Creativity: Do you bother to protect your most valuable business asset?

What it is your most valuable business asset?
Hint: Its not your camera gear. Nor your computer hardware and software- or even your image archive or your portfolio.

It’s your creativity. It’s what sets you apart from every other photographer; it’s the distinguishing value that is added to any great image you create. Without it, you could be replaced by a machine.

Ironically, this extremely valuable asset can’t be covered against loss by an insurance policy.It’s up to you-and only you-to take precautions that you don’t lose your creativity.

Are you spending even half the amount of time and effort that you take to protect your other business assets from loss?
You probably back-up your images on multiple drives on a regular basis. Your gear is probably protected by good security systems when it’s not actually with you. Your office probably has fire, flood and theft  coverage. You want to protect your business, so you’re prudent. And you’re responsible.

Why is it so important it is to keep your creativity safe? Without it you probably don’t have much to offer any client since creativity is an essential for problem-solving. Clients hire you because they have a problem they need solved; usually ones they don’t have the creativity to execute as well as you.

So what are you doing to PROTECT your creativity? Do you know what keeps it vital and alive?

What was your mental state when you had your last great idea for a portfolio piece?
Wasn’t it when you were relaxed, open, and receptive? I suspect you’ll also say it was when you “weren’t even trying”… it just “came to you.”

Do you know under what conditions your creativity is at risk?
Are you aware of how negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and worry significantly diminish the flow of intuition? Intuition is what most often guides you in what is necessary to take a shot from good to great.

In the current sea of negative emotions swirling in the photo business, are you pro-active enough to wear a “mental life-preserver”?
That is, do you have an effective strategy to keep your intuition afloat? Can it be saved it from drowning in the swells of fear and anxiety?

Here are some time-honored, extremely well-researched, and very effective strategies to protect your most valuable business asset
: Meditate. Spend time in nature. Pray. Jog. Swim. Politely refuse to spend time on the pity pot with those who continually spread evidence about how horrible things are. Be grateful for what you DO have. And finally, volunteer to help those who have less than you.

Photography marketing essentials: who’s your web site for?

In my photography marketing consulting business, one of the first things I do when I work with a client is to review their web presence. When a photographer doesn’t fully understand the wants and needs of the present-day image buyer, their site usually reflects what makes the photographer happy vs. one that will makes the buyer happy.

When I see one of these kinds of sites and have to tell the photographer that to increase business they’ll need a new web site or major re-design, one of the first things they think –if they don’t come right out and say it– is “What’s that going to cost me?”

Of course, in this economy, that’s a question that lives in everyone’s mind. But that should not be the FIRST question that comes to mind when thinking about reaching more clients via your web site.

“What’s the business objective of my web site?” has to be answered before you start pricing any solution. As visual artists we’re primarily drawn to the play of light, shadow, color and contrast as they often serve as the basis of our sheer delight. We’re also easily distracted by bright, shiny, and pretty things.

A marketing trap that one can fall into is to simply emulate the web design of a photographer whose photos and web site we admire. Award-winning web sites with lots of stunning visuals suck us right in and lead us to ‘be inspired” (i.e., copy them) when creating our own site; often there’s  little if no attention paid to asking if the design is resonant with our own branding and the needs of the people we want to attract. Read more

Avoiding your clients’ spam bucket

This week, on three separate occasions, emails from photographers that I know and love, ended up in my spam bucket. Each person was already in my address book; we’d had many successful email exchanges-there had been no previous spam quarantines. Want to know what happened?

In each of those cases the photographer had failed to notice that their business email addresses had more than one email account User name or Reply-to name. If all your User names are consistent, the email you send from your desktop, laptop or iPhone will all safely go through; any inconsistency in your Sender address increases the risk of your message being quarantined. Read more

Balancing against Burn-Out

In This Issue: Balancing against Burnout
Potts’ Marketing Guide
the Online Marketing Newsletter
for Professional Photographers and other Creative
Souls

Word count for this issue: approx. 720
Approximate time to read: Just about 4 minutes

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Creating Balance, Filling the Well, Increasing
Productivity
==================================================

I’ve just returned from my annual “start-my-year-off
right-by-sharpening-the-saw ” road trip. “Sharpening
the saw” is a phrase I picked up from author Steven
Covey. In his best-selling “7 Habits of Highly
Effective People” series of inspirational productivity
and management books, he talks about the importance to
keeping your “tools” sharp.

He reminds readers that to operate at your highest and
best levels, you have to remember to keep yourself
sharp- not just in your external career tools (e.g.
using the latest digital gear and software); you have
to keep sharpening your internal tools as well.

Truly effective individuals deliberately take the
necessary time away from their day-to-day career
demands to put time in on maintaining and evolving
their “inner tools.” These tools include: patience;
objectivity; better listening skills; pro-activity;
resourcefulness; and most importantly in our
industry: creativity. All these skills can be renewed
by regular breaks.

Over the course of my career as an artists’ agent, I
found that the greatest danger- and quickest route to
career self-sabotage- was to not take the time away
from the fast-paced, high-stress world of my work. In
advertising photography, that high-stress pace was
constant and never-ending.

During the first 5 years of my career I never took a
vacation. It wasn’t a conscious decision not to take a
break- I just never made the conscious decision TO
take one. The end result of that decision was I became
a crabby victim of job burn-out. It negatively
affected all of my relationships and led to my first
professional “divorce.”

I was completely blind to the toll that living without
a “time out” was taking on me. When you’re in the
middle of something like that, others can see what
kind of stress monkey you’re becoming, but you usually
cannot. Without the awareness of who we’re being and
its toll on our work productivity (and relationships),
it’s unlikely we’ll have the motivation for changing
our circumstances. I was in it so deep, I couldn’t see
it.

Ironically, a few years later (after I started taking
breaks), I was no longer in it- but I could now
clearly see it in others. One of my most successful
photographers started down his own road to burn-out
and self-sabotage. I could see the stress and burn-out
creeping into and eroding his creativity and
problem-solving abilities. The success we had in
shooting lots of assignments was not getting balanced
with any rejuvenating breaks.

Our relationship suffered. He was not producing his
best work and the creative “well” began to run dry. He
wasn’t able to produce the necessary new portfolio
samples I needed to sell him. Only a major recession
in the ad industry provided the necessary break in his
day-to-day unhealthy habits. Unfortunately, that
break was filled with fear and resistance instead of
relief and relaxation. Not a significantly
regenerative experience…

Only after experiencing first hand the net effects of
taking time to “re-fill the well” with the renewing
gifts of relaxation and appreciation, was I able to
notice that the most successful and happy creative
professionals also took regular breaks for renewal. A
break in a well-entrenched routine is one of the
essential ground springs of creativity.

It almost seems counter-intuitive to take a break from
looking for work, but when you do, you often will be
surprised by the seemingly “coincidental” sources of
help and inspiration that come your way. I’ll be
sharing some of those stories from my own life and
others’ in upcoming issues. I hope those stories will
inspire you to actually commit to scheduling one of
those essential re-fueling breaks this year.
Let yourself experience some magic in your life.

Trust me. I know that changing long-standing habits
can be a challenge. However, I’ve found that by
starting small and making it a daily routine, large
changes can be accomplished. In future issues I’ll
also share some of the best resources I’ve found that
make new habits actually ‘stick.’

E.g. how difficult would it be to take a 10-min. break
(today!) to take a brisk walk around the block? Don’t
take your cell phone or iPod with you. Just
consciously observe your neighborhood environment. Try
starting with just one session/day. Notice how much
more energy and focus you have for work when you
return to your computer.

When you’re confident about how these small actions
can yield big productivity results, you can finally
commit to scheduling one of those “refilling-the-well”
vacation breaks and enjoy its rewards.

Time for my 10-minute walk……

All the Best,
Carolyn

Teeny Tiny Steps: Part 2 of 2-part series

Here’s Part 2 that I promised.

“Teeny, Tiny Steps the Create a Mountain of
Success”

Here’s one of those small actions that’s paid off for
clients who need help in the creative-unblocking
realm: spend less than $1 and buy one of
those spiral-bound notepads that fit in your
pocket. (Or if you’re more tech-inclined, create
a new Memo record in your PDA).

Deliberately name the notebook (or file) so as to
engage your sub-conscious about your intention.
Call it “Inspirations,” “Messages from the
Interior” , “Finding my Focus, ” etc. Whatever
works for you.

In that notebook or file, start noting and recording
when you are struck by a scene in your day-to-day life.
You may or may not have your camera with you at the time.
But what you always have with you is your attention.
By noting what attracts your attention when you’re
not deliberately looking, you’re going to start
becoming more conscious of a normally unconscious action-
i.e., where your attention is drawn to without you deciding what
to focus on.

That, in turn, will lead to becoming more aware
of what you’re seeing unconsciously-which is an
aspect of your unique vision. Oftentimes, that’s
not what’s reflected in your portfolio–but it
should be. Because it reflects the YOU that no
one else IS.

It’s different for everyone. It could be you’re
always drawn to faces. Particular kinds of faces.
Or shadows of a certain density. Or colors of a
certain hue. Or relationships between people. Or
between people and their environment. Or certain
objects. the way light wraps around metal, or
fabric or liquids.

Over time, you will start to see patterns. You
will see where your attention is consistently
drawn. You will start to have more confidence
that you do indeed have a unique vision.

What this will also do is help you become more
intimately acquainted with the You that is
noticing these scenarios. The reason you need to
know that You better is that that You is the same You
that has shot those gorgeous images in your book
that seem to have ‘just happened.’ Your own
“decisive moments.” The ones that in a flash, you
created brilliantly without thinking.

They’re the images that everyone seems to love
but the ones that you feel a bit sheepish about
including in your book. You tend to devalue them
because you didn’t have to “crawl over glass on your belly”
to capture them. “Hard-to-do=Good” is a deeply
embedded myth in our Western culture.

What I’m asking you to do is to deliberately
engage your subconscious creativity on a daily
basis. You’ve probably have heard this in other places.
To be in ‘the flow’ is how it’s described
in the sports world. To have access to a more
powerful way to confidently and consistently
create new content in your portfolio; content
that reflects your unique vision.

Why? Because that-more than anything-is what will
set your book apart and make you more marketable.
And that will lead to better sales-and at a
higher price.

This same simple recording technique can also be
powerfully applied when you want to grow your
business. In the marketing arena, obviously a
different set of observations gets recorded.
Many of my clients have been amazed at how easy
and yet how powerful that simple habit becomes
when leveraged against a marketing strategy.
I’ll share one of those tips in a future article.

Until then…Take some teeny, tiny steps. Every
day. With Attention. And Appreciation for the
process.

Or as a mentor once said to me: “What’s hard by
the yard is a cinch by the inch.”

Start focusing your vision. Today.

All the Best,
Carolyn
(c) Carolyn Potts 2006

Teeny Tiny Steps: Part 1 of 2-part series

In today’s world of seemingly endless time-crunches
and overwhelm, I thought I’d share some of my
“Teeny Tiny Actions that Build a Mountain of
Success–or What I learned from my battle with
middle-age bulge.”

While brushing my teeth today, I had a marketing
epiphany. It occurred while I was doing my usual
ritual of brushing my teeth and pacing the floor.
I know it sounds weird, but it’s one of the
habits I’ve picked up in the last year. An hour
earlier, I had been on my cordless phone pacing
around my office during a 90-minute conference
call. I was struck by how an action I started a
year ago (i.e., religiously wearing a pedometer
or step-meter) completely changed my behavior in
a totally painless and effortless way. That
behavior change led to the easy achievement of my
health/fitness goal: lose the pounds I’d gained from
my way-too-sedentary, mouse-potato, lifestyle.

To achieve my 10k steps/day goal I started playing
games with myself to rack up the needed steps.
During a phone call, I no longer sat. I moved
around. If I forgot something in my basement
laundry room, I didn’t begrudge the extra steps
needed to retrieve it. Two parking spaces in the lot
to pick from? I took the furthest, etc.,etc.

After a year of subtle behavior changes, I not
only achieved my goal, I exceeded it.

What does this have to do with your sales and
marketing goals?

My epiphany was that the path to achieving big
professional goals doesn’t have to be difficult.
Small actions, consistently applied, work in any
area of business-whether it’s content development
or sales and marketing.
Habits can be cultivated
and nurtured to achieve creative and business
goals just as my pedometer-wearing lifestyle
change led to achieving my fitness goal. It may
seem like a big “Well…Duh!” but I found it to
be a more integrated way of looking at the core
issues.

If you’re like me and have any perfectionist
tendencies-and being an independent creative
professional, you likely are-you’re always
slightly dissatisfied with the status quo and
slightly impatient. You probably ‘want it all
right now’: the new portfolio, the big surge in
new business, the dream assignment.

As an agent, my photographers never knew that I
would sometimes work for well over a
year-sometimes several years-to get an account.
Because I never turned in phone call or portfolio
presentation reports, the photographers only saw
the last 10 yards of the sales process. The bulk
of my pre-sale efforts were largely invisible.
From the photographer’s perspective, a call came
in, a layout arrived, we bid the job, and won a
new account.

What they never saw was the long, slow, process
of building ‘brand awareness’ in the mind of the
targeted art buyer and art director. They didn’t
see that a long series of small, and focused,
efforts repeated again and again, eventually
produced a big-dollar payoff.

Photographers who’ve tried repping themselves-usually
with inconsistent results-saw their business
increase substantially once they got professional
representation. They sometimes thought what I did
was magic-just as the uninitiated might view what
they, as professional photographers, were able to
produce. What I did-and what any other
sales and marketing professional would
do-was leverage years of relationship-building
efforts. Those new photographers I brought into
my product mix got the benefit of consistent
efforts over a long period of time.

It is one of the paradoxes of any business (and
weight loss!): it’s the teeny tiny steps made
consistently over time, that provide the biggest
and most stable pay-off. The key is knowing which
things you need to do each and every day to get
the most bang for your time-and-effort-buck.

So what are those key items you need to re-ignite
your photo career?

In the next issue, I’ll share one easy with you and
it won’t require more than a $1 cash outlay.

Until then…
All the Best,
Carolyn

(c) Carolyn Potts 2006