I want to talk to the photographers that read this blog for a second — primarily about all the mistakes I made when I first started in the commercial side of this business, and how I don’t want you to make those same mistakes.
When I started taking the first steps to coming back to photography as a career I had already been out of school for a few years and working in the graphics department of a manufacturing company. My first foray into the world of professional photography a few years prior had been… unimpressive. A combination of post collegiate burnout coupled with what was (at the time) a chaotic industry that saw numerous large studios go out of business had spurned me to take a stable if somewhat boring job creating safety signs and vinyl decals for industrial equipment.
Naturally, it wasn’t long before I had a camera in my hands again, but this time it was different. Instead of shooting the still-life and food images I had been trained to create I found that I had a real love for working with people and shooting portraits. Soon the seeds of a business started to grow and I began to transition to working as a photographer full-time again, and things were going great..
…until they weren’t.
Most photography programs don’t do much to prepare you for the day-to-day realities of being a working photographer. You might be able to make some incredible images and have all the technical chops you could ever need — But none of that can save you from being a shitty businessperson.
I started to run into issues quickly, most of them were rooted in the fact that despite being a pretty competent photographer I knew basically ZERO when it came to creating an efficient workflow or memorable client experience. I was trying to build a business on the flawed assumption that all that mattered was the end product — who cared about the process you used to get there?
I had no mechanism to define the types of clients that were a good fit for me, or identify red flags that might indicate I should pass on a job.
I had never thought about the experience of working with me from the client’s perspective either, so my project proposals were usually little more than an impersonal spreadsheet of costs and line items that did nothing to differentiate me from my competition creatively.
It’s really difficult to charge what I thought I was worth because without a system in place it was next to impossible to justify those costs to clients.
I didn’t even have a real sense that there was more to do after a project was delivered because the idea of getting testimonials and real feedback from clients was also a foreign concept — a mistake that left me oblivious to common but easy-to-fix problems with my workflow and business model for a long time.
These (among others) were some very real issues that I wasn’t even aware I had to deal with, and most of my clients were too nice to let me know. Thankfully, a few weren’t.
I quickly came to an important realization — clients were interested in more than just the final images. They wanted to work with a creative who inspired confidence and who valued the pre-production process as much as they valued the creation of the images themselves. In essence, what they needed was someone who was fully dedicated and on-board with every aspect of their production — and had a road map to get through it all safely and successfully.
Suddenly process was the sexiest word in my vocabulary.
You Are Not Alone
It took time, effort, experimentation, advice from some amazing mentors, and feedback from some equally amazing clients (not to mention how much I’ve learned through professional organizations like ASMP) — but I did build a process, one that my clients love (and one that constantly evolves based on the feedback I receive from them). And having that process in place has become a major catalyst in growing my business — because even though it’s my work that first grabs a client’s attention it’s the experience that they have working with me that keeps them coming back.
I’ve also seen a lot of really talented photographers struggle in this business due to a total lack of process. And it’s not surprising, because developing a process is difficult and time-consuming, and because photography is a hell of a fun job that lets you share your unique creative vision with others. And while the business stuff is important, we all want to get back to the reason why we started taking pictures in the first pace — to make something cool. But having a strong process in place can actually make your business more efficient and nimble. Allowing you to focus less on dealing with workflow related fires as they pop up, and more on creating stunning images for your clients. Your process can really be a deciding factor in the jobs you book as well, because when faced with two similarly talented photographers a client is much likelier to go with the one who makes them feel confident and comfortable.
This problem isn’t unique to photographers either — designers are another group of creatives who can often struggle with developing a solid process for workflow and client care. And it was two designers that really got me thinking about how I could help photographers improve their processes and their businesses.
We Have The Prescription
I’ve been so lucky to work with Shauna Haider of nubbytwiglet.com and We Are Branch the past few years on all sorts of design projects. In fact, her own blog was incredibly instrumental to me when I was first starting to think about how process intersected with branding and how I needed to be thinking about a lot more than just my logo and my images — and specifically how every single point of client interaction and communication mattered in shaping how client’s perceived me.
Shauna had also been examining the idea of how she could help designers and creatives to craft an effective process AND provide them with a set of professionally designed and customizable documents to support that process and impress their clients. She teamed up with the similarly process minded and insightful Paul Jarvis (who’s worked with people like Danielle LaPorte and brands like Fast Company, Forbes, and Lifehacker) to create Project Prescription — a workflow and document collection aimed at helping designers to strengthen their business.
As a devoted reader of Shauna’s blog (and now Paul’s newsletter and podcast — which are topping my must read/listen lists respectively), I decided to check out Project Prescription soon after launch, and though it was originally intended for designers, I loved it so much that I started to immediately adapt it to my workflow as a photographer. Almost instantly I was struck by how this could help so many of my peers and solve a lot of the problems that photographers face in terms of relating to clients – especially photographers who are just entering the market or beginning to make the transition from consumer to commercial photography. I was so excited that I immediately mentioned it to Shauna and shortly after that her, Paul, and myself decided to team up and create a version of Project Prescription that was specifically tailored for commercial photographers.
We’ve put together an awesome collection of twenty documents that professional photographers need that are completely customizable to your brand and available in both Adobe InDesign and Google Docs versions. This collection covers everything from your first client contact all the way though pre-production, the shoot, delivery, and even follow-up to make sure that your clients are blown away by every aspect of your services.
I’ll be featuring more info about Project Prescription the rest of the week on the blog and digging a little deeper into the workflow. So check back tomorrow for more.
All three of us are so excited to announce the Project Prescription for photographers launches today! And for this first week only you can get this kick ass workflow/document collection for just $88.00. Starting next Monday the 8th, Project Prescription will only be available at its regular price of $108.00. You can sign up for our mailing list and receive two free sample documents at theprojectprescription.com.