Archive for July, 2007

Right-brainers rule!

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Okay, not yet, but they might in the future if Daniel Pink is correct. At the very least, Mr. Pink confirms, in this article from HOW Magazine, much of what I’ve been saying for years: differentiation, following your creative heart, doing compassionate and passionate work, etc. are indeed the necessary steps on a path to success now and in the future.

Wha…?

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Many people in many different professions have said it: it would be a great job, if only we didn’t have to deal with idiot clients. We all (yes, even me) have had client frustrations from time to time. Those head-scratching comments or requests (one of my favorites is the guy who emailed me asking me to edit his portfolio images and review his site and tell him how to market his business…all for free) that make us say “What were they thinking?”

Usually, of course, these situations get worked out and sometimes they become funny stories to share. Åsk Wäppling of Adland fame pointed out this site for some real-life “Wha…?” client moments in advertising.

And, if you want more from other professions (especially tech ones, but some creative too), there is always Clientcopia for a good laugh.

Do you have a good story about clients or other issues on a project? Want to share one (or more)? Please email me with any and I’ll either do a post (series of posts?) or maybe a podcast about them. Please don’t post them in the comments here as I want to make sure the names are changed to protect the idio…I mean, lovely clients and other people. 🙂

Join local groups

Friday, July 27th, 2007

I have often advocated becoming a member of whatever creative pro groups there are available to you in your area. Photographers should consider APA and ASMP in particular; designers, AIGA and GAG, etc. These groups will help you with your business, and for that alone, they are worth the dues. They also often offer discounts for things you need, so you can easily recoup the cost of membership. However, there are sometimes extra benefits you would never expect.

Last evening ASMP San Diego had a members-only Pixels n’ Pints event. These types of events let photographers get together and share their work in an encouraging environment (pre-digital, they were called “Suds n’ Slides”). But this one was special–it was held on Joan Embery’s ranch just outside of town.

Yes, that Joan Embery–the one so many of us grew up watching on Johnny Carson, with “her” animals (from the San Diego Zoo). For me, it was surreal. I remember getting excited as a kid when Ed McMahon would announce “and Joan Embery” at the end of the guestlist for the evening’s show (I didn’t have a bedtime as a kid so I watched a lot of Johnny Carson). And then there I was, at her ranch, listening as she told us all about the cheetah we were looking at just a few feet away.

Now, of course if you are not in San Diego, this same event won’t happen for you. But these groups in any location can give you many things beyond discounts and CODB calculators. Of course, they work hard to bring in speakers of interest–so if you’ve always wanted to meet, say, Joyce Tenneson or Chip Kidd tell your local chapter and they might make it happen. But there are many unexpected benefits from attending any meeting that can profoundly affect you and/or your business. Sometimes it’s one conversation with a colleague or meeting someone who says “I’ve seen your work–it’s really wonderful” (and means it) or hearing that others face the same issues you do (even if some of them make bad choices in how they deal with those issues). And sometimes it’s something more.

So, join up, participate, be active in your local creative groups. The potential to get so much for so little is right in front of you.

Change

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

There’s a new Creative Lube available (also available on iTunes, of course). The topic for this edition is change.

HP and the Creative Vision, part 2

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

I’ve been reading more and more about Ms. Rowling and the more I read, the more I see how she made some great, but difficult, choices to protect her intellectual property. In this article, the author claims that Disney came to her (Rowling) with an idea to build a Harry Potter theme park. She reportedly refused because they (while clearly offering a ton of money) would not let her maintain creative control.

Yes, you read that right, she said “No” to Disney and a lot of money. This wasn’t a first. When Hollywood approached her about making the books into movies, she was very hesitant. Again, she didn’t want to sell out for the money if it meant losing control over her creative vision, so she negotiated a deal where she felt she would still have that control.

In other words, she has said “No” a lot. She has said it when it was the best thing for her intellectual property rights, her creative vision. She stuck to her guns and has never sold out, just for the money. Instead, she has controlled her creative assets wisely and showing the original passion she had in their creation.

She’s not alone in this. Directors like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (as well as many others) have owned their own films, at least in part (early on by dropping their fees in trade for a percentage of the film they were going to direct), pretty much since they started making movies. In fact, they swapped 2.5 points (percent of a film, in Hollywood terms) of Close Encounters and Star Wars, so they each own a bit of the other’s. This is what has made them very wealthy men (the control/ownership–not the swap), but remember that the underlying reason for the ownership was always creative control.

Every time a client approaches you to create something, you have a choice about the deal. You can hold onto your rights and license them for an appropriate fee or you can sell them outright (for, it had better be, a MUCH higher fee), and lose all control. You need to make that choice for yourself and not rely on what others tell you those rights might be worth in the long run. Remember, Lucas made Star Wars for no “director’s fee,” giving up a six-figure salary and instead he got to own all the merchandising rights to the film (which the studio thought worthless!) and 40% of the film (see bio).

The difference between cash today and wealth tomorrow can be one choice.

Harry Potter and the Creative Vision

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

No, this isn’t an upcoming title, though I wish it were (yes, I’m a Harry Potter fan). I just thought I’d mention how HP is connected to what we all do every day.

Ms. Rowling had a burning desire to write. She worked other jobs while she wrote, but her passion was always to get Harry on the page. In fact, she was even on public assistance during the writing of the first book, trying to write and keep a roof over the head of herself and her daughter, as a single parent. She did whatever it took to get that book done, and then presented it to several publishers before she got one to publish it.

Side note: can you imagine how much those who turned her down must be kicking themselves?!

Anyway, fast-forward to today and Ms. Rowling is now one of the wealthiest women in the world. She is worth, reportedly, over a billion dollars, and definitely more than Queen Elizabeth II.

None of this would have happened if she were not true to her own vision. She “saw” Harry and his story and she had to write it. She had to write it for herself, and she hoped that others would want to share in it after the fact. She did what it took to enable her to be true to that vision.

And it paid off. Boy howdy did it.

Oh, and none of this would have happened if she sold all the rights to her book(s) either. Remember that next time a client “demands” copyright.

The economy

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

So the stock market is flying high and the talking head are saying “things are fine” but are they really? Not so much domestically in the USA.

The reasons stocks are still going up are more related to overseas growth than domestic. Here in the US, our economy is sputtering, and that is important to know if you’re trying to make a living running a creative business.

Many companies, when they see a downturn in their businesses, cut their budgets to keep the bottom line where they want it–that is, to show growth. Where do they make the cuts? Too often, it is in marketing. Boom, your clients aren’t spending as much money for the needs you fulfill–that’s going to hurt your bottom line.

This means you need to do two things:

1) Don’t follow in their footsteps and cut your marketing budget if you can at all avoid it. You need to get your name out there more and in better ways, if anything, during a down-time.

2) Save for the down-time, including cutting unnecessary expenditures. Start now, even if you’re doing very well.

I hope I’m wrong, I really do, but the indicators are not looking good for the next few years here in the USA. The housing debacle is drying up LOADS of consumer spending and the real inflation rate for most people is more like 9-10% (just google “real inflation” for lots of articles) rather than the low number officially given by the government (remember, gas prices and many other things do not figure in the official CPI). The dollar is trading at record lows. The list of negatives is pretty impressive.

It’s (probably) only going to get worse before it gets better (which it will, in time). But people have been getting through bad times forever, and, with a little planning you can too. Pay off your debt as much as you can now and save up some cash to keep you going if work dries up for a while. Try to live just a bit more frugally and do the same for your business. Then, even if things don’t go as poorly as they might, you’ll be ahead in the future.

As for your business, keep working on your vision so that you can create unique, demand-generating work and license the work you do make. Even when the economy completely tanks (think post 9/11 for a taste), you can make money if your work is special and/or your previous licenses need to be renewed by the client.

Most importantly, don’t panic. That won’t help you no matter what. Rather, plan and take the important steps you can to protect your business and weather the storm in case things do get bad. Also realize that if your sales do drop, it might not be because you didn’t market “right,” but rather simply because your clients, your individual market, cut back on their spending. There is nothing you can do to force anyone buy when they aren’t buying. Don’t beat yourself up–all businesses have ups and downs. Just prepare for the potential downs and ride ’em out.

As of this writing, creative intellectual property (photography, illustration, design, etc.) isn’t going to dry up anytime soon as an industry (or group of industries), so even if things do get bad, they’ll get better again too.

Blocking yourself

Friday, July 20th, 2007

I read on one of the photo forums a post from a photographer who said that he would love to get better clients and better paying projects, and that he tries to do just that, but that he has to keep marketing to the cheap-o clients to keep getting enough work to make enough money. He is blocking himself from really pursuing and achieving his stated goal.

Imagine being overweight and deciding that you want to lose the extra weight. You make that your goal–to lose 20 pounds in 4 months. It’s doable, but it’s going to require work on your part. Now, imagine saying, at the very same time, that you aren’t going to cut any calories; you won’t eat less, because you’re afraid you won’t get all the vitamins and minerals you need if you reduce your intake at all.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I mean, I guess if you worked out a ton you still *might* lose the weight, but it’s a damn hard way to go about it. And the whole theory is based on a false premise–that you will put yourself, your health, in danger if you eat less–when in fact you can often get even better nutrition from eating less (eat more fruits and veggies and drop the chips, for example).

Well it’s just the same when it comes to your business. If you want to get better clients, you must stop going after the crappy ones. They don’t feed your business well. When you market to them, better clients will be at best disinterested and more likely repulsed by the kind of work you have to show to attract (or, better put, not scare off) the el-cheap-os.

Also, if you book yourself busy with crappy, cheap clients, you won’t have the time or energy to do what you need to to go after the good ones. It’s damn hard to think of creative marketing ideas when you’ve been shooting uninspired crap for lousy clients for too many hours and not enough money. It’s the creative equivalent of becoming a couch potato.

So, if you want to get better clients, do better work, and get better paying projects, you must make that your goal and take the steps necessary to achieve that. One of those steps must be to stop marketing to the lower-end clients.

Summer marketing

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

In the creative industries, especially in publishing, there are two times a year where your marketing efforts may fall on totally deaf ears: December holidays and August through Labor Day (US). So, as we fast approach August, you may wish to rethink that mailing you were about to send.

Loads of people are taking time off or, when they are not, they are planning to take time off, or wishing they were at the beach, or they’re sweating at their desks, resenting their co-workers who are at the beach ;-). The point is, they’re either not at their desks to get your marketing piece or they’re not in the mood to receive it, um, well.

What to do…well, you can go ahead and send it on the off-chance your piece breaks through (more possible with the lower number of mailers/emails being sent at this time) but then you’ll have to pray that the receiver is in to get it (if not, it might get lost in the big backload awaiting his/her return), or you can wait and send after Labor Day. I generally recommend waiting until after Labor Day if you haven’t sent the piece by the end of July.

Now, why not take this opportunity, this lull, to think of some unique marketing ideas you can implement now or in the future.

For now, maybe send a “make your own tropical paradise” kit to a few select clients you know are going to be around. Include things like drinks umbrellas, inflatable palm tree (you can find loads of stuff at party stores for this), and maybe even a recipe for some serious adult punch-like beverage (try Webtender for ideas). Don’t forget a note like “In case you can’t get away, you can still have a mini-vacation. Aloha from Joe Smith Photographer.”

For later, now would be a great time to do research for new potential clients. Take a couple of days and hang out in the air conditioned library looking through magazines at ads and editorial images. You could end up finding some great new potential matches.

Or make a list of goals you want to achieve by October 1st.

Of course, you could also take some time and just shoot for yourself. Maybe you’ll make the perfect image(s) for your next marketing campaign.

Attitudes

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

I have a basic living/working philosophy that it is better to assume the best in people than the worst. So, when it comes to our industry, that means I believe the following:

1) most art directors always want to make the best creative they can;
2) most ADs also want to work with creative collaborators (not dictate to a techno-droid);
3) most art buyers want to use the best photographer for any project, and even though they may be restrained by budget at times, they still want to find the best creative they can within their budgets;
4) art buyers, art directors, designers, etc., are not out to get photographers, even when they act like total jerks (they may be facing serious pressure from bosses, for example);
and
5) if you treat every person you encounter in your working day with respect and kindness rather than fear and aggression, you might get burned once in a while, but overall your business will grow and grow more healthily.

A codicil to all this is: sometimes enough is enough. You don’t need to make every single dollar/euro/pound/whatever out there; you just need to make as much as you need/want (whatever goal you set for your business). Now, I don’t see anything wrong with setting good, aggressive financial goals, but if making every penny means you have to be a paranoid jerk who lives in fear that the AB you are talking to might have another grand in her budget that you aren’t getting, even though you’re already getting 5- or 6-figures for the project, then you’re giving up too much of your humanity for the lucre.

For some people, these ideals don’t mesh with theirs, and that’s fine (it’s still a mostly free country). But, if you want to work with me, you should know this is what I think.