Last week I had the pleasure of introducing Utah based photographer, Mike Tittel, at an ASMP Colorado event. Mike was brought in to talk to emerging photographers about taking their career to the next level, and how he managed getting to where he is now.
I first met Mike a couple years ago when we were both teaching photography workshops at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography (RMSP) in Missoula, Montana. And although our workshops could not have been on more opposite photographic spectrums, mine being food, and Mike’s being adventure sports, each morning we seemed to end up at the same restaurant for breakfast where we discussed our upcoming material and periodically licked our wounds from the previous day.
With Mike’s permission (of course), I am sharing nine key points he addressed, and adding my own two cents. Some of these items seem like no a brainer, but you’d be amazed just how many businesses fail because the “no brainer” is not considered.
#1: Define Success and Set Clear Goals
Each person needs to define what this means to them, and WRITE IT DOWN. Writing something down makes it tangible. How do you know what path to take if you don’t have a starting and end point? Be flexible, as your career progresses, the goals will change. I have a neighbor who defines success by being able to pay someone to handle his yard work.
#2: Value Outside Help
Photographers are great at taking pictures, or at least they should be. Photographers tend not to be too good at graphic design, accounting, writing HTML code, marketing, and making an unbiased evaluation of their own work. Just as you want to be hired for your expertise as a photographer, it’s good to do the same and hire people who are experts in their field. It’s money well spent. The first year that I paid an accountant to handle my taxes I realized how much extra money I had given to the government.
#3: Define Your Brand
This is tough! Who are you? What do you want to say with your work? Who do you want to work for? In under a minute can you tell a stranger who you are and what you do? If not, it’s time to work on your elevator pitch.
#4: Shoot Personal Work and Build a Vision Based Body of Work
I was taught early on (thank you Mark Kaufman) to fill my portfolio with the style of images that I want to get hired to shoot. This is a tough and demanding business, so we better go after the type of work that makes us happy. The best feeling is when you are hired to shoot “your style.”
#5: Solidify Your Marketing Plan
The idea of “if you build it they will come” does NOT work. Building a website, designing a logo, and printing business cards is not a marketing plan. A marketing plan is what you do with those items to reach clients. If marketing is not your strong suit (see #2) then have someone help you. There are many very smart people getting business and marketing degrees that could use a challenge.
#6: Invest In Yourself
A successful business is not stagnant; it’s always moving forward. Invest in personal growth, invest in business growth, take a workshop, bankroll your own dream project, and be willing to spend money on your dream. Investing in you provides the opportunity to recharge the batteries, and possibly reinvent yourself as an artist. I didn’t start my career specializing in Food and Beverage; the path took many turns.
#7: Keep The Main Thing, THE Main Thing (Learn to say no and focus on what you are really after)
Okay, I’ll admit that when Mike first said this it sounded like something out of a fortune cookie or from Curly in City Slickers. There are two things going on here. First, it’s easy to get derailed and forget your main focus; remember why you became a photographer. Is it really a big deal that the lunch order got screwed up? And second, it’s okay to say “no.” Sure, sometimes saying no may cost you a project, but if something does not seem right, it probably isn’t.
#8: Establish Key Relationships
This goes beyond point #2. Don’t wait until you need a specialized service to build that relationship. I am a huge believer in building a strong team that, to be honest, makes me look better. As Mike told the audience, if your client asks for you to blow up a car in downtown Denver, you better know who to call for permits, or you better know a good attorney.
#9: Aim For Excellence, Not Perfection (Avoid Analysis Paralysis)
Photographers tend to over analyze everything! Who can blame us, we are judged by our work, which is very personal, and that can be difficult to stomach. The thought that if it’s perfect everyone will love it is wrong. Art is subjective. Knowing that you’ve done your best and strove for excellence is all anyone, including yourself, can ask.
You can learn more about Mike and his work at: http://www.miketittel.com