. This is part of the responsibility I bear as an SECP. (self-employed creative professional) SECP‘s are compelled to push out their bubbles of influence: marketing, sales, publicity, customer service, areas of expertise and the like.

The question is how does an opportunity get created? I will explain how I created this opportunity but keep in mind this is just one way to achieve what you want, there are almost as any others as there are successful SECP’s. Amazing really.

I went to a meeting of the PIASC in early 2008. As a photographer I knew that going to a program for professionals outside of my profession (in this case, printers) I would meet people who may need to buy what I offer. (photography, consulting, teaching) I positioned myself in the room so that my back was turned to on one. I listened to people questions and comments. I also offered up pertinent commentary. (I always do, big surprise there, eh?) One of the attendees comment made  my ears perk up. During a break I went to speak with him. Turned out he was an instructor at FIDM and he informed me that FIDM needed additional photography teachers. Guess where I began teaching soon after?

I also joined the PIASC to get access to their members only educational programs. One of these programs was presented by onlineinstruct.com. This business is owned by Kelly McCathran who also happens to run the group which put on last nights presentation. Guess where I hang my teaching hat these days?

I knew I wanted to teach online. The task was to find a good online business. I went through a number of them before I found Kelly’s business: I wrote letters, sent emails, made phone calls. Kelly’s was the best fit for me.

Creating your own opportunities is a powerful and effective way to grow ones connections and business.

Try it. Practice it. Refine it. Above all else, do it. Today.

Cheers!

Michael