In 2014, I was newly unemployed and tired of applying for jobs. With the encouragement of close friends and a career advisor, and the blessing of my parents, I compiled my best photos to date, built a website, invested in new equipment, and told the world I would like to get paid to take pictures. It was a risk and I had no idea how to make it happen. Now, I'm wrapping up my fifth year in business, and I can't imagine doing anything else. So I thought it would be a good time to share a few things I've learned along the way:
1. Be a good colleague. Do good work. In that order. Yes, your product must be good, but business will suffer if you're difficult to work with. Basically, being a good person is never a bad move.
2. Stand by your work. Only you get to determine the value of your product/time/expertise. There are many factors that go into determining and assessing value, and many factors that go into negotiating fees and terms with a client. But ultimately, it's your name on the thing. Do it well and defend it.
3. Good. Writing. Is. So. Important. Most of my time is spent writing: quotes and contracts; social media posts; emails and emails and emails. I'm constantly choosing the right words to convey the appropriate tone. On the other hand, I can tell if a client will be a good fit by the way they communicate in writing. Why is any of this important? Because once I arrive to your shoot, nothing should get in the way of making good pictures. All the expectations, guidelines, fees, and logistics have been arranged in advance, and everything is in clear writing in case we need to reference it later. The only thing left to do is concentrate on the photos.
4. Build relationships. Yes, it's the long game, but it's the one thing that has served me well from the start. When a client is about to pay me money, they need to trust me and I need to understand exactly what they want. Now is a perfect time to say I'm tremendously grateful that my earliest clients have become longstanding colleagues, and have allowed me to grow with them: The Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago, Cedille Records, Chicago A Cappella, Chicago Children's Choir, Chicago Philharmonic, Fourth Coast Ensemble, Fulcrum Point New Music Project, Northwestern Bienen School of Music, and UChicago Presents.
5. There is plenty of work for everyone. I think about this one nearly every day. Metaphor time: one day, during a particularly slow month, I decided to take an aimless photo walk downtown. I stopped at one of my favorite spots, the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. It was early summer and the bees were all over the garden flowers - so many that you could hear them buzzing. The garden is relatively small; there are certainly bigger parks with more flowers. But the bees were happy and diligently doing their work. There were plenty of flowers for them. Yes, there are more self-employed professionals now than ever before. Yes, there is always someone willing to do the same job for less. But there is always a need for quality work.
6. Ok, one more for the new year, and it's another one I think about regularly: the only guarantee is that if you say "no," nothing will happen. When you take a risk, sometimes the payoff is six months away and you don't know it yet. Or you don't even know what the payoff will be. Or something small leads to something larger. But if you say "no," it's over.
Thanks for being part of these five wonderful years. Here's to all of us doing great work in 2019!