Tag Archives: SECP

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.


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.




Create Your Own Moment

In 2003, after 24 years in business for myself as a commercial photographer and photo lab services provider, I was ready to move beyond photography and into the next phase of my professional life: creation of an online presence through blogging, public speaking, writing, teaching and consulting. It was also a goal of mine to become a celebrity in the process. Eight years later, after concentrated effort and focus, trial and error, missteps and success I find myself in the catbird seat ready to push out to the world all that is me via my very own internet-based radio show on photography. (:()) How’s that!

I’m now at the spot I envisioned eight years ago, but I’m not surprised: hard work, relentless effort, laser focus and karma all mixed together will do that for any self-employed creative professional (SECP). I control my destiny, it’s up to me, sink or swim to make this a long-term success.

How did I get here?

Follow me:

1)     I fully committed to this from the jump. It was necessary to reaffirm this many times but I began at 100% full throttle. For me this was the only way to begin, no time for toe-dipping here, jump in and swim with purpose and a plan. When the inevitable forks in the road popped up I knew which ones to take advantage of. My fork collection is huge.

2)     I was fortunate to have been offered a teaching job at world famous Brooks Institute. From 2003-2009 I taught twice a week at the Ventura, CA campus. Met 100’s of students and many of them will be coming onto my show as interviewees. Cool. How did I get this gig? By paying it forward. Several years earlier I had occasion to view a photography show by Brooks Institute students at a gallery in Santa Barbara. The teacher of these students was looking for someone to help with a field trip to LA area photo studios. I didn’t know this teacher but I volunteered anyway as LA is my hometown, I like to be in the service of others (Makes me feel complete) and I had a studio. . The field trip successful. Everyone enjoyed themselves. When I called the school in ’03 to inquire about a teaching position, this teacher had become the Provost. He remembered that field trip and how I had volunteered to help him and his students. I was hired shortly after that phone call. KARMA.

3)     I’ve worked my connection with the school into opportunities to speak, run workshops, give interviews and to appear as Mr. Pixel on Phototalkradio.

4)     I began a blog on 6/22/08 and have acquired over 5,000 unique visitors and over 7,000 hits. Small in the world of the web but big for me and growing daily.

5)     My book was released on 11/17/09. It stayed in the top 100 (of its’ category) at Amazon for seven months.

6)     Credibility has led many companies to partner up with me more easily than if I had no book, no blog and no connection to a world class school.

7)     Not to be one to rest on my laurels, I went to a marketing boot camp in September of 2010 run by Craig Duswalt. There I met internet guru Tom Antion and was inspired by both of them to rethink my marketing efforts. While following Craig’s online presence I discovered his radio show on toginet.

8)     After speaking with Craig about his radio show (and having an empty credit card, always always a dangerous thing) I pulled the trigger on 50 hours of prime radio time programming.

I go live 2/4/11 at 9am: Build A Better Photograph with Michael E. Stern

Hard work, laser focus, relentless effort, karma and here I am!

What are you doing?


The Shin Bone Is Connected To All

Looks Like.......

Network. Make connections. Hand out cards. Meet people. Talk. Follow up. Blah, blah, blah. Oy! It’s enough to make you want to go work for somebody else, take their guff and not have to schmooze. Just grab the booze and drift through your life. A lot of people did just this back in the day. But that’s not us is it?

No matter how you slice it, it’s all about connections and how well one tends relationships. Case in point. My wife and I were invited to a birthday party hosted by Sandra Tsing-Loh and Frier McCollister at their home around the corner from us in Garfield Heights. They actually rented our guest house for most of last year and bought a short-sale house (thank you financial meltdown) when it became available. Great kitchen and porches. Anyway we were a bit surprised to be on the guest list but Sandra thought we would be a good addition to the mix. Being around the corner, we didn’t have to worry about drinking and driving but on the walk home we notice the streets seemed slanted?

There were a number of successful artists present: actors, writers, poets, a producer, a conductor and a city official. I met them all. We ate. We drank. We talked. We laughed. I wasn’t trying to network at all. I usually network head on every chance I get but I really wanted to party this time: I was completed an assignment that was went south on me and my current tenants gave notice Friday that they were leaving Monday. So I partied on but during the festivities one of the guests mentioned a friend is coming out to LA from NY and needs a small guest house for six months. Bingo! A connection. This woman is the Music Director and Conductor of The Pasadena POPS Orchestra. And we hit it off. I look forward to developing a relationship with Rachael, who knows where this connection will lead. How cool is that? Oh yeah, the photo assignment ended up being OK too.

A tremendous end to a lousy day!

Nobody Loves You Like Your Mother And Sometimes Not Even Her

So Many Tasks, So Little Time

Take care of yourself. As much as possible take care of your emotional, spiritual and physical health. I know you’ve heard this before: exercise, eat well, rest, find something that directs the energy of the universe back to you. I exercise three-five times a week. I try to get eight hours a night. I minimize eating corporate food. I spend a lot of time with my son and working in my garden. I make the time, morning, mid-day or night, I make the time. This is so important to me that I cannot over emphasize it’s importance: TAKE CARE OF YOUR SELF! Now!

Once you step into the world of self-employment, all bets are off. You’re responsible for every aspect of your life, your family’s life and anyone else who depends on you. It ain’t easy. It’s hard work. It’s frustrating. It’s fun. It’s lucrative. It’s not. It’s everything in your life (both personal and professional) all rolled into a sticky mass of jobs, responsibilities and tasks and it can get to you often…if you let it.

Take care of yourself. Don’t put tasks off. Manage your anger. Manage your happiness. Manage your health. Manage your cash flow and invest every extra dollar so that your money works for you. After all the time and energy spent working for your money, it’s time to make it responsible for your future. Make your money work  for you.

Educate yourself. Go to seminars. Go to workshops. Ask questions. Become informed. It’s your responsibility. Self-love will see you through the darkest times of self-employment drudgery. Success demands you accept failure as part of the process, as part of success. There is much to deal with on a daily basis. On a weekly basis. On a monthly basis. On a yearly basis. Breaking down, organizing and executing these tasks is crucial to long-term self-employment success.

If you don’t do this, who will?

Your mother?

Expand Your Perimeter

Doing it my way......

In front of a full house, I gave my first talk to the general public about my relationship to photography. I put in 33 hours preparing the presentation and nine hours refining and rehearsing. It paid off; many questions were asked by audience members at the end, an invitation was extended to speak at another event and ten copies of my book were sold. I had a video crew present who will be combining last nights footage with footage they shot last of me last October. In the end I’ll have a great promo piece for the professional speaking portion of my business activities. One of the most gratifying aspects of the night was the presence of photographers from my generation who appreciated the look back. There were also a number of photography students present and it was a joy answering their questions.

An SECP is compelled to expand his or her boundaries. It’s a way to measure how we’re working to grow our businesses. We push with specific intentions to mesh with our overall growth plans. In my case I shoot, write, educate and speak publicly. Last night was my first attempt to see how well I could connect (and interact) with an audience that’s made up of the general public and not photography students or Photoshop students per se. The event was a success because 90% of them stayed for the two-hour program, I sold ten books, and I was invited to speak at another venue. The invitation to speak again is an important metric because I plan to speak at colleges across the country in the next year. I’m currently under contract with Wacom to be a presenter at this years ICON6 event here in Pasadena. I met several people today who are in education and who are potential candidates for my series of presentations. Wish me good fortune.

Speak For Yourself

Holly did in Hollywood

Film Is Dead

Tuesday I was interviewed by Beate Chelette of photosecrets.biz. We discussed how I go about creating my distinctive imagery and how I approach managing my life, business and finances. Anyone who contemplates working for oneself will benefit from listening.

Here is the link: Michael E Stern.

After the interview I called the Beate to review and summarize our talk. As the host Beate is able to see who dials in to the call and who drops off the call. She noticed that when I spoke about business aspects, the audience shrank and when I talked about creativity, the audience grew. Similar to lungs, the interview was breathing in and out. Cool. We surmised from this that people wanted to hear about the sexy part of photography…creating worthwhile images. They didn’t necessarily want to now about the grunt work, the nuts and bolts of putting together and managing a successful career.

Make no mistake it takes both parts to make a career work. It takes lots of common sense and focused effort not only to create each image, but also to run a sole proprietorship. The business and creative aspects must be integrated, they are the flip side of each other. They have to be blended into a mutually supportive structure, otherwise failure happens.

I mentor young photographers all the time, both in the creative aspects and the business, (selling, pricing and negotiating). It has been my experience that one out of ten will actually do the hard work that leads them to success.

Are you one of the ten?


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!


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.