Tag Archives: SECP

I Can’t Wait To Work For Myself!

We all needs da monray!

I’ve lost of count how many times friends and acquaintances have said to me during the past two years, “I can’t wait to work for myself!” Or something to that effect. They don’t fully comprehend the ramifications of their statements. That’s OK because I’m going to set them on a very clear path before they jump ship: I look at them, sigh a little, grab them by the shoulders and say,”You realize when you work for yourself, everything becomes your responsibility, everything you know becomes your responsibility and everything you don’t know yet becomes your responsibility. Everything. No exceptions. Have fun keeping up.”

These days I fantasize about what it must be like working for a company: benefits, profit sharing, sick days, parties, vacations, income on a regular basis, (even if you don’t do your job well). Sounds great, sign me up.

Thirty years on my own and I’m a bit worn out the past 18 months: marketing, prospecting for new leads, sales calls, budget proposals, project proposals, strategy meetings, emails, social networking, blogging, network groups, etc. Add to that the personal responsibilities of marriage, parenting, home maintenance, mortgage, retirement planning (this does not magically go away working for yourself, in fact it’s just the opposite, they become more important than ever, yikes!)

So yes come on down and join our party, we need all the help we can get….

Great Info: Photo/Business Reference Tome

Cans #1

I’ve been blogging for some time now and have written mostly about how I have gone about running my photography business. In that spirit I would like to point you in the direction of this book: Best Business Practices For Photographers.

Full of great info from the perspective of assignment work. Even if you’re a newbie this book is a great reference guide, full of advice, case studies and samples of contract, invoices and licensing agreements!

I highly recommend this book be added to your growing library.

Use The Web For Your Own Good

Sometimes it snows in Pasadena

New technologies that compress time and space in how we communicate or conduct business changes us profoundly, especially in business. This is the main posit from the book Giants Of Enterprise. The author takes you on a fascinating journey into the lives of seven men who created (George Eastman, Charles Revson, Henry Ford) or built up (Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Watson Sr.) entire businesses. Even though these men ran corporations and had many personal and social flaws, the way they approached business was singular: they harnessed what no others saw, used their wits for and against others and embraced new technologies. Combine that with an unwavering view of themselves becoming successful and you have the important ingredients for mega successes that ran for decades. This is a great read if you have any inclination towards working for yourself. My kind of book.

These men were experts at what they did and the majority of them didn’t mind telling you so, publicly and privately. Many times over. Which brings me to my point. Your personal publicity machine is here and has been for quite some time. I’m using mine right now. Think of it like this: you are the farmer who plants seeds wherever you have a presence on the web. You develop an idea or business goal, find a place to plant it online, nurture this idea with frequent attention (watering) and over time you’ll grow and nurture inbound links (fertilizer) which ups your SEO ranking (new crops) until you have grown your version of a self-sustaining green friendly top of the line farm where you are the expert and people can’t get enough of what you know and represent. Become the go to person, display your expertise and bring in the cash crops you’ve earned!

To start, set up online profiles at places like LinkedIn, Biznik, Jigsaw and Behance. Start blogging. You already text so think of blogging as extraordinary texting. Become expert at something and tell the world. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And if you don’t do it, you’ll probably never get where you want to go or be who you wish to be. Or live how you want to live. It takes work and constant effort, so what are you waiting for? Tell us what you know. We dare ya!

Related Images:

The Process Of Becoming Successful Is Success Itself

Building a career is a process

Catchy title isn’t it? Catchy titles garner attention and I use them to get peoples’ attention. After they have paid attention, I begin the process of selling myself. This creates networks of new people who get to know me and in my established networks the members of those communities get to know me better. This translates into more interesting opportunities, more interesting work and ultimately more revenue streams. The process of becoming successful creates success because it brings me peace of mind and moves me closer to my goals.

All the positive, compassionate and helpful things a self-employed creative professional (SECP) does on an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and career basis to support him/herself and to continue to work independently, in my mind can be classified as success. Add into this mix a family life, home ownership, wealth creation, wealth management, health issues, etc., etc., etc., and you’d be in your right mind to be impressed at the importance each little step has for a SECP.

It takes more than money to live life well, enjoy the process, you’re building a career.

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……

Contracts Tell A Story

The Storytelling Contract Format

My final 2009 entry is about how I think about and use contracts. I was a member of APA (Advertising Photographers of America) for many years and the contract format they suggested we use was a sound tool (even if it was several pages long, filled with disclaimers and all manner of what you could and could not do with the photographers work) if you shot advertising and annual report work. A good thing for sure but way too much for my client-direct approach to business. Today (as well as throughout most of my career) I choose to work client-direct. Client-direct is not without its’ own issues but it’s the model I’ve made work since 1988.

Doing business client-direct cuts out some of the nonsense that goes on between agency, client and photographer; the politics and territory issues that inevitably come up with the agency-as-middleman-approach to preparing contracts and securing the job is eliminated. Their is however a lot less contract sophistication on the part of the client when there is no agency buffer in between.

This is my reasoning for developing the story-telling contract method. It is simple, direct and easy to comprehend. Perfect for my clientele. The example above is set up like so: Who, What, When, Where, How, Usage, Terms, Delivery and Price. I’m telling a story with my contract and this helps provide a comfort level throughout  my negotiations.

One of the most important aspects is the Usage and Terms sections of the contract. It is powerful and enforceable. I had to refer to these two clauses several years ago when a client I had coveted and solicited for five years finally came into the fold. After discussing the catalogue shoot, I presented this style of contract and it was signed by the company president. I inserted a clause stating that the balance of the monies owed was due COD. No problem. I shot the job. Again no problem. After the first part of the shoot, I edited and handed over some of the images so they could get started laying out the catalogue. When I had the rest of the shoot ready (one of my last film jobs), I called the general manager to let him know the balance of the job was ready to be picked up and to be sure to bring the “balance due” check with him. He then proceeded to inform me that the owner (not the president) had decided the advance check (50% deposit) was plenty for the job and she didn’t see any reason to pay me more.

I was a bit ticked off but kept my cool and said, “Per the contract signed by your president, the balance due is COD. Furthermore you are using my copyrighted materials right now in the pre-production stage of your catalogue without paying in full, another part of the contract your president agreed to in writing. Now if you don’t bring a check with you not only will you not receive the rest of the shoot but you are using my work without paying for it in full and the next conversation we’ll be having is through my lawyer.” I like to get straight to the point, saves time and can provide more leverage.

Within two hours he was at my office with a check. He was not happy but we talked and he agreed if those clauses were not in the contract it would have been way more ugly than it ended up being. For blog purposes I’ve simplified this particular event, but you get the idea.

When you work for yourself, you must think ahead, plan for the worst and hope for the best.

May the same be said for 2010.

Happy New Year!

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