The phone rings, I’m annoyed.
A client emails asking a question I’ve already answered and I’m muttering under my breath and pounding an answer out like Schroeder from the Peanuts on my keyboard.
It’s here, my friends. Mid-season burn out. Summer is coming to an end, fall is on the horizon and the next wedding-less week end seems as far away as the first snowfall. Every Saturday the chicken is saucy, the dress is white, Beyonce wants him to put a ring on it, and the Black Eyed Peas Have a Feeling, they want to get it Started in Here.
I’m swamped. The editing is piling up, the laundry is piling up, I’ve got weddings, portrait sessions, new client consults and for some reason I thought launching a business blog this month would be a good idea. Idiot. This is the stuff I was dreaming about in February and now that it’s here I’m annoyed by a client call because all I can think of is how I just need to get some damn WORK done and I wish they’d leave me alone.
Yeah, I want paying clients to leave me alone. That’s wacked. Time to do some readjusting.
So let’s go over some plans to work through this burn out without alienating our clients and to keep spirits and creativity up.
It’s been a heady week here at ACAD.
This launch week has been amazing. Truly. For you very first beta testers who told us what sucked and what didn’t, we love you and want to have your babies. And for those of you just joining us on the journey, thanks for your kind words and especially to Debbie from Lily Rose Photography who sent us our very first piece of fan email that was not from our moms.
We want to talk to you about rock stars. Not the kind that want to sell you plastic flash diffusers, not the kind that want to teach you to shoot and share.
The real rock stars. The people who are working their asses off in this industry all around the country.
You might be one of those rock stars. The one with the studio that you’re worried about paying the rent on this month. The one who falls asleep on your keyboard editing after your kids go to bed. The one who just had a huge fight with your spouse about all the hours you put in vs. how much money you bring in, and when you log on to your email there’s another client asking you for a discount.
How many times a year do we hear this? Am I right? And, half the time, the wedding they describe is the same wedding we’ve shot dozens of times over… the bridesmaids are all wearing different colors and carrying a single flower down the aisle; the ceremony is decorated with hay bales; there’s a signature drink and mason jars; the bride’s wearing Vans instead of heels. Not that this wedding wouldn’t be fun to shoot; it’s just not the MAKE OR BREAK PORTFOLIO OPPORTUNITY.
Now, the thing about the “portfolio builder” bride is that she usually thinks her wedding will be SO COOL that you’ll discount your services for the chance to be part of it. Sometimes they even want you to shoot it for free. And, once in a great while, their descriptions of this enchanted event are SO FRIGGING AWESOME that you’re almost tempted to waive your travel fee, or throw in some huge extra to make it work for them.
See, this happened to me once.
Because I’ve been around *ahem* a while I got a message recently from a photographer I know asking for my advice. After the normal warnings that my advice may be worth about what I charge for it (free) I said sure, hit me up.
His frustrations were this: Clients that tried to bully him into giving them stuff for free. Clients who had unrealistic expectations of the photography and gave him 14 page “must have shot checklists” on the wedding day. Clients who expected him to be available 24/7.
Whoa Nellie. After explaining that this is really about a dozen questions with the different layers and things that need to be addressed in his business, I broke it down to what I feel is the most simplistic question
Who is your target client?
I know who mine is.
A few weeks ago at a wedding I was photographing I sat for dinner with the guests next to a lovely older woman at dinner.
She clearly was of the age that when you sit next to someone you don’t know, you make introductions. After some niceties (“how do you know the couple”, “how long have you been photographing weddings?”) she surprised me by asking “You’ve been doing this some time. Can you tell me when it was that the weddings went from celebrating the marriage with family and friends to seeing who had the most trinkets?”
I wasn’t really sure what she was asking. I wondered if it was a trap. I wished she would just ask me how many megapixels my camera is or how many photos I had taken that day, because I know how to answer that.
I stammered that I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, and she elaborated.
Over the past few years, she’s noticed a shift in weddings. That it seemed to be more about the “stuff”
I started out just like a lot of you. Found an AOL list serve, moved on to Zuga, DWF, The Foundation Forum. These were my gateway drugs.
I told myself “I can quit anytime. I just happen to like being helpful. I like being a resource for other photographers.”
Truth: Owning your own business is isolating. There is no watercooler, no cube mate to bounce ideas off of, no “team building exercises”. But with a click of the mouse, I could ask Dan in New Jersey a question about portraiture. I could ask Shalista in South Dakota how she markets to seniors. I could bitch to Susan in Florida about brides who thought I made them “look fat”. And with little kids at home my “office hours” were after they went to bed. These people were my lifeline.
My kids got older, and my schedule freed up a little. Seeking people like me in my own town, I began to network. If it had an acronym, I was on it. NAWP, NACE, SEWPPA, WPPA, WPPI,SouthcentralPPA. You get the idea. My days and evenings were filled with My People. People in my industry, who spoke my language. People who “got” me and who could drink a beer with me in person.
People who referred me and brought me buisness. HELL YES.
Today I committed to attending our town’s monthly photographer get-together for August. My husband and I have attended exactly one of these in the last three years. Here’s the thing: it was FUN! There was beer and sushi and laughs, not too much posturing, and I got to spout off about things I knew better than they did because I’m a billion years older than almost everyone else in the industry (APPARENTLY). I had a blast.
And then the announcement for the next monthly meeting showed up on my Facebook Timeline, and I was like “Oh. Ew. People and things.”
I’ve somehow spent the last twelve years of my career attending almost NO networking meetings, and very few conventions. At the conventions I’ve been to, I ducked out of classes to go hang out with the cool kids at the casino or in the bar. I spoke at a convention once (badly! OH SO BADLY!), and that was probably the worst experience of my life.
I suck at networking.
We get invited to the coolest sounding parties and shindigs in town, almost weekly. And, don’t ask me why, but when we don’t attend said cool parties PEOPLE ASK WHERE WE ARE. As though we’ve ever been to a single party! I don’t get it either.
And you know what? This isn’t some shitty tactic to appear cool or mysterious or “better than”. I really can’t stomach the thought of choosing which of my three pairs of jeans to wear (this should be easy – THE PAIR THAT FITS), or which side of my head to part my hair. I can’t deal with the idea of small talk and chatter, or of listening to some blowhard talk about how he’s booked ninety-seven weddings in the last two weeks “at an average of twelve thousand dollars! Yeah, I’m kind of a big deal”. In my head, all networking meetings are exercises in bullshittery, and the thought of that makes my tummy hurt.