I have a few tips and advice that is applicable to most people running their businesses, freelancers, professional photographers, and artists alike. I thought I’d put it down in writing as I think it would help everyone benefit from developing better working philosophies, strategies, and standards.
I woke-up from a much needed power-nap a couple of hours ago. A history show on Benjamin Franklin was on the television. It so happened to have landed with perfect timing on something I’ve been thinking about recently. A professor went on to say:
“Franklin worked really long hours. He would wake up early to make certain a job was done. He also produced a quality product. But he made sure people knew that he was working long hours.”
The key here is that he made sure people knew. Franklin was a master at marketing. He produced a great product but he didn’t hesitate to let someone know what efforts he put into that product.
This is a similar lesson I learned a long time ago when I first started out. In the beginning, I started out by giving my clients very low prices. I just assumed that they would recognize these low prices and would continue to work with me based on those figures. It turned out to be a completely wrong assumption. Clients would come back with even more changes and it eventually started to wear on me. They didn’t recognize the discount. The problem lies in the fact that you shouldn’t expect a client to be a “mind reader.” If you discount your work, you have to make it known to your client that you are going to give them a break – whether it’s a first time thing, because of the sheer bulk of products you are producing, or because they’ve been a steady and consistent client in the past. One way or another, you have to make it known that you are giving them a break.
Putting in Extra Hours.
If it comes down to extra hours, you may not charge them additionally (I call this “out of courtesy”), but this falls into the same situation. Start getting into the habit of documenting those extra hours you’ve put into your projects. If it ever comes down to extra changes or unreasonable demands that puts other projects into jeopardy, you can pull out your fact sheets and tell them how much extra work you’ve put into their project. If you don’t let them know, then don’t expect them to recognize your extra efforts.
On Keeping Busy (or keeping the ball rolling.)
Every time I call one of my friends, he is constantly busy. You almost have to schedule a time to talk with him. Yes, he happens to produce some kick-ass highly-stylized pieces that are in constant demand, but there’s never a shortage of work for him. The first impression that comes to mind is, “this guy is really good.”
On the other hand, my work in some ways is probably at the higher-end of the photorealism spectrum. They’re not always the best artistic pieces (compared to someone who spends a whole month on one picture) having often been limited by budgets, changes, and time – but all things considered, I think my live projects often turn out very good. In times where it was slow, if a client called up and asked what my schedule looked like, I would tell them frankly that “things were a little bit slow right now.” From an outsider’s perspective, how do you think that is perceived?
Now, I am in no means advocating lying here. I never have. I think when you lie, you are treading on dangerous and unethical territory. But if you are busy, then feel free to make it known. Learn to use this to your advantage. It shows that people are coming to you for work and that others value the work that you do. When you say to someone that you have to schedule time for them, not only does that limit the more exotic requests for changes (and they can get quite demanding), but it also puts you in a position of saying, “hey, if you want to work together then great. I’d be happy to help you out but there’s other clients currently waiting in line. If you put down a retainer and I’ll get back to you on this date.”
It’s similar to passing by a restaurant that has a line going around the corner while your looking for something to eat. You have to stop, scratch your head and think to yourself, “now why is there a huge freakin’ line going down the street?” If you’re an odd-ball like me, you might say “there’s no way I’m going to wait in that line.” But if you continue to pass by that place from week to week, chances are that one day you’ll catch yourself checking it out.
Time is Money (and sanity, and health.)
There – I said it. I hate that statement but it is completely true. When you’ve been busting your butt for two weeks straight, working 16 hour days and weekends – the last thing you want is for additional changes to come through the door. Sometimes you do need time to decompress and get motivated again. Perhaps it’s a walk in the park with your dog, spending time with relatives, spending time with your children, going out for a night on the town – whatever. We are not built like robots. The fact is that you need to build in time for yourself. However, when you’re running a business you also have an obligation to your clients. If you don’t charge for the extra time you put into your services, then not only are you doing a disservice to other fellow artists by undercutting them, but you’re also doing a huge disservice to yourself. Your free time is your free time and if a client is going to occupy that space, you need to make it known that you may charge for any extra hours that you will put into a project. In this way, not only are unreasonable changes (and I say unreasonable simply because most people don’t know how much effort goes into them) are kept to a minimum, but you’re able to keep your motivation and health in somewhat proper balance.
To Sum Things Up.
I hope that some of this advice is useful to my readers. Perhaps a lot of what I said about “valuing one’s own work” is common sense, but at least it may provide some positive reinforcement. I don’t know what a business school or a MBA teaches people, but these lessons are what I’ve come to learn from being in the field and watching other successful people run their practices. When setting-up your own company or freelance business, the best thing to do is to look towards other people who have charted that same territory before you and are doing well. This also applies to other facets in life whether it is love, family, socializing, or finances. Learn from your own mistakes, but also learn from other people’s mistakes that are a few steps ahead of your own. And last but not least, it is not a sign of weakness to recognize when you don’t know all of the answers.
A professor of sociology at Harvard once said to me over a game of chess:
“I may not be the smartest person here, but the one thing that got me to this position in life is that when someone would approach me with a question – if I didn’t know the answer, I’d tell them, ‘I don’t know the answer to that question, but let me get back to you on that.”
Words of wisdom from one of the top professors in this country, let alone the world. And I didn’t have to pay tuition for that single moment of education. All of his life summed up in under 30 seconds. I don’t know to this day if he was alluding to my game of chess (I was getting my butt handed to me), or if he was just making a general statement. If I ever do figure out what he was implying, I’ll be sure to get back to you on that.