The Writings

Be Assertive, Be-Ee Assertive

You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need...

I'm not gonna lie: there are some things involving running your business successfully that you either have or you don't. Having "the eye" to capture beautiful images to wow your clients and art buyers. Having an outgoing personality that helps you connect with people and seal the deal. Being extremely business savvy to manage your costs of doing business effectively. However, there's one thing I feel doesn't have to come with your genetic make up and can be learned: being assertive. More often than not in this industry (or any business), you have to fight to survive because of its extreme competitiveness. You have to fight for the sale, fight for the shot you want, and fight to get what you deserve. To many, it can be very frightening - you don't want to seem rude or abrasive, but you don't want to miss out, either. Don't fret, my pet! I'm here to give you a little pep talk to add that swagger in your step!

One of the obvious things in the fight for survival involves getting the business of a potential client. With so many photographers out there - many being students or beginners desperate to expand their portfolios - it's a touch feat to get the business to put food on your plate, and trying to get business can be extremely intimidating.  Don't sell yourself short!  Your work will speak for itself, and if your abilities are there, a client will absolutely recognize it and will inquire about work.  In a recent post, I discussed some methods to help promote your business.  However, all of these things only work if you're consistent in putting you and your business out there.  Be assertive and make sure you're always on Twitter or Facebook, and don't be shy about asking people to share the information you're promoting.  Get friends and family to help - they want to see you succeed as much as you want to!  Create flyers and spread the word.  Check for social events in your area where you can network and make connections that will help your business in the now or near future.  The bottom line is: you're not going to get any business without going out to get the business!

So, you put yourself out there and got a gig.  Way to go!  However, I'm a gambling man, and I'm willing to bet that, if you're a beginner, you're probably a little nervous.  For photographers, it's tough to make sure you get the shot that you want -- whether it's events, weddings, or working close with the client on a product shoot, it's hard to position yourself to get the shot you're visualizing.  The thing is, there's a method that can help get the shot you want: be assertive.  Make sure you communicate to the bride and groom what idea or pose you have.  Politely ask people in a group if they're interested in getting their picture taken.  Discuss your creative ideas to your client and see if you can come to a collaborative agreement.  If you don't put yourself out there and make the photo happen, I guarantee you will look back at the images you took and say a ton of "woulda, coulda, shouldas".  Keep in mind: there's a difference between being assertive and being rude.  For example, if people are carrying on and having a good time at a function, it's probably best not to interrupt, but maybe you can take a candid shot of the energy in the group instead.  The point is, the shot isn't going to fall in your lap all of the time.  Make sure you communicate your ideas and direct the shot you want!

One other major problem we face in our industry is getting the proper value and payment for our work done from a project.  Because of a tremendous number of beginners and hobbyists that try to make a buck on the side, a lot of the photographers set a bad impression about our industry, charging next to nothing or nothing at all and undercutting the working professionals to get the business.  Thanks to them, a lot of prospective clients think the work we do isn't equivalent to the price we charge.  What you should keep in mind while talking to the client about price is about the quality of work done.  In a professional manner, remind them that the quality of your images, plus the speed and efficiency you were able to produce the work, is the reason you are worth that value.  Many clients only pay attention to when you're physically shooting the person/place/thing, but they don't realize that you also have to edit the images, which takes time, as well as the value of your intellectual property.  In his book Best Business Practices for Photographers, John Harrington made a reference to musicians, saying something to the degree of, "when a musician is selling CDs, he gets paid for his intellectual property.  As an artist yourself, you're deserving of money for your work in the same way they are for theirs."  Don't let a client try to devalue your work or worth - be assertive and tell them what your set rates are, only deviating slightly based on the project, not the "shoe-string budget" a client conveniently always seems to be under.  It's the oldest excuse in the book, and something you're going to have to get used to hearing.  If you're as passionate an arguer as I am, it's hard not to yell over the phone, "THEN TAKE THE PICTURES YOURSELF!"  However, you're a working professional, so if money really is such an issue to this client, inform them politely that there are certainly photographers out there that will work for such a low cost, but remind them that they will get what they pay for - it's rare that they will get professional quality for intern prices.  Let them know that, if they are unhappy with the quality of the work of the photographer that they choose (and they probably will), they can call you to schedule a reshoot.

Now, while I am driving home the point to be assertive, you must also remember to be professional.  It's one thing to play director and conduct the shot you visualize capturing; it's a whole different thing to be rude and bossy when people are trying to have a good time at an event or disregarding the opinions of a client because you had a bout of tunnel vision and could only focus on what you want.  There's a fine line, so walk with caution.

The main thing to remember in all of this is that it's a competitive industry, and unless you make the necessary moves to get what you're after, you're going to leave yourself disappointed more often than not.  Be assertive and you'll start to notice a large improvement to your business.

Until next time,

- Patrick