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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2002-07-02
Let's Talk Business: So You Need To Generate Some Business? Put On Your Travelin' Shoes
By Rick Rickman
Sometimes I go weeks without hearing from anyone about business issues. Other times like the past several weeks I can't go five minutes without someone calling or e-mailing me with questions. This month has been unusually heavy and the predominant scenario has been like this.
Hello Mr. Rickman, my name is Jamie. I'm from bent grass, Nebraska and I was wondering if you could help me with a problem. I've been freelancing now for about 1 & 1/2 years and I think I'm a pretty good photographer but I can't seem to get work from any of the bigger magazines. What do you think I'm doing wrong?
Well Hello Jamie. You don't really have to call me Mr. Rickman. It makes me feel older than I already am. You say you're from Bent Grass. I used to go through there all the time when I used to work at the Des Moines Register. I'll bet you're starting to get a real good dose of that Nebraska humidity right about now huh.
Anyway, you say you want to get work from the major magazines? Well let's see. Have you put together a portfolio?
Oh yes sir Mr. Rickman I've got a bunch of portfolios on CD's and I've been sending them out to all the photo editors I can get the names of. It's taken me a lot of time to put all this together but I haven't heard from a single one of the people I've sent them out to.
Please Jamie, just call me Rick. It's OK. Well, not one response huh. Did you send a very interesting cover letter with the CD that you sent out?
I did send a letter. Do you want to hear it?
Sure Jamie, it will give me an idea of how you approached this portfolio mailing.
Dear Mary Ann, my name is Jamie Nelson and I live in Bent Grass Nebraska. I'm very interested in getting assignments from your magazine and I'd really like it if you could please look at my portfolio. I like the pictures and I think you will too. Your magazine runs such good pictures and I'd really like to have mine in your magazine as well. I know if I can get my pictures in your magazine my career will just take off. I hope to hear from you soon. Sincerely, Jamie Nelson.
Jamie, you're gonna have to call me back because I've got to pick up my daughter from school in the next 20 minutes and this conversation is gonna take longer than that. One thing I will tell you before I go. You need to go out and buy a good pair of travelin' shoes.
Jamie Nelson, (not his real name) is a classic example of what many photographers do to attempt to drum up business. Mistakenly believing that it's enough to send a CD of images off to a name at a magazine in New York and hoping that that act will generate a new client is like believing in the tooth fairy.
If you're like me you hate telemarketers. Break that hatred down and you'll see what this has to do with promoting new business. Telemarketers don't know you and you don't know them. They call you up at the most inconvenient times and want you to listen to their spiel when you have a million other things to do with your time.
When you send a CD of images to someone you've never met or established some kind of rapport with you are like a telemarketer. You're wanting someone who doesn't know you to drop what they are doing, take a few minutes of their already overloaded day and go through your pictures. How far down on the priority totem pole do you think that falls? You may as well take those CD's and hang them on the apricot tree to help keep the finches off the fruit.
So, Billy Bob, what's the answer? Well Jethro, it's a tried and true solution that isn't guaranteed but has a whole lot better chance than the blind CD approach.
First, get your list of the people you'd like to see together and get the phone numbers for those people shinnied right up next to the name. Start making calls to each one of them and introduce yourself. In the course of the conversation mention to them that you'd like to come to where ever it is they are and share some of your work with them.
Give them a date you'd like to be there and see if they will agree to make some time to sit with you and view your portfolio. (Make sure you have good pictures and a nice presentation ready.) Now one of the most important things. Put together several really solid story ideas that you can present to the editors. I've found that there is a really high likelihood that if you walk in the door with a good story idea you may walk out with an assignment.
I just returned from New York with 3 potential assignments on ideas I proposed while I was visiting photo editors. A good editor really likes a photographer that can generate viable ideas. It shows you are thinking and eager to work to be part of the team.
Second, once you've gotten a possible time squared away with these people call the travel agent and make your reservations. Get a hotel at the same time. Don't forget to dress nicely. First impressions are important and setting yourself apart from the "jeans wearing tee shirt adorned stereotype" is a good idea. I wouldn't wear a Hugo Boss double-breasted suit but a quality pair of slacks and nice shirt won't hurt.
Remember that project fund I mentioned a long time ago. (My guess is you probably don't) Well anyway, this is where that money you've saved comes in really handy. A trip to New York is an expensive venture and this is one of those projects I earmark money for. Figure by the time you spend a week in New York, that the bill may be as high as $3000. That's right, I said a week. That's about how much time it will take to see everyone you need to see
Here's where your CD's could have real value. Photo Editors also like to have something you can leave behind. I usually leave promotional fliers and a business card. However a nice, easy to use CD, may do very well.
Third and maybe most importantly, once you've seen all the photo editors you're interested in impressing and have returned home don't forget to follow up. Send a nice letter earnestly thanking the person for their time and include a promo card with an image they haven't seen already in your portfolio.
This is called name re-enforcement. If you went there with a great portfolio and they liked it, this will remind the person that you are serious about working for them and re-enforce the fact that you can regularly produce quality images. It may also establish that you truly are a good person despite what your mother says.
One little extra item that you may want to try after your return is a monthly mailing. A very good friend of mine who is religious about this has had really good luck generating work with a monthly post card campaign. He sends out postcards that has his identity phrase on it and a nice image. People remember him because he contiguously sends these without fail. Name retention is the name of the game here. I saw several of his cards pinned up on the walls of several of the editors' offices that I went to see.
So Jamie, I'm sorry I didn't return your call but I know you're on the
Sports Shooter Newsletter list and I hope you read this issue. If not, it just further-enforces the problem.
* * *
Before I go I have to address one item that deals with my last column. If you recall I wrote about the dire nature of the industry and how some publications were taking advantage of the situation by insisting that young photographer sign less than friendly contracts to work.
To ad insult to an already bad situation, establishments like the New York Times and AOL/Time have decided to try and get photographers to sign over all their rights to their work for abysmal compensation. The Associated Press started this trend several years ago by strong-arming their freelancers into doing work for them for almost nothing.
One reader who works for AOL online enterprises thought that I didn't delineate well enough between the Time publications and AOL online. I agree with her assessment. I want to make it clear that I was talking about Time publications not AOL enterprises. I also should have listed Time/AOL rather than vise versa. As of this moment AOL online doesn't do assignment work so there is no photographers contracts there to deal with. I told her that I would clarify my statement and so I am attempting to do just that.
Anyway, let's all get out there and do some great work and make some money.
I mean it!
(Rick Rickman is a frequent contributor to Sports Shooter writing about business issue. He is a freelance photographer based in Southern California. Rick will be conducting sessions on the business of photography at the annual Sports Shooter Workshop & Luau Nov. 1-2.)
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