10 Things to do for Your Biz in 2012 (the gloves come off)

Everyone is sharing their lists of things to do or not to do in 2012. I thought I’d share mine. I’m going to warn you, though, it’s not like any other marketing/business related list out there. And I also warn you, I’m not holding back on the language. I think someone needs to bitchslap the industry and today I’m just the broad to do it.

So, here is my list of what you should/should not do for your business in 2012…

  1. If anyone talks about ROI or value propositions or anything else that smacks of weasel-in-a-suit when it comes to your marketing, run away. All that old shit is dead. Sure, you want to get the best bang for your buck, but most of the kind of marketing you do in your business is not quantifiable and the old MBA bullshit is just that… bullshit. First off, you are not selling widgets and much of that just doesn’t apply to service providers. Secondly, there are new tools every day–new ways to connect–and most don’t have any analog in the old world. Your marketing today needs to be honest, real, and a reflection of who you are. I sure as hell hope you are not a “suit.” Stay away from buzzwords–don’t use them and be skeptical of those who do.
  2. Forget about old selling tools like “elevator speeches.” Look, no one gives a shit who you are or what you do when you shill. It’s totally off-putting to get the spiel–be that at a party or in an actual elevator. Car salesman-esque. Fake. Ew.
    My “elevator speech” is I’m a marketing consultant and lawyer for creative professionals. That’s it, because all I’m doing is answering the question “What do you do?” Why only this? Because I’m not pushing the sale (that is very old and disliked) and I leave space for a dialogue by NOT answering all the implied questions (see #3). I’m letting go of trying to control the interaction and in so doing get better results.
  3. When meeting someone new, especially a target, after saying that you are a commercial photographer (or whatever), always follow it up with a question (or more than one) about the other person: Do you work on the Widget campaign? What other ones? Who’s your dream to work with? etc. And respond honestly to their responses and use follow-up questions: I love the Widget work–where did you find that actor? You are a hell of a lot more interesting to a potential target when you are interested in her/him, especially (in this context) his/her work (it’s good to do research on your targets ahead of time so you know enough to have questions).
  4. Fuck SEO. Seriously, unless you are shooting weddings/portraits and/or your work is specifically related to your geography, fuck it (and even for those of you who do weddings, etc., don’t spend too much time at it).
    Google has 97% of search traffic and it manipulates its results something wicked (they are under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for this). Really, it’s wasted effort. Moreover, good buyers are not using Google to find photographers. At best they may do an image search (mostly for inspiration, not to hire a photog) and then that’s going to be more about keywording your work than your site.
    Yes, we all know of someone who got a great gig from Google: and that person is the exception, not the rule. It’s like what we women do often with dating: we hear about the one friend of a friend who ended up getting happily married after the guy didn’t call forever and we think that can happen to us. We could get hit by lightening, too.
  5. Stop whining. I’m tired of hearing “I can’t do that.” Yes, you can. It might be hard and it may be risky, but you can do it. I don’t care what it is, almost always you can find a way to do it. Get a set already. Business is hard and there are no guarantees. You want a guarantee, buy a blender. You want to be a creative pro? Accept that is tantamount to doing the flying trapeze, without a net. Let go and have fun with that. You chose to be an artist–stop whining about the risks.
    5.a. The answer to the question But what if someone doesn’t like it? is always Fuck ’em.
  6. Shoot/make art for yourself, as often as you can. Don’t shoot/draw/create for any other reason (like to specifically make something for your portfolio) but rather shoot for the love of shooting and for making the work that excites you. Don’t worry if it’s good or right or what you should be doing, just make some damn art (see 5.a. above). That is your job and you have to do it for your business just as much as you have to pay your web hosting bill.
  7. Stop doing generic promos. Your promos need to be a reflection of who you are and you are supposed to be a creative professional, right? So why the hell do you hide that? If you get a crazy idea and you love it, do it. Do it well (collaborate with a designer) and invest in your promotions, especially print or other tangible items. Yes, you can send postcards and email promos, but they are generally only better than nothing. A really original, creative, smart idea will break through the clutter. Some people won’t like it–find the ones who do (target well!) and for everyone else, see number 5.a. above.
    7.a. Do not ever call a client to follow up on a promo… I mean, don’t say “I sent you a promo, did you get it?” or “I sent you a promo, did you like it?”
  8. Get out of your office/out from behind your computer and interact with people. Social media is a form of connection but it’s a weak one. You want to get work, you need to meet people in real life. Yes, that means making calls to set up meetings. It means traveling to the places where your targets are and meeting with them there. Oh, and at the end of any portfolio meeting, do NOT ask for a job on the spot. They hate that.
    Getting out also means going to events connected to your targets, like AIGA presentations or Ad Club events. Take people to lunch (or bring it with you), throw studio parties, put yourself out there. And have fun with it!
  9. Register your damn copyrights. Yeah, this is me with my lawyer hat on but it’s one of the best things you can do for your business. The sooner you register, the better. It’s a long lecture as to why (statutory damages and attorneys’ fees, etc.) but trust me when I say that you don’t want to find later that someone has been using your work (and you will!) but that you can’t prove much in the way of damages and so get practically nada. That sucks.
  10. I don’t care what any other consultant or photographer tells you, separate out your Usage Licensing Fee from your Creative (shoot) Fee. Better yet, make sure the License Fee is where most of the “cost” lies. As more and more work is getting ripped off you need to be able to prove the value of your license (even if you are going for statutory damages–it helps) and you cannot do that if you use a combined fee on your estimates and invoices. The other side will have a great argument that most of that number is the Creative/Shoot Fee and you get screwed a second time. Why do you think buyers say they want them combined? Because it benefits their companies, not you. They are protecting their asses–you need to look after your own.
    You can do this if you want to make sure not to piss off a buyer: on the cover/summary page of your estimate (and invoice!) you lump your numbers together into two main categories (Fees, Production Charges) so that there is a simple, one-page overview for the buyer to glance at. Inside, however, you break out every Fee and Production Charge, line item by line item, and make sure to line item the License Fee separately.
  11. Yes, the list of 10 goes to 11… and the last is the most important: be yourself in everything you do. Honesty and real connections are what makes your business successful now. Steve Jobs taught us that having convictions is a good thing for your business and that’s what being honest is. And that’s what I’m demonstrating here. Sure, some people are going to be offended by my language and/or say it’s inappropriate in business, but in our businesses, being real trumps convention, every time. I swear (in multiple languages even), I’m passionate, I want y’all to succeed, and I work hard to make that happen. In 2012, I’m going to be more real and open with my thoughts and opinions, and that is going to scare off some people, but I know it will help those who stay and follow.
    For the others, well, see number 5.a., above.

50 Responses to “10 Things to do for Your Biz in 2012 (the gloves come off)”

  1. Destry Jaimes Says:

    Great list!

    Love how real it is, love and preach number 4 all the time, and love that you went to 11.

  2. kat - rocknrollbride Says:

    genius post and oh so true! well said. FUCK SEO is the best advice ever as is the stopping whining. god im so sick of just seeing/hearing whine whine whine!

  3. Oliver Asis Says:

    Thank you thank you for the reality check! I sincerely appreciate this.

    You nailed it with me on #5, #6, and #8.

  4. Ed Taylor Says:

    “You want a guarantee, buy a blender.”


    And spot on as always Leslie.

    Happy New Year!


  5. Andy Gaines Says:


    Great post and advice – just what I needed to read!

    5a. All the way!

  6. Luke Going Says:

    The 2012 Prophecy – ‘Being REAL is the new convention’.. A New Time, a New People, A New Way of being! This is the dawn of the creative revolution!! GREAT WORK..Keep it going xo

  7. Hannes Uys Says:

    I fucking love this post! Have a great year Leslie.

  8. Libby Says:

    You really nailed some things here. A shooter acquaintance of mine has been going on and on about a business name and his business card design for weeks now and I just don’t see the point in that. And of course he’s nuts with the social media too, which makes me wonder when he has time to pick up a camera. Between that and the social media cap he’s ready to have a stroke. Your SEO advice – Best ever!

    On my own homefront shooting what I like has been liberating now that I have the luxury of being able to do so. No art directors, and I’m my own editor ( and also my own worst critic). Have a Happy New Year 😉

  9. Kyrani Says:

    Thank you for this post Leslie. Best advice ever! No 5a is my favourite!

  10. Craig Murphy Says:

    Showed this list to my artist/painter girlfriend. Her quote after reading it: “I fucking love her”. That would be you Leslie. 🙂

  11. Richard Says:

    I have been thinking about 5A for a few months now.
    Get out of my head Leslie:)

    Happy New Year

  12. New Years : New Changes, New Attitudes, New Looks, New Projects | ESSENTIALS For Photographers Says:

    […] The gloves come off. (paraphrasing my friend, Leslie Burns – and by the way – read her post. Read Luke Copping’s post while you are at […]

  13. Stephen Sherman Says:

    You always show that you “have no fear”

    Love it!


  14. Michael Giordano Says:

    Great Post… See you soon at APA-SD! I’ll check out your shoes. 🙂

  15. info Says:

    MG: Cool! Make sure to introduce yourself at the event.

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  17. Jenny Klassen Says:

    This is how we all talk anyways…love to see it so out there for all to read…so very true, ALL of it!! This is my kind of candid talk!! Thank you!!!!

  18. Paul Adams Says:

    Spot on. Love the bit about suits, sales and elevator pitches. I have always hated all that bollocks and have always fought against the advice of other so called experts as I could never see how it would fit my business. One size does not fit all businesses and after all it is my business and I will do it my way. Leslie, your articles are always refreshing and inspiring. Thanks

  19. Required Reading 1.6.2012 | Luke Copping Photography - Blog Says:

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  21. Lorentz Gullachsen Says:

    Probably the best advise I have ever seen for a photographer .

  22. info Says:

    Gee… thanks so much!

  23. How To Have An Awesome 2012 | The West Agency Says:

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  24. Roy Says:

    Potty mouth!

    My mother would make you wash your mouth out with soap and water!

    I’m being ironic. I’m English…

    I love what you had to say and it’s made my life better.

    Thanks very very much


  25. Tamara Says:

    Indeed. Great call to action Leslie. I have been waiting my whole life for people to be real with themselves and everyone around them. Faux Facades are so 2011.

  26. Jenn Says:

    Thanks, I needed that.

  27. Andrew Says:

    It take balls to be different these days. And you did it!

  28. Jacob Says:

    Why didn’t you just make 10 the loudest?

  29. vincent de vries Says:


  30. Stephanie Salo Says:

    Best list I’ve come across in a long, long, time. Cheers to you Leslie…

  31. Jonathan Says:


  32. Matt McKee Says:

    Absolutely inspiring. So good, I had to read it to my kids. ‘Course I edited it a little bit. After all, they have been working so hard on their elevator speeches last year… 😉

  33. lane dittoe Says:

    This is so good! Thank you

  34. Gabriel Rizzo Says:

    Thank you, a great and honest perspective. Wish you the best;)

  35. Brian Carlson Says:

    You say screw SEO. What’s your take on Analytics?

  36. Anderson Smith Says:

    Very nice Leslie. Thanks for the wake up! Great stuff and very much to the point. Need to get you back on the show and discus some of this stuff.


  37. Martha Retallick Says:

    Speaking of those darn copyrights, it looks like a SOPA proponent may be in violation. Link:


  38. John Wiley Says:

    What a wonderful kick in the pants to start the new year, Leslie! While I think most of us are busily kicking ourselve into gear around this time, it’s always *great* to have high quality fuel, like this piece, in the booster rockets! Thanks so much for that!! (And Happy New Year!)

  39. info Says:

    Yeah, he probably screwed up… that is, his minion did. It happens and the photographer should pursue it if it wasn’t licensed, sure.
    That being said, I think this is petty as hell of techdirt, but not surprising. Techdirt is not friend of copyright.

  40. info Says:

    Don’t get your knickers too much in a twist. I mean, it’s good to look and see who you are reaching, but unless things are way off, don’t obsess over it. I’d rather a photographer spend time working on his/her vision than playing nerd.

  41. Deep Sleep Magazine Says:

    Leslie – Great stuff. This post was so awesome it inspired the editorial for the latest issue of our online photography magazine, Deep Sleep. Out now in all good browsers. http://www.deepsleep.org.uk Thanks!

  42. info Says:

    Wow! Thanks. Make sure to check out Luke Copping’s great post, too.

  43. Deep Sleep Magazine Says:

    Funny you should mention it – that was the other post we linked to!

  44. info Says:

    Whoops! Missed that. This is what happens when I read fast and without enough coffee in my system. 🙂

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