A Candid Dialogue About Success in Photography

McCleary Intro

©Rick McCleary, used with permission

The following is a reply to a post on one of the photography forums I read daily. In it, Rick McCleary, a Washington DC based photographer, replies to comments and questions posted by another photographer.

Your post has been stuck in my head for a couple days because it makes me recall the exact same sentiments I felt when I was starting out – all full of myself and feeling like the world owed me something/everything. There are a couple things you need to embrace that will help you get out
of your own way:

1) This is a business, just like any other business. Nothing is given. Learn the basics. Read some business books that stress marketing. Read Seth Godin’s blog.
2) No one owes you anything.
3) Your job is to make your client’s life better. See the world from your client’s perspective. User experience, and all that.

Q: So, let me see if I got this straight: I have to be “persistent”?
RM: Yes, exactly.

Q: And “talk” about my photos?
RM: Of course.

Q: Why?
RM: Because regardless of how great a product (or service) inherently is, buyers need to be told that it’s great. They need reassurance, they need to feel good about buying it, they need to understand its benefits. A compelling story, a constant narrative is essential to selling anything. With photography, a service where SO much is subjective, this is all the more important.

Rick McCleary

©Rick McCleary, used with permission

Q: If you like my photos you hire me; isn’t photography a visual art? Did I miss something?
RM: I won’t comment about the youthful arrogance of this statement other than to say, “Cool it.” You’re entitled to nothing. Look, you may think you’re the hottest photographer to come down the road since Weber or Avedon, and you may well be, but the pictures are only part of the story. This is a relationship business. You’re going to be working very closely with actual people with actual bosses who are under actual stress. Your job is twofold: make great pictures that address their needs, and help to defuse their stress. If you can do both, you’ve got a client for life. If you just make great pictures, but are not that easy to work with, they’ll very quickly find someone else.

Q: My goal is not to be on someones’ “call list”!? My goal is to produce such high quality photos that I’m on speed dial!
RM: Good luck with that. Remember: Persistence, relationships, …and good manners.

Q: So that is why I spent thousands on DSLR equipment, and educative materials? So I can now became “persistent” rather than WOW them?
RM: No one cares about how much you’ve spent on anything. Make it easy for people to do business with you. Focus on their needs, not yours. If you’re running a photography business by yourself, you’re wearing all the hats:- R&D (shooting new stuff), production (shooting jobs), marketing (all the stuff you don’t want to do), and accounting (invoicing, bill paying, tax man stuff). All those things need to get done, either by you or someone you hire.

RM: Wow, indeed. Good luck.

Washington DC based photographer Rick McCleary is the author of “CMYK 2.0: A Cooperative Workflow for Photographers, Designers, and Printers”, a Peachpit Press book. View his work.

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