Are you an artist or an attention whore?

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on August 20, 2014

in This is Business,This is Life

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Ouch.

Okay, normally I’m not so hard on you guys.

But I’ve got to give you some tough love for a minute – it’s for your own good.

Some of you don’t want to be professional photographers.

You’re reading PTP, you’re taking some photos, you’re dreaming of the camera gear you want to have and the professional image and recognition that comes with owning your own creative business.

But…why?

If you’re stagnant – if you’re procrastinating on launching, or finalizing your pricing, or perfecting every pixel of your web site instead of hustling paid photo shoots…you have to ask yourself an important question:

“Am I an artist or an attention whore?”

Do you want to hustle? Do you want to market yourself in your community? Do you want to learn to sell so well that you’re able to perfectly match a client to a product offering, and maximize your profits in the process? Do you have a heart of service for your clients? Do you want to fail forward and fail faster? Do you want work as much on your business and marketing as on your art?

Or do you just want attention?

Hey, it’s human nature – we all want to be liked, to be popular, and especially as artists, to be recognized for the work we do. We all love the Likes, the kind words, the glowing testimonials.

But, if you feel stuck in first gear with your business, is it because you don’t really want to own and run a business? Do you just want the attention of a professional photographer?

Let me be first to raise my hand: I went through a years-long phase of shooting for attention and the social high, benefiting neither my business nor my bank account. I can’t tell you how many hours I poured into shooting local sports, into six-hour ‘fashion’ photo shoots, getting attention for attention’s sake.

My MySpace friends list was full, but my bank account was empty.

There’s nothing wrong with creating art for fun, creative expression, or even out-and-out attention.

Attention is fantastic for business…

…when it’s leveraged into paid work.

If you’re ready to be a paid professional, to grow your business into a blessing for your community and your finances, you have to transmute attention into business.

This is marketing alchemy.

This is what separates paid professionals from looky-loos.

If you’re just in this for attention – you’re in no rush to get paid, you ‘just want to make enough to pay for the hobby,’ you spend more time on Facebook than creating art, you’ve been ‘building your portfolio’ with free shoots for years, you’ve read 13 blogs and books and magazines this week on photography and camera gear and not one on small business or marketing, you’re talking about becoming a professional photographer but taking no steps and making no tangible progress…

It’s okay.

No judgment here.

You don’t have to change anything you’re doing. I’m truly not trying to make you feel bad, or call you out in a bad way.

Your photography, your business, and everything you do within it, and every reason you do it, is yours to manage and enjoy; never forget, you do this because you want to, and you’re always in charge.

But I don’t think you’re here because you just want attention.

If you’re elbows deep in PTP, if you’re reading these words, you’re more than ready for more than just transient attention.

You’re ready to take bold steps.

You’re ready to finalize that price list, settle on a name for your business, and land your first paid clients.

You’re ready to step up, take risks, fail forward, focus, to take action and not just read and dream.

You’re ready to check off that to-do list.

You’re ready to take action, to put yourself out there, even if you do it wrong – to take imperfect action.

You’re ready to disappoint a client, kick yourself in the ass, learn, then get over it and move on.

You’re ready to make mistakes – and learn from them.

You’re ready to schedule the time every day, every week, to make your dream of being a professional photographer a reality – baby steps.

You’re ready to put a stake in the ground, finalize the ‘details’ of your business, and start doing business instead of just (over)preparing for it.

You’re ready to leverage every ounce of attention you get with your art into testimonials, referrals, marketing mojo, repeat clientele: money in the bank.

You’re ready.

You’re here. Right now. You’re ready.

You are not an attention whore. You may have been acting like one for too long, but we’re on the march now; we’re professionals, and we’re done with the procrastination horsesh*t that has turned our blazing passion and limitless potential into a slog through deep mud.

I had to learn to do this with my photojournalism for the local paper.

Instead of just soaking up the attention of a great front page photo from under the Friday Night Lights, I learned to make the ask: when complimented on my work, I’d steer the conversation to my professional services, and seek out the needs of my potential client then and there.

I’d make the ask; I’d ask for their business in that very moment.

And I got it almost every single time.

Leverage.

I learned to do this with my fashion work. Few styles get as much attention from the hip, artistic, and young (read: lucrative high school seniors), as fashion photography. Every Facebook Like and comment becomes an opportunity to make the ask and land a new client.

Attention is a good thing.

Even more so, in my book (and I believe in yours too), when that attention is alchemically transformed into hundred dollar bills.

When I pose the question, “Do you really want to be a professional photographer?”, it’s okay if you don’t truly know – if you’re not blazingly sure you’re up for all this.

But I implore you:

Try.

If you’ve come this far, if you have the spark of a professional artist within you, I can’t encourage you enough to try. Make a go of it. Give it all you’ve got.

If down the road you’re unhappy, if you’re burning out because you can’t find a way to enjoyably balance your art with business, then stop.

I’ll say again: your business is by you and for you. Verily, you’re a blessing to your community and clients in the art you create for them, but you’re the boss – you never have to do anything you don’t want to.

You can always go back to creating art for the pure enjoyment of it.

You can always go back to just shooting, processing, and posting for attention; for funsies.

But I believe you’ve got a lot more in you, and that’s why you’re here.

Dive head-first outside of your comfort zone. Learn who you are, and what you’re capable of. Challenge yourself. Strive. Persevere. Dream, and Do.

Start where you are

I love being a professional photographer.

I love the creativity, the wonderful clients who become lifelong friends, I love volunteering and serving my community, and I love that the money I earn with my art blesses my family with comforts and life experiences we couldn’t otherwise afford.

An inherent interest in the business, marketing, and sales of professional photography is in no way a prerequisite to success.

Start where you are.

There is no right way, no perfect course of action; hell, even the ‘best practices’ aren’t surefire keys to success.

Success is a process – it’s trying new things, guided by the knowledge you gain from books and blogs and fellow photographers, and failure is a big part of that process. You have to fail forward, make mistakes, even embarrass yourself a few times.

But that’s what professional success looks like. It looks like perseverance, tenacity, hunger, focus, failure, practice, learning, attention, leverage, humility, and courage.

Where you are today is not where you will be tomorrow. The world is turning, whether you choose to make your move or not. If you’re not taking action, even just baby steps, the world – and your dream – is passing you by.

You’re here, you’re breathing, and you have a camera in your hand.

That’s called opportunity.

Now: Try.

Next Steps

  • Get unstuck. Right now. I know there’s at least one, two, a few things burning in your mind right now, ways you know you’re procrastinating because you’ve been satisfied with attention and dreaming instead of taking bold steps to be the professional you dream of. What decisions do you need to make? What stake can you drive in the ground right now in making your business real? What brave thing will you do today?
  • Brainstorm session: get out your pen and paper. There’s a road between where you are this moment and where you need to be to call yourself a professional, to be ready to ask for and land paid work. What does that road look like? What are the baby steps between here and there? Don’t worry about what you don’t know, no map identifies every pebble or crack in the road. Take the time to lay out every single baby step, every action big or small you can think of that will get you to the point where you’ll choose to ask for and earn paid photography work (I word it this way for a reason: you will never be ‘ready,’ there will never be a ‘right’ time). Schedule the time, as little as five minutes a day, on your calendar for the coming week to work on these steps. Add them to your to-do list. Then do it, step by step by step, no matter how confused or lost or imperfect you feel about it; keep moving forward. File this away in your Brainstorms folder (and schedule the time on your calendar a month from now to pull this out and check off everything you’ve accomplished – which if you do the work, I guarantee, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come in just 30 days).
  • My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
  • What’s the biggest struggle holding you back right now? E-mail me your answer (yes, right now!), and let’s make a breakthrough today.
  • If anything in this post has spoken to and inspired you, please comment below, drop me an e-mail, or call or text me at 830-688-1564 and let me know. I’d love to hear how you use these ideas to better your part time photography business!

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Arensberg August 23, 2014 at 10:29 am

This post applies to anyone who’s thinking about making art.

You’re spot on that the first question we need to ask ourselves is: Why? Why do you want to make art?

And then, armed with that answer, we do what you said: You start where you are, and you take action to get you to where (and who) you want to be.

Excellent post, James!

Reply

Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 6, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Thank you so much my friend!

A powerful, personal Why is the spark which keeps the fire burning even when you’re bored, distracted, embarrassed, tired, discouraged, and impatient.

If it were a magic potion, every dreamer would have a bottle by their side.

In less time than it takes to drive to the corner store and grab a bottle, though, you can invest the time and introspection to recognize and shine a bright light on your Why.

That Why may change over time, and it’ll take proactive measures to keep it in front of you so you don’t forget, but it’s a hugely motivational tool – whether you’re trying to lose weight or build your dream business.

Thank you for your support Steve!

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Terry Jones August 23, 2014 at 7:29 pm

Well, well, well, here I am doing the unthinkable and writing back to someone I’ve never met. However, every time I read you, I see me, stuck, wallowing in that deep muck called many things, but never success. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d like to be successful and on a daily basis I can do a lot of that a piece at a time, BUT, yeah I said that word, I’ve been doing this for 65 years. Yep, that covers a lot of ground; however, my photography spans just the past 7 years and as time passes I struggle with multiple physical problems. YET, I want to be a professional not just a hobbyist with a cane. I am told that I shouldn’t do weddings because they’d be too hard on me. Same old sh*t different day with other things. YET, the drive to be a professional, someone who digs what people feel and can deliver an answer to that emotion, still kicks my ass daily to try again.
Ok got that off my chest, so as much as I enjoy learning and being motivated by you, I want to chew some of the meat off the bone as it were. What is the one book you wrote that you would recommend. I love Duct Tape Marketing, because it speaks to the way I feel. I love what you write because it puts a spark in this old furnace and someday something more is going to catch fire. I have been told find a niche, but I am here to tell you something you probably already know, but every day we get on God’s green earth is a niche. I love baby steps, taking action (of some kind!) because it has saved my life from another world. Am I just venting to you? Perhaps, because the real answers to life’s problems have to come from the heart. I just plan on taking action, making daily decisions and trusting in God on a daily basis so at least a part of my forward motion will become a reality. Thanks for listening and keep up the good stuff. Guys AND gals like me need you.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor August 25, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Terry,

Thank you so much for your readership, kind words, and your comment!

You’ve absolutely got the right mindset for success my friend. I think the only challenge you may have is in defining that success within the journey instead of a goal.

Indeed, we’re blessed daily with opportunity, whatever our age or situation may be.

Do you love photography? Do you love blessing people with your art? Viewing your portfolio, you take beautiful photos – no doubt you have made your clients’ lives better through your work in them.

If so, I’d submit, change your definition of success from a hard goal to a daily effort. Like you say, forward motion, daily decisions, taking action – the secret sauce is in loving the moment you’re in while always striving to be and do better.

It’s easy to become frustrated and overwhelmed by the big visions we have for our businesses – we get caught up in what we dream of being years down the road, then in the popular opinion we see online and in magazines, then in the comments and aspirations of our peers, and eventually we get so caught up in that whirlwind we forget what we enjoyed that led us to become artist-entrepreneurs in the first place.

Even more so when you feel time is at a premium.

But if the present moment can be the goal, success found in the daily investment of time and thought and effort along the path of professional success, then success isn’t something we’re hoping and stressing and striving to achieve – it’s something we experience as a byproduct of the joy we take in the work we do daily to serve and grow.

As for great books, there are so many that have helped me.

Duct Tape Marketing and Duct Tape Sales for bringing marketing and selling down to earth, making it tangible.

Booked Solid for showing how a system of service and referral can make repeat business your best business.

Peace Is Every Step for teaching me to be present, to be grateful for each moment, each step of life, and to know peace whether my goal is a minute or 10 years down the road.

Seth Godin’s The Dip for teaching me that something things are worth doing, and some need to be quit – knowing what and when to quit, and when to strive through the long slog to reach the beautiful pinnacle on the far side.

Four Hour Work Week for teaching me that we now live in a knowledge economy, and that the only reason I have to have a ‘job’ is because I choose it as part of my lifestyle – that I have complete control over how I live my work through career and through passion and choice.

Zen Habit’s teaching on how discomfort is not unhappiness (http://zenhabits.net/discomfort/).

And so many more.

Right now I’m reading Essentialism, and in the first few chapters it’s already proving a game-changer in how (and in what) I invest my time.

Know this Terry:

You do this because you choose to, because you want to. What you do with it and how you do it is wholly your choice. You’re the boss.

Choose to do work that makes you happy. Choose work that invigorates you. Learn, practice, grow, and serve – bless your community with your art and business, and let them bless you financially.

Reap the benefits of what you sow through your daily efforts; social, personal, creative, financial, professional.

This is a beautiful day and opportunity to be who and how you want to be, and to make a difference in the lives of your clients that will last generations. It’s easy to lose sight of the value of what we as photographers do in this digital age, but what we capture with our cameras will be shared with tens of thousands of people and passed down through generations as a part of their history, their heritage, their story.

I’ll tell you, I had a reader write me years ago when I first started PTP, thanking me for my posts and engaging me in how to grow her business. Holly was a kind and sweet lady, in her 50’s. Within a year of our first visit, she was diagnosed with ALS, and her physical abilities diminished rapidly – but in the face of this, she still used her camera and blessed people with her art until she was truly incapable. Within 22 months of diagnosis, she passed.

Serve with passion my friend, on two feet, with a cane in one hand, in a wheelchair, in any way so long as you’re able if this is the passion which moves you. Don’t waste a day only to regret it later.

You’re on the right track, you’ve got all the ingredients for success (as YOU choose to define it) and to do wonderful work, only getting better with time and experience.

I’m excited for the work you’re doing and have yet to do Terry! I hope these words help.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

Reply

Penny September 4, 2014 at 2:13 pm

You are blessed in more areas than you know. Thank you so much.
You are inspirational.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor September 6, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Thank you so much Penny, and thank you for reading my e-mail newsletter!

Please do take me up on my offer – hit Reply to that e-mail and let me know how I can help with any point in your journey. It’s my honor and pleasure to do so.

Keep me posted on your successes and adventures!

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Michelle Sarkan October 5, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Wow!! I feel as though you were speaking directly to me with this post. Thank you! This is the push I needed. I feel ready to jump in; just not sure how to swim. I have two upcoming photo shoots set up, but I am feeling un-prepared in the marketing part of it all. I am not sure how to price product or how to display the finished work to my clients. I do not yet have a website. Any tips in that department would be helpful. Again, thank you so much for this post.

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Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor October 5, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Michelle, thank you so much for your comment!

Going pro can be a blind journey at first – you know you want to be somewhere, but you’re not sure where, and you sure don’t know how you’ll get there.

But as with the best journeys, the destination is not so important as the joy you take in each step along the way.

It’s okay that you’re unsure, that you feel unprepared – you’re in good company. All unknowns are such until they’re not.

I’ve written on PTP about pricing and in-person sales (ref. the Start Here page, link up top, to find your way in) – but in summary, price humbly but well enough to leave a grin on your face after each sale; and if you can find any way possible, proof and sell in person, not online.

No matter what the best practices are, you don’t “need” anything but your own passion for your work and for giving your clients an exceptional, unique experience. No web site, no business cards, no idea what you’re “supposed” to do – no problem.

If you need specific guidance: charge no session fee with no minimum order, your clients just buy what they love. Sell prints and files starting at just $10 each ($10 each digital file, or $10 any single print up to 8×10 – for wall hangings, charge four times your cost from your printer – and if you don’t have a printer, check out mpix.com).

To proof and sell, get together with your clients at a coffee shop or cafe and show them proofs on your tablet or laptop. If you haven’t one, do you know anyone from whom you could borrow a tablet? To transfer the files, use Dropbox, and share the folder with your friend so they can download to their tablet. With your first sale or so, you should have more than enough money to buy your own small laptop or tablet. Problem solved forever.

For a web site, since you don’t need online photo sales or ecommerce, you just need a nice portfolio that serves as a good ‘sales funnel’, driving viewers to a preferred action: either calling/emailing to book a shoot (basic), or signing up for your e-mail newsletter (advanced; check out MailChimp). I’m a fan of Smugmug, which hosts my portfolio site at http://www.banderaoutlaw.com. Easy upload, lovely themes, easy to add pages, change copy, make it look real nice. And with a discount code (search online), you can get the entire first year for only $45 I believe (perhaps more if you don’t yet have a domain, but they can help with that as well for I’m sure a nominal price). If you haven’t made $45 with your art yet, keep hustling until you’ve earned it, then reinvest.

There’s so much more to the art of business within part time professional photography, but hopefully this can give you a boost. E-mail me anytime at James@banderaoutlaw.com with your questions or challenges, and I’ll be happy to help.

Thank you again for your readership, and please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures! Your work will be a wonderful blessing to your clients and community.

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