Nine Tips to Help Succeed in Sustaining or Growing Your Business

Written by Detroit Corporate Photographer Blake J. Discher

I’ve just returned from the American Society of Media Photographers’ (ASMP) event at the stunningly beautiful Times Center in New York titled “Sustainable Business Models: Issues and Trends Facing Visual Artists.” I’d best describe this day-long gathering of some of the brightest minds in our business as enlightening and thought-provoking. (If you were unable to attend or did not watch it live, a complete video archive of event is available here.)

The afternoon panel discussion, “The Challenge: Sustainable and Ongoing Creator Compensation” was moderated by former ASMP President Richard Kelly and the panelists were Kevin Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, CLA; Rob Haggart, Editor, and former Director of Photography for Men’s Journal and Outside Magazine; Henry Oh, Principal, Transpecific Media; Stephen Mayes, CEO, VII; and Susan White, Director of Photography, Vanity Fair.

Gale Zucker, watching the live stream of the event, asked a great question of the panel: “What three steps would any of the panelists suggest working photographers do tomorrow to succeed in sustaining or growing their business?” What follows are three of the panelists’ answers. (If you can contribute to the conversation, please do so by commenting on this post.)

Rob Haggart:

1. Collaboration. I think is a great point. Think about the photography and the publishing industry and it’s time to come together and to collaborate with your fellow artists and creators and make some business models and push back. Collaborate as a group, for you, and make a sustainable business out of it. We can’t live without artists.

2. Authority. It’s my new favorite word, it’s like a niche. Establish your authority, try to figure out what that is an and make that part of your personality. Part of what you’re selling. [It’s] not just photography [you’re] selling. My location, my authenticity.

3. Participate in all of the great new tools and things that are happening and take a page from the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who try something, see what the results are, if they fail they move on, they pivot. It’s always about experimentation, you need to participate in all the emerging things that are happening. You don’t have to make that the focus in your life, sometimes it can be hard spending all this time on social media doing things, but you can participate, you can experiment, you can measure the results, and you can move on from that.

Henry Oh:

Henry Oh1. Do an internal assessment, an assessment of your own skills, your influence, and your digital footprint. Use the analytic tools out there, use Alexa, figure out what your footprint online is.

2. Look at the people you admire, who are your heroes, who are the other people in your space, see what they’re doing and compare yourself against them. See where the gaps are and start thinking about how you can get to that position. It might not be where you actually end up but it’s still useful to have a goal and start moving.

3. Connect with some of the people that you meet here. The starting of a collaboration is breaking that barrier, and this is the perfect place to do that. So before you leave get some business cards and start a dialogue.

Stephen Mayes:

Stephen Mayes1. Stay real and be aware of what your skills are and what you can actually do. The big thinking is great, but don’t let it distract you from doing what you know you can do. However, what you are currently doing may not be working for you anymore so while remaining real, you have to somewhat relax your grip.

2. I recommend a long bicycle ride or going for a run. Take a step back, breathing deeply, rather than constantly pushing it into your face saying, “Oh my God, this is failing, I’m failing.” Step back and say, no, I do have value.

3. I think its a good idea to set a three year goal that’s within reach but gives you time enough to work towards it. You know, a six-month goal might just incite panic. But I think it’s necessary to stay real. You’re working from a base, you have an expertise, you have knowledge, use it. Don’t throw it all away, but think of how else you might be able to apply that.

(Photos copyright 2012 Jenna Close and Kevin Locke, used with permission.)

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