2013 Top Ten List

Last year, as a wrap-up to 2012, I made a list of the 10 things creative professionals should quit for 2013 (and beyond). It was one of my most popular posts so I thought I’d revisit the List o’ Ten Items for the end of this year. This year, instead of things to quit, it is a more general do/don’t kind of list, but hopefully you’ll find it helpful.

So, without further ado, here is my Top Ten Things Creative Professionals Should (or should not) Do in 2014… and beyond:

  1. Register your copyrights. Imagine you find one of your works reproduced on (for example) Forbes.com without your permission. If your copyright is not registered before the infringement (or during the safe harbor time, which, by the way, is for published works only), you can only get the reasonable license fee for that use (“actual damages”) and that will be maybe a couple of hundred bucks. However, if your work is registered before the infringement, you can get statutory damages and your attorneys’ fees–likely thousands of dollars. Which do you want?
  2. Don’t bitch about the difficulties in the © registration process. Yes, the whole published/unpublished thing is a pain and yes there are a bunch of other nitpicky rules you need to get right. Complaining about it won’t change that. Instead, learn the rules and when you don’t know what to do, contact your copyright-proficient lawyer (and no, I’m not shilling for work–there are plenty of competent IP/© lawyers you can contact). Don’t rely on the word of another creative pro because, honestly, there is a shitton of bad info out there, even from some very reputable sources.
  3. Don’t be a hypocrite. You cannot have pirated/torrented music or films or books (whatever) and be a professional creative without being the worst kind of hypocrite. Don’t like reading that? Tough. It’s the hard truth. I said it last year and I’m saying it again because some of you refuse to accept this reality. No, your free music doesn’t only affect the impersonal labels, it hurts “little” people just like you. If you use music to accompany your visual art, you must get permission to do so (i.e., license the music).  Fundamentally, it’s simply wrong to take someone else’s creative work and then expect to get paid for yours. Stop justifying it however you do and instead do the right thing: pay for the creative works you acquire. All of them. Besides, you really don’t want to be getting a C&D letter from someone like me. Trust me on this.
  4. Fire disrespectful clients. Gird ’em up already… stop permitting your clients to treat you like a $2 whore. Harsh? Maybe, but I am really tired of creative professionals accepting it when clients treat them spectacularly poorly. You are a professional. Your skills are unique. If your clients could do what your do, really, they would not hire you. Full stop. No one will respect you if you do not respect yourself first and telling someone you imagine you need to hit the curb may not be easy at the time, but later you will not regret it. Not at all. It is actually freeing.
  5. Stop using what other people do as an excuse. I have never thrown a punch in my life but I think I’ll start the next time I hear some creative professional say something like “If I don’t take the project for $500, someone else will.” Look, you have no control over what other people do and there are plenty of people who will do really bad stuff, particularly in business. Lowballing or doing other unethical crap will always be done by people who do not respect themselves or their business. Screw ’em, don’t emulate them!
  6. Shoot film/make analog art. There is nothing wrong with using digital tools, but I can tell you that your work’s quality will improve if you use the pre-digital tools more. When I look at a photographer’s work, I can tell you almost 100% what work was made on film originally. I can also tell which photographers shoot film regularly, even if only for their personal work and even if I don’t see that work, because the digital work is stronger. You learn to make better choices and to be in the moment of creation more when you take out the “instantaneity” of digital tools.
  7. Stop doing it for free/cheap, especially just because you want to be a nice person. Non-profit or charity does not mean you should do it for free, or even for less! If you are losing money doing the work, you aren’t being a nice person, you are trying to become a business failure. It’s not selfish in a bad way to do what you need to and that is to say “no” when people ask for freebies or deals. Saying “no” often results in you being more respected as a professional with those exact people who first asked for the deal. Bonus!
  8. Do your business-y stuff. Stop putting it off, stop saying you hate it… just do it. You won’t have a successful business if you don’t pay your bills on time, don’t get your invoices out asap, fail to chase down late payers, or don’t register your copyrights regularly (see No. 1). Running a business is mostly about doing the not-fun business-y stuff. Get over it.
  9. Do your marketing. Related to No. 8, you have got to get a marketing plan and work it, regularly, consistently, and diligently. Work on your lists, take the time to target well, and go after your best potential clients! Also, I suggest doing this in the real world much more than online. I mean, a face-to-face meeting is hugely more likely to get you work. And yes, people still get meetings. Buy lunch/dinner/cocktails for your targets if that will get you facetime. Do what it takes to get to know these people as people. Building those relationships will get you work. One caveat: if you try to fake your way to getting people to like you, you will go down in flames.
  10. Let social media and SEO die. Social media will not make your business successful. You will not be that one in a gazillion who hits, so stop wasting all your time posting and tweeting and following and using far too many so-called tools to reach out to a huge audience. You will lose the rights to your work and that price is way too high for a minuscule shot at fame. Besides, if you want to be famous, then you need to think about what you are doing with your life. If you want to be a successful artist/creative professional, put your efforts on making and monetizing your art, not making people like you. You can’t pay your rent with a +1 or a like. Instead, spend more time targeting the best targets for your work and reaching out to them directly and, preferably, in person (see No. 9). SEO also really just doesn’t matter–it’s a boondoggle now as the search engines manipulate everything to hell and back and besides, the best clients are still not using search in that way to find the best artists (it is good for local consumer-direct photographers and that is about it).And, one more to grow on…
  11. Recognize that you are an ARTIST. Get over that false modesty stuff already… if you are a creative professional, you are an artist. A professional artist. Stop acting like that chick we all know who wears a size 2 and talks about how fat she is. It’s bullshit and an insult to everyone who is doing the hard work of being an artist. Every time you make it look easy or play down the work behind your work, you are lowering the perceived value of your work and the work of your colleagues. Stop saying “I got lucky” or “It’s not that hard” and the like. Creation is miraculous; so not only do you owe it to yourself and your peers to recognize that, I also encourage you to use that to your business advantage. For example, photographers should not provide monitors for  clients–tell them you will show them when you are ready. They may bitch about it at first, but as long as your work is fabulous, they’ll get over it and, more importantly, you will look more like the miracle-worker you really are.

    UPDATE: I just was pointed to this post about rituals and it confirms my belief that photographers lost something when they took the ritual of the reveal to the client out of the process. Put it back by taking out those client monitors and your clients will love your work even more!

3 Responses to “2013 Top Ten List”

  1. Frank Flavin Says:

    OK I am one of the lazy not © people.
    I think my problem is that I get confused about how to.
    My problem is I loose it at the point where you do published and not published.
    Additionally I don’t remember specific dates ?
    I’m sure there must be a You Tube video ?
    Perhaps you could suggest one ?

    Happy New Year Leslie !
    Thanks again for all your advice.

    Frank Flavin

  2. Don Mirra-Commercial-Photography Says:

    Fantastic advice!

    Honestly I really love how you address the on going complaining from talented photographers who are not getting the work they deserve. Enough – Shut up, get a marketing agent and start to tell your story to the correct people. Do something that is correlated with getting the work you want and deserve.

    Wait that’s what I should be doing!

    UGGGGG I am punked!

  3. Kathryn Wagner Says:

    Well said Leslie! I think it’s always a great idea to reevaluate what strategies are working and which are not, especially annually. Good advice for 2014 and beyond.