The other day, a photographer that I shot at the RAWards posted the following on her Facebook page: 20 Myths About Becoming a Professional Photographer. I rarely surf Facebook (not because I’m taking a stand against social media or anything — I just never have time) but the link caught my eye when I was “like”ing this photographer’s page (KaLee Kae Photo). As my eyes scrolled through the article, I found my attention totally rapt.
This is good stuff, folks. Like, hugely important advice. And a lot of it translates to other businesses, hobby-cum-professions, and life adventures in general. Huge gratitude goes out to Jim Harver and Improve Photography for taking the time to write up his thoughts and share some genuinely fantastic guidance.
In response to (or in support of?) sharing counsel, I’ve decided to embark on my own series: addressing each of Jim’s points individually and tossing in my two cents based on my own experiences. This is Part One of my series, and I hope you’ll join in for a gaggle of additional Parts as we slide into 2013!
PART ONE: The Significance of Networking.
One Myth that Jim addresses in his 20 Myths About Becoming a Professional Photographer article is that Networking is Optional. Ummmm, no. Not at all. Not in a million years. Networking has gotten me absolutely everywhere (not just as a photographer but also as an adult), and I find the whole experience of branching out to be essential to a rich, full life, both personally & professionally.
That said, I hate the word ‘Networking.’ I think it has an awkward, 80s feel to it, and while I love most things 80s, the notion of people holding a cocktail napkin & Manhattan in one hand and a baby quiche in another while asking, ‘soooo what do YOU do?’ to the closest body at some mixer makes me gag. While parties like that are still a means of meeting new people and earmarking business cards, I say we try to change that impression of Networking. Instead, why not simply take every day for what it presents to you? Maybe you’re with your kids at the park and you sit next to someone on a bench — SAY HI! Maybe you come across a killer website or Fbook page and think, ‘wow, that person is crazy talented!’ — EMAIL THAT PERSON! Maybe you’re with a friend at the grocery store, and she introduces you to someone in passing and you guys realize you have a mutual obsession with mountain biking: INVITE THAT PERSON FOR A RIDE.
Cast your net, and cast it wide, even among people or situations that you assume could never lead to a gig. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think you’re more likely to find your next client *out there* than mingling with people you already know, especially other people in your field. For example, I don’t necessarily consider time spent with other shooters to be ‘branching out.’ I mean, I loooove talking with them, swapping war stories and picking up techniques. It’s amazing to find someone that speaks your language, you know? And, sure, it’s great to be in the good grace of other photographers to catch a referral every now & again and expand your resources. But I don’t lean on them for Networking; after all, aren’t we in competition? Instead, I meet as many people in as many fields as possible because potential clients are everywhere. I believe any new person in my life is a gateway to endless opportunities, and you should too, even people that join your day seemingly haphazardly. Ask this new person: what do you do for fun, what’s your passion, who do you spend your time with? Each of these questions will lead you to learn more about the person, and with knowledge will come *something* (big or small) that will inspire or influence you, somehow.
After meeting someone? Get their email info and send them a note about your conversation. Rather than mentioning your business and risking sounding sales-y (I hate that!), why not be a human being and try to connect with that person about something real. Mention a tidbit of your conversation that resonated with you, or tell them something funny that happened after you got together or simply let them know how nice it was to meet them. You don’t have to write a novel, but be authentic with what you’re saying. My theory is that people will open doors to you because you’re sincere and, as long as your work is up-to-par, your genuine connection with that person is what matters.
I don’t want to leave ya’ll with the impression that I’m super strategic with my relationships. I’m not. But, I feel that building connections with people organically incites openings… moments… circumstances that are good for you personally AND professionally.