This guest post is by Livingston, New Jersey photographer Chelo Keys.
If you’re a part-timer working hard to be taken seriously, save yourself from some of the mistakes I’ve made.
It’s no secret that part-time and emerging photographers have to work hard to shake off the “weekend warrior” label. First, it’s hard to be taken seriously when there are so many part-timers entering the market at super low rates. Second, it’s very difficult to form good relationships in the photographic community when both your weekdays and weekends are taken up. With that said it’s easy to find yourself in a place of isolation, stumbling in the dark and making mistakes as you try to build a sustainable business. But even if you’re thinking of throwing in the towel, the good news about being a part-timer is that it’s never too late to start over, reassess your business and earn respect amongst your colleagues.
I’ve made some whopping mistakes starting out. But, I’m in the mist of a huge overhaul and can say that the following helped me chart a path to starting anew.
Picking up a camera for the first time and thinking you know everything about the business is seriously obnoxious. I did this, so I know. If you’re doing this, stop it. I once worked for a prominent photography studio. Their practices were “old school” but the clients were rolling in and the sales were piling up. I was convinced that they were doing it wrong because they didn’t blog, Facebook or have a fancy flash website. Instead of soaking it in and taking notice of what they were doing right, I was pig-headed, left the job and thought I could do it better myself, but far from it. I failed and flailed. Lesson learned: Never rebuff anyone that is successful.
I don’t think there is anything more anxiety provoking than taking critique from colleagues. But if you have the ear of a successful and trustworthy professional, take advantage of her or him. I recommend face-to-face critique. But remember, there is nothing more frustrating than advising a person that has selective hearing. Make sure to be open and don’t take it personally. If their advice is sound and you rebuff them, it will only bolster the idea that part-timers are Uncle Bobs with no regard for building skills.
Things are hard when you’re just starting out, working part-time or transitioning to full-time. You need advice, but maybe you’ve found that other professionals are reluctant to speak with you. First of all, it’s my belief that good teachers should be paid for their time. Personally, I don’t mind answering questions because I don’t think I’m a super star. But I have contacted prominent photographers in the past and expected them to spend their precious time divulging everything to me. How rude! Don’t do what I did. Instead, contact the person that inspires you and make it clear that you are willing to pay for their time. Most importantly state that you are looking for advice on your business and not wanting to know every detail about theirs. Who knows, maybe they won’t want to be paid – but don’t make the assumption that they owe you anything. I’m happy to say that I’ve found a great teacher thanks in part to being respectful of their time.
Don’t Be A Groupie
This goes along the same vein as being respectful. I’m very eager to learn anything I can from successful professionals and it took me a while to learn that prominent photographers are real people. I remember second shooting for someone I really admired. I spent so much time star struck that in the end my photographs of the day left little to be desired. I may have also made the person uncomfortable. Needless to say, they never called me back. I also remember landing a small part-time job with a studio I was completely enamored with. I was so blinded with admiration that I exaggerated my skills, asked way too many questions and found myself fired 2 weeks later. Remember, fawning is not always taken well by others.
It’s unbecoming. There is nothing wrong with posting that you’ve booked another wedding on Facebook or Twitter. However, when colleagues state that they are having a difficult time in this economy, don’t counter with “Don’t know what you mean! I’m doing better than ever!!” Especially if your prices are still relatively low and you’re not able to fully sustain yourself on your photography income. Remember, part of this business is about building good relationships.
This should go without saying but you should be paying taxes and have insurance, even if you are part-time. You should develop a sound business plan and formulate rates that adequately cover your expenses and don’t undermine the industry. We’ve all heard the “you have to start somewhere” excuse. But believe me, after undervaluing myself for close to 3 years I’d rather the “somewhere” I started from was an educated and sound place!
Take it Easy
This is the last and most important point. Don’t rush into things like I did. You’ll find yourself paying for mistakes long after they are made. I’m excited to say that there are some great changes coming to my photography business and that the path ahead is promising. That’s the other great thing about being part-time – you can take the time to do things right. But, if you’ve stumbled around like me you can always, always start over.
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