Your Values, Your Business

by JamesNYCAugust 18. 2007 09:03

Building a business based on your values is one of the most important responsibilities that you have as a freelance photographer. It is also a tremendous opportunity.

Being awake to ideals that you hold as “true” creates a state of consciousness that will positively affect every aspect of your business.

As you develop a body of work from a state of true awareness of your talent and market needs you will be able to create online and print portfolios that clearly represent your visual value to buyers.

Your principles will also serve you well as you create your service goals. Making conscious choices about how you will meet deadlines, entertain clients and follow up jobs will guarantee your clients a positive experience.

Business and licensing practices developed around your standards can be clearly and kindly communicated to clients as needed.

While most photographers do have values that define their company, few take the time to pro actively examine, define and build their businesses around them. Have you built your business with your principles in mind? Do they guide your daily decisions? Are your business goals in synch with your family and personal values?

Ted Rice has been a successful photographer for many years. He is the person that comes to mind when I think of a photographer who is invested in building a business and a life from a position of being aware. He has recently made a life change that has temporarily taken him out of the mainstream photo world. He has made this decision in order to” live” the values that he has set for himself.

“One of the things that I’ve always found interesting about the photography business is that there it is not just one business model.” states Ted. “There are a wide range of models each of which can provide success. For a long time I made portrait and people pictures for the commercial market and was tightly focused on expanding the economic and esthetic elements of my business. Over time I achieved many of my goals and at the same time began a family. My priorities began to shift and, as much as I loved photography, I loved being at home with my wife and kids even more. It has been hard to resolve the tension between work and family, but for me there has never been a doubt that my family comes first. My wife is an academic and this year I am taking a page from her playbook: I am taking a sabbatical in which I’m involved in activities that have nothing to do with photography, not the least of which is being much more involved in the day to day life of my family. I am still taking some jobs as they fit our family schedule and am happy to work when I do, but it is not the priority it once was. Hard to say where it will lead, but after struggling with this issue for several years, it seems best to just relax and see where “the river flows.”

In order to deliver on your beliefs, as Ted continues to do, and to begin to develop a successful business based on your values you will need to become familiar with what a successful photo business looks like to you. This is a large task, and indeed the first step toward building a business that is developed around your values, a business that will be created to serve your needs.

Begin by examining your belief about success. What does success look like to you? Is it about the money you earn? The relationships you create? The work being challenging? Is it about having your work accepted in competitions like the Communication Arts photo annual; what does success really l look like to you?
When I taught at a photo school years ago, I gave my students an assignment. I called it a Dream Bio. They were to create their own. It was designed to help them to be able to see what success looked like to them.

Regardless of where you are now in your career, the Dream Bio can be a tool that you can use as well. Begin to create this tool in an atmosphere that is calm and relaxing. Have a free hour or more with no interruptions. Sit down and imagine that you are living 5 years in the future. What does your professional life look like? What are you shooting? Who are your clients? Do you have a team or are you a solo operation? What does your space look like? Do you have studio or are you working out of an office in your home?

How much money are you making? How many days a week do you shoot on average?

What has been you best experience and what has been your biggest disappointment.

When you create this bio you are not in your head. You are in your heart. Don’t think the answers, sense them. Write them down a soon as they appear without any editing.

If you have been able to truly write your bio with out judgment, (no scratched out sentences) you have created a dream bio that will give you much information.

Don’t spell check. Simply put it away and plan a review date for two weeks later.

When you are ready to review what you have written, pull out your dream bio, read it with an open heart and no pre-conceived notions of what is attainable and what is not. You will most likely be surprised by what you see. Once you have read it through, begin to examine what you have written, looking to see where your priorities lay within your words. These priorities will begin to help you to see what success looks like to you.

Was money your most important priority? Was Space? Your team? Recognition? What part of your bio did you write about the most?

As you read and examine resist the urge to edit. Shush the voice that begins to tell you that this is all nonsense. Be open to the information that your answers have for you. These were your choices and they need to be heard. Honor the words and ideas that you wrote down.

Next begin to look for clues that will tell you why you are in business (the payoff) and what you want your daily life to look like. What topics did you write about the most? Which ideas are more detailed?

Finlly look to see how close your current life is to what you have written down. Is it a hop a skip or a jump to your dream bio life, from where you are now?

As you go through the process of reviewing do not disregard any parts of your dream bio that seem like fantasy. It is all-possible. You simply need to determine which goals are meaningful enough to you; in order for you to be able to commit to the hard work needed in order to reach them.

Once you feel that you are done reviewing and that you have gleaned as much information possible. Look at what you have written and begin to list for yourself what success looks like to you.

Once you have your success list begin to compare it to your life as it is now, and evaluate the different areas of your business that need attention.

Historically photographers find that when they initially take inventory their visual content, their client relationships and the amount of money they make is not in line with their dreams. This is not surprising as it is hard to accomplish exactly what you want unless you have specifically put your attention on it.

If you have realized through this practice that a value you have is to produce high quality visuals for your clients, take an inventory of what now exists. Do your images hold up to your expectations? Are you showing a complete “body of work”? Will your prospects know which assignments to call you for? Is this the best work that you can do?

Being integral, walking your talk, begins with the work. Make sure that you believe in the work and are excited about the visual talent that you are selling.

Interestingly enough I have consulted with many photographers over the years that could not understand why they could not inspire themselves to sell their work. They would castigate themselves thinking that they should be out selling. When we got together and I reviewed the work it often became clear that the portfolio was not competitive and their efforts needed to be applied to developing a competitive body of work, one they would be pumped to go out and sell. Somehow they knew on an unconscious level that the work was not good enough. That’s why they were not actively selling. Being unaware of where you sit with your work is not acceptable for people whose value is to create work that represents the best of what they have to offer clients.

Take an inventory of your images. If you have any doubt that you can do better, begin now to develop work that you can’t wait to show and sell.

Your values will shape your relationships with clients.

They will also energetically attract clients with similar ideals. While this is not an exact science, my experience as a consultant has given me much opportunity to observe the businesses of several hundred photographers over the last 28 years. It is no exaggeration to say that your attitudes and how you service clients will draw specific people to you.

People who are service oriented, positive, kind and price their work fairly, tend to attract clients who are looking to work in a win- win fashion.

If you find you’re self-complaining about clients, wining about how you never get paid enough, and how all your clients never seem to appreciate what you do, you will draw to you people who also have this outlook on life. It’s called The Law of Attraction and many books and films have documented how this works. If you see yourself in a whiny complaining mode stop it now, unless you choose to attract whiny, complaining clients.

Your job is to build a business around the values that are truly yours, knowing that in doing so you will attract the clients you seek.

The next step is to determine what type of relationships you would like to build with your clients? How will you service those that hire you? While relationships in today’s market look and feel different than they did 10 years ago (clients had more time, there were no art buyers and people answered their phones) relationships do exist and are often the reason why a photographer is hired for a specific assignment.

Consider creating service goals and making sure that everyone who works with you from daily assistants to your monthly bookkeeper is aware of and agrees to your ideals when it comes to servicing clients.

Pricing and licensing are perhaps the area of business where photographers have the toughest time creating and adhering to their values.

Leslie Burns Dell’Acqua author of the book, Business Basics for the Successful Commercial photographer is a photo consultant located in California and works with photographers on licensing issues daily.

She urges photographers to become educated and use the licensing system as she sees it as an expression of a photographer’s professionalism and a benefit to their total well being.

“I think that photographers get several levels of benefits by structuring their businesses around the usage licensing model. On the most basic level, financial, photographers who license their work and who are the most stringent about pricing their licenses on the value of their images vis-à-vis their use are, in my experience, significantly more successful. Simply put, they make more money.” 

Leslie continues “On a deeper level, they tend to be happier people. This is not only because they are making more money (after all, money is not the key to happiness), they're making that money in fewer hours of travail. In other words, those who license has more time for their personal and family lives because they don't have to work insane hours to make their "nut." Having a healthy balance between work and home lives results in happier creative. Having a healthy and happy life both inside and outside of work enriches the soul. That is vital to running a truly successful creative business. When you are calm, rested, and undistracted by fear, you can focus your mind on what you choose--you're in control. That ability to focus results in better creative thought, which results in better creative work, which results in a better portfolio (online and print), which results in attracting better clients who are willing to pay well because they recognize the value of the creativity in your work.

“All of this, she states “is essentially saying that photographers who honor themselves, their work, and their lives manifest their values by running their businesses in this manner. They also demonstrate respect for their colleagues and the industry as a whole. They even show respect for their clients. After all, when a photographer prices appropriately the usage for an image for an ad with, say, a million-dollar placement, they are showing the other creative involved and the end-client that all the creative work is worthy of that placement cost. "It costs more because it is worth more" is the old line, and true it is. The best part of living your life and running your business in a values-based manner (of which the licensing system is one facet) is that you then are living and working congruently with your authentic self. You make no false promises, you don't lie, and you don't have to juggle all the balls that deceit like that bring. You're free to focus on the positive, to explore your creative vision, and to be the artist and businessperson you really are inside. No apologies. And living in truth, well, you pretty much can't help but be successful.” Leslie concludes.

When you chose to be a freelancer you gave yourself a superb opportunity to create your own destiny. You signed up to build a business that would meet your goals and would function based on your values. Clearly, your visual inventory, your choice of how you will service your clients and your decisions about how you will price and license your images are three key areas that you need to create with your values in hand. This is only the beginning, so start here, continue on, and begin to build a business based on your values, one that is indeed, a business to value.

Selina Maitreya



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