When DIY Fails – Building a Professional Support System

Recently, while scanning Facebook, I have been witness to a photographer posting regularly about their efforts to design their own website. While this can often be seen as a noble endeavor, it was the expectation of the artist in question that his clients would appreciate the efforts put into designing the site by the photographer more than the necessary criteria that the site was usable, aesthetically pleasing, and effective as a marketing tool and web experience. The photographer further went on to call other photographers who use sites created by professional designers, blog-based site systems, or even content management options likeAPhotoFolio or liveBooks “lame” because they had not taken the effort to design their sites themselves. Now, let us clear the air briefly. I have no problem with any photographer who wants to design their own site, especially if they have web experience, impeccable design taste, and the technical savvy to make sure the site is fully functional and fast in a quickly evolving arena. I have been utterly blown away by the sites of some photographers who are also capable web designers, but sadly I have seen so many poor sites over the years that are self-designed by photographers and approach a GeoCities level of anti-sophistication. These sites latch on to poor usability or design trends and they become so overly concerned with the artifice of site design and implementing neat site tricks that they ignore the cardinal idea that they must be more concerned about bringing their photographic work to the forefront. Instead they let it play second fiddle to the design aspects of the site. Clients are visiting our sites to see our work, and our design aesthetic and web presentation must support that work and not overshadow it.

Now, the above photographer may very well go on to create a stunning site, but it is in the attitude they hold about other photographers who have brought in outside help on their sites that there is a lesson to be learned. From our own perspective as photographers, does it upset you when you see a client attempt to create images on their own that we as professionals may find less than engaging or technically lacking? It’s because we have worked hard to become insightful and professional in our chosen field to develop skills and a sense of aesthetic that allows us to deliver top-notch work to our clients on a consistent basis. We are, for lack of a better term, the experts in this particular area. Now, step outside of that frame of mind and apply it in reverse to your business. We are not (with some exceptions, I’m sure) web designers, graphic designers, accountants, lawyers, hair stylists, writers, makeup artists, or any number of myriad specialists out there that we work with on a regular basis. We may have some skills in some of these areas (and as photographers we are often in situations where we need to develop ancillary skill sets to increase our value) but we will rarely be as focused on the skillful practice of any of these subjects as someone who has dedicated themselves to them as we have to photography.

Ultimately my point is that I care about my photography, both as a business and as an art; therefore, I want to present my work in the best possible manner and have the best sources of information and advice available to me. For me this has meant transitioning away from putting the burden of doing everything on myself. A few years ago I started to search out professionals and great services as I needed them so that I was able to make sure I had reliable and experienced sources I could tap for their own creative vision and business ability.

One of the first steps towards this way of thinking happened when I was looking to create a new look for my visual identity. For years I had done design work on my own, convinced that my own skills in the area were satisfactory, but ultimately these attempts left me feeling empty, unsatisfied, and restless. I was unable to resist the temptation to constantly tweak and rebrand this design work over and over, all the while feeling slightly uneasy with any design that I would settle on temporarily. Eventually the revelation struck that I needed to get past my trepidation of paying someone else to do something for me and get professional help.

After a short period spent looking over designers’ websites, sending out exploratory e-mails and the occasional meeting, I settled on a designer whose work I felt really comfortable with. The process was fantastic. I had found a designer capable of creating work that I had a great deal of faith in and understood the way that I wanted my images and myself to be presented. Oddly enough, it ended up saving me money in the long run, money that I would have spent fruitlessly on my own failed design attempts. I felt very  passionately about the identity work that she created, and I no longer felt that unease that tempted me to make sweeping changes every few months. Nubby Twiglet had created a look for my brand that I was really able to get behind. You can see it on my site, or her more in-depth analysis here.

Working with Nubby inspired me to seek out more professionals to help me with the weak spots in my skill set. I had always been a strong writer, but lacked a lot of the polish needed to really feel confident when writing marketing and commercial pieces. So I sought out Lynda Forman who takes care of my professional writing needs now. The process was similar when I was looking for a creative consultant to help get my marketing in better shape. Research and referrals eventually led me to Amanda Sosa Stone, who has been a huge force in helping me to refine the way I show and present my work, and led me to APhotoFolio.com, where my website now resides.  Thanks to the professional wisdom and skill of these and others, there has been a noticeable change in my work and business. I find I have more time to focus on the creative side of photography, as well as I work on more personal projects and put more energy into marketing and not spending valuable time on fruitless attempts to do certain things on my own that I can trust to another professional, who specializes in that area, to take care of.

Take the time to search out a professional support network of your own — and not just on the creative side of your business. Two of the best people you can add to your team are a skilled lawyer and great accountant. Even if you find that you cannot put a whole network together all at once, it’s a great idea to start now and do it over time. Get out into your local creative community and start making friends and networking with professionals in other fields. Don’t be afraid to ask questions either. Sometimes a single poignant piece of advice can be extremely effective in helping you break through a rough spot on a project or putting the finishing touches on a marketing piece. Support networks exist in many forms, so don’t let budget stand in your way too much. You will find these people’s skills are some of the best investments you ever make. Despite what some people might think, having a skilled professional help and advise you is not “lame” but rather a smart business and life decision.

When DIY Fails – Building a Professional Support System

6 thoughts on “When DIY Fails – Building a Professional Support System

  1. Erin says:

    A lot of good points are made here! I am a believer in that just because you have the ability to do something doesn’t mean that you necessarily should (unless like you said, you also have a background in ). And I am a big fan of the phrase “leave it to the professionals.” For example, I’m sure I could cut my own hair. It would probably look off and be uneven and with tweaking (and wasting time) I would get it sort of kinda right, but why bother going through all that when I could just hire someone who is proficient in styling to do it for me and have it look awesome to begin with?

    I think also sometimes when someone wants to do “everything” they spread themselves way too thin, and then instead of being highly skilled in one area that they can really focus on, they wind up being mediocre in a variety of areas – which at least as far as me personally I would rather be “the best” at one thing than “meh” in a bunch of areas.

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    1. Erin,

      I would have to agree with you on the spreading yourself too thin part. It seems common sense to me that removing distractions allows me to focus more on my important tasks. It’s much like when I am on a shoot. Having capable assistants, styling crews, and producers allows me to focus on the actual shoot and and actions necessary for me to carry out. I can still advise and offer my input, but I am much more focused and confident when I have a good crew on board for a project.

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  2. Mike majewski says:

    Luke – Very observant post. Just a few years back, I swear, that was me you were talking about. I made the fatal mistake of having blind alligence to my abilities and bull-headedness in my plan to design my own masterful website of my photography. After all, I was a photographer! The conquistador of all things! Of course I could design a site, from scratch to bring my art to the world. What I failed to realize I’m not even a graphic designer, let alone a web designer. The expierence and skill set I used as a photographer took me years to hone, and offered little in overlap to the web world. The technology that I used in building my Geo-Cities site when I was in college was horribly out of date, lame and my good photos could not carry it. It takes a lot of training and knowledge to keep up with ever changing technology. I think most photogs should realize where they are good, and where they are not, and be not afraid to buy the right website or hire the right firm to sell themselves, and bring their work out in the best possible light on the web.

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